(detail of Mary Pickford from the plinth of "Celluloid") ©Jonathan Brown
In August, 1957, silent-screen-actress-turned-real-estate-investor Corrine Griffith began working on erecting a monument to the eight celebs who helped defeat the 1923 attempted annexation of Beverly Hills to Los Angeles. The City of Beverly Hills adopted the proposal for the monument outlined in her informal report of the Committee for Honoring Motion Picture Stars, a committee that included the two living honorees, Mary Pickford and Harold Lloyd. In a letter to Griffith, City of Beverly Hills Administrative Officer John B. Wentz informed her that the city was willing to donate the land and provide half of the estimated $30,000 for the monument and authorized Griffith’s committee to raise the additional funds. Griffith was tireless—and more than a little self-serving—in her efforts to raise the money. In addition to letters to Beverly Hills residents that promised “any one contributing one hundred dollars or more will have his name engraved on a bronze plaque to be near the tribute,” Griffith announced in a Los Angeles Times article dated September 24, 1957, that she would “return from retirement to work before the cameras in the interest of a bronze and marble tribute to be built in honor of eight motion-picture figures who played major roles in the development and preservation of Beverly Hills.” Griffith “agreed to play in the picture [Stars in the Backyard] without pay on the condition that proceeds from its premiere showing would be given to the committee she heads to build the tribute.” There must have been at least one showing of the film, as the Los Angeles Times reported on October 20, 1958, that the benefit premiere, sponsored by the Beverly Hills Junior Chamber of Commerce, was scheduled for November 25. That was the last mention of Stars in the Back Yard to be found. In a story that was published almost five years after the dedication of the monument in 1959, a subsequent story in the Los Angeles Times on Corinne Griffith and the memorial reported that the film in question was Paradise Alley the last film by writer-director-producer Hugo Haas. Unlikely as, according to IMDb, Paradise Alley was released in 1962, three years after the memorial was placed.
Somehow, the asymmetrical approach to the creation of the memorial to the eight silent screen stars who campaigned against Beverly Hills’ annexation to Los Angeles, rife with characters, grand gestures and misdirection, is fitting. When it came to keeping Beverly Hills an independent city when most of the unincorporated towns and incorporated cities around it had already joined Los Angeles, the entirely new phenomenon of silent screen superstars meant extraordinary doings becoming the ordinary course of affairs.
As for Corinne Griffith’s wish that the memorial she championed become “a tourist attraction and something in which all of us will take pride,” that didn’t happen. The location of the memorial, Olympic and South Beverly Drive (or South Bev, as it’s known in Beverly Hills), is a busy intersection in one of the most, by some accounts the most, traffic-intensive urban area in the United States. Since the monument’s installation in 1959, undoubtedly millions have driven by. Far from being a tourist attraction, because of its inaccessibility very few have actually ventured across the busy lanes of traffic to discover what the remarkable event this monument commemorates. It’s just there. If you’re looking at it, that means you are stopped at a light or stuck in traffic. It will be in the rearview mirror before long, or so drivers hope.