Sunday, July 20, 2014

VLA back at the Million Dollar Theatre!

The "Million Dollar Theatre" is starting to feel like home for VLA!

On July 19th, VLA concluded its film Noir summer series at the "Million Dollar Theatre" in DTLA with "Double Indemnity"! But we'll be back! We are announcing our second film series very soon. 

Vintage Los Angles is currently in partnership with the Grand Central Market in DTLA. On May 19th we had another exciting and enthusiastic turn out.  Dozens of attendees dressed up in Vintage clothes and we were packed. To my unexpected delight, screenplay writer, Robert Towne (who wrote Chinatown and dozens of other classic films") showed up! VLA hopes to be curating an evening with Robert in the near future. We had a fantastic chat and tossed around a few ideas. So stay tuned and come and celebrate L.A.'s rich film history and watch the classics in the environment they were intended to be seen in.

                                         "Double Indemnity"

Set against the backdrop of old Los Angeles, the film's sordid tale of money and murder kicked off the film Noir genre and continues to dazzle audiences today. Directed by the great Billy Wilder and co-written by mystery novelist Raymond Chandler, the film stars Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and the legendary Edgar G. Robinson. As a kid, I grew up across the street from Edward G. Robinson and I never imagined in a million years I would be presenting one of his films.

The "Million Dollar Theatre" was Sid Gruaman's very first Movie Palace built in 1918. I can't think of a better destination for the community of VLA to gather together and watch classic films.

Last month I had the pleasure of interviewing, Nancy Olson from Billy Wilder's masterpiece, "Sunset Blvd" and before that we screened Orson Welle's classic, "Touch Of Evil". Thank you to the "Million Dollar Theatre" and "Grand Central Market" for allowing VLA to hang our hats (and fedoras) in their historic theatre every Month. That marquee never looked so good!

And thank you for the continuous support from the local NBC news! Link here. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What I'll Remember About Casey Kasem

For those who grew up listening to Casey Kasem on American Top 40, learning about his death (on Father's Day no less) left a huge hole. Kasem's career lasted more than four decades and he had millions of fans, but for me the loss was also personal. I'm honored to share these five unforgettable facts about the man. 

1. Before American Top 40 Casey Kasem started out in 1963 as a local disc jockey on KRLA (1110 AM on your Los Angeles dial). During his early afternoon show he offered biographical information about the artists he played and used teaser questions and trivia to keep his audience hooked during commercial breaks. These techniques foreshadowed what would become one of his signature segments: Long Distance Dedications.

2. In 1964, Kasem released a unique recording: him reading a letter from a listener who wanted to meet the Beatles set to an instrumental cover of "And I Love Her" by the Burbank Strings. It was a minor hit for Kasem. Warner Bros. released the 45, which has since become a novelty item for Beatles collectors.

3. During the '60s Kasem co-hosted Shebang, a teenage dance show that aired on KTLA. My father, Al Martino, performed his hit song "Spanish Eyes" on the program on January 30, 1967—the same day the Doors made their first TV appearance and performed their hit "Break on Through." I was born three years too late!

4. Kasem was hired as a voice actor on numerous cartoons and children's shows. He worked on Sesame Street, Here Comes Peter Cottontail, Transformers, The Batman/Superman Hour, and Josie and the Pussycats, but his most enduring cartoon alter-ego is Norville "Shaggy" Rogers on the still-popular Scooby Doo.


5. I had the great pleasure of interviewing Kasem during my days as a producer on E! Entertainment's cult series Mysteries & Scandals. The episode focused on the mysterious death of '60s singer Bobby Fuller. Kasem was a big fan of the Bobby Fuller Four's 1966 smash hit "I Fought The Law." I'll never forget how warm and kind Kasem was to the crew and myself. It was one of the highlights of my life. It's not every day you get to interview the "voice of America." I'm blessed that this interview was documented.

Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to CityThink and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

VLA TV Official Launch!

Vintage Los Angeles has teamed up with the  The Ebersole-Hughes Company who have produced fascinating documentaries such "Room 237" examining Stanley Kubrick's psychological horror-thriller "The Shining", "Dear Mom, Love Cher" revealing the extraordinary life of the star’s mother, Georgia Holt staring Cher,  Chaz Bono and Elijah Blue Allman and "Hit So Hard"  featuring Patty Schemel from Courtney Love’s band HOLE. And now Vintage Los Angeles has partnered up with producers, P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes for as new VLA web series!

VLA's debut features the beloved Los Angeles roadside eatery "Tail O' The Pup" which mysteriously disappeared from the streets of West Hollywood nearly a decade ago. Its whereabouts have been in question ever since.  Vintage Los Angeles uncovers the original hotdog façade that was built in the 1940s with its long-time owners The Blake Family in this exclusive mini-documentary, highlighting the colorful history and future of this lost Angeleno treasure. It’s an emotional episode since their son, Dennis Blake, passed away in his sleep last December. His wish was to get the pup back on the streets again and his family is going forward with his dream. We were there to capture its removal out of storage where it has languished since 2005. Thank you to The Ebersole Hughes Company for teaming up with VLA on this passionate new series. Each episode will offer a different tale. Most of them inspired by the stories we've been following on this page. This is one of the most rewarding projects I have ever been a part of and we dedicate this first episode to Dennis Blake. 

                                                          Watch the first episode!

There is one personal story I must share. Last year I picked up Dennis from his home and we went to see the pup. He was heart broken to see it in storage. On the way back he gave me that vintage "Tail "o the Pup" pin you see in the video. I placed it in my glove compartment. Tragically six months later Dennis passed away unexpectedly. When we reached out to the family to shoot this in his honor, I arrived at the storage unit a bit early that day. I had nothing to do so I started cleaning out my car. And when I opened the glove compartment, there was the pin! I knew immediately it was a sign. I placed it on my scarf and when we started shooting, Dennis's father Eddie Blake asked me, "Where did you get that?". I said, "Dennis gave it to me". Eddie swelled up in tears while our camera's were rolling. There is no question in my mind that was Dennis making an appearance in this beautiful segment.

                                                                         The pin

Vintage Los Angeles will be shooting many more segments within the year. Every story will be generated out of the VLA page. We will also be shooting segments with various celebrities that have an LA connection. Belinda Carlisle, Micky Dolenz and Frankie Avalon have already signed on for future episodes as well as a 95 year old lady who contacted me via Vintage Los Angeles who opened the Villa Nova on Sunset Strip. This is where Marilyn Monroe met Joe DiMaggio. Today it’sThe Rainbow Bar and Grill. A.J. Benza from "Mysteries & Scandals" will also hosting a few segments!

So far our first series been highly received and has been featured in WeHoVille and Curbed LA!

Your support is immeasurable! This is really more then just a facade in storage. It's a piece on something that is specific and  tangible, a family's heartfelt story. So even though it's "just" a very small and one-off funky old and beat-up thing, there's much more to it as you can see. It's more then just an L.A. icon. We actually never expected Eddie Blake to show up on the day of filming.  It was just one of those unscripted moments in life. 

We will be premiering 2 more episodes in the next couple months! Then we will most likely need to shop the series around or crowd fund since we will need funding to keep this up!! So please spread the word! The more buzz, the better for the VLA web series which we are funding ourselves at the moment. 

We will be keeping you all up to date on where the Tail 'o the Pup will land after its restoration! We think we know where it's going and VLA is behind the the new location! Stay Tuned!

VLA presents Sunset Boulevard at the Million Dollar Theatre

What a night for Vintage Los Angeles! Thank you to everyone who attended the screening of Billy Wilder's, "Sunset Boulevard" at the Million Dollar Theatre on May 31st.  Seeing VLA on the Marquee was so spectacular and surreal and over 1000 seats sold!

This was purely a magical and serendipitous achievement. I happened to announce the screening two hours before I headed out to Kate Mantilini restaurant in Beverly Hills. I hadn't sat down for more then 10 minutes when the waiter informed me that Nancy Olson was actually 4 tables down from me! I just knew I HAD to approach her and inform her about the screening.  Our wonderful waiter, James Lauver handled the introduction. Nancy then reveals to me that her husband was Alan Livingston who was president of Capitol Records during the late 50's and 60's and actually signed my father to the label! He was also responsible for signing The Beatles, The Beach Boys and created Bozo The Clown. What were the odds if of this happening? She agreed to attend the screening right then and there!

Two weeks later Nancy shows up at the Million Dollar! She was pleasantly surprised when she saw the marquee and the massive crowd gathered in front. The historic movie palace was built in 1918 by Sid Grauman and seats over 1700 people! I told her that this was the very same theatre Gloria Swanson attended during her silent films days. She couldn't wait to get up on that platform. This woman had a lot to say!

The Q & A was a smash! Well a little more "A" then "Q". Nancy honestly let me get off very easy. So much for those flashcards I was holding that included dozens of questions! After I announced her,  she took over and no questions were required!   Nancy's spot-on observations and reminiscences of the making of "Sunset Boulevard" illuminated Wilder's masterpiece. Nancy needed no interruptions - only an introduction. We could have listened for hours as she told us insightful stories of the film, William Holden and how Billy Wilder made her wear all her own clothes to capture the right vibe of the character. I'm so grateful that so many of you were a part of it! The entire video can be watched here


This is the part of Nancy Olson's interview last night that really blew us all away. When she reached inside her bag and pulled out her memoirs and shared her experiences and perspectives about Sunset Boulevard. She radiated the theatre with elegance and we were just stunned listening to her eloquent and intelligent wisdom. 

Thank you to to everyone that attended. This was a milestone for Vintage Los Angeles. And thank
you John Reiber for this fantastic review of this magical night so many of us will never forget!

Photos by Stephen Russo

"The Fish Shanty" and the Kooky World of La Cienega


La Cienega and Beverly Boulevard used to be a playful pocket of themed eateries, amusement parks, and nightclubs

By Alison Martino

Established in 1950 by the Smith Bros., the Fish Shanty was classic West Coast kitsch. Located at the intersection of La Cienega Boulevard and Burton Way, it was known to Angelenos as "the restaurant that swallowed you whole,” and nothing thrilled me more as a child than walking through the jaws of the Shanty’s whale façade or hiding under his fin, which was made out of thousands of tiny, ocean-blue, midcentury mosaic tiles that sparkled during sundown like the crest of an effervescent wave. (It will be forever preserved on film after being used as the entrance to a British club in the 1965 black comedy, The Loved One.)

The kitchen served reasonably priced seafood in a nautical atmosphere that included a ship’s wheel, lavender leather booths, and an aquarium with turtles in the entryway. It was the first time I ever tried clam chowder and sand dabs, and I specifically remember ordering Shirley Temples with extra cherries. (I still have a couple of the plastic mermaids that the waiters stuck on the rim of my glass.)
Believe it or not, this area of Los Angeles was once a playful pocket of themed restaurants, amusement parks, and nightclubs surrounded by an amazing landscape of kooky architecture. The fish shack was conveniently located across the street from a disco in the shape of a giant claw called Osko’s and down the road from several beloved cartoonish destinations, like Beverly Park and Ponyland. (Yes, you could actually ride a ferris wheel or jump on a pony where the Beverly Center is today.) Other nearby eateries included Tail o’ the Pup, the Islander, Alan Hale’s Lobster Barrel, and The Velvet Turtle. How appropriate! And who could forget playing in that gigantic boot inside Standard Shoes just a few blocks away?

                                           Osko's (screen grab from "Thank God It's Friday")

                                            Kiddieland / Beverly Park located on Beverly Blvd

                                   "Ponyland" located at Beverly Blvd and La Cienega

           "Tail 'O the Pup" located on north west corner of La Cienega and Beverly Blvd

                 "The Islander" located on La Cienega between Beverly Blvd and Melrose Ave.

                                                      Alan Hale's "Lobster Barrel"

                                           "The Velvet Turtle" not too far from La Cienega

                                       Who played in the giant boot inside Standard Shoes?

Fish Shanty fit in perfectly with these whimsical landmarks and blended right into so-called Restaurant Row on La Cienega, a section of trendy restaurants such as the original Lawry’s, Ollie Hammond’s, and Tail o’ the Cock. Most of these places are now just memories that helped shape my youth, and the Shanty was the captain that anchored them.

Tragically, Fish Shanty was demolished after a fire in the early ’90s and was replaced by a car dealership. Today it’s a swanky apartment building courtesy of Rick Caruso, complete with a Trader Joe's. The thing I love the most about this re-use of the original Shanty site is the oval cutout in the top of the new modern structure. For me, it represents the neighborhood whale that always made me smile. So next time you walk through the doorway of that Trader Joe’s, imagine yourself  heading into the belly of the beast.

Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to CityThink and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Witch's House in Beverly Hills

Spent a magical evening with my best friend Maria McKee inside the "The Witch's House" last night for Vintage Los Angeles. The house has been owned by renowned real estate agent, Michael Libow since 1998 and my friend and I were THRILLED to be invited over. NOBODY has taken better care of this original storybook fairytale home better then Michael who did NOT want to see the home torn down. So he purchased it and began a gradual renovation. Well it paid off! In fact it has just been declared a Landmark by the city of historic preservation due to it's unique storybook design, age and role in early Hollywood! And we are all SOOOOO happy about that!

The Witches House (also known as the Spadena House) was built in the 1920's as an office for the studio execs in Culver City and was used in several silent films and eventually moved to Walden St. in 1926 after its use was retired to serve as a residence for Ward Lascelle, and independent movie producer. Through the years the house changed owners, and luckily has stood the test of time and today this whimsical cottage has never been in better shape.

I went trick or treating here every Halloween in the late '70s early '80's. The owners at that time would dress as ghosts and goblins handing out Taffy from a witches kettle. There was dry ice coming from the moat around the house and haunted mansion music piping out from the upstairs window! It was the TOP attraction in Beverly Hills at that time. Then suddenly the house went dark one year and the family stopped the tradition with no explanation. The tradition was missed and no activity took place there for several years and the property started to become neglected. Thankfully Michael Libow purchased it and has taken the house to an entire new level giving it the tender loving care and restoration it has so desperately deserved. Let me further explain....

Michael has made some incredible additions to the house. The landscaping in the front yard is purposefully bizarre, with gnarled, twisted trees and a wooden bridge crossing a mystical moat with a ceramic glass bottom. The home now looks more organic - like it's growing up from the ground. There is a huge spider web complete with nefarious looking spider caught in web made out of wrought iron and the house is surrounded by a rickety picket fence How do I explain the inside? All I can say is it immediately reminded me of "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" at Disneyland and I expected Walt's ghost to appear at any moment. The walls of the house slope precariously, giving the impression of imminent collapse. Its dilapidated-looking, pitched roof is pointed like a witch's hat. The saggy, wooden window shutters are hung at odd angles. The entire house almost appears as if it's melting! This further explains why the house sees well over 4,000 trick-or-treaters every single Halloween and it is visited by many curious onlookers.

The consulting firm Ostashay & Associates performed an intensive and exhaustive landmark assessment which helped tie the pedigree and provenance of the house together.

If Hansel and Gretel lost their way in Beverly Hills it is likely they would end up at 516 N. Walden Drive

Seeing the interior, was milestone for me and thrilled to share my experience with you. We ended the perfect night with a few rounds of Pinball on Michael's vintage CAPTAIN FANTASTIC pinball machine inspired by the movie, "Tommy", and topped it off singing around Michael's antique piano. The house is just FULL of endless fun and innocence (and a few friendly spirits). I'm proud to say you will be seeing a lot more of the Witches House on Vintage Los Angeles and this summer I will featuring Michael Libow and his beloved home in for Los Angeles Magazine! Stay tuned!

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Whisky A Go Go's 50th for Los Angeles Magazine

The world famous Whisky A Go Go on the Sunset Strip celebrates its 50th anniversary on Jan. 16th, 2014! And to celebrate this milestone, I had the pleasure of interviewing Philip Tanzini Jr. for an exclusive interview for my latest Los Angeles Magazine feature. His father Philip Tanzini Sr. was one of the original owners. He shares some inside stories I had never heard before and I'm thrilled to share them with you!

Vintage Los Angeles: How Go-Go Dancing Took Off at The Whisky

The world-famous club’s success? It all happened by accident

The world famous Whisky A Go Go will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Thursday. Considered the first rock ‘n’ roll venue on the Sunset Strip to take chances by booking new and sometimes notorious artists during the 1960s, it gave future superstars a stage to develop their signature sounds. Johnny Rivers was the first to play live music at the Whisky in 1964. Two years later, the Doors became the house band (It was there that Love front man Arthur Lee encouraged Elektra Records owner Jac Holzman to sign the Doors after Lee’s band headlined at the joint in 1966.) “Up-and-coming” artists like Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin and The Byrds played there too, their names placed in large letters on the marquee at the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Clark.
Despite its lore, most people don’t know how the Whisky A Go Go got started. I only recently heard the story myself when I sat down at the Rainbow Bar and Grill with Philip Tanzini Jr., the son of one of the four original owners, Philip Tanzini.
Tanzini Sr. was born and raised in New Jersey but moved with his business partner, former cop Elmer Valentine, to Los Angeles during the 1950s looking for business opportunities in Hollywood. During a trip to Paris, Valentine had stumbled upon a restaurant called the “Whisky A Go Go” and became intrigued by the European mod scene. It gave him the idea to open a similar joint on the Sunset Strip. At the time, the Strip was turning, with older nightclubs of the Golden Age like The Mocambo, Ciro’s, and The Trocadero closing down and giving way to the new world of discotheques. The Whisky, however, was never intended to be a dance club.
According to Tanzini Jr., the venue was founded by his father, Valentine, publicist Shelly Davis, and attorney Theodore Flier. The four powerful partners took over an old, nondescript bank in West Hollywood with a plan to open a French restaurant. The group hired a local artist named Tony Mafia to paint the interiors, and installed beautiful chandeliers and a really expensive sound system. But when opening day rolled around in the summer of ‘64, The Whisky A Go Go was far from ready. “None of the tables and chairs had even been delivered,” says Tanzini. Still, the venue couldn’t not open its doors; ads of its grand opening were splattered all over the trades.
A line of kids in front in 1964. Photograph courtesy Andrew Sandoval
Now I wouldn’t describe Phil Tanzini and Elmer Valentine as roughish kinds of guys, but I will say they colored outside the lines a little here and there. One of the owners had a niece that attended Hollywood High School, and according to Tanzini, they asked her and a bunch of her teenaged friends if they’d like to make $20 each for the evening. “That was a lot of money in those days,” says Tanzini. “They paid all these kids to stand in a line outside the Whisky A Go Go. Elmer and my dad locked the doors, turned the music really loud, and hired a bouncer out front to paint the impression they were packed to capacity.” The fake out worked—and went on for a couple of days. Tanzini and the team knew they would eventually have to open, but without tables and chairs, they decided to hire local musicians to fill their empty space.
The kids loved it. Since there wasn’t any furniture, they started dancing, creating their own dance floor. “Back when the building was a bank, it had a security office that looked out over the floor. It was basically a ledge,” says Tanzini. “My father and Elmer installed bars so no one would fall off it. This was the beginning of what would eventually become a ‘go-go’ cage. Elmer was one of those guys that had his finger on the pulse of what was going in those days, and he decided to give musician Johnny Rivers a one-year contract and hired a young, pretty girl upstairs to mix the music. Occasionally she’d dance to the beat.”
“Well, one day she quit and everyone kept asking Elmer ‘where’s the girl in the cage?’ So he turned to one of the kids in the joint and told her to go up there and start dancing.” More suspended cages were installed after that, and go-go dancing at the Whisky was born.
Photograph courtesy the Whisky A Go Go
Soon the venue was hosting groups including the Byrds, the Doors, the Kinks, the Who, the Mamas and Papas, and Sonny and Cher. It also attracted stars like Sally Field, Steve McQueen, Richard Burton, and Jayne Mansfield because it was a local spot where celebrities could really let their hair down. (On one infamous night, Mansfield spent a few moments with the Beatles, who had stopped in on their first American Tour in 1964. George Harrison, upset by photographers, got into a drink-hurling fiasco and the band left after 15 minutes.) 
The Whisky went on to become one of the most famous clubs in the world. In 1969 Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper performed at the venue on the same bill. During the ‘70s, punk and new-wave acts like The Ramones, The New York Dolls, Blondie and Iggy Pop, the Stooges, and X stopped in. Heavy metals bands such as Motley Crew and Guns & Roses took center stage during the ‘80s. For its 50th anniversary, the Whisky will be showcasing sets from Robby Krieger of THE DOORS, X, and the Bangles. 
A Los Angeles historian, I can’t often say a local place has survived 40 or even 50 years. Thankfully, I can say that about The Whisky A Go Go, which is still very much alive today.
The Whisky A GO GO celebrates its 50th anniversary all this month. See its schedule of anniversary concerts here 

Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to CityThink and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present onTwitter.

Click here for The Los Angeles Magazine article! Story by Alison Martino of Vintage Los Angeles