Then & Now – 4447 Cromwell Avenue

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The Schoenborn House in 1926. Original landscape design by the Beverly Hills Nurseries.


And today. Photo by Charmaine David via listing.

Thanks to the ever-fabulous Curbed L.A., I was tipped off tonight that one of my favorite Wallace Neff houses, the A.L. Schoenborn Residence (1924) in Los Feliz has just come on the market for $2,750,000. This is a relatively early Neff and while it might not be one of his most famous designs it is a perfect representation of why I love the Spanish Colonial Revival style so much especially as interpreted through the genius of Wallace Neff himself. And the siting is exceptional too, visible but still private with second-to-none views. As usual, Neff was able to bring in all the beauty of Spanish Colonial Revival, the impressive woodwork, colorful tile and intricate ironwork all set against whitewashed stucco walls while still keeping the house feeling relaxed and informal. I’d like to think that the young Mr. Schoenborn (only 33 when he had the house built) had given Neff carte blanche to design the house just as Neff envisioned it. The architect used much of the Spanish design vocabulary here with a bold rotunda, arches of varying types, Monterey balconies, variegated roof lines. It’s simply a fabulous house and a unique treasure, not only for Neff but the incredible ironwork of Eugen Julius Dietzmann. It looks like there’s even at least one original Crane bathroom too.

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Charmaine David via listing.

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Charmaine David via listing.

I wanted to put up a post on the house because I noticed that there have been requests to see some vintage pictures. The good news is that there are some, the bad news is they are few, but it is at least a taste. We see Adrian has caught some heat for saying the house has been “bastardized.” Based on the photos it looks like the problem seems more with its current overpowering interior decoration than any irreparable structural muddling so it looks like the bones are still good. However, we stand by Adrian here @ Paradise Leased since any revision to us of a Wallace Neff original is a bastardization! Go ahead and have at it with the kitchen but touch ye not the work of genius elsewhere lest you be forever haunted by the ghosts of good taste past.

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Hey, they filled in the bookcase. Why dat? Charmaine David via listing.

This great house is listed by the fabulously named Juan Longfellow and Louise Leach of Normand & Associates and has its own website with 57 beautifully done shots by Charmaine David @

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Charmaine David via listing.

A little word on Albert Lawrence (“A.L.”) Schoenborn, the original owner/builder of 4447 West Cromwell Avenue. Born in Buffalo, New York on May 22, 1890, Schoenborn became something of a wunderkind in Los Angeles financial and investment circles during the 1920’s, founding the Wilshire Building & Loan Association by the time he was 32. After selling out to the State Guaranty Corporation in 1927 (of which he became vice president) Schoenborn also took on the vice presidency of the Pacific States Savings and Loan Company as head of its Los Angeles branch @ 6th and Grand. Schoenborn was also a pioneer in San Fernando Valley real estate development, buying and subdividing a number of Chatsworth-area tracts and maintaining a ranch (long gone) @ 21510 Roscoe Boulevard throughout the 1920’s and is accredited as the founder of “North Owensmouth.” While that name has vanished into oblivion, Schoenborn Street still runs through the Valley as a lasting memory.

No one will ever know for certain as to why, but on April 17, 1929, Schoenborn succumbed to toxic exhaust fumes in a garage in Sawtelle. While reports stated that he had suffered a nervous breakdown and disappeared from the house in a state described as “delirious,” no official determination of suicide was ever made by the County Coroner. It was believed that in his unstable condition his death might well have been accidental as much as intentional and therefore the cause remains “undetermined.” Schoenborn, who left behind a wife, Veral S. and a son, Larry, was only 38 years old.

Dora Doubter

I always try to see both sides, but I must verify.

Lastly, our intrepid scholar Dora Doubter has some, well, doubt about the assertion that this home was actually lived in by Wallace Neff himself. You can’t blame her, after all, it’s built into her DNA. It sure would be cool if it were true, but…she’s demanding proof. Anyone know the original source? Would love to confirm so she’ll stop fussing about and get back to reorganizing the garage where her services are most needed.

And a few more images by Charmaine David of the listing via the listing. Many more here.


Charmaine David via listing.


Posted in Los Feliz, Paradise For Sale or Lease, Then & Now | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

High Above Apple Valley – New Vintage Images of the Apple Valley Inn and Newt’s Hilltop House


For those of you following the blog you know there have been big doings as of late regarding the fate of the once spectacular but now ruined Hilltop House sited 300 feet above the once famous but now shuttered Apple Valley Inn. These two properties constitute the greatest historic treasures in all of Apple Valley and they both cry out for rescue before it’s too late. As it stands now, the Hilltop House and its twenty acres are up for sale. That can mean salvation is on the way or total destruction is around the corner. And there’s also an intriguing third scenario, which would turn the Hilltop House into a public park. Only time will tell as to what will ultimately happen. In the meantime, I wanted to share a beautiful set of aerials taken by Howard D. Kelly on February 3, 1961 of the Hilltop House and Apple Valley Inn. You can see both properties in all their long-gone glory.




These great images were recently unearthed by the Los Angeles Public Library and comprise part of the Kelly-Holiday Collection of the library’s vast holdings.  Thanks to the LAPL for releasing them for our enjoyment!

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After 68 – Remembering the Unforgettable Ambassador in a New Documentary

After68I have risen momentarily from my blog-writing slumber to let everyone know about a wonderful new documentary project by producer/director Camilo Silva called After 68 that’s currently in the works on what is perhaps the single greatest loss of history to ever befall Los Angeles – the demolition of the Ambassador Hotel in 2005. If you think I’m being overly dramatic just take a look at the scope of the history of this astounding place. We really lost something here, something that ran way deeper than the loss of a mere building. So many events, so many people, so much that made Hollywood and Los Angeles and beyond, centered around the Ambassador. It was part of the very soul of Los Angeles. It didn’t just witness history. It made history. Now its gone and we can never get it back.

That’s why I am so happy to see this documentary being done on the Ambassador, its rise and tragic fall and from what I’ve seen it looks like its going to be great. I can’t wait to see it finished. Please check out the trailer here and please help make After 68 a reality by contributing to its completion funds if you can. The goal is within sight. Every dollar helps. We owe it to the Ambassador, to Los Angeles and to ourselves to make sure this story is told. We can never replace this treasured landmark, but we might be able to learn something from it. The Ambassador can be our Penn Station, a tipping point in the battle for historic preservation that ultimately saved so many other Manhattan landmarks from the same ignoble fate. Will it become a rallying cry of “never again,” never again allow something so critical to our history to be taken from us without at least one hell of a fight? I hope so.

Here’s the full press release on After 68 and its related links.


Filmmakers Recover Legacy of Historic Hotel by Resurrecting its Demolished Past


LOS ANGELES, CALIF. (August 10, 2013)


In 2005 the landmark Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles became one of the most historically significant and celebrated U.S. buildings of the 20th century ever to be destroyed. Nearly a decade later, a dedicated team of documentary filmmakers intend to bring the Ambassador back to life with After 68. The feature length documentary is a gripping exposé on the dynamic history and controversial demolition of the iconic hotel. “Though the hotel’s structure is gone we are working hard to ensure that its legacy lives on. By chronicling its rich history and the emotional fight to save it from demolition, we hope to give the Ambassador its rightful place in history,” states director/producer, Camilo Silva. “This film is particularly important because it goes far beyond just recapping the history of a famous site. It will challenge audiences to think about historic preservation in new ways and question how actively we value our aging structures from the past.”

After 68 examines historic preservation through the lens of the 15-year struggle to save the Ambassador Hotel from the wrecking ball. For decades the Ambassador was the epicenter of cultural and civic life in the U.S., playing host to the Academy Awards, celebrities, international dignitaries, iconic authors, artists, scientists and every U.S. President          from Hoover to Nixon. The hotel’s legendary Cocoanut Grove was one of the most sought after music venues in the world, showcasing almost every major musical act of the 20th century and launching the careers of countless stars. In 1968 the Ambassador’s fate took a dark turn when it became the site of a tragedy: the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

When the hotel closed in 1989, the Ambassador once again garnered national headlines during a dramatic battle between preservationists and the school district over the fate of the site. A heated fight ensued, quickly polarizing the community and sparking a multifaceted debate that pitted education against historic preservation. After a lengthy and costly legal battle, the board voted to demolish the hotel. “California doesn’t          preserve much of their history…Tear it down and build  something new, there was no interest in the preservation of it” stated Merv Griffin in his After 68 interview.            Coming in at just under $600 million, the new school campus that was constructed would end up with the distinction of being the most expensive school built in U.S. history.

In the first feature  film ever to turn the lens back on the Ambassador, Silva weaves together classic photography and historical footage, along with captured footage of the building’s demolition, and emotional interviews from a range of key people involved with the hotel. “As documentarians timing is critical for us because with every day that passes we are threatened with losing the oral histories that only remain within our          collective memory and we want to recover them before it is too late,” says Silva.

Using first-hand accounts, After 68 demonstrates how the Ambassador Hotel’s rich history ultimately placed it between opposing cultural divides: a pawn in the power struggle between those who saw the importance of preserving our past as a means to define our future, and those who were willing to destroy it. “The Ambassador’s story marks the irrecoverable loss of an important relic of human and social history, and as          filmmakers we want to educate the public about the value of protecting our past, and thereby ensure that the other Ambassadors of the world may be saved” declares Silva. This film is not only a tribute to the life and legacy of the hotel but it will also serve as an important symbol for the value of historic preservation worldwide.

For More Information Visit:

Media Contact:           Katie Ravnik •           • 510-847-9054

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Aloha on Rimpau – A Hawaiian Hero in Hancock Park

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Designed by the very prolific Frank Meline in 1922, this charming house on Rimpau south of Wilshire was rented in the mid-1920’s into the early 1930’s by the legendary Hawaiian Duke Paoa Kahanamoku. (Dee Cappelli)

hawaii908160336AR_bHe is still the most famous of all Hawaiians, a superb athlete revered today as the “Father of Modern Surfing.” Yet Duke P. Kahanamoku’s legacy goes well beyond Olympic Gold medals and the host of other honors heaped upon him in his decades as a world champion. A magnificently handsome man with a jet-black mane of hair, soulful eyes and dazzlingly white smile, Kahanamoku came to symbolize the very embodiment of the true spirit of Aloha to such a degree that in 1959, he was named Hawaii’s official “Ambassador of Aloha,” a role he had unofficially been fulfilling for decades ever since his first Olympic victories at Stockholm in 1912. Kahanamoku’s Olympic triumphs combined with his looks and winning personality made him an international celebrity, bringing sudden attention to the heretofore obscure Hawaiian Islands and a marked increase in island tourism was directly credited to the fame of their native son.


duke_kahanamokuFrom almost the moment of his birth on August 24, 1890 in Honolulu, Kahanamoku’s life revolved around the warm Pacific waters surrounding the island.  He learned to swim, in traditional fashion, by simply being tossed into the water by his father and uncle. “I had to swim or else,” he later remarked. From his sink or swim beginnings, Kahanamoku developed into an expert swimmer and diver. While that on its own might not have been a particularly unusual accomplishment for a Hawaiian Islander of the time, what was unusual was the speed by which Kahanamoku could propel himself through the water. By the time the first officially sanctioned Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) swim meet took place in Hawaii, Kahanamoku was already something of a local legend. In that race, held on August 12, 1911, Kahanamoku performed so remarkably, shearing 4.6 seconds off the world record for the 100-yard open water, AAU officials stateside refused to believe the time and declared there must have been an error on the part of all four judges.


(Bain News Service/Library of Congress)

The following year, Kahanamoku and several other Hawaiians were sent to the States to compete in the AAU National Swimming Championships. Kahanamoku easily won his races, earning him a place on the United States Olympic team. At the summer games held in Stockholm, there was no mistaking Kahanamoku’s incredible speed and power this time, and he won the 100-meter freestyle, yet again breaking the world record and easily taking the Gold medal. He also earned a Silver as a member of the 200-meter relay.


(Bain News Service/Library of Congress)

Over the next few years, Kahanamoku’s reputation grew to new heights as he continued shattering world aquatic records in various competitions around the globe. At the same time, he was credited for single-handedly reintroducing to the world to the sport of surfing. Although it had been an integral part of Hawaiian life for generations, by the turn of the Twentieth Century surfriding had been largely forgotten. In a series of widely attended demonstrations around the world, Kahanamoku would ride the waves on his handmade long board to the delight of onlookers, and before long, the ancient sport was revitalized along the coasts of the world.

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In 1918, the noted English artist and printmaker Charles W. Bartlett painted Duke Kahanamoku on his famous long board perfectly capturing the romance of surf riding. (


Duke, Ross Norman and other Olympic swimmers show off their robes between events at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, which proved to be a triumph for the Hawaiian swimmer. (International Olympic Committee)

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Friends for life. Johnny Weissmuller & Duke Kahanamoku at the Paris Olympics where the torch was passed from Duke to Johnny. (Corbis)

At the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium, Kahanamoku continued his nonstop winning streak, taking two more Gold Medals, the first for the 100-meter freestyle and the second in the 200-meter relay. By the time of the 1924 Olympic Games, Kahanamoku was thirty-four, considered an advanced age for an Olympic athlete, yet, he had no trouble qualifying for the team as did his younger brother Sam. It was in Paris, however, that Kahanamoku suffered his first major defeat, coming in second behind a new swimming sensation, an athlete thirteen years his junior named Johnny Weissmuller. It was Weissmuller who would take the mantle from Kahanamoku, going on to become the winningest record holder in American history up to that point. Kahanamoku showed no anger or bitterness in defeat and he maintained a close friendship with Weissmuller that was to last the remainder of their lives. Years later, Weissmuller would honor his friend by declaring, “I learned it all from him.” Duke Kahanamoku continued swimming for the rest of his life, winning his last Olympic medal at the age of forty-two. His remarkable twenty-one year career as an Olympic champion remains today a record achievement.


(Getty/International Olympic Committee)


In the 1920’s, Duke was all over Southern California. He even made it to Palm Springs for a meet at the El Mirador. (LAPL)

As someone so identified with the Hawaiian Islands it is easy to forget that Duke Kahanamoku ever spent significant time anywhere else, yet he was a regular presence in Southern California throughout the 1910’s and 1920’s. Duke had become entranced by the wonders of Southern California ever since his first visit in 1912 and even imagined the possibility having a home here someday. The Southland was equally charmed with Duke making many friends and becoming a particular favorite of the movie colony. And, of course, his worldwide fame and good looks didn’t go unnoticed by the studios. In 1925, Famous Players-Lasky (Paramount) offered Duke a film contract. However, his promising film career was hobbled by an ironic twist – He couldn’t appear on-screen doing what the world best knew him for – swimming. AAU rules strictly prohibited Duke from accepting money for swimming, something studio lawyers might not have been fully aware of before offering him a contract. And Duke had no intention of giving up his amateur standing in athletics just for Hollywood film making, which he considered nothing more than a fun lark. As it was, Famous Players-Lasky found themselves with a non-swimming swimming star and were forced to come up with creative ways to use him in non-aquatic roles. They tried their best and over the next few years, Duke made appearances in a number of films including the epic production of Old Ironsides in 1926, but without being able to be seen as the aquatic champion he was his career in movies quickly fizzled. Interestingly, in later years, Duke would return to the screen on several notable occasions. In 1948 he played a native chieftain opposite another famous “Duke,” John Wayne, in The Wake of the Red Witch, and in 1955 he again played a native chief in the John Ford-directed Mister Roberts with Henry Fonda and James Cagney.

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If he couldn’t swim then make him a tribal chief or other exotic. Here’s Duke appearing with Ronald Colman in 1929’s The Rescue.


Like any other budding star, Duke was forced to submit to silly Hollywood publicity photos. Can’t get much sillier than having to golf and surf at the same time. Duke took it all in stride. (LAPL)


The famous LAAC pool in Duke’s day.

During his first visits to Los Angeles, Duke was usually put up at the Los Angeles Athletic Club where he enjoyed swimming in the club’s enormous swimming tank and palling around with the many well-known athletes and young Hollywood stars who resided there. During the 1920’s and into the 1930’s, Duke found more spacious quarters at the home of his good friend Leslie A. Henry in a large house on Rimpau Boulevard near 8th Street. Henry, known to his friends as L.A. Henry, was a prominent local bonds dealer also extremely active in athletics, serving as chairman of the board of governors of the LA Athletic Club, president of the AAU, as well as serving on the U.S. Olympic Committee. Ironically, Henry’s house lacked a swimming pool, but Duke had ready access to the large tank at the LAAC and the plunge at the Hollywood Athletic Club, which Duke was given the honor of inaugurating on January 12, 1924 . And, of course, he had the nearby waters of the Pacific.

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It is a bit of a challenge to pin down exactly what style Frank Meline had in mind when he designed 824 South Rimpau. Kind of Spanish, sort of Italian. Maybe. But charming nonetheless. (Dee Cappelli)

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(Dee Cappelli)

By the early 1930’s, Kahanamoku left Hollywood to return to his native Hawaii, where he became its most revered citizen and goodwill ambassador. For more than twenty years he served as Sheriff of Honolulu and after Hawaii became the 50th State in 1959, he was made the State’s official “Ambassador of Aloha.” Kahanamoku died at the age of seventy-seven, just three weeks after greeting Hawaii’s one-millionth visitor.


Duke steered clear of the altar until he was 50, but when he did get hitched he made it a good one. In 1940 he married the lovely Nadine Alexander. It was a union that would end only with Duke’s death in 1968. Does Nadine know how to pose like a lady or what?


Cool at any age. The Sheriff of Honolulu.(

Today, there are many memorials and monuments to Duke Kahanamoku on the Hawaiian Islands, but all too few stateside. Along with the historic and famous Los Angeles Athletic Club, the old house on Rimpau is one of the most significant sites in Los Angeles that can still be linked to the legendary swimmer and surf rider, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.


The Duke Kahanamoku Statue on Oahu (

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Save the Date – May 13, 2013 for Aaroe Architectural #22 John Parkinson Presentation!

This Monday, May 13th you are cordially invited to attend the latest presentation of the Aaroe Architectural Education Series. This one is going to really be great too. Stephen Gee, author of the brand new John Parkinson, Architect of Los Angeles, will be giving a very informative and well illustrated talk on Parkinson, one of the most significant architects in Los Angeles history. You won’t want to miss this one. And he will be signing copies of his new book afterwards. Here’s your official invite.e1366927883_56

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One Smart Girl – Deanna Durbin (1921-2013)

DeannaDurbinMar37Bar none, the best summer job I ever had was as a tour guide at Universal Studios. It was such a thrill running around that famed and historic lot where so many legendary talents had worked. To walk in the footsteps of Lon Chaney, Tod Browning, John Ford, Erich Von Stroheim, Irving Thalberg, James Whale, Alfred Hitchcock and a million other greats was heaven for a film history nut like me. Of course, we were told about all these people and many more during our tour guide training classes, but one surprising name really stuck out for me – Deanna Durbin. I had never really heard of her before and apparently neither had my classmates. Her name elicited quizzical looks and when we were told she “saved” the studio by doing something called 100 Men and a Girl, everyone suddenly became Beavis & Butthead with all the maturity and wit of a group of 14 year-olds. Fortunately, over time I matured (well, not really), but I was able to learn more about who this Deanna Durbin person was and I was both charmed and fascinated by this remarkable lady. Personally, I have always enjoyed digging into the stories of those who, although in their day were world-famous, are not as well-remembered today. There are some amazing people awaiting rediscovery and Deanna Durbin is definitely one of them. Yes, as it turns out, she did “save” the studio and a whole lot more, becoming for a period one of the most popular and famous stars in the entire world. And then she happily left it all behind her. Garbo, as it turns out, wasn’t the only one who turned her back on Hollywood, Deanna Durbin did it too and never looked back.

Now, word has come down that Deanna Durbin has died at the age of 91 in France, where she had lived in peace and quiet for more than six decades. The moment I heard this news I was suddenly transported back to my tour guide days and began giggling again over 100 Men and a Girl jokes. (I guess at heart I’ll always be 14.) Ultimately, the more mature side of me took over and I thought a brief retrospective of this extraordinary person was in order. If you have never heard of Deanna Durbin, please allow me to introduce her. You’ll like her.

And, as this is principally an architecture blog, I will intersperse her biographical sketch with a series of Maynard L. Parker photographs of Durbin’s beautiful, but sadly now lost, Brentwood Heights estate @ 421 North Saltair Avenue, designed by the highly talented and highly regarded Alan G. Siple in 1942.

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In 1942, The Architectural Digest did an extensive layout of the new Deanna Durbin – Vaughn Paul residence in Brentwood Heights. All photos by Maynard L. Parker.
Siple designed a charming English Colonial for Durbin.

Deanna Durbin was born Edna Mae Durbin in Winnipeg, Ontario, Canada on December 4, 1921. When she was one year old her family moved to Los Angeles where her father became involved in the stock and real estate markets. At an early age, friends and family members began to take notice of the child’s remarkable singing voice, a voice that continued to grow stronger and more resonant as she headed into her teenage years. By the time she was ten years old, her older sister Edith convinced Durbin’s parents to invest in singing lessons for their talented offspring and for the next few years Durbin took weekly lessons from a local vocal coach named Ralph Thomas.

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Siple pulled out all the stops in designing the Durbin residence. Note the variety of materials used including brick and shingles. Lacy wrought-ironwork gives the house a New Orleans feel. The stonework on the patio is beautiful but does not lend itself well to bare feet!

In 1935, MGM announced plans to make a film based on the life of Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink and were looking for a young girl who could sing to play the legendary contralto as a child. Through Thomas, Durbin was brought to the attention of talent agent Jack Sherrill who in turn took Durbin to MGM to test for the role. The studio was suitably impressed and signed her to a six-month contract while details were worked out on the upcoming production.  Before production could get underway, however, Madame Schumann-Heink died and the project was dropped.  Now MGM found itself in a dilemma: A few months earlier they had signed another promising young singer named Judy Garland. Both Durbin and Garland were unknown and untested, and the studio realized they only needed one of them. Which one, however, was not clear. While trying to figure out what to do with the girls, the studio put them both in a short film entitled Every Sunday (1936), in which they performed a contest, with Durbin singing classical and Garland singing jazz, to draw crowds to a weekly concert in the park. The short was essentially not just a contest on film it was a test to see which girl the studio would keep. In the end, it was Garland who was chosen and Durbin’s contract was not renewed. On the surface, it appeared that Durbin’s promising young start had come to nothing, but across town events were developing at another studio that would ultimately change the course of Durbin’s life and career.

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The Entrance Hall. All interior decorating was executed by the venerable firm of W. & J. Sloane.

Producer Joseph Pasternak had been the head of European operations for Universal Pictures until the threat of war had brought his operation to a close. Forced to return to the States, Pasternak and director Henry Koster had been given a two-year production deal by studio chief Carl Laemmle Jr.. Before they could even be set up in offices, however, Laemmle sold Universal to a syndicate of investors. The sale came at a time when the studio was struggling through a major financial crisis so serious that it was, in fact, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. To cut costs, the new owners were anxious to cancel any deals made by the previous owners and they immediately sought to nullify the Pasternak agreement. The agreement, however, could not be abrogated, and the new vice president in charge of production, Charles E. Rogers, reluctantly assigned Pasternak and Koster office space and ordered them to come up with an idea for a low-budget film.  Koster suggested the title Three Smart Girls, and from there they built a story. As it turned out, the story was the easy part. Finding the right girl was another matter altogether. As Pasternak later wrote, “We needed a twelve-year-old girl with the indefinable charm of the girl who was once rightly called America’s sweetheart. That’s all. The plain fact was, everybody told us, there was no such creature.”  After searching fruitlessly for some time, Pasternak and Koster were considering changing the story to Three Smart Boys when Rufus LeMaire, Universal’s talent scout, informed him that he had found just the right girl and brought them a print of Every Sunday. Pasternak and Koster were thrilled with both girls, but after being informed Garland wasn’t available, they readily agreed they had found their perfect girl in Deanna Durbin. Pasternak recalled that Durbin on screen, “had a sweetness without being arch or cloying; she was a natural; she was pretty; she was wholesome; and she sang beautifully with a skill and ability far beyond her years.”

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Although you have to look to spot any books in the “Library,’ it was nonetheless quite a charming space.

The fourteen-year-old Durbin was immediately signed to a contract at $125 a week and Koster personally took it upon himself to coach her in acting lessons in the weeks prior to shooting. The production of the low-budget film generated very little interest around either the Universal lot or Hollywood in general, yet Pasternak and Koster both knew something special was in the works. It wasn’t until the studio executives saw the first rough-cut of Three Smart Girls that, they too, knew they had a real find on their hands. As a result, Rogers increased the film’s meager budget and, although it was ostensibly about three smart girls, it was obvious that one of them, Durbin, had the makings of a star and scenes were rewritten to bolster her role. The plot of the film centered around three sisters’ efforts to keep their beloved father from marrying a shameless gold digger. Along the way, Durbin managed to find time to sing “My Heart Is Singing,” “Someone to Care For Me,” and “Il Bacio.” When it went into previews in December of 1936, audience members reacted with the same delight the studio executives felt about Durbin and suddenly a buzz began around Hollywood that long-suffering Universal might have discovered a new star. During this same period, Durbin was invited to sing at a party for Universal executives and their guests. One of those in attendance was comedian Eddie Cantor whose program on NBC was one of the most popular shows on radio. Cantor was so impressed by the teenaged songstress that he invited her to be a guest on one of his upcoming programs. Her appearance reportedly generated 4,000 fan letters. Cantor brought her back again and again until she became a regular on the program at the munificent salary of $1,000 a week.

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The living room featured a piano that was actually used regularly.

Released on New Year’s Day 1937, Three Smart Girls became the studio’s highest grossing film of the year, bringing in a desperately needed $1,600,000 to Universal’s badly depleted coffers. The film was such a success that it spawned two sequels with Durbin, Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939) and Hers To Hold (1943). In 1948, the film was remade by MGM as Three Daring Daughters with Jane Powell in the Durbin role. To capitalize on the great success of Three Smart Girls, Universal quickly launched another Pasternak/Koster/Durbin vehicle, One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937), which went on to even greater success than the first film. Depression-era audiences couldn’t seem to get enough of the pretty teenager with the angelic soprano voice who solved problems for the adults around her. Over the next few years, Universal churned out a series of popular Deanna Durbin films, films that were so successful that they are credited with single-handedly lifting the entire studio out of bankruptcy. It was estimated by at least one source that, by 1938, the Durbin pictures alone were generating seventeen percent of the studio’s total gross profits.

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The dining room.

The Deanna Durbin phenomenon generated fan clubs worldwide and also brought about a merchandising bonanza with Deanna Durbin dolls, pajamas, hats, dresses, songbooks, and other such items, which netted the actress some $100,000 a year in royalties.  From the late thirties and into the forties, Durbin’s income increased exponentially until she became the highest-salaried female in the United States, earning, at her peak, nearly $500,000 per year. In 1938 she was honored, along with Mickey Rooney, with a special “juvenile” Academy Award that was presented, “for their significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players, setting high standards of ability and achievement.” As Durbin continued to grow into womanhood, producer Pasternak carefully orchestrated each step and in 1939, when she received her first screen kiss (from Robert Stack) in First Love, the event made headlines the world over. Two years later, she made the transition to full adulthood on celluloid with It Started with Eve.

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Master bedroom.

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Master Bedroom.

1941 proved a watershed year for Durbin and it marked the beginning of the end of her unprecedented rise to stardom. That year, much to the objection of all around her, including Pasternak and Universal, she decided to get married to cameraman Vaughn Paul. That same year, Pasternak left Universal for MGM and, without his expert guidance, Universal suddenly began to flounder in knowing how to properly handle their top-rated star. Over the next few years they placed her in one misfire after another most dramatically in 1944’s Christmas Holiday. With such a cheerful title, audiences were expecting a warm holiday romp with their singing do-gooder, instead, they were shocked to find a dark and depressing film noir with Durbin appearing as a singer in a seedy nightclub and married to an escaped killer played by none other Gene Kelly. The film was a rare Durbin flop at the box office, although she personally believed it was the best acting she had ever done. Durbin’s fans were still reeling from her 1943 divorce from Vaughn Paul when she married her producer on Christmas Holiday, Felix Jackson on June 13, 1945, a man considerably older than Durbin.

Siple Durbin 9

The Recreation Room was the most charming room in the house.

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Recreation Room.

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Recreation Room.

Durbin continued making films for Universal for the next three years, but after the failures of Something in the Wind (1947); Up in Central Park and For the Love of Mary (both 1948) she dramatically announced, at age twenty-seven, her retirement from motion pictures. Durbin did not mourn the loss of her screen career, having never felt comfortable with all of the publicity and the constant exposure that came with worldwide stardom. In 1949, she divorced Jackson and the following year married producer Charles Henri David. With her third marriage Durbin achieved what she had secretly dreamed of during her years as an international celebrity, “to live as a nobody.” The pair moved to France, settling in the village of Neauphle-le-Chateau, where she remained in blissful retirement for more than six decades.


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Garbo Rocks – A Great Blog!

GR1My friend Allison is an amazing lady on about 1,000 different levels. Not long ago did something so unbelievably cool and so unbelievably unexpected it makes my head hurt – she went to an auction and came back the owner of a collection of old record albums. But these aren’t just any old record albums. They were the personal records of none other than Greta Garbo! And they are vintage Rock ‘N Roll too!

When we think of Garbo we think lofty and unattainable. We assume she spent her days in faraway, weighty thoughts that only a rarefied few could ever possibly understand, yet here is something each and everyone has – a music collection. Whether or not it is on our iPads or still in “ancient” form on CDs we all have a music collection. This collection, mundane as it may be because of its commonality, is in fact not common at all but rather one of the most unique and telling things about us. It’s very personal. What type of music we enjoy is a window into our very souls. Imagine what we can learn about the mysterious Garbo by what music she grooved to up there in her Campanile apartment overlooking the East River.

Well, we don’t have to imagine because Allison has taken her surreal purchase and turned into a sublime blog. It’s called Greta’s Records and thanks to Allison you can groove along with Garbo as she rocks out to the Beatles, Chubby Checker, Professor Longhair and a wide and eclectic variety of other vintage performers. You will “vant to be alone” for a long time exploring this fun, fascinating blog put together as only the brilliant Allison Anders can do. You may never look at Greta Garbo the same way again!

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