A Hollywood Classic On “Cult Movie Monday”!
“Sunset Boulevard” is a cinematic masterpiece, and one of the greatest films ever made about Hollywood – a legendary classic that exposed some raw truths about the movie business – and was recently screened again on the bigscreen – and one of the film’s stars was there in person!
What better way to celebrate “cult movie Monday” than by hearing from one of the stars of “Sunset Boulevard”!
I was lucky enough to attend a screening in 2014 at the MILLION DOLLAR THEATRE in downtown Los Angeles – one of the golden movie palaces that has been left to decay…until now! My friend Alison Martino’s website “Vintage Los Angeles” held a screening of “Sunset Boulevard” in L.A’s oldest movie palace, and a huge crowd showed up to take part! Host Martino began the evening by interviewing Oscar-nominated cast member Nancy Olson!
More on this illuminating conversation in a moment, including a clip from Nancy Olson herself discussing the film – but first, let’s begin with a look at this timeless classic!
Sunset Boulevard – 1950.
Legendary Director Billy Wilder had it all: fame, fortune, awards. All because of Hollywood. And in 1950, he bit the hand that fed him. HARD.
Wilder’s masterpiece, an acidic inside look at Hollywood, was called “Sunset Boulevard”, and the setup is simple: A failing screenwriter writes a screenplay for a former silent-film star who has faded into Hollywood obscurity.
Real life silent film star Gloria Swanson plays the role of Norma Desmond, a forgotten silent movie Queen who yearns for the spotlight again…so she hires struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis, played by William Holden, to help her with her comeback picture…but there is so much more to the film than that…
The screenplay is full of classic dialogue, such as when Gillis meets Norma for the first time:
Joe Gillis: You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.
Norma Desmond: I AM big. It’s the PICTURES that got small!
Forgotten Star Norma Desmond cannot get over the fact that “talkies” have permanently replaced silent movies – and as she screens her forgotten films night after night in her fading Sunset boulevard mansion, she laments an era gone by…
Norma Desmond: “There once was a time in this business when I had the eyes of the whole world! But that wasn’t good enough for them, oh no! They had to have the ears of the whole world too. So they opened their big mouths and out came talk. Talk! TALK!”
In a brilliant casting coup, real-life silent film Director Erich von Stroheim plays Desmond’s Chauffeur/Butler/Personal Secretary/Errand Boy – but even though he was oscar-nominated for the role, he later dismissed his participation in the film, referring to it as “that butler role.”
There Was No “Sunset Boulevard” Mansion!
For years people have tried to located the house on Sunset Boulevard where Norma Desmond lived…but it never existed! The “Desmond mansion” was located not on Sunset Blvd, but at 3810 Wilshire on the corner of Crenshaw and Irving Blvd. It was built in 1924 by William Jenkins, at a cost of $250,000. Don’t try to find that either…it’s been torn down…
Thanks to home video and downloadable movies, this classic has been restored and will live forever. In 1998, the American Film Institute selected “Sunset Boulevard” the 12th greatest film of all time!
“Sunset Boulevard” was a controversial film about Hollywood at the time, and many accused Director Billy Wilder of biting the hand that fed him. That said, it was also one of the most acclaimed films of 1950, nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including:
Best Picture of 1950, Best Director Billy Wilder, Best Actor William Holden, Best Actress Gloria Swanson, Best Supporting Actor Erich von Stroheim and Best Supporting Actress Nancy Olson.
In case you were wondering, it lost out as Best Picture to another classic movie about the entertainment industry, “All About Eve.”
“F You, Louis!”
Interestingly, while it was overlooked in all acting categories as well as best picture and director, the film took home Oscars for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman Jr. It also won Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White and Best Music, Scoring.
So Billy Wilder won an Oscar for his lacerating script about Hollywood. The legendary story is that movie mogul Louis B. Mayer accosted Wilder, telling him the film was a disgrace to the business. Wilder is said to have replied, “fuck you Louis!”
Introducing Nancy Olson!
Now, a little fun trivia regarding Actress Nancy Olson. Olson was very new to the business when she got the role in the film. This was only Olson’s third movie role.
As a practical joke, during the scene where William Holden and Nancy Olson kiss for the first time, Billy Wilder let them carry on for minutes without yelling cut (he’d already gotten the shot he needed on the first take). Eventually it wasn’t Wilder who shouted “Cut!” but Holden’s wife, Ardis (actress Brenda Marshall), who happened to be onset that day!
Nancy Olsen Attends The Screening!
In 2014, there was a screening in downtown LA, put on by the terrific group “Vintage Los Angeles”. This group’s goal is to preserve classic Hollywood, and help bring attention to the plight of these abandoned movie palaces like the Million Dollar Theater.
The screening began with a conversation between Event organizer Alison Martino and Olson. There was a standing ovation when she was introduced, and Olson quickly took control of the conversation. Alison told me afterwards that she had 50 note cards of questions, but Olson quickly took over and mesmerized us all!
Olsen told great stories about working with “Bill” Holden – they ultimately did four films together…and how the story of “Sunset Boulevard” was Holden’s story as well – he had been a star before the war, only to return from duty to find that Hollywood had passed him by. It was Wilder’s casting him in this film that saved his career!
Nancy’s Wellworn Wardrobe!
Olson also told the story of how Director Billy Wilder rejected all of the wardrobe choices for her in the film, finally telling her to wear what she she had on in the office the day before – yes, her own clothes! So what she wore in the film were all her own clothes! Wilder wanted her to look like a young struggling Artist, and that in fact was what she was at the time!
There were many other great anecdotes, and I finally realized I should turn on my iphone and capture a bit of it! Here is a clip of Olsen talking about the movie, and her life:
Bravo Vintage L.A.!
At the end of the conversation there was another long standing ovation for the Actress, and then it was time to see this classic once again on the big screen! The audience laughed at the film’s most iconic and ironic dialogue, and sat transfixed throughout, with another sustained round of applause at the end of the film. The screening was all due to the hard work and dedication of Alison Martino!
Time To Pander…
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