Carol Hughes as photographed by Schuyler Crail, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
For decades, motion picture studios churned out thousands of motion picture still photographs — candids, scene stills, off-camera shots, and portraits — to employ as free advertising for films and stars in magazines and newspapers, desperate for product to fill their many editions and pages. Every conceivable angle and subject would be covered in hopes of securing printing.
Studios shot candid photos of celebrities attempting to show them in new or touching ways, be it working at home, spending time with their friends and families, playing on the lot, or visiting stores, restaurants, and hot spots all over Los Angeles. Little did they know that many of these shots would also help document the historic built environment and act as a form of archaeology for local historians.
Mary Mallory’s “Hollywoodland: Tales Lost and Found” is available from Amazon.
Warner Bros. took advantage of the lovely Christmas decorations along Hollywood Boulevard in 1937 to promote rising starlet Carol Hughes, as well as Hollywood’s Santa Claus Lane. This candid still shows Hughes posing with presents along fashionable Hollywood Boulevard, with the C. E. Toberman Hall and what is now Popeye’s Chicken at Cahuenga Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard visible behind her.
Stills photographer Schuyler Crail snapped the image, and blind-stamped the verso with his name. Crail served as Warner’s candids man, traveling on appearance tours with stars, visiting their homes, or arranging shoots all around town. He was a longtime stillsman, serving at Columbia Studios before arriving at Warner’s Burbank lot. In the 1970s, he served as the stills photographer for the television show “Hawaii Five-O.’
Subject Carol Hughes was a young contract player at Warner Bros., with only two years of credits. Any print exposure might help draw interest in her, and spark increased attendance for the films in which she appeared. She would go on to star in “Under Western Stars” in 1938, “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe” in 1940, and “D.O.A.” in 1950.
The photograph also captures the festive and beautiful metal Christmas trees employed as annual holiday decorations along Hollywood Boulevard during the busy shopping season, transforming the street into Santa Claus Lane. The trees were illuminated in the evenings, and over the years, various decorations appeared on them. When not in use, they were stored in a field near Burbank.
Crail’s shot documents two historic and gorgeous buildings along Hollywood Boulevard as well, showing the rise of the boulevard as a shopping center for the community. Featured almost directly behind Hughes is Toberman Hall at 6410-6414 Hollywood Blvd., built by real estate developer C. E. Toberman in 1907. As film historian John Bengtson has pointed out in a post, “Tillie’s Punctured Romance” (1914) and “Why Worry?” (1923) both filmed in front of this building. The second floor hosted such groups as the American Legion, Odd Fellows, Theosophist Society, and Hollywood Woman’s Club over the years, per Gregory Williams in his book, “The Story of Hollywood.” A Mr. Heywood ran a dry-goods business on the first floor. Down at 6380-6384 Hollywood Blvd., we see the Owl Drug Company, a gorgeous Streamline-Moderne office building designed by the great Los Angeles architectural firm Morgan, Walls, and Clements and opened in 1934.
While Crail only intended this shot to show Carol Hughes as a girl-next-door, buying Christmas presents like everyone else, it actually provides an important historical service in documenting the street view of Hollywood Boulevard, the facades of two important buildings, and the look of Santa Claus Lane Christmas decorations that year. Something meant to be ephemeral becomes an important element in relating the historic development of Hollywood.
I hope everyone is finishing up their holiday shopping, and wish you a Merry Christmas!