SUNSET BOULEVARD NOTES

Norma Desmond’s car is a 1929 Landaulet limousine model of the Italian car, the Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A. It cost Norma $28,000 (now $400,000).

 

William Holden, Erich Von Stroheim.

 

Erich Von Stroheim, William Holden, Gloria Swanson.

Director BILLY WILDER rented the car and upholstered it in leopard skin to match Norma’s outfit. Norma Desmond’s initials were also monogrammed  on the car.

Ironically, Erich  Von Stroheim ( Max ) could not drive and the car had to be towed by another car.

 

Norma arriving at Paramount is greeted by a guard,Jonesy,  who recognises her.

 

 

The company was formed in 1900 by Cesare Isotta and Vincenzo Fraschini.

The makers promise that the car will go to a maximum of 93 mph.

The car used in the film has survived and is now back in Italy on display at the National Automobile Museum in Turin.

 

 

Joe Gillis (William Holden) sees Norma’s crumbling mansion for the first time.

Norma’s  address is 10086 Sunset Boulevard, but in fact the house which Paramount featured was at 641 South Irving Boulevard. It was built in the 1920s and rented by Paramount from the  J.Paul Getty family.

It was demolished in 1957.

Had it survived, one can only imagine what a magnet it would have been for fans of the film today.

 

A picture showing the house in the process of being demolished in February,1957.

 

The house did not have a swimming  pool, so Paramount excavated one as it was crucial to the plot.

 

That iconic start to the film.

 

William Holden and Gloria Swanson being filmed.

Only exteriors of the house were used. All interiors were  beautifully constructed on a Paramount sound stage.

 

Like the ending of DOUBLE INDEMNITY which was filmed twice, the beginning of “Sunset Boulevard” was first filmed with Gillis’s body arriving at the city morgue, and Joe talking to the other dead bodies there!

That first scene  is shown partially in script form above.

Wilder fully intended that this would be how the film  would start, but preview audiences determined otherwise, apparently laughing at the dead bodies talking to each other.

It certainly sounds a unique opening, and , like the discarded end scene in Double Indemnity, everyone still hopes that  one day the morgue footage will turn up.

But who can disagree that  Wilder outdid  himself when he filmed that iconic shot of the body in the pool.

 

Norma is finally over the edge and in her own world where she is still a star.

 

Descending the staircase, getting  ready for her closeup. Norma is Salome and promises there will be more films after this one.

 

 

Billy Wilder takes William Holden’s  place in rehearsal.

 

Norma meets Cecil B. DeMille, watched over by Billy Wilder.

Sunset Boulevard has an amazing mixture of fact and fiction.

Considering Gloria Swanson was not the first choice to play the silent screen star – Mary Pickford was first approached.

But when Swanson auditioned and was cast, the script included various references to her career in silents – the casting of Cecil B. DeMille for instance. DeMille was filming SAMSON AND DELILAH on the Paramount lot, so, always ready for any publicity, Paramount had the scene where Norma meets DeMille filmed on the actual set of Samson and Delilah!

In the fictional story, Norma Desmond and DeMille had made films together in the past. And in fact Swanson and DeMille made 5 films together.

When they worked together in the early part  of the 20th Century, DeMille called Swanson ‘Young fella’.

In Sunset Boulevard, DeMille also called Norma by the same nickname.

On the set with Anna Q. Nilsson, Gloria Swanson, Buster Keaton, William Holden, Erich Von Stroheim and H. B. Warner.

 

On the staircase.

 

09 Dec 1949 — Original caption: Ever-glamorous Gloria Swanson shows off a lovely trio of White Ermine accessories created by Paramount’s Edith Head for the star’s role in “Sunset Boulevard.” The black capelet is lined with fur to match the hat and cuff muff. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

 

Gloria Swanson (1899 -1983) has said that after Sunset Boulevard she was only offered similar type roles which she declined.

Gloria was no Norma Desmond. She was a mother and grandmother and had 6 ex-husbands. She was in movies between 1915 and 1934. For INDISCREET in 1931, her salary was $250,000!

(For Sunset Boulevard, she received $50,000)

AIRPORT 75 was her last film. She led a healthy lifestyle and looked glamorous to the end.

Why Hollywood didn’t offer her more roles in sound  pictures, remains a mystery.

I’m glad Mary Pickford said no. Gloria Swanson owns that role and should have won an Oscar. (She lost to Judy Holliday for “Born Yesterday”)

And it’s ironic that Sunset  Boulevard lost out as Best Picture to another behind-the-scenes  film, ALL ABOUT  EVE.

As much as I love the latter, it doesn’t have the same  impact of Sunset Boulevard – that final scene where Norma descends into full blown madness is unforgettable.

In a two year period – 1950 to 1952, Hollywood made three of the best films about Hollywood – SUNSET BOULEVARD, IN A LONELY PLACE and THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL.

We out here in the dark enjoyed them but they highlighted the price that  can be paid for a shot at fame.

 

Great picture of cast and crew, but no Billy Wilder.

 

Erich Von Stroheim as Max

Another instance  of deliberate attempts to mingle fact and fiction , casting Von Stroheim as Norma’s ex-husband and Director who is now reduced to being her butler.

In the film, William Holden’s character, Joe Gillis describes how every night Norma would screen her own films from the past, one of which is QUEEN KELLY which Von Stroheim had directed Swanson in.

So Gloria Swanson,as Norma, is sitting watching a clip from the film which Von Stroheim never completed!

 

William Holden, Gloria Swanson

 

 

 

 

 

In 1956, MARY ASTOR starred in a live TV production of “Sunset Boulevard”, with Darren McGavin as Joe Gillis.  It was broadcast as part of the series “Robert Montgomery Presents”.

It can be seen on You Tube.  I watched some  of it, but, as much as I like Mary Astor, it suffered in comparison. Small budget and sets.

 

6 responses »

  1. Great posting on one of my favourite file. Amazing to think it was originally offered to Mae West! Mae’s considerable ego got in the way. She didn’t like having Joe Gillis walk out on her. The original Norma in the musical was Patti Lupone who was superb. Just found a fascinating nine part documentary on Patti on YT, absolutely fascinating as it follows her career for part of 2012/13.

  2. Wyler and Brackett must surely have considered a very different movie when they were thinking of Mae West. Pola Negri is another name mentioned.
    I agree Patti Lupone was excellent on stage.

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