Hollywood’s First Cinema

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Sometimes you just get lucky.  The investors of the first theater in Hollywood selected an Egyptian theme.  Five weeks after it opened its doors, King Tut’s tomb was discovered, and everything Egyptian became the cat’s pajamas.  The year was 1922.

One of the men who built the Egyptian was Sid Grauman, who would later build Grauman’s Chinese Theater, where the handprints and footprints of the stars attract visitors today.  Sid was a marketing genius, in my book.  The movies shown at the Egyptian were world exclusives for six months, while the rest of the country eagerly waited for them to come to their local movie houses.

While the feature-length silents played in this glamorous venue, their titles shone in lights in front of the courtyard.  Today the lights spell the name of the organization that took this decrepit building where homeless people slept, restored it, and presents a wide variety of movies there today.  Picture the sign below with “Robin Hood” or  “Thief of Baghdad,” brightly lit at night.

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Sid Grauman also rolled out the red carpet for the stars at the movie’s premieres.  Long, red carpets had been used similarly in ancient times, but Sid was the first to use them for movie stars.  Now planters with palm trees take up much of the courtyard, but in the Twenties, there was room for fans to star-gaze.

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The flappers and their fellas paid five dollars a head for the premiere, and between seventy-five cents and a dollar-fifty for an everyday showing.  With prices that high, it must have been a special occasion calling for dressing up.

As the movie-goers entered the auditorium, singers standing in theater boxes serenaded them as they found their seats.  Then live actors performed a prologue or short piece with the same theme as the movie.

If you visit Hollywood, or if you live nearby, relive the history of movies by watching the wonderful documentary,”Forever Hollywood,” at the Egyptian, Hollywood’s first movie theater.

Where in the World?

I hope you enjoyed my last three posts about Rome.

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This is not Europe — here’s a detail of one of the figures on the ceiling above.

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See the headband? She’s a flapper. All of these photos are of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, which was built in 1923.

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Right now it’s decorated for Christmas.

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Have a beautiful and blessed Christmas.

The Hotel del Coronado — Part Two

Pickford, Chaplin, Gable and Katharine Hepburn, as well as movie stars of the present, have been guests at the Hotel del Coronado.  Eleven U.S. presidents have slept here.  Charles Lindbergh was feted at a 1927 banquet for his solo crossing of the Atlantic in “The Spirit of St. Louis,” and a replica of his plane circled above the guests in the dining room.

Clicking this link will open a new window with a website showing a lovely impressionist painting created by artist Louis Betts about 1907. It is of Coronado Beach, and Betts probably painted it while he was outside.  The top of the page has a detail of the painting. Below that is a blank area above a row of small photos (called thumbnails). Click on the thumbnail of this painting, the one on the far lef,t to see the entire painting.

I can almost feel the warmth of the sand. The lady in the white dress carries a yellow umbrella, and the top of it is lit by the sun. The umbrella shades her upper body, and she herself casts a shadow on the sand.

With all the sunshine and bathers enjoying the ocean, I wondered why the painting is called “Mid-Winter, Coronado Beach.” I’ve been to Coronado Beach in summer, which I will write about in a few days, and this looks like summertime to me. This afternoon, it’s 75 degrees in Coronado and the water is 69 degrees. (Yes, the water is this cool off of San Diego, the southernmost city on the west coast of the continental U.S.  That’s because the surface current along the Pacific coast comes from Alaska. Along the east coast of the U.S., the current comes from the Gulf of Mexico, so beach water is warmer on that coast.)

But mid-winter in Coronado? Isn’t the water chilly? The water then averages 59 degrees, but this painting was an advertisement for the Southern Pacific Railway.

This painting will be on display only until September 20, and then it will go into storage. The exhibit is called “Paradise Found.” I will try to see it. Art is worth the drive, and I could use a little paradise.  I’ll bet you could, too.  This is what art is for.

Hotel del Coronado — Part Three will describe the beach in the present, and then I will move on to the amazing events at the hotel, as I promised in Part One.  If you haven’t read Part One, the previous post, take a look at it and view a scene from the #1 comedy of all time.

Olympic Medals for the Arts

In the first half of the 20th century, the Olympics awarded medals for artworks. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, which began in 1896, pushed for “muscle and mind” to be honored. Medals were presented to artists from 1912 to 1948.

Gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded for music, sculpture, literature, architecture, and two categories of painting, oil painting and watercolor. No, they did not paint in front of a crowd or the judges.

In the first year of the arts competition, American Walter Winans won a medal in sculpture and another in shooting. A true artist-athlete.

You can read more about this in the book The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions by Richard Stanton.

You can also read about a gold-medal winner and the poignant path his life, his art, and his medal took after his victory. “When aesthetes competed at the Olympics” was published in the Los Angeles Times on August 25, 2008.