We’ve talked about public high schools such as Hollywood High and Beverly Hills High, but the reality for many young stars was that the demands of their showbiz careers were so pressing, that it became impossible for them to attend a regular high school during traditional school hours.
What they needed was a school that had more flexible hours, a school that would fit their necessary classes into a smaller part of the day, so they could spend the rest of the day working at the studio.
Legend has it that in 1935, M-G-M chief Louis B. Mayer was having just such a problem with a 13-year-old employee of his, a young actress called Judy Garland. He asked a Mrs. Bertha Mann to open a professional school for performers, a prep school which would schedule its classes to accommodate the young stars' work hours.
And so, the Hollywood Professional School came into being, offering classes to grades K through 12. The two-story building was located on the east end of Hollywood Boulevard, about a mile northeast of Paramount Studios, and even closer to the Gower Gulch area of Sunset (which formerly housed such studios as Warner Bros and Columbia.)
Over the next 50 years, HPS was alma mater to some of Hollywood’s finest young stars, aspiring actors & actresses, producers, recording artists, ice skaters, dancers, musicians, models and songwriters.
Between 1935 and 1985, its students included Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Betty Grable, Andy Williams, Piper Laurie, Carol O'Connor, Natalie Wood, Ryan O'Neal, Val Kilmer, Melanie Griffith, Jill St. John, Tatum O'Neal, Annette O'Toole, Connie Stevens, Linda Blair, Sue Lyon ("Lolita"), ice skater Peggy Fleming, the Cowsills, Carl Wilson (of the Beach Boys), Debra Paget, Brenda Lee, Peggy Ryan, John Barrymore Jr., The Collins Kids, Molly Bee, Tommy Kirk, Mitzi Gaynor, Yvette Mimieux, Patty McCormack ("The Bad Seed"), Barry Gordon ("A Thousand Clowns"), JoAnn Castle (of "The Lawrence Welk Show") , Suzanne Luckey (the Mayor's daughter in "The Music Man"), Tony Butala (of The Letterman), and many young TV personalities, including most of the original Mouseketeers (such as Annette Funicello, Cubby O'Brien, Lonnie Burr, Doreen Tracey, Tommy Cole and Sharon Baird), Lauren Chapin ("Father Knows Best"), Melody Patterson ("F-Troop"), Valerie Bertinelli ("One Day at a Time"), Peggy Lipton ("Mod Squad"), Todd Bridges ("Different Strokes"), Butch Patrick ("Eddie Munster"), Marta Kristen (Judy in "Lost in Space"), Jimmy Boyd, Bobby Driscoll, four of the six Brady Bunch kids and many others.
According to Peggy Ryan, Donald O'Connor, "was in the fourth grade forever... because he was always on the road. So he'd come back to HPS and I would be in a higher grade, but he'd still be in the fourth grade."
And other alumni contributed to showbiz in other ways. Martha Crawford was inducted into the Hollywood Stuntman's Hall of Fame, and doubled for actresses such as Shirley MacLaine, Claudette Colbert, Eleanor Parker, Rhonda Fleming & Linda Darnell. In that same class of '46, Bill Lear Jr. was the son of the man who designed and built the Lear jet (long Hollywood's favorite means of travel), and became a designer himself.
Some celeb alums of HPS even sent their kids back to the school, including Mickey Rooney and Ryan O'Neal. Robert Mitchum, Quincy Jones, Peggy Lee, Iron Eyes Cody and Spike Jones also sent their children here.
The school filled a simple need: Students attending a public school can't just skip classes in order to go to a photo shoot or attend a rehearsal. But at HPS, classes started around 8:45 a.m., and students were finished by about noon. That left the full afternoon for their "jobs." The curriculum concentrated on the academic essentials. and class size was small, so students tended to develop a sense of camaraderie.
Each student's course of study was planned according to his interests, talents and objectives. An emphasis was also placed on teaching social skills, to enable the student to function socially in a polite, genteel environment. And surprisingly, tuition was low - just $300 a year back in the 70's.
After 50 years of service, Hollywood Professional School closed in June of 1985, following the death of its Director and owner, Mrs. Mann (at age 85).
After the school closed, the property exchanged hands a number of times; its final owner was actor/writer/director Robert Townsend ("The Parent Hood"). The building itself was finally torn down summer of 1994. Sadly, all you'll find today at the corner of Hollywood & Serrano is an empty lot.
The school is no longer there, but it will always stand on that corner in the hearts and minds of its many alumni. Fifteen years after its closing, they had a school reunion on June 19, 2000 (at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City), and more than 350 HPS alums showed up.
Now, I don't normally write about Hollywood landmarks unless they're still around for people to visit, but Hollywood Professional School played such a key role in the history of Tinseltown that it wouldn't be fair to leave it out of a section about Hollywood schools.
(Not to mention that an army of those loyal HPS alumni lobbied the hell out of me! ;)
Getting there: Hollywood Professional School was formerly located at the the SW corner of Hollywood Blvd and Serrano Street, east of Vine Street. Unfortunately, the school is gone; that address is just an empty parking lot today, in what is now a rather rundown part of town.
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