I met Gordon at the Theater at the Ace Hotel, previously known as the United Artists Theater, yesterday afternoon for a showing of Singin’ in the Rain. Gordon had been docenting all morning, showing his gaggle of tourists some of the architecture and history of Downtown, so I drove myself to stand in line early. I wore my hat because it was about 100 degrees outside and I knew I’d be standing in the sun for at least 15 minutes. Thank God, they opened the doors early so I walked right in. I guess they didn’t want to scrape up fainting people from the sidewalk. I got the seats I wanted and jealously protected them until Gordon showed up. We couldn’t take water inside but we were so dehydrated–especially Gordon–that we actually bought a bottle of Fred’s (who’s Fred? I don’t know. Third base!) water that was shaped like a flask. I felt like a bootlegger drinking from it which I think was the point. I let Gordon rest his feet while I wandered around taking pictures of the theater. It’s just gorgeous as you can see. Then it was time for the movie.
Gene Kelly’s widow (can’t remember her name) gave a brief talk about the filming of Singin‘. She told us not to believe anything we read on wikileaks or Facebook unless it comes from her site. I don’t know if she was just trying to get people to buy her biography of Kelly (due out soon)but she said it was a myth that the rain scene number used milk, as has been reported, but used regular water. And that the water pressure in Culver City was affected by the scene. Kelly did have a fever of 103 while shooting but sat outside in the sun between takes to try to bake the fever out. Gene Kelly did want Debbie Reynolds in her part and Cyd Charisse had just had a baby before doing the duet with Kelly. God, I wish I’d ever looked that good. Also, Cyd was a ballet dancer and they had to talk her into doing the jazz dance–that was Cyd learning a new dance style. Wow. Gene taught Debbie to tap and Cyd to dance jazz. He was a great teacher. Also, the actress playing Lina, Jean Hagan, dubbed the voice of Debbie during the dubbing scene of the movie. That low mellifluous voice belonged to the same actress who was the shrill, nasal Lina!
I could have listened to Mrs. Kelly longer but it was time for the film–which has to be one of the best musical comedies I’ve ever seen. The sold-out audience just roared at the dialogue. We all applauded at the end of the dance routines as if it had been a live performance. Gordon and I stayed for the 20-minute talk after the movie about the history of the theater. The UA Theater was built by talent trying to buck the studio system and guarantee distribution for their movies. The investors were DW Griffith, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin. Apparently the theater never made a dime. At one point a bakery rented out the lobby space and vented oven exhaust into the theater itself. In the 1980s Rev. Gene Scott rented the space and moved his congregation and Bible collection. The walls of the theater were covered in mold and black exhaust by the bakery but the congregation, unpaid, made it their mission to clean the interior. They did a wonderful job. When Rev. Scott died his daughter rented other space and the Ace Hotel bought the building. They built a boutique hotel–which is one of the coolest hotels in LA–and rent the theater out for live performances (the theater was built to accommodate vaudeville as well as movies). So the UA Theater is finally making money–90 years after it was built.
We walked down to Clifton’s after the show to use up the gift cards we’d won at the trivia contest last week. We each were entitled to one protein, two sides, a dessert, and a fountain drink. I got meatloaf, mac & cheese, vegetables, cheesecake, and a Diet coke (I know the Diet coke wouldn’t help but I had to cut calories somewhere). Gordon got the ham, mac & cheese, mashed potatoes, and Jello! Gordon remembered it as being the same menu from when he’d visited as a kid. It was a fun trip down the Midwestern menu memory lane but we both got urpy. Too much cholesterol. I’ll go back because it’s such a fun place–I’ll just stick to the sandwich bar. I took more time to wander around Clifton’s because it was less crowded–the bars don’t get packed until 10. I marveled at the chairs made of buffalo horn, the fake pine tree going up four stories, the stuffed bison, bear, deer, and coyote…it’s a hoot. And doing great business. Gordon says it’ll have to continue like this for at least three years to pay off what the owner spent to renovate it but that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s a Downtown destination these days. The kiddies (hipsters) love it.