This Saturday at 10 p.m., KCET brings you the 1954 film "The Last Time I Saw Paris," a romantic drama starring Van Johnson and Elizabeth Taylor as lovers who meet in the French capital at the close of WWII and ultimately return as a married couple. But KCET's "Classic Cool Theater" series is no mere weekend movie. The package also includes a classic cartoon, two of-the-period newsreels and a vintage musical number. The overall difference? Context. And in the spirit of this unique film package, we're offering you a peek at the America -- and the Los Angeles -- that received "The Last Time I Saw Paris" back on November 18, 1954.
Don't bother imagining Elizabeth Taylor as an up-and-comer. By the time this Richard Brooks-directed film hit theaters, Taylor had already made a name for herself in 1944's "National Velvet" and 1951's "A Place in the Sun." But that's only part of Taylor's fame. As one of the evening's newsreels will show you, Taylor had also made headlines in the mid-50s for divorcing British actor Michael Wildling and marrying husband No. 3, American producer Mike Todd. He stands out in Liz's gallery of husbands as the one she didn't divorce. Todd -- whose 1956 film, "Around the World in 80 Days" won the Oscar for Best Picture -- died when his plane, Lucky Liz, crashed in New Mexico. By 1959, Taylor would marry Eddie Fisher, the husband of her good friend, Debbie Reynolds.
Beyond pop culture American would also have been talking about Ellis Island, which closed on Nov. 12, 1954, days before the release of "Paris." After opening in 1892 and having subsequently been the first bit of America to be witnessed by more than 12 million immigrants, the tiny island off the coast of New York transformed during World War II into a deportation and detention center. With the release of Norwegian citizen Arne Petersen, the final non-citizen to be processed at the center, Ellis Island would shut its doors until its 1984 reopening as a tourist destination.
Take a Closer Look Back
Think L.A. residents were oblivious to the dangers of smog back in 1950? They weren't. Check out this photo of the 1954 banquet of the Highland Park Optimists Club, courtesy of UCLA Library Special Collections.
(And see more photos of the mid-century smog problems in this previous KCET post.)
On Nov. 11, 1954, Angelenos would have celebrated a precedent-setting Veterans Day: the first ever to recognize those who served in any American war, not just those who served in World War I. Get the full story here.
Gawk at luxury, 1954-style. Curbed Los Angeles offers peeks at recently up-for-sale homes built in back in the day. Check out an "unspoiled" Los Feliz mansion, a Beverly Hills stunner listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and what modern tinkering can do with a 1954 studio.
The year would also prove critical in the hard-fought battle to racially integrate the Los Angeles Fire Department. Check out a detailed breakdown of the process over at LAFire.com.
See a photo of the Hula Hoop's heyday in Pasadena with the Los Angeles Public Library's photo collection focusing on mid-century culture.
Curious about what qualified as scandal, mid-'50s? It's not all that different from what might today. Courtesy of the L.A. Times' Daily Mirror feature, read an of-the-day story that ran under the headline "Wife, 38, Jailed After Shooting of Mate, 20." (And if hungry for more L.A. nostalgia, check out the Daily Mirror's post-Times home here. )
Did you know that "Paris" star Van Johnson made an appearance as himself in a 1955 episode of "I Love Lucy"? He did. And according to his biographer, the one-episode appearance may have "pioneered the cheesy sitcom walk-on." See the clip here.
The night's tune comes courtesy of famed bandleader Lionel Hampton. Have a look here at one of Hampton's better known tracks, the vibraphone-tastic 1954 hit "Flyin' Home," per a 1957 performance.