Setting the Stage in Los Angeles

Children who worked as actors were often thrust into their role by parents who included them in their own stage acts, or who saw their child as a means of earning a living. Often this occurred at a very young age, just two or three years old. As formal schooling was not required at that age, no thought was given to providing a formal education as the child matured and continued to work. The child grew up, and if lucky, crafted a living out of show business while doing his or her learning in the theaters and on the road by observing adults. There were usually few contacts with children not in show business, and play and peer group interaction was not part of their experience.

Although our Hollywood story starts with Professional Children’s School, the story of schooling show business youngsters starts with another school by the same name in 1913 New York. Today, the well-known and respected Professional Children’s School in Manhattan tells the story of its origins on its website.

As the New York Professional Children’s School history indicates, the silent movie industry was moving west — settling in Los Angeles. Selig Motion Picture Studio started the ball rolling with a studio at 7th and Olive in downtown Los Angeles in the spring of 1908, and others soon followed. Although Los Angeles had an established public school system that was very impressive, it required attendance and was not flexible to work around studio shooting schedules. The studios were cost driven and children as well as adult actors were expected to be there working whenever they were needed. Attempting to attend school with this pressure was impossible and impractical, as an actor absent from the set would be replaced by one who was available — end of career — end of income for the parents.

Whether there were other schools that formed to address the problem of educating child performers in Los Angeles in those early days, your writer does not yet know. However, one very famous school did rise up to meet the need: the Hollywood Conservatory of Music and Arts.

Gladys T. Littell was a graduate of the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and Arts. She taught piano there and later at the Rector Institute of Music Study. An ad that she took out on September 21, 1920 shows that she was offering piano and harmony lessons at 5444 Hollywood Boulevard (although she lived at 850 South Alvarado, where she also maintained a studio). For the next several years she was the Music Department Director at the Page School for Girls at 4511 Pasadena Avenue (corner of 45th Street) in Los Angeles. On August 21, 1921 Mrs. Littell filed a Certificate of Fictitious Name with the County of Los Angeles: “Hollywood Conservatory of Music and Arts.” She listed her residence at 850 South Alvarado. At the time it was said that she founded the school of music with a large unit of her own piano pupils, adding department after department as the work grew. The school was located at first in the same location as her piano studio, 5444 Hollywood Boulevard. By 1927, the Los Angeles City Directory shows that the school had moved to the location it retained until it closed in 1985, on the corner of Serrano in that same Hollywood Boulevard block; 5400 Hollywood Boulevard. Although the official name of the school remained the Hollywood Conservatory of Music and Arts, it did business for most of its years as the Hollywood Professional School, through Mrs. Littell’s directorship and after it was sold to Bertha Mann in 1944.

Hollywood Professional School under both Mrs. Littell and Mrs. Mann seems to have followed the scheduling introduced in the New York Professional Children’s School, with morning classes only and time in the afternoon for rehearsals, auditions and studio work. If a student was involved with a production, whether movie, sport, or theater, accommodations were made.

I might note in passing that the Conservatory also had a branch in the San Fernando Valley, at least in 1925 through 1927 with Hazel C. Penny as Director. At first it was located at 312 1/2 Sherman Way, Van Nuys. Later it was listed at 6324 Van Nuys Boulevard, Van Nuys. Although I have not researched it, these may be the same location, as part of Van Nuys Blvd. was once known as Sherman Way. My guess is that this was a small operation where music lessons were given.

Gladys T. Littell was married to Francis M. Littell, an ironworker. Their daughter, Loretta, married E. Milton Hagener in June 1930. Gladys died on July 15, 1977 in Los Angeles at the age of 84. Her personal papers are in the Gladys T. Littell Collection at the Frances Howard Goldwyn Hollywood Regional Library, Special Collections Room, 1623 North Ivar Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90028.

Bertha Mann owned the Hollywood Professional School until her death in October, 1984. Her family ran the school thereafter until it closed in 1985. Captain Larry Stuppy began helping Mrs. Mann when he returned from Viet Nam in April 1972. He served as director, and later as principal of the school until the summer of 1984 when he left Hollywood Professional School to work as an airline pilot.

Your writer has found many stories purported to be early incidents at Hollywood Professional School, but which in fact did not occur there. There was fierce competition between schools vying for the child performer, and often the same actor or actress attended many schools, moving freely from one to the other. With each move the new school would claim credit for attendance. The alumni list on this website is no exception, with dates of attendance indicated when known for clarification.

 

Next, read about The Professional Children’s School.