Just Above Sunset
August 21, 2005 - We Don't Do Local History - We Obliterate Our Past













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All this, below, four miles west of the world headquarters of Just Above Sunset – a bit of history disappears.  George and Ira Gershwin's place that they bought from Carole Lombard is now gone.  Nearby - back in the thirties?  Harry Warren, Cole Porter, Oscar Levant.  Dropping in?  Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Marlene Dietrich and Charlie Chaplin. 

 

No one remember these folks.  Times change. 

 

The first item appeared about ten days ago in the local paper:

 

No Rhapsody on Roxbury

Preservationists criticize the demolition of the Beverly Hills house in which George and Ira Gershwin wrote some of their classic songs.

Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times, August 12, 2005

 

This long item came with photos and map – but here's the gist of it:

 

The Spanish Colonial Revival house at 1019 N. Roxbury was no Pickfair, but it won notice as a wellspring of the American popular song, one Gershwin fan said. Over the decades, it had a string of owners or residents, many of them prominent entertainers of their day, said Judy Cameron, a former Beverly Hills resident who has tracked many of the property's owners and tenants.

Palatial and grand, with pool, tennis court and chauffeur's quarters, the house was built in 1928 for Monte Blue, a silent film star.

In 1934, it was rented by Russ Columbo, a popular singer who lived there for a short time, possibly with his girlfriend, Carole Lombard.

The next tenant was composer George Gershwin, who resided there with his brother Ira, a lyricist, and Ira's wife, Lee. The Gershwin brothers had migrated west from New York after failing to recoup production costs for their folk opera "Porgy and Bess."

Working on a grand piano in the corner of the sunken living room, they wrote a number of songs for musical films, including "Shall We Dance" with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. As legend has it, George came bounding down the stairs one day to the piano, saying: "Hey, Ira, it can't be 'A Foggy Day in London.' It's got to be 'A Foggy Day in London Town!' "

The Gershwins' goal was to amass enough cash that they could concentrate on creating serious works. But in 1937, while composing songs for the movie "The Goldwyn Follies," George fell ill. He died not long after, at 38, of a brain tumor. Ira and Lee moved next door to 1021 N. Roxbury.

In the early 1940s, Ginny Simms, a band singer, bought the house. She sold it in 1953 to newlyweds Jose Ferrer, an actor, director and musician, and Rosemary Clooney. The couple had five children by 1960 but later divorced. Clooney, famous for her rendition of "Come On-a My House," died at the house of lung cancer in 2002.

Over the years, a who's who of show business had paraded through her doors, including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Marlene Dietrich and Charlie Chaplin. Celebrity neighbors who lived within a block or two on the street included Lucille Ball, James Stewart and Jack Benny.

"It's terrible," said Denny Hankla, who rolled by the property on a two-wheeled scooter one recent morning. "This place was a landmark. It had a really great vibe."

Hankla, a drummer who said he was a friend of Miguel Ferrer, the oldest son of Ferrer and Clooney, said he spent the night in the house one time when "Rosie was still alive."

The common denominator of those who lived at 1019 N. Roxbury, Cameron said, was that they were all self-made American successes.

"I think it was a happy house full of people coming and going and people who had it made," she said. "Roxbury is this street of having it made." …

It's gone.

 

This second item appeared last Thursday -

 

George Gershwin Lived Here

And Beverly Hills just let the place be torn down
Harold Meyerson – LA Weekly - Thursday, August 18, 2005

 

… Roxbury was a songsters' street above all. Jerome Kern had lived one block over on Whittier; Harry Warren, the greatest of the songwriters who wrote chiefly for pictures, lived down Sunset on the other side of the Beverly Hills hotel; and Cole Porter's house was on Rockingham in Brentwood. Roxbury, however, beat them all. On the 900 block, Oscar Levant had lived so he could drop in on the Gershwins at all hours, as he had in New York. And on the 1000 block, lyricist Ira Gershwin lived until his death in 1983, next door to singer Rosemary Clooney, who lived for 50 years in the house where Ira and his brother George had lived and worked in 1936 and 1937, during the final year of George's life.

They had come to write an Astaire-Rogers picture (Shall We Dance) and stayed for two more movies, until George died with terrible suddenness, at age 38, of a brain tumor that went undiagnosed until he fell into a coma the day before he died. His death was a shattering event for the American artistic community, and a far larger community as well: As he lay dying, Franklin Roosevelt's White House enlisted the Coast Guard to find the nation's leading neurosurgeon, then boating on Chesapeake Bay, so he could consult by phone with the surgeons at Cedars of Lebanon hospital.

… In the greatest generation of American songwriters, Gershwin always was first among equals: He said the most and said it most deeply — above all, in his 1935 opera, Porgy and Bess. But Porgy was not a commercial hit, and George grew nervous that while he'd been immersed for two years in composing it, Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers and Larry Hart had been turning out one great hit after another. What quicker way to get back in the game than to come to Hollywood and write for Fred and Ginger?

So George and Ira moved into 1019 Roxbury and set to work. What they turned out differed from their work in the '20s, their "Fascinating Rhythm" period of propulsive sound. Their Roxbury work — "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Love Walked In," "Our Love Is Here To Stay" — has more of the features of Porgy: longer melodic lines, calmer tempos.

As always, they worked at home. With Ira living in one wing of the house and George in the other, it would have been silly to work anywhere else. Of all the major artists of classical Hollywood, it was chiefly the songwriters who worked at home. Which is one reason why their homes — if their output was significant enough — have more historic value than most directors' or actors'.

They get that in New York. There's a plaque on one of the Gershwins' residences there, a commemorative awning on another. They don't get this at all in Beverly Hills, which is how the house at 1019 Roxbury came to be demolished last week, so that another god-awful mansion by builder Hamid Omrani can go up on the site.

"If Beverly Hills had some preservation mechanism in place, we would have saved this house," Jay Platt, director of preservation for the L.A. Conservancy, said last week. But Beverly Hills and historic consciousness don't rhyme. In 1990, the city permitted actress Pia Zadora to demolish Pickfair, the estate of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford — with Charlie Chaplin, the first global stars of pictures — and the house that established Beverly Hills as the town where movie people lived, and where the world's celebrities came to visit.

Now, having lost its two most historically resonant buildings, a shamed Beverly Hills City Council has finally asked its staff to draft a historic-preservation ordinance. Whether any ordinance can really dethrone the God of Real Estate Values, though, is an open question. In Los Angeles — not just Beverly Hills — we obliterate our past.


Meyerson suggests maybe George and Ira knew that.  He suggests we think of the final stanza of the final song they wrote before George lapsed into that coma.

 

In time, the Rockies may crumble,
Gibraltar may tumble
(They're only made of clay),
But — our love is here to stay.

 

Spooky.

 

That was the thirties.  Oscar Levant was still around twenty years later.  Consider "An American in Paris" - both Gene Kelly and Oscar Levant were guys from Pittsburgh who ended up our here just down the way, Kelly on North Rodeo Drive and Levant on Roxbury - driving down to Culver City day after day in late 1952 to make a film about Paris at the old MGM studios there. 

 

Former Pittsburgh guys stuck in Hollywood pretending to be in Paris.  Sounds familiar.

 

And Oscar Levant is interesting - born in Pittsburgh, studied with Arnold Schoenberg and died down the street -

 

Oscar Levant -

 

Born 27 December 1906, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, died 14 August 1972, Beverly Hills, California.  Hypochondriac, witty, neurotic, grouchy, melancholic, acidic, and eccentric, are just a few of the adjectives that have been used over the years in a desperate attempt to accurately describe one of the most original characters in films, radio, and popular and light classical music.  All the above definitions apparently apply to his personal as well as his public image.  After graduating from high school, Levant struggled to make a living as pianist before moving to New York where he studied with Sigismund Stojovkskis and Arnold Schoenberg.  He also played in clubs, and appeared on Broadway in the play, Burlesque (1927), and in the movie version entitled The Dance Of Life, two years later.  In 1930 Levant worked with Irving Caesar, Graham John and Albert Sirmay on the score for another Broadway show, the Charles B. Dillingham production of Ripples, which starred Fred and Dorothy Stone and included songs such as "Is It Love?", "There's Nothing Wrong With A Kiss", and "I'm A Little Bit Fonder Of You".  In the same year Levant collaborated with Irving Caesar again on "Lady, Play Your Mandolin" which was successful for Nick Lucas and the Havana Novelty Orchestra, amongst others.  He wrote his best-known song, "Blame It On My Youth", with Edward Heyman in 1934, and it is still being played and sung 60 years later.

 

Levant spent much of the late 20s and 30s in Hollywood writing songs and scores for movies such as My Man (Fanny Brice's film debut in 1928), Street Girl, Tanned Legs, Leathernecking, In Person, Music Is Magic, and The Goldwyn Follies (1938).  Out of those came several appealing songs, including "If You Want A Rainbow (You Must Have The Rain)", "Lovable And Sweet", "Don't Mention Love To Me", "Honey Chile", and "Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind".  His collaborators included Ray Heindorf, Mort Dixon, Billy Rose, Sam M. Lewis, Vernon Duke, Sidney Clare, Dorothy Fields, Stanley Adams, and Joe Young.  Beginning in the late 30s, Levant also demonstrated his quick wit on the long-running radio series Information Please, and brought his grumpy irascible self to the screen in films such as In Person (1935), Rhythm On The River, Kiss The Boys Goodbye, Rhapsody In Blue (in which he played himself), Humoresque, Romance On The High Seas, You Were Meant For Me, The Barkleys Of Broadway, An American In Paris, and The Band Wagon (1953).  In the last two pictures, both directed by Vincente Minnelli, he seemed to be at the peak of his powers, especially in the former which has a famous dream sequence in which Levant imagines he is conducting part of George Gershwin's Concert In F and every member of the orchestra is himself.  Levant was a life-long friend and accomplished exponent of Gershwin's works.  His final musical, The "I Don't Care Girl", was a fairly dull affair, and his last picture of all, The Cobweb (1955), was set in a mental hospital.  That was both sad and ironic, because for the last 20 years of his life Levant suffered from failing mental and physical health, emerging only occasionally to appear on television talk shows.  In 1989 a one-man play based on the works of Oscar Levant entitled At Wit's End ("An Irreverent Evening"), opened to critical acclaim in Los Angeles.

 

Of course he was bi-polar, and proud of it. 

 

"There's a fine line between genius and insanity.  I have erased this line."

 

"I don't drink; I don't like it – it makes me feel good." 

 

"In some situations I was difficult, in odd moments impossible, in rare moments, loathsome, but at my best unapproachably great."  

And this:

 

"For one year and one month Oscar Levant declared my house his house," Harpo Marx once recalled.  "For one year and one month he ate my food, played my piano, ran up my phone bills, burned cigarette holes in my landlady's furniture, monopolized my record player and my coffee pot, gave his guests the run of the joint, insulted my guests, and never stopped complaining.  He was an egomaniac.  He was a leech and a lunatic - but I loved the guy."

 

Ah well, move on now.

 

Time have changed.  This isn't even a movie town any longer.

 

See this:

 

Movies, Shmovies - TV's Taking Over L.A.

Even as filmmaking goes out of state, the region is enjoying a boom in jobs for the small screen.

Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times, Friday, August 19, 2005

 

While Hollywood's nomadic film business has gravitated toward cheaper U.S. and foreign locales, television production has become the bedrock of the Los Angeles entertainment economy.

Producers are responding to a demand for original programs from broadcast networks and a mushrooming number of cable channels. Reruns are being shunned in favor of fresh shows that continue to earn money for years when shown again or sold on DVD.

With its production infrastructure and proximity to talent, Los Angeles is the location of choice. Stars working on a regular series prefer to stay close to home, and producers want to be near writers who may be needed for quick rewrites.

Television's role as the driving job creator in Hollywood will be underscored today when local film officials release a study showing a near-tripling in on location TV activity over the last decade.

According to the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., roughly 100 of the 134 scripted and reality series in prime time are shot in Los Angeles. Thirty-one of 71 prime-time cable programs surveyed are shot here as well. By contrast, film shooting in Los Angeles peaked in 1996, falling 38% since then.

"There is no question TV is driving an increasingly large share of our production activity," said Steve MacDonald, president of the nonprofit corporation. "The growth in television has been explosive."

In Burbank, all but five of the 34 soundstages on the Warner Bros. lot and at its production facility a few blocks away are devoted to television.

The lot where the film classics "Casablanca" and "My Fair Lady" were shot now produces such TV shows as NBC's "ER," ABC's "George Lopez," CBS' "Without a Trace" and the WB's "Gilmore Girls." Hollywood's largest collection of soundstages is so packed with TV work that some senior Warner executives were forced to give up their prized parking spots to make room for crews from NBC's "The West Wing." …

 

Ah well.  Film is so "over."

 

The old Pickfair here The new Pickfair here.

 

The missing Gershwin house:

The missing Gershwin house...

The missing Gershwin house...

The missing Gershwin house...































 
 
 
 

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
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