Sunset Blvd. is the classic Billy Wilder film from 1950. It starred William Holden and '20s and '30s era starlet Gloria Swanson. A 2003 BBC review of the restored film described it as "the finest movie ever made about the narcissistic hellhole that is Hollywood."
Filmed in 1949, I see it in a way as a melancholy, occasionally disturbing, tribute to the physical remnants of Hollywood - the way it was during the Silent Era. Many of the locations used would have been pretty old (by California standards) at the time of the film's production, most having been constructed in the 1920s. Some are still around today; some are long gone.
The Mediterranean-style apartments where Joe Gillis (William Holden) lives opened in 1930 in the center of Hollywood, on North Ivar St. Elizabeth Short (the "Black Dahlia") is thought to have lived there. The Alto Nido apartment complex is still open, and that neon sign remains.
It was a great big, white elephant of a place, the kind crazy movie people built in the crazy twenties. --Joe Gillis (William Holden)
The "Desmond mansion" was built by a William Jenkins in 1924 at a cost of $250,000. Its second owner was Jean Paul Getty, who purchased it for his second wife. It was she who rented it to Paramount for the filming. Actually on Wilshire, and not Sunset Blvd., the place was torn down in 1957 and replaced with a gas station.
Schwab's Pharmacy, on Sunset and Crescent, was not just an ordinary drugstore, selling top-quality cosmetics and ice-cream sodas.
Despite the stories, Lana Turner was not discovered at its lunch counter. F. Scott Fitzgerald had a heart attack there in 1940 while buying a pack of smokes. Marlene Dietrich, the Marx Brothers, Charles Laughton, James Dean, and Dick Powell were regulars.
Depending on source of information, composer Harold Arlen wrote "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" either at a booth, or under its glowing neon sign. I prefer to believe the neon sign story.
Right up until it closed in 1986, Shelley Winters held court every morning. To have been a fly on that wall! It was torn down in 1988. Today a Virgin megastore sits there. Universal Studios theme parks in Florida and Hollywood each have authentic replicas.
The antique car used as Norma Desmond's (Gloria Swanson) limousine is an Isotta-Fraschini, and once belonged to 1920s socialite Peggy Hopkins Joyce. It was a gift from automobile magnate Walter Chrysler.
I love the brief glimpses of vintage neon, not to mention the glowing Schwab's sign, that can be seen as Desmond and Gillis ride in it at night:
The famed gate of Paramount Pictures is known as the Bronson Gate, and was built in 1926. Paramount is the only major film studio still operating in Hollywood.