Chasing the Phantom: An Afternoon At the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, CA

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I must confess that until yesterday, I had never seen the famous Lon Chaney Sr. version of Phantom of the Opera (1925) in its entirety.  Well, I finally got to experience it…..with all the bells and whistles that organist/accompanist Bill Field could muster.  What a treat!

The Old Town Music Hall was created during the 1960’s when organists Bill Coffman and Bill Field bought a 1925 Wurlitzer organ and reinstalled it at the El Segundo State Theater, which had opened in 1921 as a silent movie theater.  The “Two Bills” were determined to continue that cinematic tradition, and opened what became the Old Town Music Hall in 1968.

Bill Coffman has since passed away.  But Bill Field, who is in his mid 70’s, dutifully rolls down the main theatre aisle on his electric wheelchair Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays to provide a one-of-a kind entertainment on the 2,600 pipe Wurlitzer.  Yesterday, the 1925 silent film Phantom of the Opera was shown, and Field provided the accompaniment–without sheet music–for the entire movie.

But first, there was a preview!

I love the description used in a 2013 article from Off-Ramp:  “The Old Town Music Hall’s Mighty Wurlitzer is like the fun uncle of the music world.”  That’s an understatement!  Before the main feature, Field began his show with a demonstration of the Wurlitzer.  The movie curtain opened to reveal the mechanics decorated with glow-in-the-dark paint.  Turn on the black lights, and the fun began!

 

Afterwards, the audience was treated to some bouncing ball singalongs projected onto the screen, including an old Halloween cartoon called Boos in the Night (pun intended).

Then came the main attraction, The Phantom.  (By the way, the uncut 1925 version is the one to watch.  It includes a glorious colorized set piece where The Phantom shows up at a costume party in a crimson Red Death outfit.)

With every scene, Field provided both music and sound effects.  When a doorbell sounded in the depths of the Phantom’s caverns, the organist would ring a bell.  When the famous scene with the falling chandelier came up, sparklers set up along the walls of the theater went off.  It was better than the Rocky Horror Picture Show!  So much fun, and I would definitely go again.

The Old Town Music Hall shows both silent and talking classic movies.  Offerings for the remainder of 2016 will include:

  • November 11-12, Holiday Inn (Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire)
  • November 18, 19, 20, Girl Shy (silent, Harold Lloyd)
  • December 2, 3, Miracle on 34th Street (Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood)

The theater is located on 140 Richmond Street, El Segundo, CA 90245.  Phone number 310.322.2592.  Film admission $10, $8 for seniors 62+.  You can get more information about the theater and its offerings at http://www.OldTownMusicHall.org.

Here are some photos I took yesterday:

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A chandelier inside the main theater.

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Art deco hanging on main theater wall.

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The organ console.

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Hey, I met an old friend in the lobby!

Playground of the Stars: Del Mar Racetrack

Del Mar Infield

My husband and I recently travelled with friends to Del Mar Race Track in Solano Beach for a day at the races.  Had a great time; and with the help of one of my tipsters, I won a few dollars.

Why do I mention Del Mar on a classic movies blog?  Because Del Mar Race Track is very much a creation of the classic movie colony in Hollywood.

Until the early 1930’s, California betters had to rely on the Agua Caliente racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico for gambling, drinking, and good times.  In 1933, the California State Legislature passed Proposition 3, which allowed for the regulation of horse racing in the state of California.  With the implementation of Prop. 3 and the removal of Prohibition that same year, California got the green light in terms of building race tracks throughout the state.  Within the next few years the construction of Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, and Del Mar made the “sport of kings” available for all Southern California racing enthusiasts.

In 1936, Hollywood star and singer Bing Crosby and stockbroker William A. Quigley founded the Del Mar Turf Club.  The race track’s board featured luminaries from the world of Hollywood:  Crosby was President, actors Pat O’Brien and Oliver Hardy were officers, and actors Joe E. Brown, Gary Cooper, and other major players within Tinseltown made up the executive committee.

Bing Crosby

Crosby worked tirelessly to promote the new racetrack, and personally oversaw the construction and design of the Del Mar Turf Club.  He even created the Del Mar catchphrase, “Where the Surf Meets the Turf,” from a song that he and other actors sang on the radio to promote Del Mar.  On July 3, 1937, Crosby was at the front gate to welcome the first betters into the racetrack area.

Hollywood personalities like Betty Grable, Dorothy Lamour, W.C. Fields, Paulette Goddard, Don Ameche, Ava Gardner, Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor, Dick Powell, and countless others visited the track both pre- and post-WWII.

In 1938, Del Mar Racetrack hosted a notorious match race between the celebrated Seabiscuit (owned by Charles Howard) and Argentina-bred Ligaroti (owned by Howard’s son Lin).  I use the word “notorious” because according to writer Laura Hillenbrand, the two jockeys literally engaged in hand-to-hand combat all the way down the stretch.  (Remember, this was before extensive video coverage kept athletes on their best behavior.)  At one point, Ligaroti’s jockey grabbed onto Seabiscuit’s saddlecloth and locked his leg over the other jockey’s leg.  The skirmish finally ended twenty lengths from the end, when Seabiscuit broke free and plunged under the wire, one split second ahead of the other horse.

Decades later, after at least one grandstand re-build, Del Mar is still going strong.  You can visit the racetrack this summer for meets that run from July 15th to September 5th.  See dmtc.com (Del Mar Thoroughbred) for details.

Sources:

Williams, Amy.  “The Del Mar Race Track:  75 Years of Turf and Surf” sandiegohistory.org/journal/v58-3/v58-3williams.pdf. Web. Accessed 7 August 2016.

Hillenbrand, Laura.  Seabiscuit:  An American Legend.  Ballantine Books, New York.  2001.

Del Mar Thoroughbred website https://www.dmtc.com/

Image of Bing Crosby obtained from Wikimedia Public Domain.