REEL CULVER CITY
by Marc Wanamaker
AFI REQUESTS DOCUMENTING OF FAMED STUDIO SITE
In the summer of 1972 while working at the American Film Institute in Beverly Hills, I was asked by an AFI writer to be the photographer on a field trip to the famous “40 Acres” backlot in Culver City. The writer was engaged to write a small book or documentary on the history of the sets and films that were
shot on this famous backlot and we were granted access to this legendary filming site. This visit began my lifelong project to write an encyclopedia of the American Film Studios of which I’m still engaged.
This backlot was first created by producer/director Thomas Ince when he built his own studio on
Washington Blvd. in 1918. The original backlot consisted of a small village and some shacks near the La
After Ince’s death in 1924, the studio and backlot were sold to Ince’s friend, Cecil B. DeMille, and the
studio became known as the DeMille Studio. The “40 Acres” backlot was used for many DeMille directed or produced films such as The King of Kings (1927).
By 1929, DeMille turned the studio over to his partners, Pathé America and the studio became the
Pathé Culver City Studio. With the merger of Pathé and RKO in the same year, the new name of the lots
was the RKO-Pathé Studio. Classic films such as King Kong were shot on all the RKO lots with the “40 Acres” backlot filling in for ‘Skull Island’ along with the famous colossal wall containing King Kong.
In 1935, David O. Selznick signed a long-term lease of both properties and produced among other films,
Gone With The Wind, burning down the former King Kong jungle wall to make way for the Atlanta Railway Station. With the success of Gone With The Wind, the Selznick International entire RKO Studios assets were sold to Desilu, the company owned by stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
The Desilu Culver Studios became the home for many early 1950s television shows such as Whirley Birds, The Untouchables, Lassie, Hogan’s Heroes, the Andy Griffith Show among others.
In 1962, director George Stevens produced The Greatest Story Ever Told at the studio using the same stages and the “40 Acres” backlot used by Cecil B. DeMille thirty-five years earlier.
By 1967, Desilu sold out all their assets to Paramount and the studio became known as the Paramount Culver Studios. Paramount used the “40 Acres” and the main lot for a couple of years before they sold the entire lot to the Perfect Film & Chemical Company who changed the name yet again to The Culver City Studios in 1969. In 1981, the studio was sold again, this time to the Laird International Studios who operated it as a rental lot. Sadly, “40 Acres” was sold to a developer who demolished what was left of the famous sets still existing and created an industrial park, as it is today.