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Cinema: Hollywood Holocaust

3 minute read

The first impression of many a newsreader last week was that poor little Shirley Temple was fried to a crisp; that Madeleine Carroll was dead—not by the bullet of a rival spy, but by incineration; that nothing was left of Leo Carrillo but his accent; that Alice Brady, Virginia Bruce, Miriam Hopkins, Richard Dix. June Lang and Oliver Hardy were not much better than ingredients in a huge Thanksgiving Barbecue. In the press, pictures of these notables were accompanied by such headlines as FOREST FIRES RAZE FILM COLONY HOMES, and FLAMES WRECK HOMES OF STARS; TOWNS IN PERIL.

On investigating further, readers were relieved to find that no one had yet actually been burned to death. Nonetheless, the impression persisted that a gigantic holocaust was destroying most Los Angeles suburbs. It was reported that the homes of Richard Dix and Directors Sam Wood and Frank Lloyd were completely demolished.

What really happened around Los Angeles last week was neither a sign of the wrath of God nor a wholesale cremation. A feature of the Southern California climate rarely mentioned by that city’s energetic Chamber of Commerce is the peculiar haze visible on most autumn days. The haze is caused by smoke from fires in the dry. scrubby brush that grows as much as eight feet high over the sandy hills behind the city. Brush fires, unlike real forest fires, are easily extinguished and rarely do much more than annoy the mountain rabbits and keep CCC boys out of trouble. Sometimes, however, they burn down to the edges of roads or cultivated land. Last week, a stiff breeze combined with ideal burning conditions in the hills caused the brush fires to get completely out of hand and it was actually true that the old wooden Arrowhead Springs Hotel, owned by Producer Joseph Schenck, burned to the ground, after the Ritz Brothers had moved out in a hurry.

The Arrowhead Springs Hotel was the only sizable single property lost in last week’s “forest fire.” Of the homes of cinema celebrities reported destroyed not one was seriously damaged.

The press reported that nearly 1,000 homes had been demolished and that the ranches of Leo Carrillo and the late Will Rogers had been evacuated. Actually, the buildings were almost all squatters’ huts or beach houses. The Rogers’ home was evacuated because Will Rogers Jr. and his brother Jim wanted to amuse themselves by putting out the nearest tongues of flame with a garden hose. Leo Carrillo’s was evacuated because unlike less energetic movie folk who watched the flames from their porches, he preferred the excitement of riding close on his sleek white horse.

Most serious effect of the fire, which did

$3,000,000 damage, on the movie industry was that three studios had to stop shooting for one afternoon—one because some hired elephants got restless, two because smoke dimmed the sun.

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