Announcing the release of the audiobook version of “Citizen Hollywood”

Citizen Hollywood Audiobook cover

I am very pleased and proud to announce the release of the audiobook version of book 3 in the “Garden of Allah” series: Citizen Hollywood.

The narrator of my audiobooks is John C. Zak and he has done another superb job breathing life into not just my characters – Marcus, Kathryn and Gwendolyn – but everyone who gets caught up in their lives – Orson Welles, William Randolph Hearst, Ramon Novarro, Zanuck, Mayer…the gang’s all here!

The Citizen Hollywood audiobook is available through:

~~~oOo~~~

CITIZEN HOLLYWOOD

(Book 3 in the Garden of Allah series)

by Martin Turnbull

Hollywood, 1939: When Tinseltown begins to woo wunderkind Orson Welles, he stashes himself at the Chateau Marmont until he’s ready to make his splashy entrance. But gossip columnist Kathryn Massey knows he’s there. Kathryn has been on the outs with Hollywood since her ill-fated move to Life magazine, but now that she’s back at the Hollywood Reporter, she’s desperate to find the Next Big Thing. Scooping Welles’ secret retreat would put her back on the map, but by the time she hears rumors about his dangerous new movie, she’s fallen prey to his charms.

She needs to repair her reputation, find out if Welles will take on the tycoon, and extricate herself from an affair with a man whose kisses make her melt like milk chocolate. Hollywood writers are only as good as their last screen credit, but Marcus Adler is still scrambling for his first. His Strange Cargo will star Clark Gable after Gone with the Wind wraps, but Machiavellian studio politics mean Marcus’ name might not make it to the screen. It’s time to play No More Mr. Nice Guy.

Opportunity knocks when his boss challenges the writing department to outdo The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Marcus is confident – until the love of his life bursts back onto the scene. How can he write another word until he knows for once and for all whether he and Ramon Navarro will be together? And to make matters worse, it seems like someone in town is trying to sabotage him.

Everyone knows if you haven’t made it in Hollywood by the time you’re 30, it’s curtains… and Gwendolyn Brick is starting to panic. She’s considering moving to a naval base in the Philippines with her baby brother, but she wants to give Hollywood one last go before she gives up. When she saves Twentieth Century Fox honcho Daryl F. Zanuck from an appalling fate at a poker game that goes awry, he rewards her with a chance at a role in a major movie. Gwendolyn needs to win before her ship sets sail. When William Randolph Hearst realizes Citizen Kane is based on him, he won’t be happy – and when Hearst isn’t happy, nobody’s safe. Marcus, Kathryn, and Gwendolyn need to go for broke, and the clock is ticking. Citizen Hollywood is the third in Martin Turnbull’s series of historical novels set during Hollywood’s golden age.

~~~oOo~~~

four covers anna

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~~~oOo~~~

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The Garden of Allah novels – coming to a screen near you???

Will the Garden of Allah Hotel live to see another day?

It’s quite possible…if only on a movie studio backlot.

I am very excited to announce that my first three books:

have been optioned by a producer with a substantial list of film and television credits.

The Garden of Allah novels - coming to a screen near you soon...????Not long after I conceived the central idea behind the Garden of Allah novels – to tell the story of the history of Hollywood through the eyes of the (fictional and real) people who lived, loved and played at one of its most legendary hotels, the Garden of Allah – I could see that it readily lent itself to being the basis for a TV series. I’ve been approached a couple of times before by people interested in developing the idea, but nothing much came of it.

This new producer, however, is very into old Hollywood, the movies, the stars, the studio system, and feels – as I do – that the time is right to launch the Garden of Allah’s story onto either the movie or television screen.

Tabrez Noorani‘s company is Tamasha Talkies and along with his producing partner Deepak Nayar has been on the producing teams of:

  • Alexander
  • Bride and Prejudice
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • Eat, Pray, Love
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  • Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol
  • Life of Pi
  • Zero Dark Thirty
  • Million Dollar Arm
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2
  • The Hundred Foot Journey

The exclusive announcement was made today on The Hollywood Reporter website.

Bringing novels to the large or small screen is generally a long process which could take years to develop, but a first step has been taken. Who knows where it might lead?

Meanwhile, may the fantasy casting games begin!

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Introducing the Garden of Allah Novels companion map of Los Angeles and Hollywood

I’ve always been a bit of a map fan, especially the sort of maps that show “Bright Spots of Hollywood” or a map of Beverly Hills courtesy of the Beverly Hills USO Canteen during WWII.

At the top of my one-of-these-days wishlist, I had always thought about putting together a map of Los Angeles & Hollywood showing the major spots around town during those golden years, featuring the places that I write about in my novels. I thought it might give readers a clearer idea of where Ciro’s and the Mocambo and Romanoff’s were in relation to each other, and to Marcus, and Kathryn, and Gwendolyn’s home at the Garden of Allah Hotel.

But the design and software skills necessary to put something like that together were far beyond my pay grade. When I mentioned my I-have-a-map-dream to Dave DeCaro at Davelandweb whose terrific map of Disneyland I’ve long admired (read: map envy), he suggested we work on one together.

This was quite some time ago and I don’t think either of us quite imagined how much time and effort a project like this would take. But isn’t that often the way? If you knew ahead of time how much work was involved, you might not have started it in the first place. It’s probably a good thing we weren’t blessed with foresight because it’s now done and I am very, very happy with the results.

The Garden of Allah Novels companion map of Los Angeles and HollywoodClick to enlarge, then click again for an even larger image.

 Map by Dave DeCaro at Davelandweb

This map is also available on MartinTurnbull.com

MAP LEGEND

#1
THE GARDEN OF ALLAH HOTEL
8150 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Opened – 9th January 1927, Closed August 1959

#2
SCHWAB’S PHARMACY
8024 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Opened – 1932, Closed October 1983

#3
BEVERLY HILLS HOTEL
9641 Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills
Opened 12TH MAY 1912, Still open

#4
ORIGINAL BROWN DERBY RESTAURANT
3377 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles.
Opened – 1926, Closed 1980

#5
BROWN DERBY RESTAURANT
1628 Vine St, Hollywood
Opened February 14th,1929, Closed 1987

#6
CAFÉ GALA
8796 Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills
Opened 1939, Closed 1948

#7
CAFÉ TROCADERO
8610 Sunset Boulevard
Opened 18th September 1934 with a checkered history after that. The building was pulled down in 1963.

#8
C.C. BROWN’S ICE CREAM
7007 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened 1929

#9
CHASEN’S RESTAURANT
9039 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles
Opened 13th December 1936 as Chasen’s Southern Barbecue Pit, Closed 2000

#10
CHATEAU MARMONT HOTEL
8221 Sunset Boulevard
Opened 1st February 1929, Still open

#11
HOTEL CHRISTIE
6724 Hollywood Boulevard
Opened in 1922, building still standing

#12
CIRO’S NIGHTCLUB
8433 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Opened January 30th 1940, Closed 1957

#13
CLOVER CLUB
8477 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Opened 14th October 1937, Closed 1944

#14
COCK ‘N’ BULL
9170 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood.
Opened 1937, Closed 1987

#15
DON THE BEACHCOMBER
1727 North McCadden Place, Hollywood
Opened in 1933

#16
EGYPTIAN THEATER
6708 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened October 18th 1922, Still open

#17
EL CAPITAN THEATER
6838 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened 1926 as a legitimate theater called the Paramount, then became a movie theater in 1941, Still open

#18
FLORENTINE GARDENS
5951 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened December 28th, 1938, Still in operation

#19
GARDEN COURT APARTMENTS
7021 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened on New Year’s Eve 1919

#20
GRAUMAN’S CHINESE THEATER
6925 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened May 18th 1927, Still open

#21
HOLLYWOOD BOWL
Highland Ave, Hollywood
Opened July 11th 1922, Still open

#22
HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN
1451 Cahuenga Boulevard (on the corner of Sunset), Hollywood
Opened October 3rd 1942, Closed November 2nd 1945

#23
HOLLYWOOD HOTEL
Corner of Hollywood and Highland
Opened 1903, Closed 1956.

#24
HOLLYWOOD PALLADIUM
6215 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened 1940, Still open

#25
HOLLYWOOD ROOSEVELT HOTEL
7000 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened May 15th 1927, Still open

#26
HOTEL KNICKERBOCKER
1714 Ivar Ave, Hollywood
Opened 1925, building still standing

#27
CLARA BOW’S IT CAFÉ
1637 Vine St., Hollywood
Opened September 3rd 1937

#28
KRESS DEPARTMENT STORE
Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened 1934. Later became Frederick’s of Hollywood. Building still standing

#29
LA RUE RESTAURANT
8361 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Opened by Hollywood Reporter’s Billy Wilkerson on April 22nd 1944

#30
MOCAMBO NIGHTCLUB
8588 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Opened January 3rd 1941, Closed 1959

#31
MONTMARTRE CAFÉ
6753-63 Hollywood Boulevard
Opened December 1922, fallen out of popularity by mid-1930s, building still standing

#32
MUSSO AND FRANK GRILL
6667 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened in 1919, remodeled in 1937, Still open

#33
PANTAGES THEATER
233 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Opened June 4th 1930, Still open

#34
THE PLAYERS NIGHTCLUB
8225 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Opened Summer of 1940, sold off circa mid-1950s

#35
ROMANOFF’S RESTAURANT
325 (326?) North Rodeo Dr., Beverly Hills
Opened December 19th 1940, Closed New Year’s Eve 1962

#36
TICK TOCK TEA ROOM
1716 North Cahuenga Ave, Hollywood
Opened in 1930, Closed 1988.

#37
VENDOME CAFÉ
6666 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Opened May1933, Closed late 1938, later reopened as Ruby Foo’s.

#38
BULLOCK’S WILSHIRE DEPARTMENT STORE
3050 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles
Opened 26th September 1929, Closed 2nd April 1993

#39
COCOANUT GROVE NIGHTCLUB AT THE AMBASSADOR HOTEL
3400 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles
Opened May 1921, Closed 1989

#40
CHAPMAN PARK HOTEL AND BUNGALOWS
3401 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles
Opened 1936, Closed late 1960s.

#41
FORMOSA CAFÉ
7156 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles
Opened 1925, Still open

#42
L’AIGLON RESTAURANT
314 North Camden Drive, Beverly Hills
Opened July 1947 by Hollywood Reporter’s Billy Wilkerson, who sold it in October 1948.

#43
CARTHAY CIRCLE THEATER
6316 San Vicente Boulevard
Opened 1926, Demolished 1969

#44
BARON LONG’S SHIP CAFÉ
Venice Pier, Venice
Built 1905, Razed October 1946

 

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Katharine Hepburn at the Garden of Allah Hotel (The Katharine Hepburn blogathon of May 2014)

Katharine Hepburn Blogathon 2014

When Margaret Perry asked me to participate in this wonderful Katharine Hepburn blogathon, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about: in 1941, Hepburn installed herself at the Garden of Allah Hotel and helped put together the first of the Hepburn/Tracy films, Woman of the Year.

The Garden of Allah Hotel stood at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights. Originally the residence of silent screen star, Alla Nazimova, it was converted into a hotel during late 1926 and opened in 1927, just months before The Jazz Singer heralded the dawn of the talkies, and closed in 1959 at the dusk of the studio system. Over the 32 years it was open, a Who’s Who of Hollywood names called it home: Errol Flynn, Tallulah Bankhead, Harpo Marx, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Bogie and Bacall, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lillian Hellman, Ginger Rogers, Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles—the list is virtually endless. A well-known watering hole for actors and writers, it was the perfect place that Hepburn was needed during the spring of 1941.

In 1938, after a string of flops (which included the now-classic Bringing Up Baby with Cary Grant), Katharine found herself declared box office poison. She remedied that by going to Howard Hughes and asking him to help finance a play called The Philadelphia Story, which she performed on the stage in 1939 and brought to the screen in 1941. The movie proved to be the fifth most popular at the US box office that year, thus putting Kate back on track. But being back on track and staying back on track are two different things and she was searching for a solid follow-up.

It arrived in the form of writer/director Garson Kanin. A story about a down-to-earth sports columnist reluctantly falling in love with a more famous news reporter came to him when he received a letter from sports writer Jimmy Cannon after Cannon had spent an evening with political columnist Dorothy Thompson. He thought the character based on Thompson would be a good fit for Hepburn, whom he’d met through Vivien Leigh during the Broadway run of The Philadelphia Story. Hepburn pounced on the idea.

The two of them recruited a pair of screenwriters: Garson’s brother Michael Kanin (who would later co-write Teacher’s Pet starring Clark Gable and Doris Day) and Ring Lardner Jr. (who would go on to become one of the infamous Hollywood Ten, the group of film people who refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee which led to their being jailed and blackballed from the industry.) So Hepburn rented one of the villas at the Garden of Allah Hotel and the foursome locked themselves in and banged out the story.

Shady side paths at the Garden of Allah Hotel

Shady side paths at the Garden of Allah Hotel

Chasen’s was a famous restaurant at the corner of Beverly Boulevard and Doheny Drive. It was very popular with the Hollywood crowd—particularly for its chili—and wasn’t too far from the Garden of Allah, so Hepburn had Chasen’s deliver their meals so that no time need be lost. The villas at the Garden of Allah were also self-contained so they had everything they needed to get the job done in the time available to them. Well, not everything. They also hired a pair of typists who tag-teamed the hard work of typing out draft after draft. By the end of the five days the poor women’s fingers were “too stiff to hold a cigarette.” But between the determined star, the three talented writers, and two hardy typists, they got the job done.

The most-generally accepted version of what happened has them putting the whole thing together in just five days because WWII was now on, and Garson Kanin was being drafted. But Woman of the Year had its premiere on January 19th, 1942, barely six weeks after Pearl Harbor. Anne Edward’s biography says that Hepburn sold the project to MGM in early May of 1941 which means this intense stay at the Garden of Allah must have happened some time between late April to early May 1941—seven months before Pearl Harbor. So Garson’s imminent drafting can’t have been the reason, but every source I’ve come across says that by the end of five days, they had a detailed treatment of a film they were now calling Woman of the Year.

By the Monday morning, Hepburn took the 106 pages they’d churned out (she’d promised Mayer 60 pages—talk about an over-achiever!) and delivered them personally to MGM, then retreated to her room at the Beverly Hills Hotel to sit by the phone. When it rang the next day, Sam Katz, a vice president at MGM was on the other end of the line offering her $175,000. But Hepburn held out for $210,000 (talk about ballsy!) — $50,000 each for Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner Jr., $10,000 for her agent, Leland Hayward, and $1000 for the Garden of Allah bill. (Garson Kanin never got any screen credit on Woman of the Year so I suspect maybe he and Hepburn came to an arrangement of some sort—he went on to write two more Hepburn/Tracy pictures: Adam’s Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952.)) Katz knew the project was too good to turn down so he  agreed to Hepburn’s price. It set the record for the highest amount ever paid by a Hollywood studio for an original screenplay. Word soon got out around Hollywood that a woman (a box-office poisoned one, at that) had beaten a major Hollywood studio at its own game.

To her enormous credit, Hepburn withheld the names of the two screenwriters until after Film Daily 16OCT1941the deal was agreed on. Previously, both Kanin and Lardner had only earned a maximum of $3000 for a screenplay, and here was Hepburn seeing to it that they earned $50,000. In a number of ways, Woman of the Year was a game-changer, and a history maker.

Hepburn’s first choice to play opposite her was Spencer Tracy but he was on location in Florida shooting The Yearling, so MGM suggested Clark Gable or Walter Pidgeon. Either of those actors would probably have been fine, but The Yearling suffered location problems and was shut down. Suddenly Tracy was available for Woman of the Year.

In her book, Me: Stories of My Life, Hepburn said that Tracy needed to be convinced to work with her. At their first meeting, he took exception to the dirt under her fingernails and her preference for wearing pants. She said to him, “I’m afraid I’m a little too tall for you.” To which he replied, “Don’t worry, I’ll cut you down to my size.”

Spencer Tracy Katharine Hepburn in "Woman of the Year."

Spencer Tracy Katharine Hepburn in “Woman of the Year.”

Apparently he did because Woman of the Year saw the start of a decades-long relationship between the stars, was the first of a legendary run of nine movies the two stars made together, won a pair of Best Original Screenplay Oscars for Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner, Jr., and inspired a Broadway musical in 1981 starring Lauren Bacall which in itself won 5 Tony awards and ran for over 700 performances.

But none of it would have happened without Hepburn’s drive, tenacity, energy and good old New England pluck to take charge of her career during a time when women were largely stuck toiling in the men’s sandbox. It took a lot to pull off a deal like this, even more to see it through to such a successful conclusion, and for that, Katharine Hepburn deserves a heaping helping of credit.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 1.03.54 PM

Click here to see the original movie trailer for “Woman of the Year.”

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Announcing the release of Book Three of the Garden of Allah novels: CITIZEN HOLLYWOOD

"Citizen Hollywood" by Martin Turnbull

“Citizen Hollywood
by Martin Turnbull
Book 3 in the Garden of Allah novels

I am very happy to announce that my next novel “Citizen Hollywood”
is now available.

The story picks up in April of 1939, a month after the end of The Trouble with Scarlett.

~oOo~

Theater and radio wunderkind Orson Welles stashes himself at the Chateau Marmont until he’s ready to make his splashy entrance. But Kathryn Massey knows he’s there.

Now that Kathryn is back at the Hollywood Reporter, she’s desperate to find the Next Big Thing. Scooping Welles’ secret retreat would put her back on the map, but by the time she hears rumors about his dangerous new movie, she’s fallen prey to his charms.

Marcus Adler is still scrambling for his first screen credit. His Strange Cargo will star Clark Gable after Gone with the Wind wraps. A huge opportunity knocks but Machiavellian studio politics mean Marcus’ name might not make it to the screen. It’s time to play No More Mr. Nice Guy.

Gwendolyn Brick is nearly 30. Her baby brother wants her to move with him to the exotic Orient, but she wants to give Hollywood one last go. When she saves Daryl Zanuck from humiliation, he rewards her with a chance at a role in a major movie.

When William Randolph Hearst realizes Citizen Kane is based on him, he won’t be happy—and when Hearst isn’t happy, nobody’s safe.

~oOo~

The first chapter is available to read on my website: CHAPTER ONE

~oOo~

Martin Turnbull with "Citizen Hollywood"

Martin Turnbull with
“Citizen Hollywood”

Citizen Hollywood will available in all formats. The paperback and Kindle ebook versions are available right now:

Amazon (US) paperback

Amazon (US) Kindle ebook

Amazon (UK) paperback

Amazon (UK) Kindle ebook

And the other versions (including the ones below) will become available as they come online (but they each seem to do it at their own unpredictable pace so check back on the Citizen Hollywood page of my website for updates.)

Barnes & Noble Nook ebook

Apple iTunes ebook

Kobo ebook

Audio book

~oOo~

And when you have read it (and assuming, of course, that you enjoyed it), if you have the chance and inclination, I’d really appreciate it if you could leave a review on my Amazon page. Rate it as many stars as you see fit, and give your honest opinion. The more reviews a book has, the higher its Amazon profile. Thanks!

~oOo~

Have you read Book One yet?

"The Garden on Sunset" by Martin TurnbullThe Garden on Sunset

is available in all formats

More information can be found on my website:

www.MartinTurnbull.com

> > >   S P E C I A L   P R O M O T I O N   < < <

As a special promotion to celebrate the release of Citizen Hollywood,
the Kindle version of The Garden on Sunset has been slashed
to only 99 cents until Sunday 16th February 2014.
Procrastination is not recommended!

PLEASE NOTE: It is not necessary to have a Kindle ereader to read the Kindle version of any book.You can download the free Kindle app for any
computer, smart phone or mobile device.
FREE KINDLE APP

~oOo~

You can also follow me on

Facebook: gardenofallahnovels

~oOo~

And a personal note to everyone who have read The Garden on Sunset and The Trouble with Scarlett and took the time to tell me how much they enjoyed it:
THANK YOU!
Your support has been wonderfully encouraging.

All the best,

Martin Turnbull

P.S. – feel free to pass this email along to anybody who you think might be interested!

Stay current on all the giddy goings-on inside the Garden of Allah by signing up to the e-mailing list!

The Garden of Allah novels, by Martin Turnbull

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The Holy Grail: One man’s search for the Garden of Allah Hotel scale model

Indiana Jones had his Lost Ark.
Ponce de Leon had his Fountain of Youth.
Sam Spade had his Maltese Falcon.

And I, too, have been on the search for my own personal Holy Grail.

At this point (October 2013) I’ve been reading, researching and writing about Alla Nazimova’s Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Boulevard for eight years. The very first book I picked up was “The Garden of Allah” by gossip columnist Sheilah Graham who spent some time there, mainly during her relationship with Garden of Allah resident, F. Scott Fitzgerald, in the late 1930s. The cover of her book features a photo of not the hotel itself, but a scale model. Somewhere in her book, Graham mentioned that when the hotel was razed and a mini mall was built on the site, a scale model of the Garden of Allah was made and placed in the foyer of the bank that sits there now.

Thus, my quest began!

Although I figured it was unlikely that something as fragile as a model still existed all these years later (the hotel closed in August of 1959), I hoped that perhaps someone recognized its value and kept it safe. From time to time, I’d hear stories—I started to think of them more as ‘urban legends’—about the model. Like how the bank did a renovation and, no longer knowing (or caring) what the model was of, planned to throw it out. I’d also hear how one of the tenants in the mall took it and had it on display in their store. Sometimes, I’d hear that the tenant retired or moved away and took the model with him. Or threw it out. Or gave it to someone else.

A video of it popped up online a while ago so I knew it still existed. Then it was offered up in some strange sort of private auction for an outrageous starting price. When I contacted the seller about its current whereabouts and condition, I’d get a couple of vague answers and then nothing.

The trail went cold.

Recently, I was surfing around some of the West Hollywood community websites—they occasionally do stories on the Garden of Allah Hotel—when I came across a comment posted by one of the readers saying, in effect, “Oh, and by the way, if anybody’s interested, I have the model.”

My head spun around fast enough to make Linda Blair flip out when I saw the reader included his email address. By the end of that same day, he and I exchanged several emails. He was more than happy for both Jon Ponder (from Playground To The Stars and Alla Nazimova Society) and I to drop by and see the model for ourselves.

It was quite a thrill. Not only to finally get to see the model, but to find it in such a well-preserved state. The guy said that when it sat in the bank, there was no cover on it so when he brought it home, he spent countless hours carefully cleaning it with Q-tips. The wiring still worked, but he needed to replace about 75% of the bulbs. He also mounted it on a table and custom-built a glass cover. And there it sat, in all its glory my Holy Grail.

And you can bet I had my camera at the ready!

(Click on all photos for a larger version.)

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I also shot two short videos with my basic point-and-shoot camera:

So, the lesson here is to take your urban legends seriously and never give up the search for your own Holy Grail.

~~~oOo~~~

The Garden of Allah novels, by Martin Turnbull

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FROM HAYVENHURST TO THE GARDEN OF ALLAH: Celebrating the 100th anniversary of a Los Angeles icon

William Hay is a name not heard too often these days, but this year marks the 100th anniversary of the construction of what became one of the most iconic watering holes in Los Angeles history.

Hay was a Los Angeles developer who did much to shape the landscape of West Hollywood. In 1905, he developed an area he called Crescent Heights whose boundaries were Sunset Boulevard, Fairfax Avenue, (then known as Crescent Drive,) Santa Monica Blvd, and Hayvenhurst Drive. (Originally, Havenhurst Dr. was spelled with a “y.”)

Hayvenhurst at 8152 Sunset Boulevard, built 1913

Hayvenhurst at 8152 Sunset Boulevard, built 1913

By 1913, Hay had divorced his first wife and married Katherine, his second. He built an estate on a still-unpaved Sunset Boulevard for them, which he dubbed “Hayvenhurst.” Around 1915, and for reasons lost in the mists of time, Hay built a second mansion where the Director’s Guild now stands and left Hayvenhurst to stand empty until the arrival of one of the most famous and highest-paid actresses of the era.

By the time she moved to Hollywood in 1918, Russian-born Alla Nazimova was a highly successful leading lady on Broadway, heralded for her definitive interpretations of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House. Based on the success of her first movie, War Brides in 1916, Nazimova was offered a five-year, $13,000-a-week contract with Metro Studios, working for future MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer. Such was her power that not only did her contract pay her $3,000 a week more than Mary Pickford, but it awarded her the right to approve director, script, and leading man. Following the success of Revelation and Toys of Fate (both 1918) Nazimova moved to Los Angeles to begin production on her third film, Eye for Eye.

Alla Nazimova in her 1921 production of "Camille"

Alla Nazimova in her 1921 production of “Camille”

A grand movie star needs a grand movie star mansion, so when she came across the unoccupied Hayvenhurst mansion, she leased it from Hay, and spent $65,000 remodeling the place inside and out, building a pool, and landscaping the property’s three and a half acres. She named it the “Garden of Alla” referring to an enormously popular 1904 novel The Garden of Allah by Robert Smythe Hichens (made in a movie by David O. Selznick starring Marlene Dietrich in the mid-1930s.)

To keep this in historical perspective, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks purchased a remote hunting lodge they would rename Pickfair in 1919, and then spent five years remodeling it into a mock-Tudor four-story, 25-room mansion. So during this time, Nazimova’s “Garden of Alla” was probably the westernmost fine movie star home in all of Los Angeles. Beverly Hills didn’t start attracting its share of celebrities until after Pickfair was completed in 1924.

The completion of Alla’s renovations saw the beginnings of the house’s rise to prominence. When Nazimova arrived in Hollywood, she found a worrying dearth of culture. So she started up a weekly salon along the lines of Gertrude Stein’s Paris salons, and gathered together fellow European ex-patriots and other well-educated intellectuals around silent-era Hollywood to discuss all manner of subjects: philosophy, literature, art, history and, no doubt, sock away copious amounts of illicit booze in the process.

Being an intelligent, ambitious and talented woman, Nazimova liked to surround herself with like-minded folk, and her salons often included people like playwright and screenwriter Mercedes de Acosta (a close friend of Greta Garbo), stage actress Eva la Gallienne (one-time lover of Tallulah Bankhead . . . but then again, who wasn’t?), actress Jean Acker (married to Valentino), actress Lilyan Tashman (famous for her million-dollar wardrobe), and Natacha Rambova, costume designer on Nazimova’s 1923 movie Salome, and the second wife of Valentino.

Unfortunately, being a highly paid movie actress doesn’t guarantee you have the smarts when it comes to money. By the mid-1920s, Nazimova had suffered a number of disastrous films and found herself facing bankruptcy. A couple by the name of Jean & John Adams approached her with a plan to turn her property into a hotel. On the surface of it, the plan seemed sound. It would ensure an on-going income as Nazimova slid towards the unemployable middle age that actresses understandably fear. Nazimova readily agreed, left them with what was probably most of her dough to clear the land and build 25 two-story villas (later expanded to 30), and hit the road to revive her once-illustrious theater career.

Leaving Los Angeles was probably Nazimova’s big mistake. Had she stuck around and kept an eye on what the Adamses were up to, she might have caught onto the fact that they were shysters out to bilk her for every last penny they could squeeze. By the time the hotel opened in January of 1927, Nazimova was back in Los Angeles but the project had drained her of nearly all her money and the Adamses were nowhere to be found. The hotel opened and, thanks to the house’s reputation of being an interesting place where interesting people gathered to talk about interesting things, quickly became a popular place to stay. However, Nazimova was broke and reduced to living in one of the villas now standing in what used to be her own backyard.

On July 17, 1928, Nazimova sold the Garden of Alla back to Hay. He paid her $80,000 but deducted debts accrued by the Adamses. Nazimova ended up with $7,500 after having sunk $250,000 into the hotel. Hay installed a management company and he continued to run it until June of 1930 when he sold his interest in the Garden of Allah to the Central Holding Corporation. By this stage, the hotel was now known as the Garden of Allah (with an “h”—something that Nazimova frowned on) and the hotel’s glory years began.

Advertisement for the Garden of Allah hotel, 8152 Sunset Blvd

Advertisement for the Garden of Allah hotel, 8152 Sunset Blvd

From the late 1920s, through the Depression, the war years and into the ‘50s, the Garden of Allah could always provide hopeful Hollywood arrivals with a pillow, a pal, and a party. Over those years, a virtual who’s who of Hollywood checked in: Bogie and Bacall, Errol Flynn, David Niven, Harpo Marx, Tallulah Bankhead, Artie Shaw, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ronald Reagan, Ronald Colman, Louis Calhern, John Carradine, Dorothy Gish, Kay Thompson, Jackie Gleason, Leopold Stokowski, Orson Welles, Gloria Stuart, Ava Gardner, and Frank Sinatra are just some of the people who called the Garden of Allah home.

At the same time, the Garden of Allah became an extension of the Algonquin Round Table. Humorist and theater critic Robert Benchley was one of the first to take up residence. So when Dorothy Parker was offered the Hollywood carrot, she too checked in. Fellow scribes and Algonquinites followed, including Donald Ogden Stewart (“Marie Antoinette”, “The Women”, “The Philadelphia Story”) Alexander Woollcott, Marc Connelly (“Captains Courageous”, “I Married a Witch”, “Merton of the Movies”), George S. Kaufman (“Dinner at Eight”, “A Night at the Opera”, “A Day at the Races”, “The Man Who Came To Dinner”)

A tightly knit community evolved among the Garden of Allah residents, creatives for whom the motion picture was an art form. Outside the Garden’s walls were the control-freaky front office suits requiring them to start tapping away at their typewriters at 9 a.m. and stop at 5 p.m. as though they were simply taking dictation and happy to fit in with the carpenters and scenery painters. The Garden of Allah’s writers and actors found themselves among kindred spirits who understood the pressures and frustrations that went along with a successful Hollywood career. Being the outgoing, sharp-witted and articulate types, they spent a lot of time socializing together. There was always some sort of party going on, especially if the unofficially self-appointed host of the Garden of Allah, Robert Benchley, was in town.

Attracting an ongoing flow of actors, writers, musicians, directors, and technicians, it could be said that the Garden of Allah evolved into a microcosm of Hollywood itself. Opening at the dawn of the talkies in 1927, and closing at the dusk of the studio system in 1959, the residents of the Garden of Allah saw the unfolding of what we now fondly call the golden years of Hollywood. They witnessed—and not insignificantly contributed to—the advent of sound, the development of Technicolor, the rise and subsequent decline of the power and popularity of radio, the propaganda war machine years of World War II, and the battle against the onslaught of television with widescreen epics through the 1950s. No other hotel in Hollywood’s fabled history—not the neighboring Chateau Marmont, the glamorous Beverly Hills Hotel, or the recently lamented Ambassador Hotel—could lay claim to such a central role in the evolution of the art form that, it could well be argued, came to define the century.

Like the studio system itself, the writing began to appear on the stuccoed walls of the Garden of Allah by the late 1950s. A series of ever-more apathetic management buyouts saw the Garden decline in popularity. By that time, the population of Hollywood (and by extension Los Angeles) was more stable and had less need for the sort of long-term residency that the Garden offered. And so in 1959, it fell to its knees before the great Angelean harbinger: the God of Progress, and was sold to yet another developer who tore it down and converted the site into a mini mall that looks like any other mini mall between San Pedro and Rancho Cucamonga.

Proposed "8150 Sunset" mixed use redevelopment of the Garden of Allah site on Sunset Boulevard, announced September 2013

Proposed “8150 Sunset” mixed use redevelopment of the Garden of Allah site on Sunset Boulevard, announced September 2013

In September 2013, a property development company called Townscape announced their plans to build a mixed-use project on the site of the Garden of Allah. The plans for “8150 Sunset” include a 9-story tower alongside a 16-story tower, together with various restaurants, bars, stores, a market, and seven levels of parking. Pretty much everybody agrees that something must be done with the mini mall eyesore that has stood in the Garden of Allah’s place for the past 50 years, and at this point there’s no telling what the final project will look like.

A faithful rebuilding of the Garden of Allah Hotel would be too much to hope for, but the developers have gone out of their way to make the point that they’d like to incorporate into their plans some sort of tribute which acknowledges that upon this land once stood a unique Hollywood icon.

~~~oOo~~~

www.MartinTurnbull.com

www.AllaNazimova.com

The Garden of Allah novels, by Martin Turnbull~~~oOo~~~

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