My big project for the past 8 months – and very well for the next 8 years – is something I'm calling L.A. Street Names. It's a forthcoming website and app about the name origins of streets throughout Los Angeles County. Naturally, some of these streets' namesakes are celebrities, but not nearly as many as one might think. (Someone recently told me that they assumed Glendale's Chevy Chase Drive was in honor of the Vacation star. That alone would be absurd, but in fact the street was christened in 1925, eighteen years before Cornelius Crane "Chevy" Chase was born. And "Chevy Chase" goes back centuries.) Indeed, those that are named for screen actors are a motley crew. To wit:
- Laura La Plante Drive. This residential street in suburban Agoura Hills, near the Ventura County line, was named in 1928 for a since-forgotten silent screen actress. (If you know any of her films, it would be 1927's The Cat and the Canary and/or the 1929 version of Showboat.) At the time, La Plante (1904-1996) was Universal Pictures' biggest star, and Universal had recently set up facilities here to shoot Westerns.
- Edward Everett Horton Lane. Boomers and Gen X'ers may recall "Fractured Fairy Tales", an irreverent animated segment on the old Bullwinkle show. It was narrated by reedy-voiced character actor Edward Everett Horton (1886-1970), whom older audiences knew from 1930s and 1940s comedies like Top Hat, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, and Trouble in Paradise. Horton's Encino ranch, dubbed "Belleigh Acres" (get it?), was located where this cul-de-sac now sits.
- Shirley Place. When it comes to streets with women's first names, how can you tell who the honoree was? In this case, we do know: this Beverly Hills road is for Shirley Temple (1928-2014). Shirley Place was laid out in 1934 – when Miss Temple was the biggest star in the world – on a residential subdivision co-owned by her father George. I'm guessing said subdivision was bought with Curly Top's earnings at nearby Fox Studios.
- Pickford Way. There's a long residential thoroughfare in the middle of LA called Pickford Street. It was christened in the early 1920s, at the peak of silent star Mary Pickford's (1892-1979) career, yet even the Los Angeles Times couldn't ascertain whether it was actually named for her. Meanwhile, Culver City's Pickford Way most definitely was. The clue is in the neighboring street: Fairbanks Way. Douglas Fairbanks was married to Pickford at the time (1930). Why these streets in this neighborhood? After all, the couple lived miles away in their legendary "Pickfair" house deep in the Hills of Beverly, and their studio (later United Artists) was in West Hollywood. These two streets intersect with Studio Drive, on a tract known as Studio Village, so whoever did the naming had movies on the brain.
- Lamarr Avenue. Not far from Pickford and Fairbanks Ways is a newer (1980) neighborhood, with a slew of streets inspired by famous MGM names. (The old MGM lot was located nearby; it's now Sony Pictures.) "Lamarr" refers to Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000), the Vienna-born actress who has also, of late, received appreciation for her work as an inventor. (Her 1942 frequency-hopping patent, developed with composer George Antheil, was a progenitor of Bluetooth and WiFi.) Other streets here include Garland Drive (for Judy), Astaire Avenue (for Fred), Hepburn Circle (for Katharine), Skelton Circle (for Red), and Coogan Circle (for Jackie).
- Priscilla Lane. In this rare case, both street and star share the same moniker. Priscilla Lane (1915-1995), née Mullican, was one of four Iowa sisters who came to Hollywood to make it big. Priscilla made it the biggest, headlining Arsenic and Old Lace with Cary Grant (and Edward Everett Horton!) and Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur. Lane presided over the 1941 opening of her lane in Burbank.
- Hersholt Avenue. The city of Lakewood, north of Long Beach, has a number of streets named for mid-20th century celebrities, from Mamie Eisenhower to Hedda Hopper to Buddy Hackett. You might not know Danish-born actor Jean Hersholt (1886-1956) from his screen work (1937's Heidi, in which he played Shirley Temple's grandfather, is his most enduring film), but you're likely to have heard of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, given out at the Oscars for movie folk who are also Good Samaritans. (Recent recipients include Geena Davis, Tyler Perry, and Angelina Jolie.)
- Rochester Circle. Eddie "Rochester" Anderson (1905-1977) played Jack Benny's raspy-voiced sidekick for nearly thirty years, his popularity easily rivaling Benny's. In the 1940s and 1950s, he was America's highest-paid black actor. He lived on this very cul-de-sac, which was named in his memory after his death. Anderson bequeathed his Paul R. Williams-designed mansion as a halfway house for men recovering from addiction. Today it's a hostel.
- Lederer Avenue. Francis Lederer (1899-2000) was a Czech-born thespian with a number of Hollywood credits, yet his best-remembered film remains one of his first: 1929's Pandora's Box, the German silent that made American actress Louise Brooks – and her black bob – an icon. Lederer didn't just live to see three centuries; he also owned 300 acres of West San Fernando Valley real estate. Lederer Avenue lies near his old ranch.