By MICHAEL OLDHAM | Special to the Palisadian-Post
Before there was Palisades Charter High School, there was All Hallows Farm. Michael Oldham reveals the Palisadian stars who enjoyed life on the farm, complete with bulls, in the decades before the pastures grew into the school.
Silent movie star Francis X. Bushman moved into Pacific Palisades in the early 1940s, buying a modest, vine-covered cottage on Hartzell Street. Several years before the famous “Ben-Hur” actor had his curtains measured for his Alphabet Streets home, his daughter had already built a house with her husband in the Palisades.
Virginia Bushman and Hugh Ryan “Jack” Conway hired architect Allen George Siple to design them a house in the late 1930s. Their Early American home would sit on 125 acres of land and carry an address of 15600 West Sunset Blvd. The Temescal Canyon property was called “All Hallow Farms,” and the couple would live there for nearly two decades.
Besides the Palisades, Virginia and Conway both shared something else with her famous movie star father, Francis: Hollywood.
Conway began his Hollywood career as both an actor and director. He starred in and co-directed one of the earliest movies ever filmed in Hollywood, “Her Indian Hero of 1912.”
But Conway is most famous for his work behind the camera. Early in his career, he worked for Universal Pictures. There, he directed himself along with actresses Ella Hall and Gertrude Astor in a 1917 Universal film “The Little Orphan.”
Conway, usually seen in photographs dapperly dressed and on rare occasions holding a cigarette, is most associated for his longtime service at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, where he directed films from 1925 until 1948. His no-nonsense style served him well directing such films as “Boom Town,” the 1940 adventure movie starring Clark Gable.
While Conway may have not been a creative genius when directing, the Minnesota-born studio man did film the Charles Dickens classic, “A Tale of Two Cities.” The 1935 film is Conway’s signature screen product.
Like her father, Maryland-born Virginia was an actress during the silent film-era, though her acting career was brief. In the mid-1920s, she had a couple of uncredited roles and a part in a short film called “Playing the Swell,” a film Francis had a part in. The 1926 short was released the same year the wavy-haired Virginia would marry for the first time.
The beautiful actress and Conway were married at the groom’s Los Angeles home on Sept. 21, 1926. On Oct. 3 of that year, the Detroit Free Press printed an announcement of the nuptials of this Hollywood couple.
“Wedding bells rang prematurely for Virginia Bushman, 20-year-old daughter of Francis X. Bushman, widely known for his early work in motion pictures, and Jack Conway, director for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The couple surprised their friends by their quiet marriage at Conway’s home. They are spending their honeymoon at Pebble Beach. Only a few intimate friends and members of the bride’s family were present at the wedding ceremony. The engagement of Conway and Miss Bushman was announced several weeks ago, but their sudden marriage was a surprise to their many friends. The decision not to wait was based on studio production plans permitting Conway a brief vacation before he begins direction of his next picture.”
Conway was 20 years Virginia’s senior and already a veteran of marital life, as his marriage to Virginia was his second trip to the alter. He had previously wed another actress, Viola Barry, an early silent film star, in 1911. Conway and Barry had a daughter and divorced in 1918 when his directing skills were picking up speed and Barry’s acting career had already come to a close.
Virginia’s movie days were ended with her marriage to Conway. Instead of the screen, she chose to settle into home life.
As newlyweds, Virginia and Conway would share his Los Angeles home. But they would soon depart to live in Beverly Hills, staying on Schuyler Road into the 1930s. Yet, the Palisades were calling, and by the late 1930s, Conway and Virginia had settled into All Hallows Farm.
Little can be gathered about the couple’s home and Palisadian farm life, but in 1943, they were photographed with their two champion bulls were enjoying a kiss from each other. By then, the couple had sold off some land to the Pacific Palisades Woman’s Club. The sale took place in 1942 and the PPWC would eventually build a clubhouse on the land.
Virginia and Conway raised their two sons, Michael and Patrick, on All Hallows Farm. The kids had plenty of acres to run around on while growing up. Patrick would eventually follow his parents into Hollywood, as an actor.
If anybody ever paid a visit to All Hallows Farm, among them might have been Conway’s close Hollywood friends, such as MGM executive Edward J. Mannix. Another friend of Conway’s was versatile actor Leo Carrillo, who might have moseyed on over to the farm from his nearby rancho in Santa Monica Canyon. The Spanish-born actor was a significant conservationist, helping the state buy Hearst Castle and celebrated every time you visit Leo Carrillo beach on the other side of Malibu.
Conway died at home on All Hallows Farm of a pulmonary infection on Oct. 11, 1952. He was 65 years old.
His friend, legendary leading man actor Spencer Tracy gave the eulogy. And per a Los Angeles Times issue from Oct. 16, 1952, Tracy’s eulogy included some tender words.
“We’re the losers,” Tracy said. “We, his friends and colleagues … we, in this moment, feel a sudden emptiness. Long before most of us ever heard of a place called Hollywood, Jack was here young, quick-moving, quick-thinking realizing this was the horizon he sought from which he could send forth bright light into a world always running from darkness. We would never have heard of a place called Hollywood if it were not for the Jack Conways. Few paralleled his achievements.”
The Palisades remembered Conway by naming a street after him—Jacon Way. And Hollywood remembered him: Conway earned a star along the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his accomplished career in motion pictures.
By the mid-1950s, Virginia had remarried and moved away from All Hallows Farm. She passed away in Banning, California in 2001 at the age of 94.
Next month: All Hallows Farm Part 2: Newlyweds Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds move onto the farm.
Michael Oldham, co-author of “Movie Star Homes: The Famous to the Forgotten” and author of the novel “The Valentino Formula,” can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.