MUSE TV recently talked with the director of 18th and Grand Stephen DeBro about the history of the Olympic Auditorium in Downtown Los Angeles.
Los Angeles native and music producer Stephen DeBro trades mic for camera, aiming for a knockout in his debut film, the epic story of a cathedral of violence and the remarkable woman who ran it. For eighty years, boxing, wrestling, roller derby and punk rock rattled the concrete walls of the Olympic Auditorium, reverberating far beyond its downtown LA location, sending shockwaves across the world.
In 18TH & GRAND: THE OLYMPIC AUDITORIUM STORY, DeBro chronicles larger-than-life characters and violent clashes—pointing up parallels between what was happening in the ring and in the streets—conflicts over race, gender and identity that continue to roil America.
From harnessing Mexican-American empowerment via 1940s pachuco Zoot-suited boxing star Enrique Bolaños, threatening norms of masculinity with cross-dressing wrestler Gorgeous George, and nurturing the cocky self-promotion of Muhammad Ali, Olympic promoter Aileen Eaton stopped at nothing to sell tickets, courting controversy while making history. A pioneering woman who thrived in an almost exclusively male domain, Eaton built an empire of violent entertainment through decades of visionary programming and promotion.
DeBro spoke with a host of unforgettable characters, capturing a disappearing culture where stars, mobsters, politicians and artists rubbed shoulders at ringside. In addition to James Ellroy, Mamie Van Doren, Julio César Chavéz and John Doe, DeBro documented important voices who passed away during the making of the film, including Hall of Fame announcer Dick Enberg, wrestling star Rowdy Roddy Piper, and high-flying roller derby skater Gwen “Skinny Minnie” Miller.
Award-winning Music Supervisor Howard Paar (I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS, A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME) blends classic songs with a dynamic score by versatile L.A. funk ensemble Jungle Fire, taking the audience on a high-octane ride through the big fights and growing pains of American society…with volume cranked up to 11.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Stephen DeBro worked in all facets of the music business before turning his attention to filmmaking. He headed the jazz and eclectic music division of Atlantic Records under legendary founder Ahmet Ertegun, working with a diverse set of artists, including Norah Jones, George Carlin, Kris Kristofferson and Elastica.
Inspired by childhood memories of the Olympic, reawakened by the indelible images of photographer Theo Ehret, DeBro shaped his vision into 18TH & GRAND: THE OLYMPIC AUDITORIUM STORY, a paean to a lost world and cipher to decode an oft misunderstood city.