Billboard – America’s oldest show business trade paper – gave us the opportunity to observe developments in American entertainment firsthand on a daily basis.

The April 28, 1906 issue headlines blared:

San Francisco Theaters All Go Down In Disaster. Both playhouse districts are wiped out, many companies lose scenery and properties when Earthquake and Fire visit the Metropolis of the great Pacific slope.
San Francisco is a memory.
At five o’clock Wednesday morning, April 18, a terrible earthquake visited the city.

The magnificent St. Francis Hotel which was being greatly enlarged to accommodate its rapidly increasing patronage was shaken by the quake and consumed by the fire. The new Fairmont, on Nob Hill, which would have been most elaborate and, at the same time, the most expensively equipped hostelry in America, was level in the dust.

San Francisco was the gayest city in America but now – all those elegant cafes and elaborate, decorated theaters have been leveled. There is desolation beyond description. Where once the streets were alive with the gayest of the gay crowds, they are now buried beneath piles of smoke blackened masonry. All, all is gone…

But San Francisco, like another Phoenix, will rise from the ashes. She will be greater, more beautiful and more worthy of admiration than ever.

A YOUNG MAN LIVING IN SAN FRANCISCO HAD DRESSES FOR SALE. ONE DRESS IN PARTICULAR IS HISTORIC. WORN BY THE FIRST QUEEN OF THE BARBARY COAST. MARY BLAKE.

Jeanette (Mary), dressed in chiffon over satin with embroidered design done in sequins, beads and marabou feathers – sang “San Francisco” at the Chicken’s Ball – bringing the house down along with the entire city. The movie was made at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios. The storage vaults of MGM opened to public sale and the garments that once clung to ‘heavenly bodies’ were sold. Bill Smith, idealistic and knightly, rescued the gowns for sale.

Bill left the lot with the San Francisco dress, among others. It was in that dress (in the film) on April 18, 1906 at The Chicken’s Ball that Jeanette won first prize representing the Paradise Club, singing “San Francisco”.

HOWEVER, LET’S RETURN TO 1935 AND MGM BUSTLING WITH ACTIVITY. GABLE IN THE COMMISSARY, TRACY ON A SOUND STAGE AND A REDHEAD RUSHING TO WARDROBE.

Bob Hopkins yells to her, “Hi, sweetheart,” he calls to Jeanette. “Look, I got an idea for a smash that’s right up your alley. It’s terrific. It’s got an earthquake in it. Listen.” And he told her the story of San Francisco. The leading character was inspired by a young dandy in silk hat, white tie and tails, who gambled with rich suckers for big stakes. Jeanette liked the story. “Your leading man” she said, “sounds like Gable. We can’t get him. He’s tied up with a couple of other pictures. It’s got to be Gable. Nobody else can do it as well.”

The song “San Francisco” was selected by a competition among composers under contract at MGM and won by Bronislaw Kaper, who had just arrived from Yugoslavia, spoke little English, and had never seen San Francisco. His tune so characterized the brisk spirit of San Francisco that it was adopted as a theme song by the city itself.

In time another song, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco”, came along that captured the public’s imagination but not its spirit … and again, came another Earthquake in 1989.





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