Located at 1801 South Grand Avenue, the Olympic Auditorium opened in 1924. It had it all. Sex, mobsters, boxing, punk rock, wrestling, roller derby and more. The Olympic was synonymous with action and intensity. Taking a line from 21 Jump Street, the arena was purchased in June 2005 by the Korean-American church, The Glory Church of Jesus Christ. The venue, therefore, is no more. For our latest Making It Big, we’re looking at a documentary aiming to recall this hallowed arena’s glory years. Welcome to The Olympic Auditorium Project.
When you look at the history of the Olympic, it becomes a roll call for the most famous faces of the 20th century. From the world of music, Frank Zappa, Louis Armstrong and Bon Jovi all performed here. In fact the venue became the epicentre of the punk rock scene in Los Angeles in the 1970s. More than this, it was a leading light in boxing and wrestling circles. The biggest names in the sport fought and trained here: Muhammad Ali, Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Sugar Ray Leonard, Freddie Blassie, George Foreman and Alexis Arguello. The list goes on. From a One Room With A View point of view, it also played host to a series of iconic boxing films such as Rocky, Raging Bull, and Million Dollar Baby. From just scratching the surface, it’s clear to the common man that this was the place to be.
In the modern age of world tours and cheap travel, it’s hardly unique for a venue to boast such a global roster. Back in the mid 20th century, that was not the case. The Olympic was more than just a venue, it was a cultural icon. If you were somebody, you were at the Olympic. As the team’s Kickstarter points out, the place was packed full of energy and dynamism, filled with international icons, meaning “the Olympic story has appeal to anyone who cares about old school boxing, wrestling, roller derby, punk or L.A. history”.
Any venue can have charm, but it’s the characters who make a place come alive. One individual in particular catches the eye, and makes us yearn for this documentary to see the light of day. Her name is Aileen Eaton. A woman who dictated the terms of the most testosterone fuelled sport in the land with a brutal and ruthless reign. Nicknamed “The Dragon Lady”, Eaton was a dominant figure in L.A. sports and cultural history, hobnobbing with mayors and movie stars. She single-handedly built a sports and entertainment empire that stretched from Bakersfield to the border of Mexico. Her name will not register with many folks, but it deserves to. She was the first woman inducted into boxing’s hall of fame in 2002, hosted over 10,000 boxing matches, and was pivotal in the career development of Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) and the brains behind Gorgeous George, wrestling’s first crossover superstar. A female heroine in a male dominated sport. The documentary could simply focus upon her, and the narrative would satisfy.
Yet the beauty of The Olympic Auditorium Project is that she is just the tip of the iceberg. Her crew provides impressive additional sustenance for this feature. First up, you have the widely considered “oddball” Dr. Bernard Schwartz, ring doctor and bass player extraordinaire. Not far behind you have Dick Lane, the B-movie actor turned wrestling and roller derby announcer. A fun fact for you, contrary to popular opinion: it was Lane and not former ABC sports announcer Keith Jackson who coined the exclamatory expression “Whoa, Nellie!” when something bad happened in the ring or on the track. Learn something new every day eh? And you can learn these charming stories and more from our latest Making It Big.
If you’re a regular reader of this series, you’ll know we want to help great stories that deserve to hit the big time. This is one of those stories. You’ll also be aware that these projects need your support hence why we write these pieces, and urge you to explore deeper and, potentially help out. Thus far Steve DeBro and his team have relied upon a small group of people, who have been extremely generous with their time and expertise. Progress has been good so far, but the project is far from complete. The Kickstarter points out that “[we] need to interview more people (we’re still deficient on the Roller Derby and Punk side of the story), shoot b-roll in and around the Olympic and throughout L.A., clear music and video footage, and pay for editing, graphic effects and post-production”.
As always, we can’t force the pennies out your pocket. We’d never want to. We do urge you to check out the pledge video below, and read into the Kickstarter yourself to see whether you want to see this documentary make it big.
If you’ve got a project you would like to see featured in our series of Making It Big‘s, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!