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Hollywood Professional School



The Hollywood Conservatory of Music and Arts opened its doors at 5400 Hollywood Boulevard at Serrano Avenue with a recital on November 17, 1925. The newspapers were impressed with the professional credentials of the faculty performing, including violinist Mme. Lizette Kalova, actor Arthur Kachel, pianists Phillip Tronitz, Alexander Kosloff and Frances Mae Martin.

The new school building was described by the Los Angeles Times as: "equipped with a good-sized recital hall, lecture halls, and ten studio rooms tastefully finished in grayish blue and ivory. [Now we know why we had such a great auditorium with a properly high stage for our Aud Calls!] Of interest also, in connection with the opening of the studios, was the display of work by Harold Swartz, sculptor, this exhibit being arranged by Lee O'Neill who is a teacher of painting at the school. Gladys T. Littell is the director of the conservatory."

Conservatory of Music Building

The school was thriving by 1930. Mrs. Littell had assembled a stellar roster of instructors, most of whom gave frequent recitals. The rehearsal halls were just that and the auditorium was fine for concerts by students, but the more advanced and their instructors performed at larger venues. The Conservatory presented a recital of "advanced students from the various departments" on August 9, 1930 including Cyrus N. Robinson III, who performed "I Love Thee" by Edvard Grieg and "By the Bend of the River" by Edwards. Tudor Williams, Mr. Robinson's instructor, hailed from Wales and was a soloist at the Pasadena Presbyterian church, the B'nai B'rith Temple, performed at the Hollywood Bowl as a soloist with both the Bowl orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also sang in films for MGM, Paramount, First National and Paramount.

Hollywood Conservatory building at 

As you can see above, the original school sign was lit with neon. The holes for the tubes remained until the end, despite the sign being repainted to read "Hollywood Professional School."

Mrs. Littell served as secretary of the California Music Teachers' association, Los Angeles branch. On September 5, 1930, she presented a concert of Russian music at the Conservatory's auditorium. "Mme. Elizabeth Ivanova, formerly of the Imperial Opera in St. Petersburg, was joined by Feodore Gontzoff, baritone of the Russian Opera in Moscow, and Alexander Kosloff, Russian pianist and Alexander Borisoff, cellist." The emsemble performed works by Russian composers in the Russian language.

Conservatory of Music Brochure

An undated brochure lists the Conservatory at 5444 Hollywood Boulevard (Near Western Avenue) and a page is devoted to "Gladys T. Littell, Founder and Director--The ideal of the founder has been to provide not only opportunity for thorough training and development of every branch of music and art, but whose instruction and influence would be such as to inspire the student with the highest motives, developing a love and appreciation for all that is beautiful. The remarkable success of the school is due largely to its recognition of music as an important factor in the development of American ideals.

The school offered the following courses of study: "A musical education consists of more than mere proficiency in performing. A thorough knowledge of the theoretic and historic branches of music study is essential. Courses have been planned for the artist, teacher or amateur student. A definite course of study, carefully selected from the entire realm of music and literature insures a standard of excellence in every department. These courses are designed to develop interpretation and artistry rather than mere technique."

Littell photo from the Conservatory brochure

No previous study was required for the applied courses. Prerequisite courses were required for classes in Harmony, Composition, Counterpoint, Ear Training, or Music Appreciation. Recitals were a continuing part of the courses. The school year was divided into four terms of ten weeks each. A Publicity Department was available to issue releases to newspapers and magazines and set up recital programs for "clubs, lyceums and chautauquas." Tuition varied on the choice of course of study and the faculty involved.

Faculty included Norwegian concert pianist Phillip Tronitz, head of the Piano Department. Russian concert violinist Lizeta Kalova was head of the Violin Department. Hugo Kirchhofer came from Hollywood High, where he was head of the music department for a decade, and he was head of the Vocal Department. Arthur B. Kachel was head of the Dramatic Department. Russian symphony conductor Modest Altschuler was head of the Ensemble Department, which put together students of all musical instruments. German music and art historian Bruno David Ussher provided Musically Illustrated Lectures. Francis Kendig, Music Critic of the Los Angeles Times taught Music Appreciation, Harmony, Pipe Organ and Piano. Hazel C. Penny taught Expression and Public Speaking.

The brochure makes it sound as if the school also taught college preparatory courses and encouraged its students to go on to higher education, but the teachers or classes offered are not listed in the brochure. The style and manner of dress in the photos (see Gladys Littell photo above) seem to indicate this brochure dated from the 1920s. Also, the use of the 5444 address would seem to predate the founding of the Conservatory in the building later used for the school. It is also probable that the academic section of the school headed by Viola Lawlor was the source of the academic side of things. Also, the 5444 Hollywood Blvd. address is the one Mrs. Littell used for her early instruction in music, and it predates the construction of what would become the main school building. A mortuary was located at 5440, but moved in 1930.

Conservatory of Music 1930

By 1930, the school was doing well enough that the Hollywood News article (above) stated that "The growth of the Hollywood Conservatory of Music...has necessitated the addition of a building which will be used as a dormitory for resident girls and women. Reading from left to right is the main building and auditorium structure (note the fancy roof decoration which would disappear in later years]; to the right is the recently acquired resident apartment; right, below is the annex, used as dormitory and dining room. Center below, Gladys T. Littell, founder and director, Hollywood Conservatory of Music.

The "dormitory" doesn't seem to be adjacent to the school building, but could have been. The annex was a house down Serrano from the main building. Mrs. Mann, who bought the school in 1944, was a savvy property buyer and owner, but no records show the dormitory building as being part of the school by then, and it had probably been razed. Gladys Littell taught piano and harmony and had been doing so nearby when the new Conservatory opened. She is generally given credit for starting Hollywood Professional School, which always operated legally under the name of the Hollywood Conservatory of Music and Arts, though after Bertha Keller Mann bought the school in 1944, it eventually ceased teaching the arts or music.

Gladys Littell

Even Gladys Littell's personal papers, which only cover the period until 1942, give no hint as to why the ambitious music and arts program was dropped from the school's curriculum. One wonders what she felt, presiding over a school which was so far from her original thriving academy. She served as director for many years after the music and arts instruction ceased (and before Bertha Mann bought the school), which would seem to be contradictory to who Gladys Littell was and what she had originally founded. In the final Hollywood Professional School yearbook of 1985, the beginning of the school is listed as being in 1922, but there is no record of the name Hollywood Conservatory of Music and Arts, Professional Children's School or Hollywood Professional School in the Los Angeles City directories for any years prior to 1928.

Viola Foss Lawlor seems to have been the one who set up the academic part of the Conservatory. The Professional Children's School is listed at 5402 Hollywood Boulevard-and you wondered why there were three doorways in the building-and in a permit issued in 1928, Viola Foss Lawlor, May B. Ely and John J. Lawlor were listed as officers operating the Professional Children's School, capitalized at $25,000. In later listings, May Ely and Lawlor are listed as directors.

In Alan Simon's fine history of Viola Lawlor's career as an educator and the schools she founded, he relates that the school changed its name in 1930 to the Lawlor Professional School, and then that school and Mrs. Lawlor moved away from the building at Hollywood and Serrano in 1935. Her obituary in 1970 said that she had been a singer in touring musical shows, performing as Viola Giles Foss.

In the August 28, 1927 issue of the Los Angeles Times, we get the first glimpse into the academic side of the Conservatory: "Two years ago, Mrs. Viola Lawlor, considering the need for a school for professional children, started the Hollywood Professional Children's School [which would seem to make the 1925 date the accurate one]. This year, additional space and more teachers have been added to accommodate the enrollment. The reasons for this success are said to be individual instruction, assuring rapid advancement, tuition fees within the reach of every one and half-day sessions. The school is being recommended by music and dancing teachers because their pupils have the entire afternoon in which to do their practicing. Mrs. Lawlor is assisted by May Ely, who has full charge of the instruction." Enrollment that year took place between September 6 and 10, at 5402 and personalized courses of instruction were promised for each student. All grades were taught, kindergarten through high school.

In 1927, Viola's daughter Muriel hosted a party at the "Professional Children's School" in 1927 for a classmate who was going into a play in New York, and it is mentioned that Muriel had attended the New York Professional Children's School as well as the unrelated one in Hollywood. The Hollywood school (and the Conservatory) had been established as the motion picture industry moved west after its beginnings in the East.

An ad for the Professional Children's School in 1928 calls it "the only school of its kind in the West."

In August 1928, Mrs. Lawlor is quoted as saying she established the school "four years ago," thus muddying the founding date even further. The school was growing, in any event, with more teachers and space added. One wonders what was happening to all the blue and ivory rehearsal halls with the academic arm of the Conservatory thriving.

Talent of all kinds was in demand, and motion pictures had begun with children in them, and that didn't change. Those children needed to be educated, and the West-Coast version of New York Professional Children's School (established in 1913) was the answer. The school was run on the same basis as its New York counterpart-school in the morning and time for auditions, recitals, performances and work in the afternoon. The film studios didn't have teachers on the lots in those early years, and since children were only allowed to work half days, a half-day school made perfect sense.

The long-held story that Louis B. Mayer was instrumental in the beginning of Hollywood Professional School to provide education for Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney is absolutely untrue, as illustrated by all the published articles relating to both the school and the founders, Gladys Littell and Viola Lawlor. Hopefully, this will put that story to rest forever.

Gladys T. Littell, c. 1948

Gladys T. Littell continued to run the Conservatory and the school, with several other people listed as directors over the years, including Marie Hagener in 1934, and Milton Hagener in 1941. In 1933, Gladys Littell announced she was recruiting music and arts students for her "thirteenth season," leaving some doubt as to whether she's referring to her professional coaching or the Conservatory. The facilities at the school reportedly contained "three recital halls--providing ample opportunity for the public appearances of students, as well as offering suitable auditoriums for artists' recitals and concert events." Mrs. Littell supervised each student personally, and the staff lists teachers of dance, conducting, stage direction, voice, piano, orchestra and band instruments and violin.

Mrs. Littell also served as program chair of the Hollywood Bowl Easter sunrise service committee for many years, beginning in 1935. She was responsible for the pre-service pageant to entertain people who arrived early for the services.

The venues for HPS events changed over the years. For the early years, graduations were held in the 5400 building's auditorium. This continued at least as late as 1947. The graduation photo for the class of 1953 seems to show a different venue, one with a large arched window. The senior dinner was held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Mann as early as 1954, and in that year the senior prom was held at the Beverly Hills Hotel, as it was in the 1960s. The 1953 annual dinner was held at the Luau Restaurant in Beverly Hills, which was owned by Lana Turner and husband Steve Crane. By 1960, The Sportsman's Lodge was the spot for that event (the Luau was closed in 1979). A senior breakfast was held at the Bel Air Hotel in 1954. By 1960, that event was moved to the Starlight Roof of the Beverly Hilton Hotel. There were many rumors over the years that the building housing HPS had once been a mortuary with Queenie Smith's "sunken" drama classroom the crematory, but that isn't true. From newspaper accounts, it's clear the building was built for the Conservatory. But there was a mortuary on the block, the Le Roy Bagley Funeral Parlor (and Private Ambulance) at 5440 Hollywood Boulevard. It was established about the same time as the Conservatory and occupied the premises down the block until 1930 when it moved to a towered, crenellated castle-like building at 5961 Santa Monica Boulevard at Tamarind Avenue.

Keller Mann, c. 1945

There was a saying in 1960 that "old teachers never retire, they go to HPS," referring to the fact that most of the teachers at that time were well past retirement age and we always had the feeling that they had retired from the public schools and then came to ours. That's not strictly true, as an alumni reports that Mary Anderssen, Daisy Doss and Jesse Snell were teaching at HPS in 1947-1948, which means they were hired on ability in their prime teaching years. Considering the ability of these three, even in 1960, that isn't so surprising.

We don't know the reason, but the school was sold in 1944 to Maurice and Bertha Keller Mann. The teaching of the musical arts, painting and stage direction had long ceased by 1948. Gladys Littell was still listed as director in 1948-49, and Mrs. Mann was counselor in 1948 and assistant director in 1949. Harriet Sommers Cadish became executive secretary in 1949. Mary Anderssen was listed as principal as early as 1948. Though he isn't listed in the 1948 commencement programs (commencement was held in the second-floor auditorium in the 1940s), Gladys's husband worked around the school as well.

Bertha Keller Mann, c. 1950

After the departure of the Littells, Mr. Mann became titular head of the school, though his function was administrative and advisory. He had no experience in education. He was born in 1899 and was a native of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, lived in Chicago for a number of years, and moved to Los Angeles in 1924. He was an executive of the Adam Hat Company, a national chain. He was a member of the Del Rey Yacht Club, Los Angeles Athletic Club and the Riviera Country Club. He passed away in October 1968, his funeral was held on October 31 in the chapel of Hillside Memorial Park.

Bertha Keller Mann was the driving force behind Hollywood Professional School for most of its life. She brought formidable credentials to the enterprise. She was born September 8, 1899, in Chicago, Illinois, daughter of Joseph and Fannie Kestlinger Keller.

Joseph was a subdivider of Los Angeles, and trained his daughter well in the value of land. Bertha Keller was educated in public school, a graduate of Chicago Music College [perhaps the music education didn't cease after all], and did post-graduate work at Northwestern University and UCLA. She married Maurice Mann June 6, 1926 in Los Angeles.

Music, dance and art were still supposedly on the curriculum in this ad from 1960, but they weren't available, to my knowledge, when I started there in January of that year, except on the most primitive level for the very young kids. In 1948, the only piano at the school was the upright in the auditorium, so it is obvious that all formal instruction in the arts had ceased more than twelve years before.

Mrs. Mann was director of Yosemite Summer Camp in 1924, teacher-registrar from 1924-1944 at Urban Military Academy and principal the last two years there. [The school was in Hollywood at Melrose Avenue at Wilcox, and had its share of celebrities. It was also founded by a woman, Mary McDonnell.] Bertha Mann also taught at the Beverly Hills and Burbank public schools, as well as the Sara Dix Hamlin School in San Francisco (the oldest girls school in California). She became a director and principal of the operation at 5440 in 1944, which at the time included the Hollywood Conservatory of Music and Arts, Hollywood Professional School and Hollywoodland Camp. Her biography in 1951 in Who's Who in Southern California states that the Hollywood Conservatory of Music and Arts was founded in 1925.

She is listed as having won 2nd place in the city championship in tennis in 1917 in Chicago, belonged to Phi Gamma, served as institutional representative for the Boy Scouts of America, belonged to the Inter Nous Society of Chicago, and was a member of the Hollywood Athletic Club. She listed her hobbies as: collecting books, music, art, interior decoration, exploring California, horseback riding, swimming, tennis, golf, archery and dancing. She and Mr. Mann resided at 2910 Durand Drive in Hollywoodland, the site of so many Senior Dinners, and her phone number (in 1951) was GRanite 6011. The home is over 3,000 sq. ft. in two stories, with 4 bedrooms and 3 baths. A swiming pool clung to the side of the hill. In the 1938 directories, Mr. and Mrs. Mann were listed as living at 1212 Hayworth Avenue (a large duplex), so they evidently bought the Hollywoodland home between then and 1951.

Her office is listed as 5400-5406 Hollywood Boulevard, and the school's telephone number was HIllside 9922. Later ads list the school phone numbers as HOllywood 4-9923 and 4-9922. In 1952, Mrs. Mann is to be found in a huge ad endorsing Paper-Mate pens. "Teachers-Educators Approve Paper-Mate Pen!, the ad screams. She is pictured alongside a dozen other teachers.

Anderssen, c. 1945

What the biography doesn't say is something we always heard around the school--that she and Mr. Mann couldn't have children, and finally adopted Joel Benjamin Mann, born July 11, 1944. He was the apple of their eye and his tragic early death in a car crash on October 17, 1971 soon after Mr. Mann's death in 1968, evidently led Mrs. Mann to continue running HPS in Joey's memory. His and Mr. Mann's portraits always hung in the office.

So we come to 1960. The building was a little seedy, only one door to the street was in use, the paint had been layered too many times on the walls, but for the price ($300 per semester vs. $1,500 per semester at Marlborough, one of the top private schools in Hancock Park) and what we got was a bargain. Maurice Mann was President and his sole academic credit consists of the Alexander Hamilton Institute (a correspondence business course, very popular before the explosion of MBA university programs). Bertha Keller Mann, whose extensive credits and work history are listed above (though she only lists University of California and Northwestern here) , was Executive Director, and Mary Anderssen was Principal and English teacher, with a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Southern California.

Mr. & Mrs. Mann, Mary Anderssen

M. Blair Scherich was the science teacher, holed up on the condemned 2nd floor; Daisy Doss was our beloved math teacher; Jesse Snell may have taught languages, but her passion was art and it was easy to distract her from the lesson plan of the day. Harriet Cadish, the Counselor did much more than that and was our buffer between us and the Manns as well as providing answers and help of all kinds.

Edna Gray taught history. Ella Mae Clark taught typing and dear Queenie Smith -- with a lifetime of experience behind her (and some ahead!) was our drama teacher. Each class always did Ah Wilderness at the end of term. We didn't do it in the auditorium, as was done in past years, it was strictly for our classmates.

By 1962, the appeal of HPS had waned, as virtually every studio had classes for its young actors on the studio lots. The Los Angeles Public School district and other private schools in the Los Angeles area became more flexible so students in the performing arts were able to re-join regular classes after a shoot or a gig. Just as the Conservatory had ceased providing performing arts training, by the mid-1960s, the school's reason for being was no longer sufficient to keep it full. A lot of competitive skaters continued to go to HPS, which was the most flexible, and there were exchange students and kids who left other private schools for a variety of reasons. But celebrities and future celebrities were in short supply. The senior class of 1984 contained just twelve students. Mrs. Mann was not well, and she passed away in September 1984, joining Mr. Mann and Joel at Hillside Memorial Park. The life she breathed into it was gone from the school.


On August 11, 1985, It was announced that the school building would be auctioned, along with some adjacent structures. Bertha Keller Mann was the owner of the block and the property was being auctioned by her neice, Sheila Ferrari. Ms. Ferrari described her aunt as "the main force" behind the school since 1949 and the school as being "54 years old."

Ms. Ferrari was executor the estate of Mrs. Mann, who had passed away on September 28, 1984. The school had been operated its final year by Ms. Ferrari. The property consisted of nearly an acre of land and a total of 24,000 square feet of buildings, including two houses, a duplex, a four-plex and the school building. The asking price was $1.5 million. The property was sold several times and the building was demolished in 1994. The property sits empty today.

Former location of HPS

A "cheat" shot of HPS from behind the pool of the motel across the street

Alumnus Tom Nolan's story about HPS from the December 1980 Los Angeles magazine.

Alumnus Pat Molittieri's story about HPS from the May 1960 'TEEN magazine.

In Memorium

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