by Marc Wanamaker
AVIATION & MOTION PICTURES – EARLY PARTNERS
Aviation in the Los Angeles area was pioneered with a partnership between the aviation and motion picture industries.
As early as 1914 when aviation became a primary interest of the U.S. Government and commerce, the motion picture industry also took great interest and produced films that featured airplanes.
FILM PIONEERS EMBRACED AVIATION
When Universal City opened their newest studio in the San Fernando Valley in 1915, an aerial show entertained the thousands of visitors. Film pioneers Cecil B. DeMille, Thomas Ince, Charles and Sydney Chaplin, Mary Pickford and many others helped publicize their films with aviation stories and aviation stars. In 1922, Thomas Ince sponsored an air race from his own airfield in Venice, CA.
WWI interrupted the Hollywood aviation interest when many of the airplanes and pilots went to war. After the war, Cecil B. DeMille and Charles and Sydney Chaplin owned airfields and flew planes. New stars like Ormer Locklear became ‘aviation’ stars, and many films had aerial scenes within them.
“SOUND-FILMS” SIGNAL PROBLEMS
By 1929, with the coming of “sound-films,” the use of airplanes continued, but with new technical difficulties. Microphones had to be placed either actually on the airplanes, or airplanes were hauled into sound stages for controlled sound with rear-projection. As can be imagined, the roar of the airplanes inside the stages played havoc with the sound equipment!
Interestingly, another major problem facing the studios at this time was the noise of airplanes flying outside over the studios and disrupting sound recording in the stages below.
CULVER CITY’S “AIR COP”
It was reported in the Hollywood Daily Screen World of July 1929, “Culver City Now Has Air Cop To Arrest Air-Law Violators And To Aid Studios.”
This announcement was made in Culver City by Culver City Police Chief W. P. Hendry due to the many airplanes that were flying over the city at a low altitude and interfering with sound recording of films at the MGM Studios as well as the other Culver City studios.
NEW LAW INTRODUCED
A new law was introduced in Culver City with the opening of an aviation police office headed by Major Bob Blair, a famous army aviator in WWI. Blair was sworn-in by the Culver City Clerk and a new badge was pinned on by MGM star Sally Starr at the Culver City airport.
The new aerial policeman also represented the U.S. Department of Commerce, which gave him the authority to have aviators’ licenses revoked in case of a violation of the new law.
Blair would patrol the skies to prevent low-level flying and dangerous stunting over the city. He was also to warn aviators away from the studios during the filming of sound pictures.
The Hollywood Daily Screen World was quoted as saying; “Hereafter, the aviator who flies too low, or “stunts” may suddenly hear the “Whoo” of a siren behind him, and find himself followed by a black and orange plane with a great police shield on it.”
Due to the new law and the aerial police plane, MGM painted on one of their largest sound stages (see photo) a sign that read, “QUIET PLEASE!”