Villa Aurora in Pacific Palisades. Photo: Preservation.LAcity.org
There are many hidden gems throughout Los Angeles and one of my favorites is Villa Aurora in Pacific Palisades, with its rolling hills, lush gardens and ocean views. Originally built in 1928, it has passed through a variety of hands, including those of Marta and Lion Feuchtwanger, who escaped Germany during WWII and turned the villa into a refuge for other emigrants such as Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill and Fritz Lang. The gatherings they enjoyed helped inspire the current use of the villa as an artist's residence and host for various events. The villa also features a built-in pipe organ and so it was only natural to use the large living room area for screening silent films.
For the fourth year in a row, the Villa Aurora is sponsoring a summer salon featuring silent films. This one focuses on the great female stars. I was happy to be asked to curate the series and two of the four films remain to be screened: Pola Negri in "A Woman of the World" on August 6 and Marion Davies in "Show People" on August 27.
In "A Woman of the World" (1925), Pola Negri pokes fun at her own vamp image playing a sophisticated, tattooed European countess who is so world weary, she decides to visit her American cousin. Needless to say, a clash of cultures results and how the populace of Maple Valley reacts to a celebrity in their midst is timeless. Directed by Mal St. Clair, this film has just been restored by Paramount; its preservation premiere was at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in June and this will be the first Southern California screening.
"Show People" (1928) is the story of the country girl coming to Hollywood determined to be a star, but with plenty of twists and cameo appearances to make it a must see. It stars Marion Davies and one of the reasons I chose this film is because it showcases her comedic talent, timing and charm. Too many people think they know Marion Davies because they have seen "Citizen Kane" and assume that the whiny, untalented Susan Alexander was modeled on Marion. "Show People" proves what a total misconception that is. Directed by King Vidor and co-starring William Haines, "Show People" is a delight.
And since silent films were never really silent, the renowned composer Michael Mortilla will be there both evenings to play that fabulous organ.
Pack a picnic dinner and come early to enjoy the grounds. The villa is located at 520 Paseo Miramar in Pacific Palisades and shuttles from Los Liones Drive and Sunset Blvd begin at 5. The films begin at 8:15.