Charlie Chaplin’s Tragic Best Friend, the Gentle Giant

September 24, 2007

Courtesy Los Angeles Athletic ClubCharlie Chaplin is understandably remembered as one of the great giants of early comic cinema.  But his one-time best friend and co-star, a man on the verge of Chaplinesque stardom, might have been remembered as well as Chaplin had it not been for a strange quirk of fate. 

Alfred Eric Campbell was born in Dunoon, Scotland in 1880 and began acting as a boy.  He married fellow music hall performer Fanny Gertrude Robotham on March 30, 1901 and a few years later was hired by English music hall impresario Fred Karno for his “Fun Factory” comedy troupes that featured other young comics like Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel.  Along with Chaplin and Laurel, Campbell arrived in New York with a Karno troupe in July, 1914 and was almost immediately hired away from Karno by famed Broadway producer Charles Frohman.

In late 1915 Chaplin was in New York with his brother Sid after having left Karno to get into movies.  Looking for actors for their new movie company, they found Eric working in a George M. Cohan play “Pom Pom” and in March, 1916, brought him to Hollywood.  Eric was huge; built like a wrestler 6’2″ tall and over 250 pounds, his body topped by a small shaved head.  Chaplin smeared his face with exaggerated eyebrows and darkened eyes, and added a long scraggly beard.  He played the menacing bearded ogre opposite Chaplin in Chaplin’s most famous silents.  His first was The Floorwalker (1916), and he reprised his role as the villainous heavy in subsequent classics like The Rink (1916), The Pawnshop (1916), The Cure (1917), The Immigrant (1917), Easy Street (1917) and The Fireman (1917).  By the summer of 1917 Campbell was Chaplin’s favorite co-star and foil, and almost as famous as the little comedian.  The films they made together are remembered as among Chaplin’s greatest work and are among the most important silent films in history.

His last film was the 1917 Chaplin Mutual, The Adventurer, after which Chaplin began construction on his own studio on LaBrea Avenue in Hollywood (which still stands today).  During the five-month construction Chaplin lent Campbell to Mary Pickford, the world’s biggest star, to appear in her film Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley (1917).  He was on the verge of world-wide stardom as filming began but tragically at the same time his personal life was beset by sadness and scandal.

On July 9, 1917 his wife died suddenly of a heart attack after dinner at a Santa Monica restaurant near their home.  Walking to a nearby store to buy a mourning dress, his 16-year-old daughter Una was hit by a car a seriously injured.  At a September 12 party given for Artcraft Studio publicity man Pete Schmid, Campbell met Pearl Gilman, a diminutive vaudeville comedienne whose family had a well-earned reputation for gold-digging.  Pearl had been married to candy heir Charles W. Alisky in 1912 and a few years later divorced and married another wealthy man, Theodore Arnreiter.  Her sister Mabelle was married to elderly steel magnate William E. Corey, the owner of U.S. Steel.

Just five days after they met, Campbell and Pearl Gilman-Alisky-Arnreiter were married at the home of Elaine Hardy at 824 Fifth Street in Santa Monica.  His daughter Una, still recuperating at a friend’s home in Santa Monica canyon, was not told of the wedding for several weeks.  Less than two months after marrying the gentle giant, the slimey Pearl Gilman-Alisky-Arnreiter sued him for divorce.  He moved out of his Santa Monica bungalow and into the Los Angeles Athletic Club, taking a room next to his best friend Chaplin.

A month later later on December 20, Campbell attended a Christmas party at the Vernon Country Club, and drove back to L.A. in a drunken stupor.  Approaching the intersection of Wilshire Blvd. and Vermont Ave. at over 60 m.p.h., he lost control of his car, crossed Wilshire and hit another car head-on.  He was killed instantly, his massive body locked in the crumpled wreckage for over five hours.

Even in death heartbreak dogged Campbell.  After his remains were cremated his ashes were sent to the Rosedale Cemetery, where they remained for six months while the cemetery waited in vain for someone to pay for his funeral.  When the bill remained unpaid the urn was returned to the Handley Mortuary, where it sat unnoticed in a closet from 1917 until late 1938.  When the mortuary closed the urn was sent back to Rosedale, where it sat in yet another closet for still another 13 years.  In 1952 a kindhearted office worker arranged for Campbell’s remains to finally be buried but unfortunately he forgot to record exactly where Campbell was buried.  So the burly Scotsman is lost among the markers and statues in the quiet cemetery.  In conjunction with a Scottish film about Campbell’s life, a memorial plaque was laid in 1996.

Campbell’s death had a profound effect on Chaplin, and a quieter effect on movie history.  After his best friend’s death Chaplin’s movies lost some of their comic mystery; that certain something that his Mutual films had but subsequent films did not.  His later works were much more self-centered and missing the comic give-and-take evident in his work with Campbell.  There’s no telling how famous Eric Campbell would have become, or what different films Chaplin may have done with his burly best friend, but the larger than life Scotsman had a huge, but un-remembered, impact on the movies. 

1486 North Sweetzer – The Real Story of Mt. Kalmia, “Dracula’s Castle”

September 14, 2007

There is so much urban myth surrounding mansions and estates in Hollywood and Beverly Hills that it’s often hard to seperate truth from fiction.  That’s one of the things we try to do with The Movieland Directory book and site.  Over the years, fictional stories about houses get told so often that they become “fact.” 

It began with the early 1920’s Star Maps, which were actually first used to help sell the properties in the neighborhoods below Sunset in “the Flats” near the Beverly Hills Hotel.  Those maps were notoriously innacurate and continue to be mostly fiction, with the exception of older addresses (Lucille Ball’s house is correct but almost all of the newer addresses are not correct).

The second reason bad information arises and lives is the dishonesty of many Hollywood tour guide types.  Some of these guys are very good and honest; the best is Scott Michaels and his Dearly Departed Tour, which is the result of over 20 years of research into Hollywood death and history.  But people like Scott are few and far between.  Most guides are notorious for simply making things up.  I take the bus tours frequently just to see how much bullshit they throw around.  I had drinks once with a driver who told me he did entire tours and made up the entire text just for something to do…

Lastly, the L.A. realtors add immensely to the problem.  They’re notorious for “spicing up” the history of a house they’re selling by mentioned actors or industry types who lived there… allegedly.  Those stories too pick up steam though are often not verified.  

One of the most famous of this types of urban myth is the ongoing tale that Bela Lugosi lived in a large castle estate the sits above Sunset Boulevard.  The original entrance gates were at 8311 Sunset but today the entrance gates are at 1486 North Sweetzer (the original servants’ and service entrance).  The mansion is 90 feet above Sunset, almost totally hidden in the trees.  For the better part of the 20th century, though, it was clearly visible above the Boulevard.  It is indeed castle-like and it’s easy to imagine 1930’s- or 1940’s-era Hollywood tour guides telling their passengers that Bela Lugosi lived in the castle.  Fiction, though still mentioned as fact. 

It is incontrovertible fact that Lugosi never lived there, though the story of the estate is an interesting one.  The mansion was built by George Campbell Carson, an itinerant miner who in 1906 invented the side-charge hopper (whatever that is) that revolutionized ore processing.  When the big mining companies tried to screw him he spent 19 years in court fighting them, all the time living in a San Francisco flophouse.  But his 1925 victory came with $1,000,000 (probably $50,000,000 today) and in 1927 he married school-teacher and probable gold-digger Hersee Moody.  Helen immediately began construction on an estate they called Mt. Kalmia on a four-acre eucalyptus grove sitting about ninety feet above 8311 Sunset Boulevard (the original entrance was on Sunset).  Why she chose that name is not known; kalmia is a type of mountain laurel.    

Mt. Kalmia was an extravagant castle, complete with battlements and rounded turrets and towers, seven bedrooms and nine bathrooms, two sun decks, etc.  The inside was designed to mimic the terraced grounds so there were a dozen levels.  There was a music room, solarium, library, morning reading-room, coffee-room, nursery, a billiard-room, refectory, butler’s pantry, grocery and laundry rooms, and elaborate quarters for the maids and chauffeurs.  Wide three-story tall winding staircases were lit by stained glass among more than 125 grilled windows.  The wood moldings throughout were hand-carved and wallpaper painted by hand.  The dining hall was all original Hepplewhite.  The drawing room original Louis XVI. 


Mt. Kalmia in the 1930’s


Mt. Kalmia in 1947

The mansion cost $500,000 and took six years to complete.  It was finished in late 1933 but George died less than a year later in 1934.  Carson’s family tried to get his money but Helen won in court and kept the mansion.  For a time in the late 1930’s she stayed in the house and gave several well-publicized parties for children but by 1941 it was being rented by ex-Ziegfeld Follies dancer “Queen” Patricia Noblesse Hogan and used as a combination guest-house/rooming house.  In 1947 it was sold in a tax sale to dentist Manuel Haig for $83,000 and Hogan and 38 of her pals evicted. 

Over the years the house has had a number of interesting tenants after it was cleaned up by the good dentist.  Howard Hughes’ mysterious right-hand-man Noah Dietrich lived there in the 1950’s and Motown legend Barry Gordy in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Gordy hosted parties for 300 to 400 people.  Super-agent Marvin Mitchelson lived there in the 1980s and Johnny Depp bought the castle in 1995.  In 2007 he was reportedly renting the house to Orlando Bloom. 

Because of its resemblance to a Bavarian castle, 1930’s Hollywood tour guides told people Bela Lugosi lived there (they’ve been lying to people for almost 90 years; most of the tour guide info given today is pure fiction).  But he never did.  In the early 1930’s Lugosi lived in several Hollywood and Beachwood Canyon houses.  From the late 1920’s into the early 1930’s he lived at 1146 North Hudson.  In 1934 he moved to 1728 North Hudson where he stayed for several years.  From there he moved to 1534 North McCadden Place and then on to houses on Creston Drive and Outpost Drive.  But he never lived at the Carson’s Mt. Kalmia house.

I would love to lay this famous Hollywood myth to rest, but it will likely live long past me…

Lots more addresses on the way…

September 13, 2007

I’ll have another Hollywood story later today but for now wanted to mention that we’re in the process of updating the address listing in the next few weeks.  When the update is done the TMD site will include 48,500 addresses.  A lot of the update is historic but a good bit is current, updated daily with information from my spy network in L.A.  For instance, last week Britney Spears bought a house at 5970 Ramirez Canyon Road in Malibu.  The Cheetos truck was parked out front this morning waiting for her crystal meth dealer to move his car.

FORGOTTEN HOLLYWOOD – Ace Hudkins…Boxer, Stuntman, Batman & Trigger

September 12, 2007

My lifelong preoccupation with Hollywood sites and the related research led to all of my books, and eventually the Movieland Directory and the TMD site.  Along the way I stumbled onto thousands of interesting Hollywood stories, which will eventually become another book when I’m done with the two or three I’ve been working on the past year or so.  In the meantime, I’ll drop a few of the tales here as I think of it.  What’s most interesting to me is how so many of the stories are intertwined with other stories and other stars’ lives.  Ace Hudkins is a great example.

Ace Hudkins was born in Nebraska in 1905 and began boxing at 12.  He began fighting professionally at 16 and boxed until he was 27 and was never knocked out.  His nicknames were “The Wildcat” and “The Nebraska Wildcat”.  In the years around 1925-1926, Hudkins and Clever Sencio were the top drawing cards at Los Angeles’ Olympic Auditorium.  One of his most famous fights was a 1927 fight in New York, a knockout of hot prospect Ruby Goldstein.  One writer wrote of Hudkins’ win over Goldstein as “the fight that broke the Jewish banks.”  It was Hudkins’ toughness that most impressed his faithful fans; his fight against Sammy Baker was described as “the bloodiest fight ever seen…even the referee was drenched in ruby red…”  Fighting from lightweight to light-heavyweight, he won several California State Heavyweight Titles and was Southern California’s biggest boxing drawing card in the 1920s.

In 1930 he lived with his extended family at 2302 Observatory Avenue in L.A.; his brothers Clyde and Art served as his managers.  As his boxing career wound down in the early 1930’s his personal life fell apart as he battled alcoholism and went on extended “benders.”  On January 10, 1932 he was charged with Assault with a Deadly Weapon in Los Angeles for punching T. Leonard Park, 38, in the head with his bare fist and fracturing his skull.  Hudkins claimed that he and a friend, Ellen Dorsey, were standing at an intersection when Park and a companion, Edward B. Martin, approached and insulted the woman.  The charges were later dropped but Park sued Hudkins for $50,000 and was awarded $1.

That March, his pretty live-in girlfriend Rhea Hill sued for $160,000; $100,000 for breach of a promise to marry, and $60,000 for beating her.  After winning the lawsuit on April 2nd, Ace went out, got drunk, and was arrested for public drunkenness and fighting with the police.  The following July 16th he was arrested for drunk driving and speeding near Fresno.  Released from jail the next morning he went to a nearby bar and when he left, drove his car directly into a service station building, destroying both car and building and landing back in jail charged with drunk driving again.  In December he was arrested and convicted twice more in Fresno on the same charges.In March, 1933, Hudkins spent a month in Hawaii and was arrested twice for disorderly conduct following fights in hotel bars and spent a week in jail. 

On August 7, 1933, a drunk Hudkins started a brawl in a Hollywood café and pulled a gun (which turned out to be unloaded) on the bar’s owner Richard Harris, who pulled his own (loaded) gun and shot Hudkins twice in the chest.  Ace lingered near death for two weeks at a Glendale hospital while receiving two blood transfusions, but somehow survived.On November 9th Hudkins was arrested after a drunken early-morning brawl when his friend David Chalmers’ father-in-law – a huge San Pedro longshoreman – took the gun he was still carrying and knocked him unconscious with it.  Leaving the fight, he and Chalmers tried to drive away without paying for 8 gallons of gas and were arrested for petty theft.  Just two weeks later on November 21st he was arrested when police found both he and Chalmers passed out drunk and asleep in his car at a stoplight at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.  By the time of his December 2nd arrest a drunken rampage at his 416 South Burlington Avenue apartment building, headlines read ACE HUDKINS SOJOURNING IN CELL AGAIN.  The judge, seeing him for the third time in three weeks, sent him to the county jail for five days.

In the late 1930’s, Hudkins settled down and married, and after operating a bar in Hollywood moved to Toluca Lake and bought a stable where he and his brother Art ran a string of race-horses.  He lived there with his wife Mildred and their adopted son Robert Herron and rented horses, wagons, and cowboy gear to studios for westerns and the land for filming.  Hudkins Brothers Movie Ranch was a favorite of dozens of cowboy stars who boarded horses (the property is now part of Forest Lawn Glendale) and among Ace’s friends were Smiley Burnette, Guinn Wilson, Fred Kennedy, Gene Autry, and John Wayne.  Ace was soon doing stunt work in their movies and his horses appearing in dozens of Republic Studio films.

In 1938, Republic rented one of his horses – whom Ace had named ‘Hi Yo Silver’ – for a movie version of The Lone Ranger.  The horse’s name became The Lone Ranger’s trademark.  Ace’s favorite horse was Olivia de Havilland’s mount in the 1938 classic The Adventures of Robin Hood.  When filming was completed, Roy Rogers came looking for a horse for his first starring vehicle, Under the Western Sky, and took de Havilland’s horse for a ride around the ranch.  After the lengthy ride Rogers and the horse had become instantly attached, and although he was only making $75 a week at the time agreed to pay Ace $2,500 for the horse.  It took him several years to pay for his new partner, whom Ace had named Trigger.  Ace’s horse Trigger co-starred in all 82 movies made by Rogers between 1938 and 1952 and also appeared in all 100 TV episodes of ‘The Roy Rogers Show.’In the 1954-57 television series ‘Annie Oakley,’ both horses used to play the role of Oakley’s horse Target were Ace’s horses.         

Ace was still doing stunt work in films as late as the mid-1960’s.  In his final film, 1966’s Batman, the 61 year-old almost broke his neck when he dove off the side of a prop submarine hull into Sorenson’s Lake at the 20th Century Fox Malibu Ranch.  The “lake” was only 4′ deep and Ace hit the bottom and spent three weeks in the hospital recovering. Ace Hudkins died on April 8, 1973 in Los Angeles and was posthumously inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995.  His adopted son Robert D. Herron had a long career as a stuntman, stunt director, and actor and was one of the founding members of the Stuntmen’s Association of Motion Pictures and served on the board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild.

A young boxing fan posted the following story on an internet site dedicated to boxers of that era;  “I was a security guard back in 1971 when I was college…we did all the apartment complexes is Foster City, Calif…got a call over patrol car radio from a complex manager about an attempted robbery…I arrived to be met by a short old man with a shuffling step & a flat nose…he was the new apartment manager, Craig Exley…I asked him if he was hit in the nose during robbery, and he laughed & said that happened years ago when he was a boxer…I asked him if he could describe the 3 robbers, and he said he could, but why don’t I just look at them myself?…I entered his office to find 3 (African Americans) between 6 to 8 inches taller than him all laying on the floor knocked out..he said he only hit them once each after they threatened him…they thought  this old man would be an easy mark…we talked about the framed boxing pictures on his wall while we waited for police to come, and he said with a smile, “Yeah, I used to be Ace Hudkins..” .I was just an 18 year old kid, but my dad was a boxer in the 1930s…Ace (Craig) revelled (sic) me with stories about Mickey Walker fights til the cops got there…”

Ace Hudkins, member of my Forgotten Hollywood Hall of Fame.