Television production explores Del Mar’s celebrity past


In 1937, before Del Mar was a bustling small city, the Del Mar Racetrack made its debut. Soon the racing season began to draw movie stars of the day to the small seaside town, making it a haven for the rich and famous.

“Del Mar Heydays,” a documentary film made by an all-volunteer staff at Del Mar TV, delves into Del Mar’s early celebrity history. The racetrack, which senior producer Stephanie Sullivan described as “what really made Del Mar,” attracted such luminaries as Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby, who sang the racetrack anthem “Where the Turf Meets the Surf,” Jimmy Durante, Elizabeth Taylor, Jayne Mansfield, Betty Grable, Harry James, Pat O’Brien, Bob Hope and Mickey Rooney among others.

Many stars, such as Arnaz and Grable, had residences in Del Mar. Grable even spent so much time at the track, that her contract with 20th Century Fox was dropped. Marilyn Monroe replaced her.

Associate producer Florence Cannata came up with the idea for the documentary when she read an article in this newspaper about a local restaurant owner and his Del Mar childhood memories of the city’s celebrities.

“I thought, wouldn’t that be wonderful to do a show about the celebrity history of Del Mar,” said Cannata. “I think is so important that we preserve that history, and there’s really not been a lot done about it. I thought it would be a very unique idea for a show.”

The documentary is the 38th show for Del Mar TV’s Producer’s Showcase and is hosted by Cannata and filmed by Luana Karr, who is the current treasurer of the Del Mar TV Foundation and a board member. Karr also co-organizes the productions at Del Mar TV.

Interviewed in “Heydays” is Don Terwilliger, a Del Mar native and current board member of the Del Mar Historical Society. A former professional dancer with 20th Century Fox, Terwilliger toured 200 cities as a professional dancer and frequently saw Betty Grable and other Hollywood celebrities in his hometown.

“Don has just a lot of knowledge about all the stars,” said Sullivan, “and not just certain ones, he even goes on about people that I had never heard of before.”

Racetrack CEO Joe Harper, another interviewee on the show, has been with the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club since the 1970s. He is the grandson of famed movie director and producer Cecil B. DeMille. His interview portion was filmed at the racetrack with a 1934 Packard in the background. The car, currently owned by Larry Cornwell, was originally owned and driven by Mrs. Packard.

The set where the interviews were conducted was made to look like it came out of the golden age of Hollywood.

“I thought the set was so creative, and in doing the show I felt that I actually had walked out of the ‘30s,” said Cannata. “I had my 1930s hat on, and it was very nostalgic. I just thought that we really captured that era. It was a very special night.”

Cannata is hoping to receive a grant enabling her to do a sequel to the film, where she hopes to go more in-depth with Terwilliger, whom she only was able to get a six-minute interview with. She described him as being “a wealth of information.”

“It was very exciting though, the whole process.” said Cannata. “I learned so much and I just enjoyed every aspect of it. It was just a wonderful experience and I want to do another show.”

“Del Mar Heydays” will air on Friday, Oct. 24 at 12 p.m., Thursday Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. and Friday, Oct. 31 at 12 p.m. For customers with analog cable, Del Mar TV is on Time Warner channel 24 and channel 130 for customers with digital cable. The documentary will also be streamed at

and a copy of the documentary will be available at the Del Mar Library.