Glendale played a starring role in the 1945 movie “Mildred Pierce,” the story of a single mother who opens a restaurant right here in the heart of Glendale.
The movie was based on a book by the same name written by James M. Cain in 1941. “Cain portrayed Glendale as the epitome of the working-class aspirations and disappointments in Depression-era California,” said Arlene Vidor, past president of the Glendale Historical Society, who wrote an article on the movie for the society’s Summer 2010 newsletter.
“Cain sets the stage in the first line of the book,” she wrote. “‘In the spring of 1931, on a lawn in Glendale, California, a man was bracing trees ...’ and he peppers the entire story with astute observations about the city’s psyche and physical appearance — the frenetic parceling of land, the explosive building boom resulting in rows of Spanish Revival bungalows and the ‘poor cousin’ sigma suffered by Glendale, the ‘endless suburb,’ in relation to the monied elegance of neighboring Pasadena.”
Some of the Glendale references were dropped in the movie, but enough remained to make the book’s point, Vidor added. Plus, much of it was shot right here in town.
The Feb. 15, 2012, edition of this column, included a query from Carol Bartold, who wanted to know the location of the house that the fictional Mildred Pierce ”lived in.” I had many replies. One was from Warren Westerholm, whose wife grew up at 1127 North Jackson. “Mildred Pierce was filmed at a home on North Jackson Street just south of Stocker,” he said. Several others wrote that it was in the 1100 block of North Jackson. In 2006, Joann Grimaldi, then a 60-plus-year resident of Glendale, told Vidor that she was living on Isabel Street in 1945 and often walked to Jackson to watch the activity. “Can you imagine what it was like for me — an 11-year-old child recently moved from Ohio, watching a film shoot day after day?”
In the book, Pierce opens a restaurant featuring fried chicken. The exterior shots of her fictional restaurant were filmed at the old Henry’s restaurant, at the corner of Glendale and Colorado avenues, according to Special Collections. Grimaldi told Vidor “almost all of Glendale showed up at Henry’s for Monday Night Chicken.”
Some scenes may have been filmed near Balboa School on Bel Aire Drive. Marilyn Nadeau Chrisman, who grew up in the area and went to Balboa Elementary, recalls that Crawford’s dressing room trailer was parked on Allen Avenue right beside the school’s lower playground terrace for some time. “During recess and lunch Joan Crawford was only a few feet away from me.”
Chrisman said the movie scenes involving the little real estate building were shot around there — “most likely at a little colonial structure at the northeast corner of Bel Aire and Allen.”
Nowadays, Jackson Street looks much like it did when the movie was shot in 1945. Unfortunately, the restaurant is no more. It was significantly altered a few years later by architect John Lautner, a preeminent mid-20th-century architect, according to John Lo Cascio (another past TGHS president) writing in the society’s Winter 2004-05 newsletter. It was later demolished.
There’s been a lot of online speculation as to whether Cain lived in Glendale. Vidor said he lived in Southern California for only a short time, and that was in the “shadow of the Hollywood sign.”
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