by Marc Wanamaker


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!”

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Reel Culver City Winter 2010


by Marc Wanamaker



Recently, I have been researching the history of the RKO-Pathé “40 Acres” back lot in Culver City for a new website: “40 Acres: The Lost Studio and Backlot of Movie & Television Fame.”

The “40 Acres” lot [which is a bit of a misnomer as it was only 29 acres] was created by Cecil B. DeMille to build outdoor sets for his first independent films – such as The Volga Boatman in 1926 – shortly after DeMille took over the Thomas Ince Studios in 1925, after the death of his friend, producer-director Thomas Ince.

From 1926 on, sets for such films as The King Of Kings (1927), King Kong (1933) and Gone With The Wind (1939) were built on the “40 Acres” backlot/ranch that was located off of Ince Boulevard, Lucerne Avenue and Higuera Street. The backlot continued to act as a setting for the “world” and world history in many films over the years.

With the succession of various companies owning the studio, the famed lot hosted many different styles of film sets. The many companies which owned the studio property built by Ince in 1918 on Washington Boulevard and the “40 Acres” included: Thomas Ince Studios (1918-1924), Cecil B. DeMille/Pathé Studios (1925-1929), Pathé Studios (1929-1931), RKO-Pathé (1931-1957), Selznick International Pictures (1935-1957-leased), Desilu Culver Studios (1957-1967), Paramount (1967-1968), and Culver City Studios (1968-1979).


While researching the more unknown sets used on the old “40 Acres” lot, my colleagues and I discovered that important scenes from Universal’s All Quiet on the Western Front (which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1930) were filmed on “French village” sets on the “40 Acres” backlot! All the experts on the film’s history were unaware that Universal shot some of its key scenes in Culver City. Most of the film was either shot on the back lot of Universal Studios or on location in Irvine California. This was a major discovery as related to an important classic silent-era film.


During the filming on the “40 Acres” lot, there was an incident that injured its director, Lewis Milestone. In a small article in the Los Angeles Times on June 7, 1930, a headline announced: “FILM DIRECTOR’S FACE INJURED IN EXPLOSION SCENE.”

The story continued: “Dynamited debris yesterday injured Lewis Milestone, director, during the filming of Universal’s production of All Quiet on the Western Front at the Pathé Studios in Culver City. Milestone was directing a scene in which 250 soldiers were marching past a church when it was blown up. The air for a hundred yards was filled with flying debris following the blast, and one jagged two-by-four board hit the director’s head. A German war helmet he was wearing saved Milestone from serious injury, but a splinter from the board tore a gash across his face.”

The sets used on the “40 Acres” lot/ranch included the “French village” that was built on both sides of Ballona Creek connected with a stone bridge. Jefferson Boulevard – which was just a small dirt road at the time – which was just a small dirt road at the time – was the southern border of the ranch. The church that was blown up was located next to what became Jefferson Boulevard.

La Ballona Creek was also used for the swimming scenes before the ensuing battle began, so the film company dammed up the creek to create enough slow-moving water for the actors to swim in. After Universal finished using the ranch, the French village sets were re-used for many years and modified for a number of other films. A section of the Jefferson Boulevard side of the ranch was converted into a jungle set and also used for many years.

In 1976, the “40 Acres” backlot was demolished and the property converted into an industrial park that has been used in recent years as motion picture and television production facilities.

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Reel Culver City

by Marc Wanamaker



In 1935, the major studios in the Los Angeles area were MGM, Columbia, Paramount, RKO, Warner Bros., United Artists and Universal. Along with the majors there were many small studios producing either for the major companies or for the independent market.


David O. Selznick had already an impressive track record of being a film producer, first working for his father, Louis Selznick, and later, at RKO and at MGM.

In May of 1935, United Artists wanted to sign Selznick to a distribution deal as an independent company. At this time, Selznick already had investment money in hand from his friends, Irving and Norma Thalberg, and his agent brother Myron. He then accepted an offer from financier John Hay Whitney and his family and friends, as well as offers from New York bankers Robert and Arthur Lehman – and taxicab magnate John Hertz.

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Attilio Giannini, the younger brother of the founder of the Bank of America and a member of Selznick Board of Directors, took over as president of United Artists giving David’s company a major distributor and further financing if necessary. This completed his financial package and opened the door for the creation of Selznick International Pictures.

By October of 1935, Selznick was organizing his company and preparing a portfolio of projects for his initial releases through United Artists. A roster of production personnel was acquired from MGM and Paramount where David had worked. The new company began to lease the old RKO/Pathé Studios in Culver City because David knew the lot very well during his time as a producer for RKO.


It was decided that the first Selznick production would be Little Lord Fauntleroy with MGM star, Freddie Bartholomew, as the lead. The MGM contract players were loaned by David’s father-in-law, the head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer.

In February of 1936, it was announced that the second release for the company would be a Technicolor-produced production of The Garden of Allah starring Marlene Dietrich. After the film was completed, Selznick began the logistics of setting up a film studio that would be able to adapt itself to his working habits. Special departments were created that would work closely with the head office and the production teams.

By November of 1936, it was announced that Selznick International would make twelve pictures in the coming year, four of them in Technicolor. This new, enlarged schedule would require more studio space than what the company had been leasing on the RKO-Pathé lot. This led to arrangements to take over the entire lot, rename it Selznick International Studios, and operate the entire plant as a rental facility while still dominating the studio’s facilities for their own productions.


The next production was A Star Is Born starring Janet Gaynor. Shot in Technicolor, the production began on October 31st and was released in 1937. A Star Is Born was the first picture to use the Selznick International trademark which was a Technicolor view of the original Thomas Ince administration building on Washington Boulevard, with the Selznick sign adjacent to it. This proved to be a dignified trademark that Selznick was pleased with and identified a Selznick picture with that of an historical Culver City landmark.

By March of 1937, scenes were being shot for the next Selznick production, The Prisoner of Zenda. Starring Ronald Colman, Madeleine Carroll and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., the film became a box-office success.

On May 20, 1936, the first detailed synopsis of Gone With The Wind was reviewed by Selznick along with a copy of the book.

At the end of 1937, another lavish production was begun: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer which was shot at the RKO/Pathé Studio and its “40-acre” backlot, as well as the Paramount Ranch in Agoura. Following the success of Tom Sawyer, there was a succession of such films produced at the Selznick studios including Nothing Sacred, The Young in Heart, Intermezzo with Ingrid Bergman, Made For Each other with Carole Lombard, Gone With The Wind, Rebecca with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier, Since You Went Away, Spellbound, Duel in the Sun with Gregory Peck, The Paradine Case with Charles Laughton, Portrait of Jennie with Jennifer Jones, and A Farewell To Arms with Rock Hudson.


By 1962, the Selznick Studio was being used by other production companies and renamed the Desilu Culver Studios which had been purchased by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1957. Selznick’s last production at his beloved studio was Tender Is the Night with his wife, actress Jennifer Jones. At this time Selznick had been headquartered in Culver City for twenty-seven years.

David O. Selznick died on June 22, 1965 and left a legacy of classic films still enjoyed by 21st Century audiences.

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Reel Culver City

by Marc Wanamaker


I can’t think of any living personality that so identifies with Culver City’s history as Mickey Rooney. He spent most of his childhood and young adult life at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, spanning over 26 years.

Beginning with The Beast of the City made at MGM in 1932, Rooney was one of MGM’s leading stars, appearing in countless features, musicals and shorts. One of his last films made at the studio in 1958 was Andy Hardy Comes Home.

Mickey Rooney not only was an MGM star he was an accomplished musician, singer, dancer, writer, producer and general overall entertainer – making him one of Hollywood’s greatest talents ever.


Rooney was born Joe Yule on September 23, 1920, in Brooklyn, New York. The son of vaudevillians, he made his first stage appearance at 15 months and before long became an indispensable part of the family act – singing, dancing, mimicking and telling jokes. He made his film debut at six, playing a midget in the short, Not To Be Trusted (1926), and in the following year, appeared in the silent feature, Orchids and Ermine (1927) for First National Films.

Between 1927 and 1933, he starred in some 50 two-reel comedies playing the famed comic strip star, Mickey McGuire. He became Mickey Rooney in 1932 when he began appearing in small roles in feature films at various studios until he was signed by MGM in 1934. He was loaned to Warner Brothers in 1935 to appear as ‘Puck’ in Max Reinhardt’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Dick Powell and Olivia De Havilland among others.


In 1937, Rooney became a household name when he appeared in the first of a film series, A Family Affair, as “Andy Hardy.” After 15 successful Andy Hardy films, Rooney’s popularity rose steadily and was crowned with his wonderful performance in Boys Town (1938), as well as in several co-starring musicals with Judy Garland (often called the “let’s put on a show” series!).

In 1938, he won a special Academy Award for his overall work in the industry – a great honor indeed. By 1939, Rooney became America’s most popular star, topping the prior box office super-star, Shirley Temple.


With the coming of the 1940s, Rooney continued to star in such popular films as The Human Comedy (1943) and National Velvet (1944). His career stopped for short time when he entered the armed service during WWII, appearing at the Hollywood Canteen in Hollywood as well as in camp shows throughout the European War theater.

In 1948, he started his own production company and made many appearances on early television shows. Rooney starred in his own television show entitled, The Mickey Rooney Show, which lasted almost two years.


Mickey Rooney made his Broadway debut in 1979 in the very successful musical show, Sugar Babies. In the same year he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the Black Stallion, and in 1982, he won an Emmy Award in the television movie, Bill. He continued to tour with the Sugar Babies show and later joined the cast of Broadway’s The Will Rogers Follies in 1993.


Rooney has continued his career, recently appearing in the hit film, Night at the Museum (2006), and Bamboo Shark (2007), and in two films for 2009, Driving Me Crazy and Now Here. He hasn’t stopped entertaining for almost a century and is beloved by several generations the world over!

But it was in Culver City that Mickey Rooney became one of its most famous celebrities. He worked on all of MGM’s back lots. From its Lot #2 on Overland Avenue to Lot #3 on Jefferson Boulevard, Culver City was his playground and the studio his home. Everyone in town knew him and were proud that he was among them. Mickey Rooney became one of the few MGM stars to be known around the world along with his work ‘home’, Culver City.


It should be noted that Mickey Rooney will receive the prestigious “Thomas Ince Award” at the 2009 Backlot Film Festival on October 10th, here at the historic Veterans Memorial Building. The “Thomas Ince Award” is named for the pioneer producer of early filmmaking who introduced production procedures and quality of standards that set the model and helped mold the distinct image of Hollywood films to this day, and who built two movie studios that still stand in Culver City – the current Sony Pictures Entertainment and The Culver Studios.

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Reel Culver City Spring 2009

Reel Culver City

by Marc Wanamaker


During World War I all of Hollywood was involved with helping President Woodrow Wilson in the war effort — from selling War Bonds to making motion pictures focusing on the morale of the American people, the armed forces and the Allies.

At the beginning of the war, many Hollywood leaders went to Washington to meet with President Wilson to frame a strategy for “Victory.” A government committee was formed and named The Committee on Public Information. Some of the more prominent celebrities and leaders of this effort were Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charles Chaplin, William S. Hart and Thomas H. Ince of Culver City.


Since 1915, Thomas Ince and Harry Culver were instrumental in creating a motion picture industry in the newly-established development of Culver City. The Triangle/Thomas Ince Studios built on Washington Boulevard was the first in the new town creating an economic base that helped Culver City become a “factory town” of moviemakers to this day.

With the break-up of the Triangle Company in 1918, Ince with Harry Culver’s help and support, built another studio plant just a ¼ mile east of the old Triangle studio, also on Washington Blvd. It was named the “Thomas H. Ince Studios” and opened in late 1918, just as the United States was entering the European conflict. Almost immediately, Ince began to make films in support of the war effort.


One of the allied countries that suffered the most during the war was Belgium. By 1914, Belgium was decimated and almost ceased to exist but due to the help of Britain and the United States.

On June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed ending the war and shortly thereafter, the Royal Family of Belgium embarked on a mission of thanks to the people of the United States for their sacrifices helping Belgium survive the war. The King and Queen, accompanied by their eldest son Leopold III and government officials, first visited Washington as the guest of President Wilson, then continued on to Southern California, arriving here in October, 1919.


Leopold III was always interested in moviemaking and wanted very much to visit the American Studios in Santa Barbara, CA. King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth agreed that after the war, Belgium should have its own film industry and visits to the Thomas Ince Studio in Culver City and the American Studios in Santa Barbara were arranged.

While in Los Angeles, the King and Queen met with Mayor Meredith Pinxton Snyder who had lost his son during the war. In honor of his lost son, King Albert and Queen Elisabeth awarded Snyder a medal of the order of Leopold II.

On October 17, 1919, Thomas Ince hosted the Royal Visit to Culver City. The Motion Picture News marked the event with an article entitled, “Belgian Royalty See Pictures In The Making on the Ince Lot.” Here is an excerpt:

“When King Albert and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium visited Southern California last week, one of their principle desires was to see motion pictures made, and they spent a great portion of the time they were in Los Angeles at the Thomas H. Ince Studios at Culver City, where a special program had been arranged for the entertainment of the royalty, under the personal supervision of Mr. Ince, who was in charge of the royal party from the time they arrived at the studio until they left. The King and Queen saw Charles Ray make a number of scenes, under the direction of Jerome Storm, in an old-fashioned country barn erected at the studio; and watched Hobart Bosworth under the direction of Irvin Willat, do several dives for the second Ince special release, “Below The Surface,“ in a big tank at the studio along the edge of which a partially wrecked submarine had been constructed.”


At the end of the Royal visit, Thomas Ince presented Queen Elisabeth a jeweled make-up compact made by Brock & Company Jewelers of Los Angeles and engraved with an autographed sentiment saying, “To Elizabeth Queen of the Belgians in Commemoration of a visit to my studio” and signed, “Thomas H. Ince 17 October 1919.”

The Royal visit was indeed the hallmark of Thomas Ince’s prominence and highstanding as one of the more influential film studios in Los Angeles and brought Culver City international publicity that would rival Hollywood.

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