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antoniacarlotta

Old Hollywood stars with other businesses outside the film industry

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Hi all, I just made this video about James Whale! I'm sure most of you are already experts on him, but one thing I was surprised to learn, was that he and David Lewis bought a 14-unit motel on Wilshire Boulevard in 1953 (a year after the two of them broke up.) I have to imagine this was a business partnership/a way to generate some extra income. 

I also recall learning about Thelma Todd who opened her Sidewalk Cafe in Malibu to have a safety net for when her film opportunities dried up. 

Are there any/many other old Hollywood figures who had businesses outside of the film industry? 

 

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Harry Lewis ( Edward 'Toots' Bass in Key Largo) - When Harry, an aspiring actor at the time, met future wife Marilyn Lewis, he confessed to her that he had two goals: to play Hamlet and to start a restaurant called Hamburger Hamlet as a hangout for the stars. They spent their first date looking for a location. A few days later she found the perfect spot for the original Hamlet on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. Neither could cook, but they opened their first Hamburger Hamlet in October of 1950 with their savings of $3500. By the mid-'80s, there were more than a dozen Hamlets, one in nearly every part of Los Angeles. They sold the chain in 1997 for $33 million.

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33 minutes ago, yanceycravat said:

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Ben Welden - Owned a confectionery in Beverly Hills called Nutcorn.

Wow, it looks like Nutcorn existed until just a few years ago! The address I find when I google it takes me to a mailbox building now though. 

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32 minutes ago, yanceycravat said:

image.png.98fbe5d5a4cd0a0650d832122bdeab18.png

Harry Lewis ( Edward 'Toots' Bass in Key Largo) - When Harry, an aspiring actor at the time, met future wife Marilyn Lewis, he confessed to her that he had two goals: to play Hamlet and to start a restaurant called Hamburger Hamlet as a hangout for the stars. They spent their first date looking for a location. A few days later she found the perfect spot for the original Hamlet on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. Neither could cook, but they opened their first Hamburger Hamlet in October of 1950 with their savings of $3500. By the mid-'80s, there were more than a dozen Hamlets, one in nearly every part of Los Angeles. They sold the chain in 1997 for $33 million.

I grew up going to Hamburger Hamlet at the top of my street! Right by Doheny and Sunset. It was one of my favorite places to go with my mom, and if I'm not mistaken, it was one of her favorite places to go as a kid with her dad! I was pretty heartbroken when it closed a few years ago. I'm trying to think of what's there now - it might be a sushi place, or possibly even a nightclub...

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I'm too lazy to find a pic, but Gene Autry used to own the then-California Angels. And Bing Crosby had a stake in the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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22 minutes ago, antoniacarlotta said:

I grew up going to Hamburger Hamlet at the top of my street! Right by Doheny and Sunset. It was one of my favorite places to go with my mom, and if I'm not mistaken, it was one of her favorite places to go as a kid with her dad! I was pretty heartbroken when it closed a few years ago. I'm trying to think of what's there now - it might be a sushi place, or possibly even a nightclub...

I went to the one in Long Beach since I grew up in nearby Seal Beach.

Didn't know it was owned by the bad-guy from Key Largo until I read it at this website!

 

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This is an interesting topic. I wrote a piece about this a few years ago, and I just found it on one of my blogs. 

***

I am sure not all movie stars in studio era Hollywood were making the really big bucks. But those that did often parlayed their financial success into other businesses. These businesses tended to be for the most part outside the motion picture industry. Maybe it was a chance to repay a favor to a friend who had helped them on the way up. Maybe it was a way to go into business with a relative who could benefit from the start-up capital given them. Or maybe it was the idea that if movie offers suddenly dried up, there was something to fall back on.

Whatever the reason, there are plenty of examples how stars invested their extra money. Take a look (some of them may just surprise you):

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In the 1940s, Judy Garland decided to take some of her MGM earnings and buy a flower shop. Fellow studio contract player Lucille Ball also invested in a flower shop.

Long-time Warner Brothers star Pat O'Brien bought his wife a dress and hat shop. 
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Eddie Cantor owned an antiques shop. Can you imagine going inside to buy a grandfather clock or an old oak table, and Eddie Cantor is on the other side of the cash register?

Meanwhile, Irene Dunne had a substantial investment in the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Victor Mature owned a furniture store.

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The next one surprises me. Are you ready? George Brent invested in a supermarket. Yes, a supermarket. Attention customers, that spill on aisle 8 will be cleaned up by the star of DARK VICTORY.
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Edward Arnold owned and supervised a large orange grove. And Walter Brennan owned a 12,000 acre ranch in Oregon. Not far from the Brennan place, Ginger Rogers owned a thousand-acre dairy farm.
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Billie Burke was the owner of a salad dressing company; while ZaSu Pitts had a ranch where she grew lettuce and tomatoes. Imagine if you were invited over to the ZaSu Pitt's home for a fresh garden salad, topped with Billie Burke’s vinaigrette.
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Gary Cooper owned dude ranches in Idaho and Montana (he was originally from Montana). John Payne also had a lot of property in Montana-- Billings to be exact. And did you know Cary Grant owned 1,200 acres in Brazil? I didn’t know, either. And don’t forget Alan Ladd. He was the proud owner of a chicken ranch in southern California.
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Ann Sothern owned a sewing center in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Scandinavian-born skating star Sonja Henie appeared in several hit movies for 20th Century Fox. On her off time, she decided to parlay some of her money into apartment houses in Chicago.
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One that doesn’t surprise me: James Stewart was co-owner of a charter airline service. Jimmy flew in the war, and he made several motion pictures with aviation themes.

Some stars liked to invest in sports. For example, Gene Autry owned the California Angels baseball team (as well as several radio stations); and Bob Hope was part owner of the Cleveland Indians, while pal Bing Crosby owned the Pittsburgh Pirates.
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Getting back to the ladies-- Constance Bennett designed clothes and owned a cosmetics company. And Loretta Young owned a charm school in Los Angeles. Doesn’t that just seem like something Loretta would do? I think so.

There was something about horses the stars liked. Barbara Stanwyck went into business with Zeppo Marx, breeding racehorses. Louis B. Mayer was also a breeder of racehorses. And Robert Young owned a riding academy and stable.
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This one conjures up an interesting image: Jack Benny owned a bowling alley with Walt Disney. And then there’s this image of Merle Oberon, who apparently was an avid collector of emeralds. Her gems were second in value to Queen Elizabeth's.
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William Haines became well known as an interior decorator who furnished the homes of many of his Hollywood friends.

Greer Garson was another race horse owner. The most famous horse she and her husband owned was Ack Ack, who as a five-year-old became Horse of the Year.

Polly Bergen owned a dress shop in her hometown in Tennessee and, IIRC, had interests in the cosmetics industry.

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Perennial Roger Corman star Beverly Garland owned a hotel just outside what's now Universal Studios: https://www.thegarland.com

In the 90's, when EVERY Hollywood power-player wanted to be the next chain-restaurant Bruce Willis, Steven Spielberg and (uh-oh) Jeffrey Katzenberg invested in submarine-themed restaurant Dive! in LA and Vegas.

Reviewers called it "Aptly named."  😛

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Norma Talmadge, Constance Talmadge, and Marion Davies were all major real estate investors in 1920s southern California. Gloria Swanson once owned a company that patented inventions. Viola Dana and her sister Shirley Mason owned beauty shops in 1920s Los Angeles. William Haines had a famous interior design company from the 1930s til his death. I believe Kay Francis owned a business school franchise. Richard Barthelmess was also famous for his real estate investments. Colleen Moore was a stock broker.

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Did Esther Williams have any equity in the eponymous Swimsuit and Swimming Pool lines or was she just paid for her name and promotion?

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Ooh also I just thought of Mickey Hargitay plants!

These days I do feel that a lot of actors have ventures outside of the film industry, but it all seems so tied to their "brand" and not actually a separate endeavor.

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1 minute ago, antoniacarlotta said:

These days I do feel that a lot of actors have ventures outside of the film industry, but it all seems so tied to their "brand" and not actually a separate endeavor.

I would agree with this statement. They are exploiting their visibility, which is what Suzanne Somers calls it. She said when she was fired from Three's Company she assumed her career as a TV star was over. She realized she was out of a job, but she still had visibility and name recognition. She used that to launch a singing career in Vegas and to write a series of motivational books. Of course, she did go back to television but in the meantime she had set up these new businesses for herself.

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Well beyond singing in Vegas Suzanne became incredibly successful selling first jewelry and then skincare, exercise equipment,  clothing, cookware and vitamin supplements on HSN, QVC and ShopHQ.....that is the source of most of her wealth.

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TOP mentioned up there that VICTOR MATURE owned a furniture store.  But I heard that he was friends and a business partner with JIM BACKUS in a few other business ventures.  And did BING CROSBY just act as an endorser of MINUTE MAID orange juice, or did he have a larger interest in it?

Sepiatone

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23 hours ago, UMO1982 said:

Norma Talmadge, Constance Talmadge, and Marion Davies were all major real estate investors in 1920s southern California. Gloria Swanson once owned a company that patented inventions. Viola Dana and her sister Shirley Mason owned beauty shops in 1920s Los Angeles. William Haines had a famous interior design company from the 1930s til his death. I believe Kay Francis owned a business school franchise. Richard Barthelmess was also famous for his real estate investments. Colleen Moore was a stock broker. 

Fred MacMurray owned a lot of real estate in Northern California, and also raised cattle and produce in that area.

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Nobody was ever sure( as he refused to divulge) if ARTHUR TREACHER was financially involved with his namesake fish'n'chip chain other than just a spokesman.  But the biggest celebrity business venture surprise was when POPEYE went into the CHICKEN business!  ;) 

Yeah, yeah....  save your time.  I know the Popeye chicken chain has nothing to do with the cartoon character and was named after the founder whose nickname was "Popeye".  :rolleyes:  So, what LAW is there that says I can't have a little fun here?  Is this the TCM message boards, and NOT an SNHU website?  ;) 

Sepiatone

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