Forgotten Classic Hollywood Stars And Tales Found Fame On Instagram -- And Are Now Found In A New Book
Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily newsletters. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.
Instagram celebrities may conjure a certain modern aesthetic, and it probably isn't of classic Hollywood. But Carla Valderrama took her popularThis Was Hollywood account and turned it intoa new book, digging deep into the Golden Age of film.
She loved old Hollywood stories, but noticed that the books that came out each year were mostly the same -- telling the same stories about Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. So Valderrama's book focuses on the stars she says have had their legacies lost to time, such as Lois Weber, Florence Lawrence, Cora Sue Collins and Sessue Hayakawa.
"There were a few people that I definitely felt had been long neglected, like Lois Weber," Valderrama said. "That always pissed me off, ever since I was a kid ... all these people just talking about these guys -- this woman was better."
Lawrence gave everything she had to the Natural History Museum. Below all the dinosaurs, the museum's basement includes a vast collection of film paraphernalia, from Lon Chaney's makeup kit to Mary Pickford's wigs.
"So I spent a month going through all of those things, like reading journal entries from 1912 that said, 'Oh, today the boat right down the water from us called the Titanic just sunk,'" Valderrama said.
Valderrama's love for old movies started when she was little, taking TV Guide issues at the age of six and circling every time Gone With The Wind would air.
"On those days, I would fake sick from school to stay home and watch it -- and my mom finally caught on, so she just bought me the movie," Valderrama said.
Little Carla would watch Turner Classic Movies, and when she was eight or nine years old, she would go to the library to ask for books on the stars.
"My grandpa, whenever he would buy a book, would always look at the back and see if there were source notes -- and if there weren't, he would put it back on the shelf," Valderrama said. "When I was eight, I would go up to the librarian and say, 'I would like a book about Marilyn Monroe.' And she would give me this book, and I would look at the back, and I said, 'Excuse me, there's no source notes.'"
Her book is likewise filled with an extensive list of the research she used to tell these stories, sorting through thousands of original documents.
DON'T MISS ANY L.A. CORONAVIRUS NEWS
Get our daily newsletters for the latest on COVID-19 and other top local headlines.
Until she started her Instagram, Valderrama never thought she could compete with stewards of movie history such as Leonard Maltin or TCM's Robert Osborne -- so she got into acting instead.
"I moved here to Hollywood in 2011, and I started doing improv and tried to get into the industry. It was extremely hard, but my heart wasn't fully into it -- my passion was always classic Hollywood and movies," Valderrama said.
But while she was pursuing that career, she had a surprising favorite pastime after moving to L.A.: visiting the Motion Picture Academy's Margaret Herrick Library and digging through its files. Going through archives helped her find many of the stories in her book.
"I don't want to give people anything that they can find on the Internet for free, which in this day-and-age is pretty hard," she said.
Valderrama's new book also tells the forgotten stories of the big Hollywood names that weren't covered in all those other books. Those stories include Paul Newman's infamous The Silver Chalice -- a movie he was so embarrassed about that he took out ads to apologize when it aired on TV.
"When I was at the Warner Brothers Archives, the guy said to me, 'Carla, I think you're the only person who's ever looked at these files for this movie, and if not, the only person who's spent this long on it,'" Valderrama said.
She was also able to verify a long-told story about the success of dog star Rin Tin Tin's movies saving Warner Brothers.
"The reason we know is because I found a bank document buried in the folder at Warner Brothers," Valderrama said. "It was in one of his movie folders -- I freaked out."
Valderrama also interviewed some of the last living links to that old Hollywood, like Norman Lloyd -- now 106. Lloyd spoke with her about his friend John Garfield, whose career ended because of the Hollywood blacklist.
"I can quote it verbatim, because I'll never forget it," Valderrama recalled. "He said, 'Do you know how many people jumped out of windows, jumped off bridges, went to Mexico, or Europe, or wherever they went? Do you know how many lives were destroyed?'"
One of the other stars Valderrama spoke with was former child star Cora Sue Collins -- who revealed a never-before-told pre-#MeToo story just minutes into their interview.
The book is packed with photos and Valderrama's research takes its own spotlight with a unique visual treatment modeled after golden age periodicals.
"The movie magazine pushed the narrative of Hollywood as a whole, and each of the individual stars, and it was just so important to the creation of the industry," Valderrama said.
She was inspired to start her Instagram while dealing with the travails of acting.
"I was having a meltdown on the 101 Freeway -- I think it was the umpteenth time that I'd been rejected," Valderrama said. "I was stuck in traffic, and I started crying, and screaming -- 'What am I even doing here? The Hollywood that I love isn't even here, it's under the cement! This was Hollywood!'"
And that was it.
She began posting on Instagram every day, starting in May 2017 -- including during her honeymoon.
Now the book version -- This Was Hollywood: Forgotten Stars and Stories -- is available online and in bookstores everywhere.