6230 Sunset: Earl Carroll’s Theater

The Earl Carroll Theater and Restaurant opened at 6230 Sunset Boulevard, on the south side of Sunset between Vine St. and El Centro on December 26, 1938.

Hollywood was familiar with Earl Carroll. The Broadway showman, who for a time had a namesake theater on Broadway, had long staged annual shows featuring beautiful, scantily-clad (if not nude) women. Florence Zigfeld had his “Follies,” George Whaite had “Scandals,” and so Earl Carroll had his “Vanities” or “Sketchbooks.” June Brewster, the 3rd wife of LA underworld boss Guy McAfee, had appeared in an Earl Carroll show on Broadway. In 1934, Carroll brought some of his showgirls to Hollywood to film “Murder at the Vanities” for Paramount Pictures.

Earl Carroll and a chorus line of Beauties arrive at the SP station in LA to film Murder at the Vanities, 1934. L-R: Evelyn Kelly, Dorothy Dawes, Ernestine Anderson, Ruth Hilliard, Beryl Wallis, Marion Callahan, Laurie Shevlin, Wanda Perry. LAPL.

In May 1938, local papers announced the Carroll was to build a dinner theater restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The building was designed by architect Gordon B. Kaufmann, who would later design the Hollywood Palladium at 6215 Sunset.

5/28/1938. LAT.

Sketch of the new Earl Carroll Theater, which appeared in the Hollywood Citizen-News 10/15/1938. LAPL

Fittingly, the opening show was “Broadway to Hollywood” 12/23/1938. Hollywood Citizen-News.

 

Watch Hollywood stars arriving at the opening (from Brithish Pathe):

 

The new theater had revolving stages, a patent leather ceiling and miles of neon lighting designed by Frank Don Riha (who like Kaufmann would also work on the Hollywood Palladium) and decor by W & J Sloane of Wilshire Boulevard. It was, as one contemporary critic put it, the public’s idea of what a Hollywood nightclub looks like.

The horseshoe-shaped “inner circle” Huntington Library digital.

The Goddess of (Neon) Light. Martin Deutsch is credited with her design. Huntington Library digital.

The box office. Huntington Library digital.

The cocktail bars. Huntington Library digital.

The entrance. Willy Pogany is credited with the design of the two statues flanking the staircase. Huntington Library digital.

One of several lounge areas. Huntington Library digital.

A show in progress. Huntington Library digital.

“Through These Portals Pass the Most Beautiful Girls in the World.” Motto of the Earl Carroll Theater, exemplified by Beryl Wallis, Carroll’s girlfriend and top showgirl.

The exterior c. 1939. LAPL.

A highlight of the he neon-covered exterior was the giant portrait of Beryl Wallis, rendered in neon along with the “Through These Portals…” motto.

In October 1940, Carroll added the “Wall of Fame” to the exterior, consisting of 150 cement blocks, some signed by various celebrities, others blank to allow for future autographs.

 

10/17/1940. Hollywood Citizen-News.

Carroll and showgirls with some of the “Wall of Fame” cement blocks signed by Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper, Clark Gble, Tyrone Power, and Ginger Rogers, October 1940. LAPL.

Based on the “Wall of Fame,” audience members could buy their own Hollywood Star Autographed Glasses to take home. They were available for purchase in the lobby.

 

In 1940, Carroll and company filmed “A Night at Earl Carroll’s” for Paramount Pictures, which as Famous Players-Lasky had once operated across the street from the theater. This required some adjustments of the revue costumes to please the Hayes Office censors. The film was added as a second feature to the A-picture, Christmas in July, released at Paramount’s downtown Los Angeles theater at Sixth & Hill streets on December 15, 1940. The film featured Ken Murray, who had worked with Carroll on Broadway and would later produce the long-running “Blackouts” show down the street on Vine. He also wrote a biography of Earl Carroll.

12/16/1940. LAT.

 

Beryl Wallace and Earl Carroll, 1943. During World War II, Wallis worked tirelessly on shows for service members. LAPL.

 

Life magazine featured Earl Carroll’s in its February 14, 1944 number. On the cover, a sailor contemplates the “Wall of Fame.”

 

Ticket for CBS radio’s Meet the Missus” broadcast from the Earl Carroll Theater 8/27/1946.

After the war, Carrolls’ near-neighbor CBS began leasing the theater for daytime radio broadcasts. In 1946 Carroll proposed building additional theaters, to rival NYC’s Radio City, at the rear part of the parcel along Vine but the project was rejected by the Civilian Production Administration (CPA) as postwar materials were in short supply and priority construction was being given to veteran’s housing.

On June 17, 1948, Earl Carroll and Beryl Wallis were killed in a plane crash in Pennsylvania.

The Earl Carroll Theater continued to operate for over a year as the estates of Wallis and Carroll were settled. It went dark on October 12, 1949.  Reports in late 1949 that the theater had sold proved premature. Carroll’s niece and executor of his estate sold the venue to Frank Hofues of Texas in August 1950 for a price of $1,025,000. The sale was approved by the Los Angeles Superior Court on September 14. Hofues intended to lease the property for radio and television broadcasts.

10/12/1949. LAT.

In February 1951, however, it was reported that Earl Carroll’s would reopen with a new show, Pleasure Bound, imported from Broadway’s Latin Quarter Theater. The grand re-opening was March 27, 1951 only to close again, apparently ordered by Hofues. The theater wasn’t done yet, however. Another grand-reopening was held September 18, 1951, with a new show, “Holiday for Love.” In December 1951, it was announced that Hofues had leased the venue to CBS for television broadcasts while CBS’ new Television City was being completed.

3/5/1951. The Valley Times.

3/27/1951. Hollywood Citizen-News.

9/16/1951. LAT

12/13/1951. LAT.

Earl Carroll’s Theater with CBS signage c. 1951.

In November 1952, CBS moved to its new Television City. In October 1953, it was announced that 1953, Frank Sennes, a Las Vegas talent-booking agent, would reopen the theater with a Left Bank French theme. It opened December 25, 1953 under a new name as well: The Moulin Rouge.

12/23/1953. Monrovia Daily News.

Earl Carroll’s as the Moulin Rouge c. 1954. LAPL.

Sennes operated the Moulin Rouge for ten years, until the summer of 1964, when he returned to Las Vegas. The Earl Carroll theater was again put up for sale.

881964. LAT.

On December 10, 1966, Dave Hull opened the theater as Hullabaloo, an all-ages rock music club. Though short-lived, it is notable because it was during this phase that the original cement blocks of the “Wall of Fame” were removed, and the old stars’ autographs replaced with those of current pop music “stars.” On March 30, 1966, it was revealed that 24 blocks had been removed, with plans to remove and replace others later.

As Hullaballoo. 12/11/1965.

4/1/1966. LAT.

The Turtles contemplate names on the old Earl Carroll “Wall of Fame” before they were replaced with new pop stars; names. 4/1/1966. LAT.

At least Beryl remained, outlined in neo. For a while. Hullabaloo went away in 1967. For a brief time in the Spring and Summer of 1968, the theater was operating as another rock venue, Kaleidoscope.

As Kaliedoscope. 6/2/1968.

In September 1968 it was announced the theater would be adapted for use as a live theater, to be the Los Angeles home of the Broadway musical Hair and would be renamed the Aquarius. Beryl came down as part of the renovation.

9/11/1968.

By 1972, the building was operating as a venue for other live theater. In 1983 it became a television studio. In 2016, it was named a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural landmark.