The first time I appeared on stage doing magic was when I was a teenager, and it was in a great historical theater. Even though it was in Santa Monica, it was destroyed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Northridge is 22 miles from Santa Monica, which gives you an idea of how big and scary that earthquake was. When it hit early in the morning, I just hugged onto my husband in bed as the street lights all blew out. When I performed there it was known as the Mayfair Music Hall, the only English style Music Hall in the country.
It was originally called the Santa Monica Opera House, and was built in 1913. The first theater in Santa Monica, it was initially used for legitimate theater and silent films. A bit later it was renamed the Majestic Theater. It was on Oregon Street, which was later renamed Santa Monica Blvd. It became the Mayfair Theater in 1967, and It closed as a movie theater in 1973.
In this photo from 1920, the Majestic Theater is on the right
In 1973, Milt Larsen purchased it and converted it into the Mayfair Music Hall. Milt was behind the design of the Magic Castle and the famed Variety Arts Theater, another really amazing theater where I worked as production crew on a number of shows. While only the front facade of the Mayfair Music Hall remains, you can still view it online.
It appears in one of my favorite movies, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. When Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) and the Monster (Peter Boyle) perform the dance number, Puttin’ on the Ritz, the entire scene takes place in the Mayfair Music Hall. You can see it streaming on Starz right now. And really who doesn’t love Young Frankenstein.
You get to see even more of the theater in the pilot episode of the 1970s series The Rockford Files. An entire scene takes place in the theater and shows off several aspects of it. You can see that episode for free now on DailyMotion. It starts at 33:20.
In the shot below from the episode, you can see the theater marquee, which features Gene Bell. He passed in 1995. He was pretty old when I knew him, but still going strong. For one of the several shows in which I got to work with him, the L.A. Times reviewer wrote: “The show’s unqualified treat is 74-year-old tap-dancer extraordinaire Gene Bell, whose soft-shoe and high-stepping act is enthralling and phenomenally cheering.” He came from the old school of vaudeville, starting his long career when he was just 10, doing minstrel shows, and appearing at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. He and his wife, Lupe were amazingly sweet. One of the cool things about my early start in show business is that I got to meet a lot of legendary performers, many of whom are no longer with us, and I agree. Gene Bell was a real treat.