Inside Sunset Boulevard: Part 1
Sunset Boulevard tells the ill-fated story of Norma Desmond, an aging silent film star, and Joe Gillis, a down-on-his luck screenwriter. Although Joe’s chance meeting with the more-than-eccentric Norma appears initially to be his salvation, in due course, it turns out to be his doom. Check out this first in a series of posts that offer a plethora of titillating tidbits and intriguing items of interest about this great film.
- Gloria Swanson was not the first choice for the role of the great Norma Desmond. First considered for the part were Mae West, Mary Pickford, and Pola Negri. Joseph Calleia was the original pick for Sheldrake (played by Fred Clark) and Montgomery Clift was the first choice for the role of Joe Gillis. Other actors considered for Gillis were Fred MacMurray, Gene Kelly, and Marlon Brando. (Marlon Brando?)
- In early drafts of Sunset Boulevard, Joe Gillis’ name was Dan Gillis and the Paramount producer played by Fred Clark was named Kaufman, not Sheldrake. Originally, Norma drove an old Rolls-Royce – in the film’s final iteration, the car was an Isotta-Fraschini. The car used in the film once belonged to 1920s socialite Peggy Hopkins Joyce. It was a gift to her from her lover, automobile magnate Walter Chrysler.
- More than 100 likenesses of Gloria Swanson were used in Sunset, including oil paintings, sketches, old glamour portraits, and scenes from past films.
- Cecil B. DeMille agreed to play his cameo role for $10,000 and a new Cadillac. He reportedly charged another $10,000 when Wilder went to him later to request that he film a close-up.
- On the other hand, in the scene where Norma visits Cecil B. DeMille on set as he is filming Samson and Delilah, the film’s actual star, Hedy Lamarr, was supposed to make a cameo appearance. When Lamarr demanded $25,000 for the part, Wilder balked and abandoned the idea. (Maybe he’d run out of cash?)
- The address of Norma Desmond’s mansion, 10086 Sunset Boulevard, didn’t exist at the time the picture was filmed, and doesn’t today.
- Joe Gillis’ agent, with whom he met on a golf course near the start of the film, was played by actor Lloyd Gough. The year after the film’s release, Gough was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he became the 17th witness to refuse to answer any questions regarding past or present affiliations with the Communist Party. His career did not recover until the 1960s, when he appeared in a variety of TV series and feature films including Madigan and The Great White Hope. In 1976, he was seen in the film The Front, which focused on blacklisting during the McCarthy Era.
- The pet undertaker, seen only in long shot, was played by Franklyn Farnum, who appeared as an extra in more than 1,000 films and served for several years as president of the Screen Extras Guild.
- One of the “Waxworks” was Anna Q. Nilsson. The “Q” stood for Querentia. Her fellow Waxworks were Buster Keaton and H.B. Warner (whose given name was Henry Byron Charles Stewart Warner Lickford). In the scene with Warner and Keaton, Nilsson had the most to say – she said three words, Keaton two, and Warner one. (By the way, Keaton died on February 1, 1966 – the same day as fellow Sunset performer, Hedda Hopper.)
- In the New Years’ Eve party scene from the film, Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson) and her fellow partygoers sing “Buttons and Bows,” composed by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, who appear for a few seconds in the scene, playing the piano. Twelve years after the release of Sunset Boulevard, Olson married Jay Livingston’s brother, Alan, who was the president of Capitol Records. Jay Livingston and Ray Evans also wrote the “We’re Coming Leo” song for director Billy Wilder’s 1951 Ace in the Hole (aka The Big Carnival).
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