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August 7, 2020





Olcott : "I can be reached at Hollywood Athletic Club"

Sidney Olcott never had a house of his own. The traveling filmmaker, spent his life putting his bag down where he was called to work. Which left him no time - and perhaps no means - to have a home of his own.
We have little information about his childhood. Born in 1872, he grew up in Toronto, Canada. In 1902, he moved to the United States. An amateur actor and singer, he sought a career in New York City. His name is mentioned in newspapers reporting the performance of plays in various cities across the country.
One reads the memories of actors from these travelling troupes to imagine what his life was like.  A furnished apartment waiting for an engagement. Then the night trains that take you from city to city. And when the troupe has several performances in the same city, they stay in a furnished apartment or hotel, never listed among the most beautiful stops.

Having become a producer-director in 1907, Olcott still hasn't settled down. He first worked in New York and its suburbs, then for long months in Florida, Canada, Ireland, the Middle East...

It took him a long time to travel across America to Hollywood. His first film, "Scratch my Back" (Goldwyn) was made in 1920. At the time, he was a sort of freelance director. He accepted contracts on the West Coast but made it a point of honor to return to the East. It is there that he shoots his greatest films with the biggest stars: Mary Pickford, Marguerite Clark, George Arliss, Marion Davies, Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, Jetta Goutal...
It's against his will that he shoots in Hollywood, with Norma Talmadge, Pola Negri, Richard Barthelmess and Claire Windsor...

After the failure of his English experiment in 1928, Olcott returned to the United States. And on his emigration form, he gives as his address the Hollywood Athletic Club, 6521 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles. And that's where he is that he is listed in the great federal census of 1930.

The HAC. A beautiful building, designed by the firm Meyer & Holler, who created Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood preview room. A private club with a large swimming pool, sports halls, lounges, suites and hotel rooms. The annual membership fee is $150 plus a monthly fee of $10. The membership is 1,000 members and cardholders are: Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Cecil B. DeMille, Johnny Weissmuller, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, John Ford, John Wayne…The HAC is also the favourite theatre of lover of clandestine and hidden loves.

Now dormant, the Hollywood Athletic Club is for rent for events. David Bowie gave a concert there in 1997; Clint Eastwood filmed sequences for "Million Dollar Baby" (2004). The HAC also serves as a set for TV series such as "Unsolved Mysteries", "Mad Men", "Profiler" and "Scorpion"... Its website deserves to be updated.

Unlike a statement of adultery, the census is a neutral document that does not implicate the people mentioned in the report. I was interested in the people who were counted at the address of the Hollywood Athletic Club, to see who was living there in 1940.

25 tenants were registered with the HAC that day. A surgeon, two physicists, a banker, two non-professionals... and a lot of people who work for film industry : the actor Herbert W. Green and the directors Noyes Dowley and Donald Davis, about whom I found no information.

But the following have a story :

Chester Bennett (1892-1943), was the director of some twenty silent films, first for Vitagraph and then for his own company. The most notable? "The Painted Lady" (1924) with George O'Brien and Dorothy Mackaill. He died in Hong Kong, shot by the Japanese occupying the British colony.

Walter Byron (1899-1972), a British actor, is featured in the credits of Eric von Stroheim's "Queen Kelly" (1932), Raoul Walsh's "The Yellow Ticket" (1931) and John Ford's "Mary of Scotland" (1936).

Herbert E. Holmes (1882-1956), is a British actor who emigrated to the United States in 1912. His filmography includes more than 200 silent and talking films. It is surprising that his path did not cross that of Olcott, as he shared the poster for most of the actors of the time that Olcott directed. He is the friend of Dr. Jekyll, in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1931). He is in the credits of other horror films: « Mystery of the Wax Museum" (1933), "The Invisible Man" (1933) and great Hollywood classics: "Captain Blood" (1935), "The Charge of the Light Brigade", "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938), all three signed Michael Curtiz and « Foreign Correspondent" (1940) by Alfred Hitchcock...

Edmund Burns (1892-1980), is an American actor who is credited with Edward Burns at the beginning of his career, which was rich in more than a hundred silent and talking films. Burns knows Olcott well since he is in "Marriage for Convenience" (1918), Ned, the unfortunate fiancé whom Catherine Calvert abandons to marry a rich businessman, able to pay for the operation of her blind sister. He is also Randal, an American journalist who falls in love with Toinette (Gloria Swanson), leader of an Apache gang in Paris in "The Humming Bird » (1923).

How long was Sidney Olcott a tenant at the Hollywood Athletic Club? I don't know. The only document I have is the Los Angeles City Directory, the 1939 telephone directory. Valentine Grant, his girlfriend, and Sidney Olcott live at 955 North Kings Road. In 1936, Olcott is not listed.

In the 1940 federal census, the couple lived at 8493, Fountain Avenue, West Hollywood.

Sorry for my English

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©2009 Michel Derrien