Ernst Lubitsch – High Nooner

February 13, 2008

So, I sent EJ this story from today’s New York Times on the release of some Ernst Lubitsch movies to DVD. Expecting a positive response, I ask, “Hey. Any good Ernst stories?”

Turns out that the home where this prolific director died was a stop on a tour in EJ’s first book, “Hollywood Death and Scandal Sites“. Hardly a surprise. With all the other commentary about the Paul Bern book, the Wally Reid book and the others, we neglect to mention what a terrific guide is HDASS. Turn-by-turn directions. A story at each stop. Sixteen guided tours.  The book has an amazingly detailed index.  It’s Hollywood history…you drive through.  It formed the basis for what has become The Movieland Directory.

Anyway, back to Ernst. Here’s the entry from the fourth stop on “Tour 10 – Bel Air”, 268 Bel Air Road:

German director Ernst Lubitsch suffered a fatal heart attack at his Bel Air estate at 268 Bel Air Road on November 30, 1947 at the age of 55. He studied acting under European stage legend Max Reinhardt and became a top German stage star. He later began producing films, including Carmen (1918), which became the biggest movie in European history and earned him the reputation as the greatest filmmaker on the continent. He discovered Pola Negri and starred her in his controversial classic Madame du Berry (1918) before Mary Pickford brought him to the U.S. to direct her in Rosita (1922).

Over the next 25 years, Lubitsch worked for several studios and was responsible for some of the most famous movies in history including classics like The Student Prince (1927), The Love Parade (1929), Monte Carlo (1930), Greta Garbo’s Ninotchka (1939), Maurice Chevalier’s The Merry Widow (1934), To Be or Not to Be (1942) and Heaven Can Wait (1943). In 1946 he received a Special Academy Award for his “contributions to filmmaking during twenty-five years of filmmaking.” Lubitsch was known for mixing subtle humor with imaginative situations, giving his movies an implausible Cinderella-like quality that came to be called “The Lubitsch Touch.”

The great director battled heart ailments for most of his life, suffering a fairly severe heart attack in October 1947 at a party at his neighbor Otto Preminger’s house at 333 Bel Air Road. He survived, but a month later suffered a fatal heart attack during an afternoon love-making session on the couch in his den here. Kind of a “High Noon-er.” He died just a week after completing his final film, That Lady in Ermine (1948). The home across the street at 325 belonged to actress Mary Martin, and later writer Dashiel Hammett.

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