Travel Destinations

Friday, August 29, 2014

Catalina Island: Six Degrees of Separation from Hollywood

Avalon Catalina Island
Catalina Island, Hollywood's playground.
It stands to reason that Catalina Island would have seen a lot of Hollywood history.  Catalina Island is within easy traveling distance from Los Angeles after all.  It’s even part of Los Angeles County.  But before we toured the Catalina Island Museum I had no idea how much Hollywood history had touched Catalina Island.

The Transformation of Norma Jeane into Marilyn Monroe

Based on accounts from Marilyn Monroe’s first husband James Dougherty, Norma Jeane may have realized for the first time in Catalina Island how attractive she was to the opposite sex, beginning her transformation into Marilyn Monroe.  Norma Jeane married Dougherty, a neighbor, at the young age of sixteen to avoid being sent to more foster homes and orphanages.  She and Dougherty moved to Catalina Island in 1943, during World War II, after he entered the Merchant Marine.  Catalina Island was inhabited by multitudes of sailors and Marilyn Monroe loved the attention.  Dougherty stated, “I would marvel at how she’d ‘turn on’ when she was walking and knew men were looking at her.  She’d do ‘the walk’ seen later in millions of her films, but back then, she was just learning to do it, and she was very, very good at it!”  Just months after she left Catalina Island, Marilyn Monroe was discovered and became a Hollywood legend.

Charlie Chaplin’s Love Affair

Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard Catalina Island Museum
Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard with Tandem Bicycle, Avalon, 1940
Photo displayed at the Catalina Island Museum and believed to have been taken by Duke Fishman.
Charlie Chaplin married Paulette Goddard in 1936, when he was 47 and she was 25.  Despite the age difference, she was strong and a good match for him.  Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Godard were always together and Charlie Chaplin purchased a yacht so they could visit Catalina Island every weekend.  Charlie Chaplin later described their days on Catalina Island as “halcyon days, holding our rods and dozing in the stern of the boat on those beautiful mornings with the mist of the ocean and the horizon merging into infinity.”

The Tragic End of Natalie Wood

Natalie Wood, probably best known for her role in West Side Story, traveled to Catalina Island in 1981 with her husband Robert Wagner and her recent co-star Christopher Walken.  It had been rumored that Natalie Wood was having an affair with Christopher Walken.  When the group arrived at Catalina Island they were in an argument and Natalie Wood chose to stay on the island the first night rather than on the boat.  The next day they spent the day drinking on the island before returning to their boat in the evening, where the arguing continued.  The evening of November 28, 1981, Natalie Wood went to her room.  She was later found a mile away from the boat.  Her death by drowning was ruled an accident.  The case was reopened in 2011 and her death certificate was amended to list undetermined factors.

The Curse of the Billy Goat

Chicago Cubs Memorabilia Catalina Island Museum
Chicago Cubs memorabilia on display at the Catalina Island Museum.
I’m not a sports fan, but even I know about the curse on the Chicago Cubs that supposedly keeps them from winning the World Series.  What I didn’t know was the curse of the Billy Goat has a link to Catalina Island.  William Wrigley, Jr., the chewing gum magnate, owned the Chicago Cubs and would bring them to Catalina Island during spring training.  In 1945  William Sianis brought his billy goat to a World Series game between the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Tigers.  Philip K. Wrigley, who had taken over the family business, had Sianis and his billy goat removed from the stadium after fans complained of the smell.  Sianis sent a telegram to Wrigley which read, “You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again.  You are never going to win another World Series because you insulted my goat.”  The Cubs lost the World Series and have never won the World Series since, which many blame on the curse of the billy goat.

From Radio Announcer to President

Speaking of the Chicago Cubs, a young radio announcer traveled with the Chicago Cubs to Catalina Island in 1936 and 1937 for spring training.  That radio announcer was Ronald Reagan.  Ronald Reagan left Catalina Island for a Hollywood screen test.  The screen test was successful and Ronald Reagan became a Hollywood star before later becoming the President of the United States of America.

Hollywood’s Playground

Avalon Casino Catalina Island Museum
The Avalon Casino, current home of the Catalina Island Museum.
Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Pauline Goddard, Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner, Christopher Walken, and Ronald Reagan aren’t the only Hollywood stars that made Catalina Island their playground.  Catalina Island was frequently visited by the likes of Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Errol Flynn, and many more Hollywood stars.  Celebrities were attracted to Catalina Island by the sunning, swimming, fishing, hunting, golfing, drinking, and carousing, all in relative anonymity yet only 26 miles from Hollywood.

A visit to the Catalina Island Museum will introduce you to all of these stories and more, illustrated with old photographs and memorabilia.  In addition to Hollywood history, visitors can peruse exhibits about the history of Catalina Island and the Wrigley family, The Tuna Club of Avalon (the birthplace of modern big game sport fishing), the pottery of Catalina Clay Products, and the “archaeology” of Dr. Ralph Glidden.  The Catalina Island Museum is currently located in the Avalon Casino, but in early 2015 the museum will move to its new home, the Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner Building, which will provide a much larger space for the museum to display more of its exhibits at one time.  Be sure to include a visit to the Catalina Island Museum in your Catalina Island itinerary.

Thank you to the Santa Catalina Island Company and Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau for hosting our trip to Santa Catalina Island and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

Travel the World: The Catalina Island Museum is full of Hollywood history.

Did you enjoy this article? Want more travel stories and inspiration delivered straight to your inbox?
Get an email when we publish our next one! Just enter your email address below.

Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.