By MICHAEL OLDHAM | Special to the Palisadian-Post
Actor Francis X. Bushman had a name that was easy to remember.
Today, the actor is forgotten, despite a movie career that lasted over five decades. He was around when Hollywood films were just beginning to be shown on the big-screen, having played a part in a 1911 film called “Bill Bumper’s Bargain.”
The brown-haired, blue-eyed actor had a long life, as well. Bushman was born in Maryland in 1883 and would die, after a fall, at his home in Castellammare in 1966.
If nothing else, Bushman had a full life. In youth, the boy, whose father wanted him to become a doctor, enjoyed wrestling, bicycle racing and modeling for artists, due to his chiseled looks. In adulthood, he married four times and divorced twice. During his marriage to Norma Atkin—his third wife—Bushman landed in Pacific Palisades.
By the time Bushman arrived in the Palisades in the early 1940s, his high mark in Hollywood was long past. The man with a sculpted-looking physique, who had once been popularly known as “King of the Movies,” was a has-been actor when he moved into a house on Hartzell Street in the Alphabet Streets.
Film historian Anthony Slide wrote that Bushman is “best remembered, when one thinks about it, for only one film, ‘Ben-Hur,’ released in 1926.” Slide, the author of “Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses,” added that MGM’s “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” “really played a pivotal role in the actor’s career, which, truth be told, was virtually over after 1918. ‘Ben-Hur’ brought Bushman back to stardom with his role as Messala.”
But Slide concluded that an argument with MGM’s Studio Chief Louis B. Mayer spelled the end of Bushman’s days as a major star.
During the 1930s, five-foot, 11-inch Bushman played in only a handful of films, which were B-pictures and serials. When he moved to the Palisades, Bushman was playing in such forgettable movies as “Mr. Celebrity of 1941” and “Silver Queen of 1942.”
Bushman continued to make a living with film, radio and TV work throughout the 25-odd years he spent in the Palisades, until his death at his second and final Palisadian home on Posetano Road at the age of 83.
The story of Bushman’s life while living at his two Palisades homes was condensed for the Palisadian-Post by Debra and Lon Davis, husband and wife and co-authors of “King of the Movies: Francis X. Bushman,” published in 2009.
“In 1940, Bushman had thought of retiring from show business,” the Davises explained. “He and his wife, Norma, lived in Chicago at the time, but she convinced him to move to California. They wanted to live near the beach and found a modest vine-covered cottage in Pacific Palisades at 740 Hartzell St. for $2,700.”
Bushman’s Alphabet Streets home has since been leveled.
The co-authors told of hobbies Bushman and his wife took part in while living on Hartzell.
“They enjoyed walks along the beach and tending a little garden. According to Norma, there was a vast population of birds flitting about outside, which they both enjoyed. Inside they had but one canary.”
The death of Norma would end the couple’s blissful times on Hartzell, and Bushman took it hard.
“After she died, he was extremely depressed,” the Davises stated, “thinking that he would quit show business.” But soon after Norma’s passing, Bushman would meet his future wife, a Palisadian neighbor and “little powerhouse” named Iva Richardson. And “she encouraged him to get back to work.”
The Davises told of how this Palisadian love story took place.
“Norma passed away in 1956, and it was shortly after that time he met his next wife, Iva, who lived two doors down. He courted her by leaving beefsteak tomatoes on her front porch. After marrying later that year, they both sold their houses and bought a spacious home for $38,000 at 17500 Posetano,” the Davises explained, adding, “They loved this home.”
And Bushman’s fourth wife very much loved him. The co-authors interviewed Iva inside her own Alphabets Streets house, years after Bushman’s passing.
“She was his biggest champion, spoke glowingly of her charismatic husband and lovingly spent hours relating to us stories of his life,” the authors explained. “Iva told us all the particulars of his life in the Palisades, as well as stories of earlier times.”
The Davises summed up their thoughts about Bushman: “He was always on the go, wanting to live life to the fullest, charming people at every turn.”
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.
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