Hollywood Cinecon Event

Hollywood Cinecon Event
Hollywood, California
Edna Purviance Documentary
Premiere 'The Angel from Nevada'
September 2, 2006
Article and Photos by Linda Wada ©
Additional information - Lita Hill
Editing Wesley Wada

Special report about our Hollywood trip and the premiere of Edna's documentary.

This September trip to Hollywood was to present the premiere of the first video documentary about Edna Purviance at the Cinecon 42 Classic Film Festival.

In May, we were accepted to show the presentation at this year's event. This was to be my first presentation at a film festival in the U.S. I have previously attended festivals in the UK and Italy, but never one in America.

After months of preparation and four hours of sleep the night before leaving, I arrived a few days ahead of time to unwind and visit a city where I had spent little time in the past.

Downtown Los Angeles at sunset.

Los Angeles is the second largest city in the United States. Built in a valley surrounded by mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, L.A. spreads over an area of 465 square miles.

Despite the ocean to the west, the Los Angeles Basin itself is not an area rich in naturally flowing fresh water. In the early 1900s, city officials enacted their plans to siphon water from farming regions like the Owens Valley and great rivers like the Colorado, both hundreds of miles away. In time, the newly arriving water turned the nearly dry L.A. basin into a semi-tropical oasis.

The Owens Valley farms withered and the Colorado River shrunk so much that it often dries up before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. Los Angeles flourished.

In the early 1900s the fledgling movie industry took notice of the stable year-round climate. Soon studios sprouted, and the smell of grease paint competed with the scent of orange blossoms.
Those early motion pictures showcased the region in movie houses around the world, causing people to flock to the area. People have been migrating to Southern California ever since.

As the plane touched down at LAX, the weather was hot, but the air surprisingly clear. My first impression of LAX was how dated the airport looked overall. The carpets showed wear from the millions of passengers who had walked through the corridors.

The best thing I found about LAX was the fact the terminals were well designed. Usually one has to walk through the whole airport to reach the exits, but at LAX the exits are directly below each airline terminal.

If you plan ahead, you can ride one of the shuttle services to many locations in the L.A. area, including Hollywood. The cost is reasonable. There are more deluxe transportation offerings to fit any pocketbook.

You can travel in L.A. without using a car or shuttle, but it is not that easy. The subway system is good, but limited in scope. It is not like The London Underground or British railway system where you can go practically anywhere without a car.

Many cities surround Los Angeles, but the most famous is Hollywood. North of downtown L.A., Hollywood was a farming community in the late 1800s. With growth, Hollywood became a favorite for Midwesterners to retire and spend the winter months away from the harsh Midwest winters. Then the quiet, conservative area was discovered by the movie industry!

Cowboys fresh off the ranch arrived to act in westerns. Slapstick comedians from the vaudeville stage performed in the valley’s small studios. Soon, local homes posted signs saying ‘No Rooms to Let to Actors’. But that lack of welcome didn’t stop the actors and studios from coming.

CNN World cameras at Kings Cross
'Charlie Chaplin' on Hollywood Blvd.
Photo by Mark McKennzie

A young stage actor from London, Charles Chaplin, visited Los Angeles for the first time in June 1911 with the Fred Karno Company. Chaplin remembered Los Angeles as ‘an ugly city, hot and oppressive’ lacking the freshness of San Francisco.

San Francisco’s climate would have felt more like London to Chaplin but SF was also the newest city on the west coast, newly rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake.

That same June, the Los Angeles Times newspaper noted Chaplin’s visit.

They touted him as the best member in the Karno Tour show “A Night in a English Music Hall”. The Los Angeles Times review June 26, 1911 said:

“Fred Karno’s “A Night in an English Music Hall” was so good in its original idea that not even time and change can kill it, though the act seen at the Empress this week bares about the same relation to the original as does the glorious Carthage of Hannibal’s time to the desolate Carthaginian plain of today.

One Charles Chaplin, playing Billy Reeve’s original role of the polite drunk, is the best member of the boisterous crew. Large laughs still result from these oft-done and well-remembered antics.”

But Chaplin could not imagine in 1911 that Los Angeles would become his future home and birthplace of a film character that would turn him into a film legend. The L.A. Times didn’t know that London stage comic they praised would be a man who would help change their area forever.

After Chaplin built his English-style studio on a five-acre orange farm in 1917, it only took about three years before Hollywood exploded with development. Sidney Chaplin and others were involved with land deals throughout the Hollywood area.

The farms disappeared as housing development engulfed the open land. Paving covered the dirt roads, and business districts sprouted gas stations and grocery stores. Public transit systems popped up where orange groves, buggies and stately homes once graced the countryside.

Today, the Hollywood of Chaplin’s era is gone. While some of the businesses and homes from the 1920’s Hollywood still exist, the area Chaplin was familiar with has vanished under low-rise, high-rise and every kind of development imaginable.

Charlie Chaplin's Studio
Charlie Chaplin's English Style Studio
Driving by the La Brea Studio today, it is hard to imagine it as rural. Scenes from Edna and Charlie’s films, like ‘A Day’s Pleasure’ made in 1919 show the rural countryside.

Driving north of La Brea Avenue, past Chaplin’s studio (now known as Jim Henson Studio – home of the Muppets) sits Sunset Boulevard.

Sunset was once a rural road stretching from north downtown Los Angeles through Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Sunset winds a path through the coastal hills to the Pacific Ocean. The current street follows basically the same route, but the scenery has changed.

Today, parts of Sunset in the Hollywood district have a touch of the Las Vegas minus the casinos – neon lights up the street. Once past the Hollywood city limits, the cityscape darkens as you enter Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills Hotel still stands as one of the few-lighted landmarks visible as you travel down Sunset at night.

In the city of mansions, the only big changes are the mansions. The current trend is tearing down an old mansion to create a bigger one that challenges the confines of the building lot.

Back in Hollywood, there are many things to see, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame is just one of the attractions that draws fans from around the world.

Two blocks north of the corner of Sunset and La Brea is Hollywood Boulevard. Hollywood Boulevard is home to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Kodak Theater, and many of the still existing structures from Chaplin’s 1920’s heyday in Hollywood. Featured are Musso and Frank Grill, Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and the Grauman’s (Manns) Chinese Theater.

On a clear day, the massive HOLLYWOOD SIGN can be seen from Hollywood Boulevard. The best viewing point is from the specially designed courtyards at the Highland food court, part of the Hollywood and Highland Shopping Center.

The Kodak Theater, the centerpiece for this complex, is the permanent home of the Academy Awards. On a normal business day, you can walk up the staircase the stars use to the main Kodak Theater entrance. Names of the past Oscar winners can be seen as you ascend the stairway.

Lined with typical shops seen in most high-end shopping centers, it doesn’t have the full glamour one would expect for a Hollywood event, but on the night of the Oscars, all the shops close and large curtains are hung to hide the business facades.

I learned during a Cinecon talk given by Marc Wanamaker that building officials dropped the original planned entrance design to the Theater. The proposed design replicated the set of D.W. Griffith’s ‘Intolerance,’ but the people funding the project couldn’t tolerate the price nor see the vision. A walk to the Highland food court area has a taste of what was planned, as gigantic white elephants did find a place-helping frame the Hollywood Hills and Sign.

The main tourist area of Hollywood surrounds about a six-block area by Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. As you walk further east on Hollywood Blvd. both the businesses and tourists thin, as the crowds do not wander far from the tourist shops and museums around Highland. But some people do follow the trail of stars that pave both sides of Hollywood Blvd. to Vine St.

Charlie Chaplin star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Charles Chaplin's star on the Walk of Fame
Right on a corner, the star has seen some wear.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame was created in the mid-1950s as a tourist attraction and part of the renewal campaign for the Hollywood district.

Today, with thousands of stars filling the walk between La Brea to Vine, and spilling onto the side streets along the way, it has become the tourist attraction Hollywood wished.

The Walk of Fame started in the mid-1950s, but it took seven years before the first star was laid in the pavement in 1960. In the 500 original names, Charlie Chaplin’s name was not included. There were a lot of anti-Chaplin feelings at that time, due to several things, but mainly for his political stands.

Chaplin was in Switzerland when Chaplin’s son, Charles Chaplin Jr. sued the Hollywood chamber and fought for the rest of his life to get his father a star.

Chaplin’s return trip back to America in 1972 triggered the change in feeling that got Chaplin his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Chaplin’s star would have pleased his son, Charles Jr., but he died before seeing it.

Even with the Walk of Fame, the district has never recaptured its glory days from the 1920s and 30s. Things continue to look more run down as you get further from Highland Center.

The current trend is to tear much of old Hollywood down and replace it with high-end shops and condos. Others are fighting to keep the unique charm of old Hollywood.

Some people would call it a funky appeal, but for me, going into a bookshop like Larry Edmunds and spending time looking through the stacks of old and new books, is an experience a modern day bookshop can’t match.

Cinecon Classic Film Festival
Hopefully, the taste for classic film festivals will always have a home in Hollywood. Putting on festivals can be a thankless job. Organizing staff, ordering films and hoping they show up on time, hoping staff is dependable, arranging people to come, etc. etc.

But when the theater lights go down, and the light from the projector illuminates the film to a silvery glow, that’s when the magic starts. And that is what Cinecon is all about – a festival created to enable restored films to be seen in their former glory.

Except for a few special events and the dealer show at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel, all the Cinecon films are shown at the Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre. Built in the 1920s, it has been remodeled by the American Cinematheque Society. Cinecon was looking for a new home, settled in the theater, and has been there ever since.

Charlie Chaplin star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
'The Angel from Nevada' - Added Attractions

For our event, we were part of the Extra Attractions held at the Renaissance Hotel. Our special event was titled “Edna Purviance –The Angel from Nevada”.

With the help of Edna’s grand nieces, Lita and Ellie Hill, and backed by eight years of personal research, I created a 57-minute documentary that is centered on an interview of Lita Hill. Lita, Edna’s grandniece, knew Edna for over 20 years, and even lived with her during the 1950s. Lita’s memories of Edna are what make the video memorable.

Lita was simply great on-camera, and I couldn’t wait to start editing. But our video editing system needed a significant upgrade to tackle this task, and nine months passed before the equipment was purchased and I could make the first edit.

February 2006 was the start of making the video. Lita was quite ill at the time, and I really wanted to get a video to her to see. I pulled some time off of normal work and used February to finish the first version of the video.

Lita was able to see the video among friends and family and was thrilled to see the results.

Wanting to do something more with this video, I explored whether it could be shown publicly.

After looking around and seeing only a few options, I asked Edna fan Mark Jungheim about Cinecon. Personally I knew little about their festival except from what was on their website.

After a few emails and a call, we had contact with Robert Birchard of Cinecon. We were given a chance to preview the video in May 2006. At the DeMille Barn we showed the video to the Cinecon Committee. Happily, the Cinecon committee accepted it for Cinecon 42.

From May until just before leaving for the September 2nd event, I re-edited the video. I wanted to keep the main focus on Lita while introducing more about Edna to people who didn’t know of her.

The title was changed from ‘Interview with Lita Hill’ to “Edna Purviance – The Angel from Nevada”. After one more showing to the family, and a few more edits and additions, the video was ready to show at Cinecon.

Charlie Chaplin star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Official Cinecon Classic Film Program - 42
The programs list all the films shown for the event.
Cinecon has been going for 42 years. The festival is held over five days during the Labor Day holiday weekend. With films starting on a Thursday evening and ending early evening on Monday night, it is a near non-stop screening of rare films from the silent era to the early 1950s. Except for the banquet evening, films run from 9a.m. to nearly midnight.

We did not attend the banquet, so I have no personal report about it, but other Cinecon members say that members are seated with a film star who is assigned to that table. It is a dress affair and awards are presented.

While Cinecon encourages membership, you can attend the events by getting a day pass allowing you to see the films or just the dealer rooms (sellers of movie collectables, etc.) and special events. Best to contact Cinecon for details on passes.

Many members buy their passes and live at the theater for the full time, only coming out to peruse the dealer rooms at the Renaissance Hotel or go for a bite to eat. Some pack their own lunches. All enjoy seeing friends who attend each year.

My husband and I had a chance to experience a bit of this when we attended the Mabel Normand showings at the Egyptian. We saw some shorts in the morning and left for lunch. We had lunch with classic film fan Viviene Zehr, at the Pig' n Whistle, which has been remodeled back to its classic glow.

After lunch I returned to the theater with Viviene while my husband took in more sights in Hollywood. (His favorite is the Hollywood Museum on Highland.) Viviene was telling me about an upcoming Photoplay Magazine short film featuring Olive Thomas and Virginia Rappe. In a pleasant surprise, Edna Purviance was shown with Olive and Virginia, as the camera captured the beautiful Edna with Olive and Virginia looking on.

During the showings, the audiences had a wonderful time, applauding and cheering their favorite stars. It was as if the performers were live, instead of images on a screen. Many live performers would love to have that kind of response.

Occasionally, someone would capture the spirit and dress as their favorite classic film star, but for the most part, it was serious film buffs enjoying beautifully restored films not available anywhere else.

Never having presented at a film festival before and unfamiliar with Cinecon, our experience was different than the longtime members at Cinecon who knew ‘the ropes’ as one fellow put it. So we learned ‘the ropes’ as we went.

For our event, we had no idea what the turnout would be. I prepared for a small audience. Twenty people would have been a roomful for me!

Lita was our special guest at our event. The trip would not be as easy as the Italy trip for her. Since November 2005, for medical reasons Lita has required oxygen 24/7.

There was a rumor started after our event that Lita has cancer. She does not have cancer, instead suffers from a rare disease called Scleroderma. It attacks the skin tissue causing the skin to harden and can lead to damage to internal organs. In Lita’s case it is her lungs that are affected. Lita has been a trooper, but oxygen canisters have become a necessity in her life.

Bologna arcades
Our event was held at the Renaissance Hotel
My husband Wes with a 'Pirate Lady' outside the El Capitan Theater.

Getting an oxygen tank on an airline in this post- 9/11 era is impossible. Carrying on a new machine that recycles the air is also not allowed on some airlines. If you need oxygen to travel, check carefully with the airlines before booking. And expect to pay extra, as well. Lita spent the day before our event trying to get help with her oxygen supply. She was making countless phone calls.

Wes and I went to the hotel to get our passes for the event and to check the presentation room. (Wes, my husband, joined me on the Friday before the event. He has been a great supporter over the years and my main copy editor for the Edna projects. And he got to be with us this time!)

The Renaissance Hotel was just steps away. As we entered, the route to the event was not clearly marked. We wandered around inside until we found the third floor. At the reception table, I asked for our passes, as previously arranged, but no passes were waiting for us! Not wanting to deal with this on the day of the presentation, we spent a good part of the afternoon sorting it out.

It did give me a chance to walk around Hollywood with my husband. I hoped to see ‘Charlie Chaplin’ working on the sidewalk near the Chinese Theater, but he must have taken the day off..

By late afternoon we had the passes, and by early evening, Lita had her oxygen supply delivered to the hotel. We were ready for the presentation day!

The Day
Saturday, Wes and I headed for our presentation room in the hotel to prepare for the event. When we arrived, no equipment had been set up, so we prepared our handouts and placed posters, cards, and flowers to mark the location.

While waiting for the equipment we had our first visitor, David Totheroth. David is the grandson of Rollie Totheroth. This was the first time I met or even talked to David, and it was a pleasure to meet him. We had a very nice visit, as he came especially to see the Edna event.

Morgan Hill (Lita’s father) was the camera assistant to Rollie Totheroth. Rollie and Morgan became good friends back during Morgan’s years working at Chaplin’s studio (about 1924 - 1939).

Longtime Edna fan, Mark McKenzie flew in from Texas to be at our event, and it was very good to meet him. He has contributed information about Edna over the years, including the information about the situation at Grand View Cemetery, where Edna is interned. (The cemetery is still closed at this time, with only limited visiting hours. The death of the owner has clouded the future even more.)

After chatting with Mark, the time was nearing 10 a.m. and Cinecon president Robert Birchard and Stan Taffel arrived. Cinecon furnished the video player we had requested. While the picture was great, I have to say the sound with no external speakers was disappointing. Wes went to get help to see if we could quickly fix this matter.

Shoghi, who is Edna’s great, great, grandnephew, tried valiantly to help obtain sound equipment on very short notice.

Cover of special program we created.

By 10:45 a.m., people started arriving, and I greeted each person who entered. The pace picked up by 11 a.m. We had produced 50 special program handouts, thinking that would be more than enough, but we quickly exhausted our supply.

We never expected to see so many people! Stan informed me people were ‘running’ from the Egyptian theatre to make it to our event. In all we had about 140 people attending and standing room only.

Lita and her family from the L.A. area arrived. Linda Turner, Lita's very close friend, traveled with Lita to Hollywood and was at her side. (Linda Turner is the first voice you hear at the beginning of the video.)

Knowing the tight schedule of festival events, we started the program, and Stan Taffel made an introduction.  We would have to go only with the small speaker inside the video projector.

Now I actually don’t remember much about the actual showing and I remember little of what I said. We just never thought about speaking to a ‘standing room only’ audience.

I remember greeting Lita and her family, and noting a comment from a longtime Edna fan. I read a letter to Edna that was written by journalist Jim Tully in 1923 during the time of ‘A Woman of Paris’.

In short, the letter said that the editors wanted more about Edna, and less about Chaplin. The day of our presentation, we were finally able to respond to that letter with the first video about Edna.

You can imagine the worry. The first public showing of the video. All those thoughts about how people would receive the effort!

I knew from the start this film would not have some things fans might be anticipating, but what fans need to know is this video captures the living history of Lita’s memories of Edna. (The video is not the personal recollection of a celebrity’s life, but of a person and family member that Lita lived with and knew over 20 years.)

Many people know little to nothing about Edna. This film follows a time line from when Lita first knew Edna to Edna’s death in 1958. These are the unknown years of Edna’s life. I only had time in the video for a ‘taste of’ the earlier Chaplin years. A definite attraction is that the video is full of never-before-seen images of Edna and her family, including some picturing Edna with Charlie.

Standing in the back I could sense the interest of the audience. There was no looking at watches, and no nodding heads. People were very interested in what they were seeing! Even the laughter came at the right moments in the film.

Lita was sitting in the front, surrounded by her friends and family, it was just so good to see her there, after all she has been through this last year.

Except for one person who left early because of the bad sound, everyone stayed to the end. When the credits started rolling, the audience was applauding enthusiastically. A second round of applause filled the room when the lights came up.

Left: David Totheroth with Lita Hill. Center: Lita surrounded by fans. Right: Lita with David Kiehn and Linda Wada.
Lita at Cinecon event

Hollywood and Orange
The Mann Chinese, Kodak Theater and the Highland Center on Hollywood. The Renaissance Hotel is behind the Kodak Theater.

At the very end, some people had to leave for lunch to catch the next film event, but many stayed, and surrounded Lita and myself with enthusiastic conversations.

We met many people from well-known writers and filmmakers to loyal fans. I can’t begin to list all the names, but we were grateful to experience the interest in Edna. Lita said later she never had an experience that compared with this event.

I had my camera and camcorder ready to take photos but didn’t manage one image. The memory of this event is all recorded in my mind, and is more vivid than any photo I could have taken.

But thankfully, we had other photographers from Lita's family who captured Lita enjoying every minute of it!

We like to thank everyone who attended our very first screening of “Edna Purviance – The Angel from Nevada”. We appreciate each and every member and fan who took the effort to attend. We like to thank you for the warm welcome at our event and the double helping of applause at the end.

Special thanks to the Cinecon Committee for giving us the chance to share the video with you: Robert Birchard, Stan Taffel and Robert Nudelman. Also to Mark Jungheim for all his help, and to Lawrence Bulk for information about the classic film event.

Also a very special thanks to Lita and Ellie Hill and their families, to Lyn and Rima for a relaxing stay before the event, and Linda Turner and Wes Wada for all their support with the video and in helping make this trip possible.

We will take all the nice remarks and constructive comments and work on finishing our DVD for release with the Edna Purviance biography that we hope to release in late 2008 or 2009.

The Sea Gull 'A Woman of the Sea'

In the meantime, we have released the very first book about Edna Purviance called ‘The Sea Gull.’ This book features over 50 never before seen production stills from the ‘lost’ film produced by Chaplin and directed by Josef von Sternberg. Edna Purviance starred in the film and the beautiful still photos were discovered in Edna’s personal memorabilia.

This will be the most complete look ever into what has been an empty gap in silent film history. And of course, Edna is featured in many of the stills, along with co-stars Gayne Whitman, Eve Southern and Raymond Bloomer. The book is available only at EdnaPurviance.com. More info at Edna’s site and Edna’ Place (blog).

Our stay in Hollywood was brief and enjoyable – made special by reminders everywhere – that here was home to Charlie and Edna and their memorable movies. Linda Wada, November 2006-2010

Update: The Sea Gull was released January 13, 2008. Lita Hill passed away on January 21, 2008. She did see the release of The Sea Gull.

Other Links of Interest

Owens Valley Water | Walk of Fame Star Locations | Edna Purviance Walk of Fame Drive

Home Page | Lita Hill | Short Film | 2005 London Tour | 2005 Italy Tour | 2003 London Tour

This full report was written for ednapurviance.org. website. No permission has been given otherwise.
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