with Alicia Mayer

The Belousoffs: The Luckiest or Unluckiest Couple? Just ask Howard Hughes and Bugsy Siegel.

Yesterday, while reading letters and other paperwork my grandmother Mitzi Cummings Fielding set aside in one large envelope in the 1970s, I followed a trail that led me to a wealthy couple from Los Angeles who were either jinxed or blessed, I’m not sure which.

One of the items in the envelope was a delightful 4-page report by a Mrs. Anna Belousoff dated April 5, 1948 about the huge groundbreaking ceremony for the Mary Pickford Building, a project spearheaded for the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aged by my great-grandmother Ida Mayer Cummings, Mary Pickford, Louis B. Mayer, and a handful of others.

Mrs. Belousoff glowed about those assembled, including Samuel Goldwyn, Mayor Fletcher Bowron, Monsignor Father Martin Keating, Mr. Samuel Rubenstein of Post 192 of the Jewish War Veterans, Rabbi S. M. Neches, Jane Powell, Mrs. Florence Irish, Atwater Kent, Kay Keiser, Buddy Rogers, and other luminaries.

Naturally, I was curious as to who Anna Belousoff was, as Ida’s ‘Auxiliary’ committee included the who’s who of L.A.’s Jewish community.

And that’s when it got very interesting…

Ida + Atwater Kent + Kay Kyser 1948 watermark

My great-grandmother Ida Mayer Cummings with inventor and philanthropist Atwater Kent and bandleader Kay Kyser at the dinner following the groundbreaking ceremony for the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aged, Mary Pickford Building. 1948.

It turns out that Anna’s husband, Martin Belousoff, owned the building at 8024 Sunset Boulevard, which housed the famous Schwab’s Pharmacy (always known as ‘Schwab’s drugstore’), which like most pharmacies of the day also had a soda fountain and served light meals.

There’s a persistent rumour that Lana Turner was discovered there but evidently this not so. Still, it was the drugstore of the stars, and for decades. According to the website filmsofthegoldenage.com:

“In the ’30s and ’40s you could spot Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Orson Welles, Ida Lupino, the Marx and Ritz Brothers, Marilyn Monroe, and Ronald Reagan rubbing shoulders with the rabble here. Chaplin and Harold Lloyd came to play the pinball machines… Struggling young performers could always drop in for a free meal. One of them, Ava Gardner, landed a job behind the soda fountain while waiting for her big break.”

Schwab's Pharmacy 1945

A man hails a cab in front of the famous Schwab’s Pharmacy, founded by the Schwab brothers in 1932. It was located at 8024 Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, a building owned by Martin Belousoff.

Sidney Skolsky, a syndicated Hollywood gossip columnist for the New York Daily News, used the drugstore as his office. His column in Photoplay was hilariously called ‘From A Stool At Schwab’s’.

Later, in the 70s, Schwab’s hosted a new generation of celebrities. Again from filmsofthegoldenage.com:

“Schwab’s was frequented by music-biz types like Cher and Linda Ronstadt. Ronstadt was usually accompanied by her then-boyfriend, California Governor Jerry Brown, and she always picked up the check.”

The Belousoff’s lived at 808 N. Linden Drive in Beverly Hills and twice, within just a few months, they would be feet away from shocking, violent events reported around the world.

In the early 1940s, millionaire Howard Hughes began designing the Hughes XF-11, a reconnaissance airplane to be built by Hughes Aircraft for the United States Air Force. Although 100 were ordered, only two were ever made.

On July 7, 1946, Hughes took one of the FX-11 prototypes for a test flight but the aircraft ran out of oil and he crashed right across from Martin and Anna Belousoff’s home. They were very lucky. The crash and subsequent fire destroyed three houses, but amazingly, no one was killed, though Hughes was very badly injured.

Howard Hughes crashI can just imagine the Belousoff’s hearing the horrific sounds, running to their front door, and opening it to a scene of utter destruction, with wreckage and flames everywhere. Then, for weeks, the neighborhood would have crawled with investigators, photographers, journalists, and Hughes Aircraft personnel.

Months later, with the major signs of the crash carted off and rebuilding underway, unbeknownst to the Belousoff’s, their next door neighbor Virginia Hill began dating mobster Bugsy Siegel.

But Martin Belousoff had sensed something was amiss. Over a few months he had noticed a small sedan parked across the street and would later tell detectives:

“There was a man in it, dressed in working clothes. He would park there all day sometimes, and often stayed there until very late at night.”

More than likely, Belousoff was observing one of Siegel’s heavies keeping watch out on the street.

At about 10:45pm on June 20, 1947, while Bugsy Siegel sat reading a newspaper in the living room, a gunman positioned himself in the Belousoff driveway and fired a volley of bullets from a .45 machine gun. Siegel was killed instantly.

Bugsy Siegel headlineAside from enduring the disruption of another set of investigators, photographers, and journalists, the Belousoffs must have been shocked to imagine a cold-blooded assassin just feet away from their bedroom window.

Just ten months later the star-studded Mary Pickford event was held… Considering Mrs. Belousoff’s proclivity for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Ida and her fellow committee members would have been forgiven for crossing their fingers that a meteor didn’t choose that moment to fall from the sky!

Postscript:

Both Anna and Martin Belousoff died age 61 in April — Martin on April 18, 1951, and Anna on April 17, 1957. May their memories be a blessing.

Schwab’s closed in October 1983. A few years later a mall was built on the site centering around Virgin Records, which was then shuttered in 2008.

Copyright 2018 Alicia Mayer. All rights reserved.
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