Sunset Boulevard | 1950
Forget the musical. This is the real thing. Ageing silent movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) takes in flat-broke screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) in Billy Wilder’s brilliant satire noir.
Forget the address given in the movie (“10086 Sunset Boulevard”, which would place it west of Beverly Hills, toward Bel Air), Norma Desmond’s glorious old Renaissance-style mansion could have been found in midtown Los Angeles. It stood, until 1957, at 641 South Irving Boulevard on the northwest corner of Wilshire Boulevard, when – unbelievably – it was demolished to make way for the glumly nondescript Getty headquarters, now the Harbor Building.
The house, which also became the abandoned mansion supposedly below the Griffith Observatory in Rebel Without A Cause, was built in the Twenties for a former US Consul in Mexico, who abandoned the building, leaving it vacant for over ten years until it was bought by J Paul Getty. At the time of filming of Sunset Boulevard, the mansion had passed to Mrs J Paul Getty in a divorce settlement and she, in turn, rented the property out to Paramount on condition the film company built her a swimming pool.
And if Mrs Getty didn’t like the pool, the studio would have to remove it. Paramount built it, Mrs Getty liked it, and it stayed, which is just as well…
Two more lost locations are glimpsed: the famed Schwab's Pharmacy, which stood at 8024 Sunset Boulevard at Laurel Avenue, West Hollywood, until being torn down in the Eighties, is where Norma and Joe stop off for cigarettes. This was, of course, the place where, legend has it, Lana Turner was discovered sitting at the counter. Like many Hollywood tales, it’s not true – but who cares?
Also seen, across the street from the tailors where Norma buys Joe posh duds, is the old Perino’s Restaurant, a famed hangout of the stars, which stood at 3927 Wilshire Boulevard. In the same year Sunset Boulevard was released, Perino’s moved a few blocks west to 4101 Wilshire, but now even that restaurant is gone – torn down in 2005 to make way for apartments.
The good news is, you can still see the digs of scriptwriter Joe Gillis, which is the Mediterranean-style Alto Nido Apartments, 1851 North Ivar Street, Hollywood. Just down the road a bit, in the mock-Tudor Para Sed Apartments at 1817 North Ivar, lived real-life writer Nathaniel West who began penning the classic Hollywood satire Day of the Locust (filmed in 1973 by John Schlesinger) here in 1935.
The studio, built in 1917 as the Peralta Studios, became Brunton Studios in 1920, then United Studios in 1921, before being bought by Paramount in 1926. The studio has since expanded and swallowed up surrounding streets, which means that the main entrance is no longer the famous Paramount gate seen in the movie.
The famous Paramount Arch is now stranded in the lot and can only be glimpsed from a distance, unless you book a Paramount Pictures Studio Tour. The 2-hour tour caters for small groups Monday to Friday.
Disastrous previews of the film (one in Evanston, Illinois, home to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union – this was Wilder’s follow-up to The Lost Weekend) led to Billy Wilder junking the original opening scene (the corpse of Joe Gillis and a bunch of other stiffs in the morgue discuss how they ended up dead) and trying something with the body floating in Norma Desmond’s swimming pool. The rest is history.