Lights, Camera, Los Angeles: Film Locations from Deadman’s Curve
By Mark A. Moore, Author of The Jan & Dean Record
In the fall of 1977—41 years ago—production began for Jan & Dean’s film biography Deadman’s Curve, starring Richard Hatch as Jan Berry and Bruce Davison as Dean Torrence.
A ratings blockbuster, the highly fictionalized film debuted on national television on February 3, 1978. The movie’s popularity paved the way for Jan & Dean’s touring reunion in 1978 and 1979.
Here’s a look at some of the shooting locations in and around Los Angeles.
After Dick Clark’s introduction of Jan & Dean in concert, the film opens in 1957 Los Angeles at one of Hollywood’s most famous landmarks. Opened in 1949, Tiny Naylor’s was a classic Googie-style drive-in that sat on the northwest corner of the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and La Brea Avenue. It was a popular stop for celebrities and a hot spot for cruising during Jan Berry’s heyday. While waitresses worked inside, female carhops on roller skates served customers who never had to leave their cars.
When the fictional drag racers in Jan & Dean’s song “Dead Man’s Curve” “flew past La Brea” on Sunset they would have passed Tiny Naylor’s.
Looking northwest on La Brea, the opening scene reveals a lesser landmark that still stands today. The lighted elliptical sign visible behind the car in the background is for Roman’s Liquor (1529 N. La Brea). The rectangular sign above it is for Clancy Muldoon’s Ice Cream (now Mashti Malone’s at 1525 N. La Brea). The lighted shamrock and ice cream cone atop the sign are partially visible in the film.
The car slowly turns right to reveal a nighttime shot of Tiny Naylor’s in all its Googie glory.
The intersection has changed a lot since the movie was shot more than four decades ago. Tiny Naylor’s was demolished in 1984 to make way for newer development. Today the old double-globed lampposts seen on La Brea in the film, to the right of the signs for Clancy Muldoon’s and Roman’s Liquor, are long gone—but the shamrock and ice cream cone remain .
LAS PALMAS THEATRE
The Las Palmas Theatre in Hollywood (1642 N. Las Palmas Ave.) served as the location for a burlesque venue featuring Jennie Lee—a real-life stripper often billed as the “Bazoom Girl” or “Miss Forty-Four and Plenty More.” However, the images of the performer shown on the building’s facade in the film did not feature the real Jennie Lee.
Since Arnie Ginsburg—Jan Berry’s original professional partner—wanted nothing to do with Deadman’s Curve, the filmmakers had to create a fictional Arnie-like character named “Billy” to introduce Jan to the idea of writing a song about Jennie Lee. In reality, the song originated with Ginsburg and was finished with Jan as a co-writer. It became Jan & Arnie’s debut hit single in 1958, reaching #3 on the Cash Box charts, #4 R&B, and #8 Billboard.
While Jan Berry told the story of the stripper to the public media as early as 1965, Arnie Ginsburg continues to deny that the song “Jennie Lee” was written about the burlesque performer.
“Billy” was played by Kelly Ward, who had recently been cast as T-Birds club member Putzie in the film version of the 1950s-era musical Grease. Shooting for Grease had wrapped in September 1977, and Deadman’s Curve was Ward’s next project that fall. Grease hit theaters in June 1978, four months after the national television debut of Deadman’s Curve.
The nearly 8,000-square-foot building that housed the Las Palmas Theatre was built in 1927. It housed a market and several theater incarnations before becoming the Las Palmas Theatre in the 1940s. Today it is home to the Sound Nightclub.
As Jan & Dean (Hatch and Davison) joke with “Billy” in the street in front of the theatre, a blurry image of the First Baptist Church on Selma Avenue at Las Palmas is visible in the left background.
THE WILSHIRE EBELL THEATRE
The interior concert scenes for the film were captured during a three-day shoot at the historic Wilshire Ebell Theatre (4401 W. 8th St., below Wilshire Boulevard). The theatre has been in continuous operation since 1927. In 1937 aviator Amelia Earhart made her last public appearance here before her ill-fated flight around the world. In the 1930s Frances Gumm, who became famous as Judy Garland, was discovered here while performing with her sisters. Jazz legend Dave Brubeck made his debut here in the 1950s. The venue has hosted countless music performances, lectures, and other events for more than 90 years.
In Deadman’s Curve the theatre portrayed Jan & Dean concerts in New York, Dallas, and Los Angeles.
The beach concert segment in the film, during which Jan & Dean perform “Barbara Ann,” was shot near Malibu Pier. The pier is visible in the background. Film extra Diane Osborn, who kisses Jan (Richard Hatch) on the cheek during this segment, began dating Jan Berry during production of the movie. Diane was ten years younger than Jan but became his “significant other” for a brief period. He proposed to her, but the relationship eventually fizzled.
POINT DUME STATE BEACH — MALIBU
The nighttime scenes with fire on the sand were shot at Point Dume State Beach in Malibu. Jan (Richard Hatch) makes time with fictional character “Linda” (Priscilla Cory), to the dismay of his fictional girlfriend “Susie” (Denise DuBarry).
Villa Alambra, a stunning 4,800-square-foot mansion with Spanish architecture, located at 1966 Outpost Circle above Franklin Avenue in Hollywood, served as Jan’s home in the film. His real-life home in Bel Air Knolls, on Park Lane Circle off Mulholland Drive (1965-1973), was only slightly smaller.
PIRU — VENTURA COUNTY
The small town of Piru, in Ventura County, California, just north of the Santa Clara River—about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles—was featured in the scenes depicting Jan & Dean driving in a Sting Ray through an unnamed town toward Dallas, Texas, where they were to perform that night. In reality, Jan & Dean did sometimes drive together between gigs while touring in the Midwest and South.
Note the mountainous terrain in the film. There are no mountains near Dallas, but there are some in West Texas, which would be the most likely location of these fictional scenes. The mountains seen here in the film are the foothills of the Topatopa Mountains in Ventura County.
As Jan & Dean joke over coverage in an entertainment magazine, their car approaches Piru from the southeast on Center Street. The road curves sharply to the left and the car begins crossing the Piru Creek Bridge, also known as the Center Street Bridge, heading west.
Today the historic iron truss bridge is abandoned and closed to traffic. A new bridge that curves around the old one to the north was completed in 1985.
As Jan & Dean drive into own, the view faces east toward the old bridge in the background. The greenish building on the left is 3979 Center Street, now the Piru Lavanderia Laundromat (Lori’s Wash and Dry). A barber shop and the Railway Café are attached next door. The facade of the eastern end, where the truck is parked in the film, has changed since the movie was shot. This is a common occurrence, due to continuing film activity in town.
The railroad tracks crossing Center Street, seen in both views, mark the old Southern Pacific line. In the film, the intersection of Center Street and Piru Square is seen in the right foreground. The modern view was taken at the intersection.
Jan & Dean pull over in front of 3969 Center Street to ask for directions, an effort that is comically unsuccessful. The building currently houses Elva’s Center Market, established in 1988, which has been seen in a number of films and television shows.
Jan & Dean are saved from asking for directions when they’re greeted by fictional deejay Bob “The Jackal” Smith, portrayed by Wolfman Jack.
The building housing shops at 3951 Center Street is visible in the background. The facade on the western end has changed since the film was shot in 1977. This building, with its ever changing storefronts, has appeared in numerous films and television shows.
Wolfman Jack’s character takes Jan & Dean into his radio station for a guest appearance on the air. From the front window of his small studio, with “Pipeline” spinning on the turntable, Smith had seen the duo pull up across the street at 3969.
“Hi, all you sweet darlin’s out there in Sweet Darlin’ Land. I say, you got the Jackal . . . Oowww!! . . . Eeh-eeh-eeh . . . And we cruisin’ down the Cosmic Highway of Togetherness. Oh, my gracious. We got somebody here in the studio you just won’t believe. They sittin’ here in de flesh, in de pink, in de prime time. It’s none other than Jan & Dean!” — Bob Smith, Big X Radio
The end of the building used for the radio station, at 3962 Center Street, sits diagonally across the street from 3969. It is now home to Warring Water Service, Inc., in operation since 1984. Most of the buildings in this downtown area were built between 1927 and 1929.
“Listen, girls. I know you heard of de perfect wave. Well, they lookin’ for de perfect sidewalk . . . Eeh-eeh-eeh . . . And right now, we gonn’ get into these two guys like I was talkin’ about, and we gonn’ feature one of their hit rekkids right now. This is Jan & Dean and ‘Sidewalk Surfin”!” — Bob Smith, Big X Radio
On their way out of town, as “Sidewalk Surfin'” plays in the background, Jan (Hatch) pulls Dean (Davison) on a skateboard behind the Sting Ray. Legendary stuntman Diamond Farnsworth, seen from behind, pulls off the thrilling ride. Fellow stuntman Conrad Palmisano, standing in for Hatch, drives the ‘Vette in the scenes with Farnsworth. It might seem like Jan & Dean are headed out of town toward their concert destination, but they’re actually headed back in the direction they came from—back toward the bridge over Piru Creek.
The skateboard ride begins as a joke-filled lark, as Dean shouts to people lining the street with obscure references to 1936 presidential candidate Alf Landon and former president Herbert Hoover (“a chicken in every pot”). But the ride soon takes a dangerous turn.
As they head eastward on Center Street, they backtrack past 3969 (Elva’s Center Market) and 3979 (Piru Lavanderia Laundromat, Lori’s Wash and Dry).
As Jan & Dean reach the intersection with Orchard Street, two houses are visible on the right. The same two houses still exist today — 4027 Center Street (corner house) and 4023 Center Street (yellow house next door).
Crossing the intersection with Orchard Street, they pass the San Salvador Mission. The old white building seen in the film is long gone, but the church’s cross perched atop a tall frame is visible in both images.
Having passed the Mission, Dean’s skateboard ride approaches its climax on the Piru Creek Bridge.
The western entrance to the bridge is clearly visible in the film, but obscured by overhanging tree branches today. Note that the modern Center Street veers to the left to bypass the historic bridge, which is dead ahead in the modern view. The power line towers on the ridge in the background are visible in both views—40 years apart.
While crossing the bridge, Diamond Farnsworth veers into the path of an oncoming truck hauling automobiles, and narrowly avoids a head-on collision. After reaching the eastern end of the bridge, Jan finally slows down and stops as Dean vaults over the back of the car— none too pleased about his harrowing ride.
Seen from a slightly different angle, the closed eastern end of the Piru Creek Bridge highlights the unchanging nature of the surrounding mountains.
According to Dean Torrence, the fictional skateboard incident portrayed in the film was inspired by a real event.
In 1964 Jan & Dean were passing through Decatur, Illinois, when they pulled into a truck stop to get something to eat.
Some local kids recognized them and somehow brought them to the attention of a local disc jockey. The deejay came in and persuaded the guys to do a gig on the radio. He proclaimed it Jan & Dean Day in Decatur. As a joke, the duo told listeners to come down to Main Street to watch them skateboard out of town.
“We pulled out from the radio station,” Dean told KROQ deejay Rodney Bingenheimer (Rodney on the ROQ). ‘[T]here was a little alley onto Main Street, and my God, there was like 1,500 people. Like a ticker tape parade, hanging out of windows . . . . So we were going down the middle of this main street and everybody had their radios on . . . and we skateboarded out of town.”
Jan was in the car pulling Dean on his board. “Then Jan wouldn’t let me off the skateboard. I mean, he kept going so fast you couldn’t get off.” They finally had to stop at a railroad crossing. “But he melted the wheels on my skateboard and I was pretty pissed off for a while.”
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