Almost 100 local history buffs gathered in historic Fremont Place at one of the neighborhood’s most important and historic homes, 56 Fremont Place, the one-time residence of actress Mary Pickford, for tea and a fascinating talk by film historian Marc Wanamaker.
“The history of Los Angeles is in all these old movies because they used the city as their sets,” said Wanamaker, a film historian with one of the most extensive photo archives on the history of LA’s film industry. Wanamaker brought the hosts, Lani and Edwin Raquel, a board displaying historic photos of their house and actress Mary Pickford and family, who lived in the house for a year in 1918, just three years after the home, then known as the Helen Mathewson Home, was built.
“Only a handful of movie people lived in Fremont Place, but they used it as a set,” said Wanamaker, who also brought a photo of the neighborhood’s Wilshire Boulevard Gates from the 1921 Charlie Chaplin film “The Idle Class.”
“It’s so exciting to be here in Fremont Place exactly because it’s still here,” said Wanamaker, who frequently collaborates with the Los Angeles Conservancy and Hollywood Heritage to preserve neighborhood history.
Wanamaker spoke, without notes, for almost two hours, telling stories drawn from his extensive research and dozens of books over the years. While the talk was billed as stories of scandals, Wanamaker ended up debunking several long-standing Hollywood scandal stories, including several “murders” that were most likely accidents. The stories were just as interesting, though less scandalous, when filled in with facts provided by Wanamaker. His encyclopedic knowledge of the movies and the people who made them – many of whom Wanamaker knew personally – left the group wanting to hear more.
Wanamaker started his career as a filmmaker, founding the Los Angeles International Film Exposition, known as FILMEX, in 1971, and was involved in forming The American Cinematheque. In a unique position to collect materials from studios and realizing the importance of the film industry’s collections to telling the story of Los Angeles, Wanamaker created Bison Archives, a unique photographic collection that specializes in the history of the motion picture and television industry in the United States. Wanamaker is passionate about LA history, the movies and sharing his knowledge. (He also generously donated photos to this writer for the pictorial history, “Larchmont” for Arcadia Press.)
“I am thrilled to support anyone or any group that is trying to preserve local history. It’s so important and so much fun,” said Wanamaker.