Westside Village Civic Assn., Inc.

A Tribute to Bob Woolfe

at age 75, by Christine Page

Bob Woolfe Artist in Residence
a profile by Christine Page
originally published in Dec. 1995 News & Views,
Newsletter of the Westside Village Civic Association

Nearly everyone in this neighborhood, from toddlers to seniors, has seen and admired the artistry of Bob Woolfe, but few know that its creator has lived in Westside Village for nearly 45 years. That’s fine with Bob, a friendly, low-key guy who enjoys, literally, staying in the background. Backgrounds are his specialty, as he has painted hundreds of them during his memorable career in the entertainment industry.

Born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, Bob spent five years in the Marine Corps during World War II where he served in the South Pacific. After the war, he moved to Santa Barbara where he met his wife of 50 years, Lois. Both interested in art, they settled in Los Angeles to pursue their studies. After completing art school in 1951, Bob got his first job as a scenic artist at MGM studios in Culver City. He and Lois bought their first home on Queensland Street in Westside Village.

At MGM for approximately 16 years, Bob saw the heyday of the Hollywood musical. His film credits read like the script of That’s Entertainment--“Singing in the Rain, Oklahoma, and Brigadoon, among many others. Bob often worked with a crew of thirty fully employed artists (imagine that!) painting large backgrounds in sound stages to recreate anything from city skylines to farmland to the Scottish Highlands. Bob is particularly proud of the artistry that went into painting hundreds of feet of Scottish landscape in Brigadoon all of which was filmed indoors. He recalls that the Culver City water supply was depleted during the many “takes” of Gene Kelly’s memorable dance in Singing in the Rain.

Following MGM, Bob worked for Warner Brothers painting landscapes for, among others, Camelot, The Music Man, and Cool Hand Luke. By the mid-sixties, however, most films were being shot on location and Bob turned to television and the increasingly popular Variety Show. At NBC, Bob painted backgrounds for the Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Andy Williams and Bob Hope Shows, as well as the infamous “specials” for the likes of Carol Burnett, Frank Sinatra, and Danny Kaye.

When the variety shows began to wane in the early seventies, Bob became a free lance scenic artist and turned to yet another expanding entertainment medium--the amusement park. Bob’s credentials were indisputable--he had been hired by Walt Disney in the early 50’s to help paint backgrounds and props for It’s a Small World at the original Magic Kingdom. Starting in 1972, he worked at the amusement park in Hershey, Pennsylvania restoring a turn-of-the-century carousel. For the next fifteen years, Bob traipsed around the globe going from one Fantasyland venue to another. In Florida, Tokyo, and, finally Paris, Bob was a backlight specialist painting the Peter Pan and Snow White rides for Disney. Occasionally, his work brought him back to California for various projects at Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios, and Magic Mountain.

At 75, Bob is still active in his craft. Most recently, he painted a curtain for a Holmby Hills resident with a private theatre. He also continues to paint fine art landscapes in watercolor, oil, and acrylic at his home studio for exhibition at local art shows.

With such a varied and exciting career, it is a tough task for Bob to single out the highlights. “It was all wonderful, and I met so many great people,” says Bob, including two of this writer’s favorites, Gene Kelly and Danny Kaye. Bob feels the same about the residents of Westside Village, many of whom he has known for over forty years. Bob and Lois have no intention of leaving their Westside village enclave--“They’ll have to carry us out of here,” he says, and it won’t be any time soon.

As you might imagine Bob has seen a lot of changes to this neighborhood. He can remember the vegetable stand at the corner of Overland and National, the pony rides on the May Company lot, the backyard fourth of July parties with fireworks, and baby boomer children all attending Clover Avenue School and filling up the streets with after school pickup games. A few traditions will never die, however, including his annual Christmas caroling party which will mark 35 years this December.

Bob has been active in the WVCA since its inception, including serving five years as its president. His wife, Lois, raised three children after working as a reference librarian at UCLA. An artist, too, she has turned her creative talents to gardening. Their garden, in fact, is adorned with stones taken from the estate homes that were torn down to build the 10 freeway.

In the immortal words of Hollywood, “It’s a Wonderful Life!”

Posted by gregors on 12/18/2004
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