In Memory

James Kenneth McEldowney - Class Of 1920

Kenneth McEldowney

August 8, 1906 - January 5, 2004


McEldowney died January 5, 2004 at St Joseph Medical Center near his home in Burbank. He was 97. He was a Hollywood florist who produced a classic film on a dare by his wife. 

Born in Chicago, McEldowney moved to Los Angeles as a child, studied business administration at UCLA, and created a chain of four flower shops in the Hollywood-Beverly Hills area, including the first drive-through florist, at the intersection of Pico Boulevard and Beverly Drive. He did funeral arrangements for Jean Harlow, producer Irving Thalberg and singer Al Jolson, and provided floral arrangements for the first Academy Awards ceremonies, held in 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

When McEldowney complained to his wife, Melvina Pumphrey, a publicist at MGM, about one of her studio's films, she dared him to do better. So he sold their home and floral shops and, from 1947 to 1951, labored to produce a motion picture from British author Rumer Godden's romantic autobiographical novel set in colonial India. 'The River' became the first Technicolor movie made in India.  It was directed by Jean Renoir, son of painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and photographed by Claude Renoir, Jean Renoir's nephew. The movie opened in New York with a record 34-week run at reserved-seat prices and was on several 10-best-movie lists in 1951.

He returned to real estate and never made another movie because, he said, 'I did it once. I proved my point.'

He is survived by a son, J.K. McEldowney, Jr.

Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2004 & Los Angeles Daily News, January 12, 2004