Hooray for (Rheo Blair's) Hollywood! (Part I)

My lovely wife, Lorraine, and I spent this last weekend in Hollywood. She performed as part of the Pacific Chorale at the Hollywood Bowl in the Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame) production of Not the Messiah -- an "oratorio" (spoof of an oratorio, that is) based on the Python film, The Life of Brian. We stayed at a hotel just adjacent to Hollywood and Highland, a huge outdoor shopping/entertainment/restaurant/hotel complex built to resemble a movie set (more info here). It was a convenient place to stay, since the Bowl is just a 15 minute walk up Highland Avenue. "Up" is meant literally, not figuratively, since Highland slopes up into the Hollywood Hills. FYI, for those of you unfamiliar with the area, Hollywood is a district of Los Angeles, not a separate city.

Our tour today begins today with with dinner and the concert; we will then progress to the Rheo Blair-related pics.
Note that I have not yet learned the correct way to insert photos directly into blog postings (other than at the top). For now, just click on the hyperlinked text, as it occurs below, to view the photos in my Picasa album. When you are in the album, you can also choose to view the entire album as a slide show. There are captions to each photo; however, there is much more detail right here on the blog about each photo. Note too, that there are a few extra photos in the album beyond those which are linked to below. The album also has a map on which the photos are pinned, so you can see where they are physically located. Finally, not all of the links below are photos; some are links to relevant sources of information on the Web.

On Saturday night we joined Lorraine's father (who not only is a good friend but edits much of what you read here on this blog) for dinner at Trastevere. We all enjoyed well-balanced meals Rheo surely would have approved of (with the exception of the carb-intense linguini which I am about to admit to; Rheo was adamant about his low carb/high protein philosophy). Since Trastevere is an Italian restaurant, we started by splitting an order of linguini with tantalizingly kicked-up marinara sauce. I had the grilled and sliced marinated New York steak topped with fresh herbs, lemon and olive oil sauce served with radicchio and arugola salad. Lorraine enjoyed the Grilled salmon fillet with a creamy brandy and Dijon mustard sauce served with grilled Portobello mushroom, eggplant and zucchini. Dad had veal scaloppini spiked with capers and accompanied by roasted potato cubes.

After dinner we walked off the food en route to the Bowl where a great time was had by all. Here's a few shots from the concert; first, the Bowl shell with the performers on stage (can you find Lorraine, or where's Waldo, for you older folks); second, the fireworks finale; another of the fireworks; and finally, the Bowl shell seen backstage from behind looking through the shell out to the audience.

As many of you know, the film The Life of Brian ends with a wierdly wonderful song, Always Look On the Bright Side of Life sung by Eric Idle hanging on a cross. Well, Not the Messiah ends with the same song. So on Sunday, after sleeping in, and still basking in the afterglow of a truly unique (and wacky) experience the night before, Lorraine and I pondered what to do. What would be the perfect complement, or foil, to looking on the bright side of life, so to speak? We ended up at a cemetery. But remember, this was Hollywood, so it was no ordinary cemetery. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, full of dead stars, is adjacent to Paramount Studios and is within a half mile of Rheo's home. Our interest here, vis-a-vis Rheo, is the grave of Nelson Eddy, an operatic singer and movie star whose voice Rheo idolized to a very great extent. Rheo even went so far as to model his own singing voice after Eddy. Anyone who ever heard Rheo sing and was familiar with Eddy's voice was amazed at how much Rheo truly sounded like him. So it's rather interesting, is it not, that Rheo ended up living just a few blocks from his hero's grave! Coincidence? There are more photos of the cemetery in the album.

The eastern perimeter of the cemetery is on Van Ness Drive just a few blocks north of the one-time Rheo Blair residence. So, having enjoyed an unusual couple of hours in this most unusual cemetery, we drove down the street to Rheo's home and snapped a couple of pictures. It is in the 90004 zip code in an area just adjacent to Windsor Square and less than half a mile from Paramount Studios, the former KHJ/KCAL 9 TV studios, and, of course, Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It is a large 3500 square foot Cape Cod style home on a corner. In this picture we see the front steps leading up to the front door. Looking to the second floor, the window to the far right (and partially cut off in this photo) was my room during my stay there. The windows directly above the front door were part of a large second floor landing/common area with a built-in sitting area against the windows.

To the left of the home is a driveway at the top of which is this building, that served as his local warehouse and personal office. Here Rheo processed orders, spent hours talking on the phone as he loved to do, and occasionally mixed custom protein powder forumulas for bodybuilding clients with special needs and requests. One evening one of his most famous clients dropped by to pick up supplements, etc. Rheo brought him in the house so I could meet him. At Rheo's request, he graciously took off his shirt to reveal the most remarkably developed human being I have ever seen. I respect this man's privacy, so he shall remain nameless, but it is a name everyone in the bodybuilding field would instantly recognize. Finally, around the corner was the spa house. The physical therapy, available at the spa house, was designed to increase blood circulation to get Rheo's protein and supplements to where they needed to be throughout the body! The main residence has been sold a couple of times in recent years, and currently appears to be a victim of neglect. It was a stunning property while Rheo lived there. However the entire neighborhood now appears to be undergoing something of a renaissance with an explosion of building and remodeling happening.

Then we headed back up Van Ness and turned left onto Melrose Avenue. If the name seems familiar, you are probably thinking of the Television show Melrose Place. Wikipedia tells us "a short street named Melrose Place exists in Los Angeles as an offshoot of Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood." However we are several miles east of that location. Back to our tour. Having turned onto Melrose, we drive just a couple of blocks until, on our right, we see this sight which in fact is the main entrance to Paramount Studios. At the left edge of the photo you will notice a green hedge, which can be seen clearly in this picture. The hedge hides a Paramount parking lot. But this spot is historically significant for having been the location of the famous Nickodell Restaurant -- which was torn down in 1993 to make way for -- the parking lot! There are a few interesting tidbits about Nickodell (here). It was a star hangout, apparently having been made nationally famous by a mention in I Love Lucy. Indeed, it was where Desi Arnaz interviewed and hired William Frawley to play the part of Fred Mertz. It remained a star hangout until its last day. This was Rheo's favorite local restaurant. He initiated me to the place a few days after my arrival to live at his home. We both had -- upon his recommendation -- the prime rib sandwich. Now anyone who knew Rheo knows he didn't eat sandwiches; however, this was simply an inexpensive version of the prime rib dinner. Throw away the bread, as we did, and voila, prime rib dinner for half price! I saw any number of stars in the place including two from Happy Days -- Erin Moran who played Joannie Cunningham and Pat Morita who played Arnold. Morita was perhaps better known for his starring role as Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid. It's a real shame that another great Hollywood restaurant, I should say institution, is gone.

To the left of the hedge in the previous photo can be seen the former home of KHJ/KCAL TV 9. A clear shot can be seen here. In the early 1980s a morning talk show hosted by Paul Ryan and Meredith McCrae named "Mid-Morning-LA" originated from this studio. Rheo was a repeat guest on this program (and I with him on one occasion in the spring of 1982).

From there we continued west on Melrose three blocks to Larchmont and turned left. Down about a block on the east side of the street is this office building. Here, Rheo kept his business office, run by his business manager, Freddy Lindblad. A kindly soul, a loyal hardworking assistant for Rheo, and like Rheo, a musician, Freddy made Rheo's business run. He was the person who screened potential clients for Rheo before such people got anywhere near him. When Rheo made a television appearance, the telephone number given out to the public was for this Larchmont office. Freddy handled these incoming calls. It was with Freddy my mother first spoke after she saw Rheo on television. Freddy, sensing a good potential client in my mother, got Rheo's OK and passed his personal number to her. She was then able to phone him directly to make an appointment. The rest, as they say, is history.

We then continued south on Larchmont, crossing Beverly Blvd. to South Larchmont and what is known as Larchmont Village, info here. There were two shops here in the village pertinent to Rheo Blair. Quinn's Nutrition carried a variety of his less expensive supplements. Quinn's sales representative was Dorothy North, mother of Jay North, of Dennis the Menace fame. Dorothy was a close friend of Rheo, was familiar with his products, and was able to give advice and guidance about his products to customers coming into the store. Indeed, Rheo often sent people directly to her. The other shop -- and I confess to forgetting the name -- was a high end food market where Rheo purchased his raw milk, cream, butter and fertile eggs. Both stores are now gone. It is still a very pleasant little area to visit with a farmer's market on Sunday and many fine little sidewalk cafes, where one might enjoy a good meal on a sunny summer afternoon. Lorraine and I did just that on this Sunday when we took many of the photos you have seen here.

That's all of Blair's Hollywood for now. We will continue this tour in the near future with a few more locations of relevance to Rheo's life and work.

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Copyright © 2008, 2009 Charles Welling
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Information found on Rheo H. Blair: The Book is meant for educational and informational purposes only, and to motivate you to make your own health care and dietary decisions based upon your own research and in partnership with your health care provider. It should not be relied upon to determine dietary changes, a medical diagnosis or courses of treatment.