The Siege of Fort Anthony Part II

And now the continuation of the dramatic story of The Siege of Fort Anthony. You may read Part I of the story here.

Steve Anthony during The Siege of Fort Anthony (Jeff Robbins)

Bright and early at 7:30 in the morning of Saturday, February 8th, 1964 an ominous procession of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s patrol cars made the turn off Highland Avenue and on to the short little stub of Alta Loma Terrace across from the Hollywood Bowl.  Any question of the purpose of their visit was quickly answered as the last vehicle, a large moving van, made the turn on to Alta Loma.  This sinister little parade, of course, had not gone unnoticed by the occupant of 6655 Alta Loma Terrace. Steve Anthony had long known this day was coming and was prepared to meet it head on, converting the quaint little hilltop cottage into a defacto fortress of barred doors and windows, “Fort Anthony,” as it was soon dubbed by the press.  And behind the barricaded front door of Fort Anthony stood a resolute Steve Anthony – a gleaming 12-gauge shotgun in his hands. And he was quite prepared to use it.

Naturally, he had hoped it wouldn’t have come to this. For months, Anthony, aided by his attorney Paul Hill, had vigorously fought his family’s eviction in the courts using whatever means they could no matter how scant their legal reasoning might have seemed. And they tried it all – (1) they couldn’t find a reasonable replacement house with what the County had offered; (2) Anthony’s daughter was ill and should not be moved at this time; (3) the home was a historic treasure and was “filled with memories and relics of Mary Pickford, Doug Fairbanks, Jane Powell” and could not be replaced; (4) the $11,500 offered by the County was far below the home’s true appraised value; (5) the condemnation proceeding were illegal because the museum was a “private enterprise” rather than for “public necessity” – whatever might stick, but nothing did. Each and every time, Anthony’s claims were shot down by the courts. Undaunted, he and Hill vowed to continue fighting all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if they had to. The County, Sol Lesser and the Museum Committee, of course, had no intention of waiting that long to get the museum going. Here it was already February and aside from that one spade of earth little Richard Powell had turned last October not one single brick had been put in place on the grand new civic project.  And people were starting to get nervous.  Clearly, the Anthonys needed to go and they needed to go now.

(George Brich)

As they stepped out of their squad cars that February morning, the dozen Sheriff’s deputies knew to expect trouble and they came prepared – with teargas canisters at the ready.  But even before they made it up the steps, Steve Anthony dealt them a stunning surprise that halted them in their tracks. There he was, clearly visible in an upstairs window, a shotgun in one hand and a baby in the other. The deputies may have been prepared for the shotgun, but the baby was another matter altogether. It was soon learned that Anthony was far from alone in the cottage. With him behind the barricaded doors were his wife Elona, aged 22 and their three small children who ranged in age from 2 ½ to just 5 months. Also in the group were Mrs. Anthony’s elderly parents and their 14 year-old daughter Naomi. A house full of children and elderly parents was a logistical nightmare for the Sheriffs and put a real crimp in any plans to storm the house using force and teargas.  And then came perhaps even worse news (for the Sheriffs, that is) – the press – who immediately began swarming about with questions, microphones and cameras and like the Anthonys, they weren’t going anywhere.

During the standoff, February 8, 1964. (George Brich)

Before long the whole scene had taken on something of a circus atmosphere with a steadily growing crowd of bystanders mingling about and watching the standoff as it continued to unfold.  For hours, as an agitated Anthony popped in and out of the window of the old cottage waving his shotgun and shouting demands, deputies in riot gear responded with threats delivered by bullhorn and telephone, but he defiantly held his ground yelling out that he would hurt anyone who tried to harm his family with teargas.“I’m perfectly willing to die for this,” he shouted.  “A man has to die for something he believes in.”

(George Brich)

Five hours into the showdown there was much excitement when the Anthony’s family priest, Father Mark Falvey of Hollywood’s Blessed Sacrament, arrived and was admitted through the barricaded door of Ft. Anthony. Only five minutes later, however, the door opened again and out emerged a defeated Father Falvey, having been unable to convince Anthony to give up the fight. Finally, after a tense and fruitless seven-hour standoff, the Sheriff’s Office threw in the towel, at least temporarily, standing down and granting the Anthonys their demand for a one week extension to file an appeal with the California Supreme Court. Once he received assurances no further attempt would be made to evict him that day or for the rest of the week, Anthony allowed a delegation of Sheriff’s officials into the confines of Fort Anthony and showed them his 12-gauge shotgun had been unloaded the whole time. Well, not exactly the whole time. “My father-in-law told me to unload the gun hours ago,” he told them. “If he wasn’t here, I would have used it on anyone who came in.”

The Anthonys meet with the press at the conclusion of the standoff of February 8, 1964 (George Brich)

The dramatic seven hour standoff to remove Steve Anthony and his family from their condemned home on Alta Loma Terrace had proven to be a tactical and public relations disaster for the County Sheriff’s office made infinitely worse by the fact it had all gone down live on local television. Angelenos were fascinated by the story with many seeing  it in David & Goliath terms; an honest and decent “little guy” (an ex-Marine who had honorably served his nation no less and his attractive and photogenic family) boldly standing up to the brutish/heartless/soulless/greedy  corporate/government interests attempting to illegally and immorally take away his American dream. That the cold reality was Anthony really didn’t have a legal leg to stand on mattered not one bit to many observers who saw this as an abuse of the eminent domain process and an overreach of government power. Anthony, of course, was more than glad to help with that perception, freely and frequently speaking with the press and making darn good copy in the process.

On Monday, a stunning and disturbing new development in the Siege of Fort Anthony came with the news that a group of about a dozen ex-Marines had banded together and declared their intention to “stand” with Anthony the next time the County tried to evict him. What exactly they meant by the term “stand with” Anthony was not entirely clear, but it sounded ominous enough to send the County into a state of semi hysterics. The following day, citing a fear of possible “bloodshed,” the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to “re-evaluate” the condemnation proceedings against Anthony. “Let’s remember we’re just building a motion picture museum,” cautioned Supervisor Kenneth Hahn. Meanwhile Anthony managed to get his appeal filed with the California State Supreme Court. For now, it meant Anthony and his family could breathe a little easier for the first time in the two-year battle as no further action on eviction would or could be taken until the California Supreme Court had made its ruling.

Three weeks later they did. And it was not good news for Steve Anthony.  With the rejection by the California Supreme Court of Anthony’s appeal, the County wasted no time in ordering him out, giving he and his family just 48 hours to vacate the house on Alta Loma. Anthony, however, had no such intention declaring “I’m not leaving!” And this time a dozen fellow ex-Marines would be “standing”with him if the Sheriff’s tried to force him out. And although he told them not to bring arms he added ominously that the decision would ultimately be up to them.  As for Anthony himself, there would be no question about his bearing arms. “I’ll be waiting inside with my shotgun,” he declared defiantly. “The minute anyone tries breaking in, they will be in for one hell of a surprise.”

Steve Anthony gave frequent interviews throughout the protracted eviction battle. (Jeff Robbins)

On the evening of Sunday, March 1st, as the eviction deadline arrived, Anthony and his buddies milled about Fort Anthony talking and joking uneasily while keeping their eyes open for the approach of the Sheriff’s patrol cars. It was just the men as Anthony had wisely sent his wife and children to stay with relatives over in Burbank. Outside a hushed crowd of bystanders looked on as news crews began reporting “live” from the scene. No one had any idea what would happen, but everyone agreed it probably wouldn’t be good.

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of The Siege of Fort Anthony coming to a blog near you!

Posted in Central Hollywood, Interesting People, Lost Hollywood, The Hollywood That Never Was | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Rotogravure Sunday

Rotogravure Sunday is back!

Southern California Pepper Trees (Fred Archer)

In the 1920′s Touring Topics published a monthy Rotogravure section featuring great photography and art from great photographers and artists of California and the West. The dreamlike quality of the pictures captures, in my opinion, the vision of California and the West at its most romantic and I love looking at them. Hope you do do too!

On the famous Seventeen Mile Drive (Karl Struss)

Moonlight at Capistrano (Karl Struss)

This beautiful photograph by Frederick Simpson shows a quaint scene of Los Angeles' old Chinatown entitled "NEWS OF THE WORLD."

Even by the time this photo by Karl Struss was published in 1927, the Cahuenga Pass' Dark Canyon was already being transformed by the development of Hollywood Manor and Hollywood Knolls (Barham Boulevard runs through it today). Could the ruts be the grand daddy of Barham?

Desert Outposts by Roy Hunter

A San Onofre Ranch (Karl Struss)

Charles Hamilton Owens painted this stunning view of the USS Shenandoah on its trip from San Diego to Seattle. The beautiful airship was to tragically crash in a storm over Ohio on the morning of September 3, 1925.

The original caption states "A Study in Diagonals - A novel and almost cubistic study of the west portal of the Third Street tunnel by Will Connell."

A great view of the old seaside colony that was once found at the mouth of Topanga Canyon, a time when that a "beach shack" really meant a beach shack. (Will Connell)

This was the Ventura "Freeway" circa 1925 in the vicinity of "Triumfo," (Triunfo) which was apparently a spot between Thousand Oaks and today's Westlake Village. (Ernest M. Pratt)

Coming Up – Part II of “The Siege of Fort Anthony”

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The Siege of Fort Anthony Part I

(Photo: George Brich)

It looked as if all of Hollywood was turning out for the occasion just as Jack L. Warner had predicted. “Beyond question,” the venerable studio head had declared to the press, “it will be the largest turnout of stars and personalities from motion pictures, television, radio, recording and civic life ever to assemble for an occasion related to the entertainment industry.” A really bold claim to be sure, but as each shiny black limousine disgorged yet another world famous face it looked as if Warner hadn’t been exaggerating. Jimmy Stewart was there. So was Walt Disney, Gregory Peck, Lana Turner, Karl Malden, Gene Autry, Jack Webb, Shirley Booth, Rosalind Russell and a host of other world renowned celebrities.  Even some of the greats of yesteryear made an appearance with such legendary figures as Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Francis X. Bushman and Ramon Novarro all thrilling an enthusiastic crowd of some 6,000 excited movie fans who roared their approval from specially-built bleachers lining the stretch of Highland Avenue across from the Hollywood Bowl on that sunny October day in 1963. The star-studded event had all the glitz and ballyhoo of a major Hollywood premiere, which in a way it was. The production being celebrated, however, was not a movie, but rather a building – a museum to be exact – a museum for Hollywood.  And as the huge throngs attested, this was going to be no glorified warehouse of art or furniture. This was to be the most unique museum ever conceived, a sort of Disneyland meets the Smithsonian promising something to please everyone from the casual tourist to the serious film scholar.

The design of the new museum was entrusted to the prominent firm of William A. Pereria & Associates who created a design so striking it was later derided by some as an overly grand "Taj Mahal."

Sol Lesser. (LA Times)

The new venture, which was officially to be known as the Hollywood Motion Picture and Television Museum, was intended to be a shining example of how government and private enterprise could work together with private donations funding construction of the Museum itself and the County providing the land upon which it was to be sited. Upon completion, the museum would be County-owned but leased to a non-profit organization established for the purpose, which would physically manage the facility for a period of years. As for spearheading this big civic project, L.A. County turned to veteran Hollywood producer Sol Lesser.  Best known for producing the 1940 film version of Our Town as well as a popular and long-running series of Tarzan pictures, Lesser seemed like a perfect choice for the job, a Hollywood insider with stellar connections and an infectiously boyish enthusiasm for the project that belied his 70+ years.  Retiring from active production in 1958, Lesser threw himself body and soul into the project, giving his time, expertise and even some of his own money to the venture and no doubt envisioning  the long-discussed, long dreamed of museum as the crowning achievement of his long career

And what a legacy it would be! Hollywood’s new Motion Picture and Television Museum was poised to be as spectacular as any of the movies it would showcase and honor. No dusty repository of antiques here – a living, vibrant and exciting venue, a thrill a minute for the millions of lucky visitors who would surely flock from all parts of the globe to see this wonderland each and every year. The show would start on the sidewalk with tickets purchased from none other than animatronic Clark Gables or Marlene Dietrichs and from there, according to William Pereira, architect of the new museum, visitors would “step into a world of illusion.” Their first view would be an awe-inspiring four-story exhibit space where they would wander through a “television forest” and then be whisked up by a giant lift and find themselves back in Imperial Rome where they would stand as part of the throngs hearing  Marc Anthony giving his famous oration. Descending a winding staircase the history of the development of electronic communication would unfold before them. If they are hungry they may dine on the Via Veneto, the Kasbah or even a full scale recreation of the Hollywood Canteen. A 600-seat theater would showcase films of all types. Television programs would be viewed from television screens that would descend from the ceiling.  Not only could they view current and classic films and television shows they could actually watch them being made while sitting in glassed in booths in one of the two active sound stages on the property. All around them, visitors would be treated to a series of revolving and permanent exhibits showcasing the stunning multi-million dollar collection the Museum had already amassed including not only thousands of props and costumes, but complete sets from famous films as well. An Oscar and Emmy Sanctum was sure to be a hit as would be the priceless collection of early cinematic devices donated by Beverly Hills financier Bart Lytton.

A newspaper view of architect Pereira's vision of the Imperial Rome section of the museum, which was going to be made possible "by means of miniatures, process photography, forced perspective and other techniques developed by motion picture craftsmen in Hollywood."

Mary Pickford's pledge to donate her vast and invaluable collection was a stunning coup for the museum.

While it might be all “Lights! Camera! Action!” as Sol Lesser proudly declared, the museum’s boosters took great pains to make clear it would be equally dedicated as a place for education, serious study and scholarly research. In fact, an entirely separate tower building was incorporated into the design exclusively for this purpose with space for libraries, offices, film vaults and storage rooms. The museum would surely need this space. It had already gotten pledges to receive both the entire Cecil B. De Mille and Mary Pickford collections, a huge coup indeed as well as the personal collections of pioneer filmmakers Jesse Lasky and Carl Laemmle of Universal and no doubt many more to follow. Another giant acquisition for the museum was the pledge of 20th Century Fox’s mammoth collection of 1.8 million still photographs. And this was just the start. The museum’s acquisitions committee was constantly searching for and receiving pledges for other collections from around the world of important items related to the history of the modern entertainment industry. And by the museum’s standard the “entertainment industry” was intended to encompass not only motion pictures and television, but the radio and recording industries as well. The idea of a single museum, no matter how big, giving equal time to showcasing the history and continuing development of the movies, television, radio and the music industry from birth to today and on to tomorrow all under one roof seemed like an extremely ambitious one and in the minds of some way too ambitious for just one entity to handle. These people saw it as a four-headed hydra with each head demanding equal attention all at once. How would or could such a thing be accommodated?   And then there were concerns over the true costs of the project, big concerns over whether the venture would be financially self sustaining as supporters claimed or a financial drain on County resources as detractors feared.

But those negative thoughts were banished to the hinterlands for the moment as 11 year-old Richard Powell, son of the late great Dick Powell, ceremoniously turned the first spadeful of earth on the project to the accompanying cheers of thousands in the appreciative crowd. For so many that symbolic shovel of dirt represented the culmination of a dream, a long held desire to see Hollywood with a museum all its own that honored and celebrated the new yet exceedingly rich history of the movies.  As early as 1940 ideas had been floated about to convert such sites as the former Trocadero or the old Warner Brothers Studio on Sunset into just such a museum, but these proposals never advanced past the drawing board and disappointment followed disappointment. Time and again, the idea was revived, cheered and encouraged only to have it undone by one thing or another. It seemed to many that a Hollywood museum was jinxed. But now, with that spadeful of earth the long deferred dream was now finally becoming a reality. There was nothing standing in the way to keep this museum from happening. That is, except maybe for the man glaring balefully out the window from the old house on the hill.

The Old House on the Hill, 6655 Alta Loma Terrace, as seen in the early 1930's. Bette Davis loved this house so much, her first in Hollywood, that she even included this photo in her 1962 autobiography.

Steve Anthony was not someone you'd want to mess with. (George Brich)

The man in the window felt he had every reason to glare. To him this was no celebration of a grand new civic project, but a provocation for an all out war. Here they were, the Barbarians at his very gate and he knew exactly what all this hoopla meant. It meant the coming destruction of everything he held near and dear.  But if they thought he’d slink away quietly they’d better think again. Steve Anthony had never shied away from a fight in his life and he wasn’t about to now. A pugnacious ex-Marine turned Hollywood bartender, Anthony had been living a peaceful and quiet existence in the little cottage on the hill with his growing family for some years now.  That was until the Hollywood Museum project came in and decimated virtually everything in sight in the name of “progress.” Just two years earlier, this had been a quaint and vibrant old Hollywood neighborhood filled with cute little Spanish bungalows and English cottages where famous stars of days gone by had once lived. People like Francis X. Bushman, Donald Crisp and even Strongheart the Wonder Dog had called it home.  Anthony’s own place had the biggest star association of all – none other than Bette Davis – who had made 6655 Alta Loma Terrace her very first Hollywood residence in 1930. “It was the sweetest house I had ever seen in my life,” remembered Davis fondly.  No small compliment considering the literally dozens of homes the peripatetic Davis moved in and out of during her long career in the film capital.  It was indeed quite a little charmer. Built in 1923 to the plans of local architect Ray G. Smith, the cottage at 6655 Alta Loma Terrace was Cotswold by way of Walt Disney. A movieland home in the truest sense of the word, it was said that set pieces from Rex Ingram’s 1922 production of The Prisoner of Zenda had been incorporated directly into the home’s design. The cottage had been built for cinematographer and future Broadway producer Gordon Pollock, perhaps best remembered today for his work with Erich Von Stroheim on the disastrous Queen Kelly (1928) and Charlie Chaplin on City Lights (1931). It had been the Pollocks who had rented their house to the newly arrived Bette Davis and her mother Ruthie and some twenty-five years later to Steve and Elona Anthony.

Bette Davis poses in the living room of 6655 Alta Loma in the early 1930's.

During his time on Alta Loma, Anthony had hit it off quite well with his landlord, helping the older man out in various ways especially during Pollock’s recovery from a stroke. After Pollock and his wife were killed in a plane crash over Lake Eire in 1956, Anthony discovered his kindnesses had not been forgotten with Pollock willing him half ownership in the house.  Anthony knew how much Pollock had loved the house on Alta Loma and his generous gift only strengthened his resolve to save it. And had it not been for Steve Anthony, it would have already met the same fate as the fifteen other homes surrounding it – bulldozed into oblivion in the name of progress under condemnation through Eminent Domain. Anthony had been the sole holdout, refusing the $11,000 offered for his share of the house, forcing the County to go through lengthy legal proceedings to forcibly evict him. And forcibly it would have to be for the Anthonys had no intention of going voluntarily. The stage was set for what was to become known as “The Siege of Fort Anthony.”

Stay tuned for the exciting continuation of the “The Siege of Fort Anthony” coming to a blog near you.

Posted in Central Hollywood, Lost Hollywood, The Hollywood That Never Was | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

HAPPY HALLOWEEN FROM PARADISE LEASED!

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am a huge fan of the old Touring Topics/Westways magazines for both their great articles as well as their fantastic covers. From October 1969, this is one of my all-time favorites as done by the brilliant Marv Rubin. I think he has captured the true “spirit” of the fun of Halloween as seen through the eyes of children and isn’t that the way we should all be looking at Halloween?

Paradise Leased has risen from the dead of its hiatus and wishes you the most fun and spooky Haunted Hollywood Halloween ever!

Posted in General Announcements, Magazine Art | 4 Comments

Time Traveling This Weekend? Why Not Stop in at These Fine Establishments?

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Newt’s Paradise – Apple Valley’s Spectacular Hilltop House

(Maynard L. Parker)

(Maynard L. Parker)

A few months ago I did a post on the historic Apple Valley Inn and was delighted with the response it generated from both those who knew and loved the Inn in its heyday and those who had never heard of it until now. I even heard from the granddaughter of “Mr. Apple Valley” himself, Newton T. “Newt” Bass, which was, of course, a real treat and a great honor as well.

Newt Bass and his partner Bud Westlund were the founding fathers of Apple Valley, having purchased 6,300 acres of high desert land during the early 1940′s with the original intention of developing a cattle ranch. Instead they turned it into a real estate development known as Apple Valley Ranchos, a huge success that made both Newt and Bud millions. Unlike some developers who take the money and run, however, Newt and Bud remained committed to Apple Valley from its inception into full maturity like proud parents doting over a favorite child.

King of the Hill. Newt Bass at Hilltop House. (Maynard L. Parker)

Newt Bass was a fascinating man. A self-made millionaire who had been raised on an Indian reservation in South Dakota, Newt moved to California at the age of 18 and became a roustabout in the burgeoning oil fields of Long Beach’s famous Signal Hill and down at Santa Fe Springs. By 31, the enterprising Newt had begun drilling his own wells and by the time he was 40 he’d amassed such a fortune he was able to retire. It was his search for a perfect place to have a cattle ranch that led him to Apple Valley.

(via Craig Skibiski/www.DesertKnollsRealty.com)

Newt was able to watch over Apple Valley’s phenomenal  growth both literally and figuratively from a spectacular modernistic house he built on a 20 acre hilltop site just above the Apple Valley Inn. Appropriately named “Hilltop House,” Newt’s home offered panoramic vistas in virtually every direction with views stretching into hundreds of miles taking in not only Apple Valley itself but the Mojave Desert, Antelope Valley and the San Bernardino Mountains beyond. “A view so vast,” wrote Pictorial California in 1960, “that outer-space high is the feeling when standing within.”

Newt with Francisco Artigas at Hilltop House (Maynard L. Parker)

In choosing an architect for Hilltop House, Newt made a very exciting and “out of the box” decision by engaging an architect not from Southern California, but from down in Mexico. Although relatively unknown in the United States, Francisco Artigas was a very prominent figure in Mexican architecture with many notable designs throughout his country including his work in Mexico City’s upscale neighborhood of Jardines de Pedregal de San Angel. The young Artigas designed a sleek and stunning hilltop house that not only fit into its rugged setting it actually incorporated parts of it into the house itself with a boulder outcropping a prominent feature in the home’s combination living/dining room.

Another spectacular feature was the indoor-outdoor swimming pool Artigas incorporated into the design. “To coax indoors the sunshine by day and the stars by night,” wrote Pictorial California, ” electric push buttons open sliding panels above the pool to become three skylights. At night what a sight it must be – for Apple Valley and the Mojave have the most brilliant of stars.”

Hilltop House was definitely intended as a retreat for Newt himself. There was not a feminine element to be found in either the architecture or the interior design, which was done in combination with Artigas himself, who designed all of the furniture, along with local interior designers Jim Richardson, Fred Miller and Joel Harper of Albert Parvin. Artigas had even lived in Apple Valley for a while in order to get a proper feeling of the area before taking on the design of Hilltop House.

Artigas took as much advantage as possible of native materials using stones found right on the hillside to create a dramatic fireplace wall. The lounge chairs and ottomans are upholstered in a terra-cotta fabric set off by silver legs.

The combination living/dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides. The ceiling is mahogany. Carpet is caramel-colored wool.

Well, you can’t get much more masculine than a wall of guns within arm’s-length of the bed.  Newt’s enormous Walnut with Ebony inlay Victorian bed was supposedly a prop from Gone With the Wind.

Another view of the master bedroom showing built-in television circa 1957 in the native stone fireplace wall. Pool is just a few steps away.

Bath time was sexy time at Hilltop House with its unique double shower lined with Florient Rose Italian Marble in shades of tan and peach to apricot tones. One end of the bathroom was mirrored from floor-to-ceiling allowing a full view of the valley beyond from within the showers.

(Maynard L. Parker)

Newt Bass’s spectacular Hilltop House was Apple Valley’s most prominent landmark until a fire nearly destroyed it in 1967. It was restored and rebuilt, but from then on it was used largely for office rather than residential space. Over the years, Hilltop House has fallen into disrepair and disuse until it has become a gutted derelict, a skeleton of its former self. This is a real tragedy. As prominent Apple Valley realtor Craig Skibiski has noted  “Depending on who you ask today, the Hilltop House is either up for auction, haunted, being remodeled by the Town of Apple Valley, or being bulldozed soon.” Let us hope this famous home, like the old Inn 300-feet below it, will be restored and again take its place as Apple Valley’s premier residence. This is a modernistic masterpiece steeped in High Desert history that Apple Valley cannot afford to lose.

Photographer NikZane has taken some stunningly beautiful shots of the forlorned but still spectacular Hilltop House ruins that can be found on his Flickr page here.

(NikZane via Flickr)

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Anybody Have a Rich Uncle?

Beautiful then...

Recently I had the good fortune of seeing some footage of a documentary currently in the works on Marsha Hunt that is being produced by two great and as it turns out very talented guys – Roger C. Memos and Richard Adkins.

And beautiful now.

As "Mary" in Pride and Prejudice

Being an old Hollywood/movie fan, I figured I knew who Marsha was - a very pretty, very talented actress who had come within a hairbreadth of being cast as “Melanie” in Gone with the Wind (1939). A former New York fashion model, Marsha started in films in 1935 under contract to Paramount before later moving over to MGM during the peak period of her career in the 1940′s. I always found her to be such a charming presence on-screen whether playing sweet as in Pride and Prejudice (1940) or scheming in Smash Up: The Story of a Woman (1947) that it always seemed to me that she should have had a bigger career. As it was, she didn’t have a bad one and I assumed she retired in the 1950′s and went off to lead a happy quiet little existence somewhere in the Valley and that was that.

Well, as it turned out I really knew nothing about Marsha and couldn’t believe what I had been missing.

Marsha has led a VERY interesting life!

This is one fascinating lady who has had and continues to lead an extraordinary life. And, yes, she’s not only still alive heading up towards her 94th birthday, but she is literally “ageless” with a mind as sharp as the proverbial tack, quick wit and still just as extraordinarily beautiful as she ever was. And when you find out Marsha’s story she becomes all that much more beautiful, if that’s possible.

A dark time for America.

Her “retirement” I found out was not by choice, but rather because she became unjustly caught up in the malicious whirlwind of the Communist witch-hunt of the 1950′s with her name published in the infamous Red Channels for committing, it appears, the Un-American act of speaking out against HUAC’s investigation into the Communist infiltration of Hollywood. The taint of Red Channels knocked the stuffing out of her career in Hollywood leaving her with nothing but free time on her hands, a sudden and stunning shock. Did she crawl under the bed in bitterness? She would have had the right to. No, she took the adversity she was faced with and turned it on its ear, finding a new voice in community service and this grew and grew from a modest first effort to build a community center for Sherman Oaks to eventually helping battle hunger and homelessness on an international scale. There is no telling how many countless thousands who have been aided by Marsha’s quietly determined efforts through the decades but the numbers are doubtless legion.

And she has done all this and continues to work without a peep of self aggrandizing publicity. Her extraordinary story might have gone untold had it not been for the efforts of Roger and Richard who are producing this documentary, which is entitled Zelda Can Dance: Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity. But, of course, documentaries do cost (a lot of) money and at this time Roger and Richard are looking for completion funds to get this worthy project to the screen. They are very close with so much already done! I think all the interviews have been completed and now it’s down to the final part of pulling everything all together with the editing.

93 going on 23

I really believe in this project and I’m sending the word out into the blogosphere in the hopes there might be someone who could be an angel and give the documentary that final push to the top of the mountain. One big check would be great, but so would a lot of little checks too. If everyone reading this blog donated just $5.00 a piece you could collectively make Zelda Dance! And believe me, you’d be glad you did. Here’s the link to their website where you can get more information on the project and also contribute if you can.

How many of us have stars on the Walk of Fame...

And their own paper doll collection?!

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