27 May

San Francisco: Never-Ending Story

The glamour of old-time Hollywood entrances David Hartnell at magnificently storied Art Deco theatre

San Francisco's Paramount Theatre

Spared from the wrecking balls, San Francisco’s Paramount Theatre glows with Art Deco charm. Photo / David Hartnell

It’s been said that were the Paramount Theatre in San Francisco to require a new name, it might well be called the Paradox, for its history is studded with contradictions. Built in 1925, at a cost of US$3 million ($4.45 million), it was one of America’s grandest motion-picture palaces, seating 3476 in a large, decorative and very exotic space designed especially for the “movies” and the stage pageantry that generally accompanied them.

The grand opening night was December 16, 1931, which brought out a gaggle of San Francisco’s social elite, along with the American actress Kay Francis who was the star of The False Madonna, the movie that screened that night. Then in June of 1932 disaster struck, Paramount closed its doors, unable to meet the weekly operating cost of around $27,000.

In 1971, the Paramount was boarded up and rumours were the wrecking ball was waiting in the wings to demolish this grand old Art Deco lady.

In 1972, the Oakland Symphony orchestra came to its rescue, and bought the Paramount Theatre for $1 million as their new home.

The orchestra also set it up as a performing arts centre for the San Francisco Bay Area, and in 1973 a full and authentic restoration was completed. Two years later, the Oakland Symphony Orchestra went bankrupt and gave the Paramount to the City of Oakland for $1, with the stipulation of guaranteed bookings for the next 40 years.

In 1972 it was entered into the National Register of Historic Places, and on August 14, 1973, it became a California Registered Historical Landmark. The Paramount Theatre reopened on September 22, 1973, in its original 1931 splendour.

On October 1, 1975, the City of Oakland received title to the building and Paramount Theatre of the Arts, Inc, a non-profit corporation was organised to operate the theatre.

It has since installed the mighty Wurlitzer, thus completing the restoration.

One of its unique features is the intriguing anachronism at the top of the stairs to the mezzanine foyer, a seat annunciator, part of the “Tele-Chec” system, a standard feature of Paramount theatres of the time. It enabled the theatre’s staff to keep track of seat availability.

San Francisco's Paramount Theatre - David Hartnell

The interior of the Paramount Theatre in San Francisco. Photo / David Hartnell

Ushers stationed at the head of each aisle dialled the number of available seats in their sections on a dial inset in the wall. The numbers were transmitted via telephone lines to the ornate seat annunciators in the foyers, and lighted corresponding numbers behind the vertical glass panels.

The usher in the centre of each foyer – who was called a “splitter” – could then greet entering customers with exactly where they might find seats: “There are three seats on aisle five, to your left, Madam.”

“Sir” and “Madam” were requisite forms of address in the halcyon days of ushering: ushers of the day were taught speech, deportment and theatre-management skills.

Today, Oakland’s Paramount Theatre is one of the finest, if not the finest examples of Art Deco design in the United States, now standing in all its original splendour, meticulously maintained, and completely upgraded to modern technical standards. It started out life as just a movie theatre, but now it’s one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s premier performing arts facilities, hosting a schedule of year-round concerts, variety shows, popular music concerts, theatre, ballet and, of course, movies.

When you walk into the main lobby with its gold ornamentation along the walls, glowing light fixtures, bold rich carpet and wonderful curving staircases you are immediately transported back to the days of old Hollywood where glamour was king.

SF Paramount Theater - 02

SF Paramount Theater - PTA-view-from-stage-Panorama-small Euan Rannachan and Ron Essex

SF Paramount Theater - Seat Annunciator

SF Paramount Theater - Stairwell

New Zealand Herald Friday May 27, 2016
by David Hartnell

29 Aug

Twelve Questions: David Hartnell

David Hartnell MNZM has been writing celebrity gossip for 51 years and is the only gossip columnist to receive a Queen’s honour. He is ambassador for the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

David Hartnell - 12 Questions

David Hartnell says the All Blacks, Lorde and Rachel Hunter are not celebs. Photo / Nick Reed

1. Why do we have a love-hate relationship with gossip?
My catch phrase is, “I’m not one to gossip, but … ” because that’s what people always say to me. Men try to pretend it’s their wives who want to be in the gossip columns. Baloney. They love it! Never feel sorry for a celeb who is in the gossip columns, because their agents and PR people get them in there. If you’re in the public eye, that’s part of the deal. You take it or you get out. But the children and families should be left totally alone. They didn’t ask to be involved.

2. What do you think of the Kardashians?
I take my hat off to them because they’ve made something out of nothing. Really it’s just crap TV but the gullible public buys it and they’ve got money oozing out of every pore. Perez Hilton will be working hand in glove with them on this week-long ban. Inside a couple of weeks he’ll have an exclusive. He doesn’t fool me at all. It’s like Caitlyn – he or she does look extraordinary but it’s just the timing of it. Cross-dressing is common in Hollywood.

I’ll only believe he’s serious about being transgender when he actually has the surgery.

3. How did you get into the gossip game?
Through my work as a make-up artist. I was actually the first male make-up artist in Australia. When I applied for the job I had no qualifications but I’d taught myself how to do make-up during my years as a competitive roller-skater and I just went for it. Years later I asked the Revlon woman why she employed me and she said, “You had the ‘it’ factor. You understood show business”. I toured all over Australia for David Jones and Farmers and then on to London and Hollywood. That’s what led me into gossip. In the make-up room you always know the gossip because you have to send a car to pick the person up where they’d stayed the night before.

4. Do your celebrity friends ever feel betrayed by what you write?
I can go and speak to everyone I’ve ever written about. I’ve always been tongue-in-cheek. An exclamation mark or a raised eyebrow is all that’s needed. Today’s gossip columnists are vindictive and nasty. They have no soul. A gossip column should be entertaining and give readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a fantasy world they can never enter. There has to be some mystery.

5. Do celebrities have to be on screen?
Yes, somebody who comes into your home. You should never meet a person on radio with a wonderful voice because they look like crap so the whole illusion is broken. I did like Jay-Jay Feeney on Dancing with the Stars … she’s got chutzpah. “Take me as I am.” That’s class. But I’m sorry, All Blacks are not celebs. There’s a total dividing line between a movie star and a sporting star. Musicians are not celebs. Lorde? Good on her, but no. I wrote about Taylor Swift last week, but that was because she appeared on the cover of Vogue. Rachel Hunter – we would never hear of her if she hadn’t married Rod Stewart. They always say “international model”. When was the last time she did any modelling jobs?

6. You’ve been with your partner Somboon for 22 years. How did you meet?
He was working at a Thai restaurant called Tusk. Now he’s the assistant manager at Harvest Whole Foods. If our lives had been reversed, I couldn’t have done what he’s done. I can’t cope with the Thai language. We have a house north of Chiang Mai where we go every year. We both do charity work in orphanages. I teach English, very badly. I feel like Anna out of The King and I sometimes with all the kids sitting around me.

7. What’s it like being gay in 2015 compared with the old days?
Looking back I understand the Hollywood cover-ups like Cary Grant and Rock Hudson because under the law you could be jailed for having sex with someone of the same sex. I have friends a little older than me who will still not admit to being gay because it’s ingrained in them and I respect that. People say to me, “When did you come out?” But I was never in. I got bullied at school terribly. If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t stand up for myself more.

8. Why did you become an ambassador for the Prostate Cancer Foundation?
My dearest friend Robert Young passed away two years ago of prostate cancer. He was a theatre director here and on the Gold Coast. By the time it was diagnosed it was too late. Unless you catch it early it goes rampant. Men will do the blood test but they’re too scared to do the digital test. Our catchphrase is, “Give prostate cancer the finger”.

9. How has the gossip game changed with the advent of social media?
Everybody today is their own gossip columnist. Everybody has a cellphone and can put a photo out on social media instantly. You don’t have to wait until next week to see it in a magazine. In my grownups.co.nz column now I give my opinion on the week that was. I also write a Hollywood trivia column for the NZ Woman’s Weekly.

10. Any plans to retire?
I won’t retire because I’m doing a job that I like. The New York Times gossip columnist Liz Smith is 90-something. Extraordinary! There are new stars but they still go through the old agents. Rogers and Cowan have been in Hollywood since the 1940s.

11. Seen any good movies lately?
They don’t make movies like they used to. Why they’d want to remake a classic like the Wizard of Oz or 42nd Street I don’t understand. A classic is a classic – don’t touch it! I don’t see movies in a theatre with the public anymore. It’s not being snotty. The simple reason is people talk through the movie. They come in late, they switch their phone off but it goes on vibrate and out of the corner of your eye you can see a light. The last movie we went to was in a half empty theatre and these people came and sat right beside us! No thank you. I get it on DVD or by some other means.

12. At 71, how is age treating you?
Absolutely fabulous. You can get away with murder – do whatever you like. Everybody worries about growing old but there’s not a damn thing you can do about it, so go with the flow. I lived in Hollywood where age is key and everyone gets surgery. Joan Collins has a little surgery, often. That’s the key to it. I couldn’t be bothered having cosmetic surgery. I’ve moisturised all my life. Never put soap on your face. It’s for floors, walls and ceilings.

NZ Herald
Aug 27, 2015