Was that a real theater, as shown in the movie? Of course! This is Hollywood, after all. No shortage of theaters here…
The interiors and exteriors are the actual Orpheum Theater in the historic South Broadway theater district, in downtown Los Angeles. Check out their website and gallery. I particularly enjoyed the history of the theater, on their site, which was written by Harry Connick Jr. (A man of so many talents, including eloquent historian!)
The Orpheum was a particularly apropos choice for “The Artist” to re-create silent movie premieres. The theater opened its doors in 1926, and was a showcase for not only silent films – for another year or so, until talkies revolutionized the movie business – but also live musical and vaudeville acts. Many performers saw their careers launched at the Orpheum, including a pre-Wizard of Oz Judy Garland (still known as Francis Gumm back then).
The Los Angeles Theater was used for the premiere of George Valentin’s final flop. Maybe it is an apropos choice too, as its grand opening in 1931 hosted the premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights”. Chaplin and his films were cited by “The Artist” director Michel Hazanavicius as inspirations.
The Orpheum and the Los Angeles (as well as the nearby Palace) were saved from the wrecking ball in recent times, and gloriously restored. The historic Wilshire Ebell Theater also doubled as an auction house in the movie.
What about those palatial homes shown in the film? Real houses – with real historical significance! Two residences on Franklin Place in L.A. were used – Peppy’s house was really actress Mary Pickford’s house during the late teens (1917-1919, give or take a year) when she was secretly dating actor Douglas Fairbanks – to whom she was later married.
Also shown was Hollywood musical maestro Busby Berkeley’s mansion on 3500 W. Adams Blvd. in Los Angeles. Some may know it also as Villa Guasti – the name of the family who commissioned its construction in 1909-1913.
The lavish Bradbury Building (circa 1893) – another restored masterpiece in downtown L.A. – was the site of the movie’s “Kinograph Studios”. The building has been used as a movie set before – notably in “Chinatown”.
Exterior shots were mostly filmed in the Greater Wilshire/Hancock Park area, west of downtown Los Angeles. Want some specific addresses? Try Oakwood Ave. between Beverly Blvd. and Melrose Ave.; Hudson Ave., near the Wilshire Country Club, between 3rd St. and Beverly.
The restaurant scene? Shot inside Cicada’s, on Olive St., in downtown L.A.
Various exterior shots using monolithic, non-descript buildings were actually shot at a Southern California Edison (the local power company) Art Deco-era building near downtown L.A.
And what about that scene of the famous “Hollywoodland” sign? “CGI,” answers Mr. Hazanavicius.
The “land” part of the iconic sign, erected in 1923 for an intended 18-month period, was removed in 1949.
Got more questions about locations in “The Artist”? Let me know; I’ll try to answer them.
December 3, 2011