“Dream Street”

Reel Culver City

by Marc Wanamaker

[Ed. Note: Marc Wanamaker is on assignment. In his absence, we are reprinting the wonderful article that famed director George Sidney wrote for the 2000 Millennium Winter issue of Culver Historical Highlights.]

George Sidney, along with an extraordinary list of film credits, was a CCHS Patron member.

Among his many classic films include The Harvey Girls, Show Boat, Kiss Me Kate, Anchors Aweigh, Bye Bye Birdie and Viva Las Vegas. He was a dear friend to the Society and here are his fond memories of his “Dream Street.”

“Dream Street”

by George Sidney

Everyone has a favorite street – Broadway, Bond Street, Canal Street, Rue de la Paix, State Street, Basin Street, Via Veneto, even the Yellow Brick Road.

I first saw mine and walked on my “dream street” in 1930: Washington Boulevard in Culver City, California. Contained within a mile on that fabulous thoroughfare is the aorta of this capital of entertainment. My footprints shared the path with the entertainment greats – factual, historical and fictional – who worked at the studios of the reel cinema world which were created and built along its curbs, such as Triangle, MGM, RKO, Pathé and Desilu.

From Thomas Ince, C.B. DeMille, Louis B. Mayer, Hal Roach and David O. Selznick came forth a mecca of creativity which encouraged the talents of Thalberg, Freed, Stromberg, Welles, Ford, Stevens, Capra and Flemming, as well as Minnelli, Pasternack, Koch, Franklin, Lubitsch, Wyler, Wilder, Dassin, Zinnemann, Adler, Leonard, Frankenheimer and Spielberg, among so many others. These were the manufacturers of dreams – entertainment, comedy, drama, romance, music, dance — all creating this miracle mile in the real Hollywood: Culver City, USA.

My footsteps echoed alongside those of the Munchkins, Garbo and Lassie, Trader Horne and Lena Horne, Clark Gable and Captains Courageous, Lawrence Tibbet and Elvis (along with Frank and Bing), Astaire and Kelly and the Nicholas Brothers.

They shared the road with Edward G. Robinson, Robinson Crusoe and The Great Caruso; the Three Musketeers, Three Marx Brothers, Three Ritz Brothers, Three Stooges, three Barrymores – John, Ethel and Lionel (any number can play); Sylvia Sidney and George (the first) Sidney and George (the second) Sidney, as well as Sidney Fox, Sidney Sheldon, Sidney Skolsky, Sidney Carton, Sidney Poitier, Sid Caesar, Julius Caesar, and Caesar Romero; Lana Turner and Ted Turner; Joan Crawford, Peter Lawford and Laurel & Hardy; L.B. Mayer and Roger Mayer.

And the ladies: Barbara Lamarr and Hedy; Scarlett O’Hara and the Red-Headed Woman; Marie Dressler, Marie Antoinette, Mrs. Miniver and Sadie Thompson – to name but a few among the multitude of beauties, saints, sinners and vixens.

I walked through The White House and Tara; visited with Santa Claus, Tarzan, Lincoln, Washington, F.D.R., the Indomitable Teddy, Napoleon and Citizen Kane. I journeyed along the Hudson River, the Nile, Thames, Showboat on the Mississippi, Volga, and Yangtsee; traveled to the North Pole, China, Japan, Shangri-La, Hawaii, England, Europe, Africa, under all the seas and into outer space.

I watched Mickey and Judy grow up; Our Gang remaining kids forever; Tom and Jerry wreaking havoc. I experienced the burning of Atlanta and Gone with the Wind, the San Francisco earthquake, locusts and The Good Earth, and Singin’ in the Rain. I watched chariots race in Ben Hur, sport cars in Grand Prix, and Buster Keaton on a locomotive. I knew The Wizard of Oz, Gunga Din, The Great Ziegfeld and The Greatest Show on Earth.

I strutted along with all of these stars and celluloid giants who paved the way for those who will continue to matriculate on this street for the entertainment of 2000 and beyond. It all happens on my “dream street” in Culver City.

I look forward to the time when the most important film festival is not in New York, Europe, or the Orient, but in the birthplace of the studio system – where fans and aficionados will come annually, as well as daily to share and marvel at the work of the greats of the past and be introduced to the ingenious imaginations of the future entertainment makers – here in the Garden of Eden of entertainment – CULVER CITY.

PS: Can’t forget The Thin Man, Nora and, of course, “Asta.”

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Harry Culver met Thomas Ince and history was made!

Reel Culver City

by Marc Wanamaker

HARRY CULVER MET THOMAS INCE AND HISTORY WAS MADE!

After watching silent film producer Thomas Ince film a western on Ballona Creek, Culver City founder Harry Culver was so fascinated with the new medium and its PR possibilities that he convinced Ince to move his Inceville Studios from the beach near Pacific Palisades to Washington Boulevard in Culver City.

In 1915, with Culver’s enthusiastic encouragement, Ince built the first of two major motion picture studios in the new town of Culver City. These two studios (now Sony Pictures Entertainment and Culver Studios) dominated the economic, cultural and civic life of Culver City as well as publicizing Culver City internationally – which was exactly what Harry Culver had in mind.

THE MEN

Thomas Harper Ince was one of the most important and influential figures in the history of the American film industry. His combined output as a director, producer and screenwriter extended to thousands of films during the formative years of the film industry. He introduced production procedures and quality of standards that set the model and helped mold the distinct image of Hollywood films to this day.

Harry Culver never met an event that he couldn’t duplicate, let alone improve upon! He was well known for his innovative style, bringing busloads of possible new residents to free picnics, awarding proud parents prizes for their “prettiest babies” (and there sure were a lot of them!), he held marathons and many other special events. He put ads in the newspapers that read: “All roads lead to Culver City!” His goal was to create a balanced residential/commercial community – and Thomas Ince became an integral part of this plan.

CULVER CITY HOSTS FILM FESTIVALS

This is a brief early history of how “The Heart of Screenland” first began. It is fitting that over the last 90 years – Culver City celebrates its 90th birthday on September 20, 2007 – not only were thousands of films made within the city limits, but several film festivals have been held here as well.

Currently, the Agape Peace Film Festival, sponsored by the Agape International Spiritual Center located in Culver City, was held from March 16-18, 2007. This three-day event is “dedicated to anchoring Peace in our personal lives and on our planet.”

Coming in May, the Sixth Annual Damah Film Festival will be held at the Culver Studios (once the Ince Studios) from May 4-6, 2007. Damah “encourages an emerging generation of filmmakers from diverse perspectives to voice the spiritual aspect of the human experience through film and provides a forum for these artists to develop, discuss and display their vision.”

Most recently, the Second Annual Backlot Film Festival was held from January 30 – February 3, 2007, with its Gala Awards event staged at the Veterans Memorial Building. One of its goals is to pay tribute to the rich motion picture history in Culver City and LA’s Westside, often referred to as The Other Hollywood.”

Its main award is titled the “Thomas H. Ince Award” and is given to those distinguished persons who had worked in Culver City at one time or another and have contributed to the film industry here.

The first Ince Award honoree was Daniel Selznick, grandson of the legendary Louis B. Mayer.

I had the honor of participating in this year’s presentation of the Ince Award to famed writer Budd Schulberg who became famous for his book “What Makes Sammy Run?” about the inner workings of the motion picture studios. Daniel Selznick also spoke about his friend Budd and the history of the Selznick, Mayer and Schulberg families. The award was presented to Budd by actor Ben Stiller and there was an Opening Night interview with film critic and historian, Leonard Maltin.

The artistry of Thomas Ince and the keen eye of Harry Culver has been firmly established, and the Backlot Film Festival will continue their legacy for future filmmakers and filmgoers – heralding the “Heart of Screenland.”

(Special thanks to City Historian Julie Lugo Cerra for the fine history timeline she authored on the City of Culver City website from which many of the above references are made.)

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Reel Culver City Winter 2007

REEL CULVER CITY

by: Marc Wanamaker

THOMAS INCE FIRE PREVENTION FILM BRINGS ATTENTION TO CULVER CITY

Culver City film pioneer Thomas H. Ince was made an honorary Coast Fire Chief by the City of Los Angeles. Ince received this distinction by producing a fire prevention film at the Thomas Ince Studios and received a ecial badge for his efforts.

Ince had been honored over the years for his fire prevention efforts on behalf of the motion picture industry in the Los Angeles area. As early as 1913, Ince had personally led a brigade of actors and studio employees to fight a fire around Santa Ynez Canyon which was then a part of Inceville, Ince’s then studio, at what is now Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway. The Mayor of Santa Monica personally commended his efforts.

CULVER CITY STUDIO HAS FIRE-FIGHTING FACILITIES

When Ince opened his new studio on Washington Boulevard in 1919 – complete with a visit by the King and Queen of Belgium – he was already proudly showing off the fire-fighting equipment installed at the studio. A small swimming pool built behind the Colonial administration building also doubled as a water reservoir for fire-fighting. In cooperation with the Culver City Fire Department, the Ince Studio was considered a satellite fire station in the eastern portion of Culver City.

PRESS APPLAUDS INCE STUDIOS

The Moving Picture World magazine in its January 17, 1920 issue, profiled the Ince Fire Prevention film and the honorary ceremony, with the headline: “Ince Fire Prevention Film Wins Him Honor of Chief.” It further stated: “Motion pictures have been a source of entertainment for a number of years, but it is only recently that they have come into their own in a practical way, for the benefit of all, and a great stride forward along this line was made by Thomas H. Ince, when he produced a picture depicting methods of fire prevention.

Mr. Ince turned the studio equipment to the task of turning out this film, and then presented it to the Fire Prevention Bureau of the Pacific, which has shown it all over the west, before Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, Boy Scouts, schools, women’s clubs and other organizations.

INCE HONORED BY CHIEFS ASSOC.

The ceremony was held in January of 1920 on the steps of the new Thomas H. Ince Studios’ administration building with Los Angeles and Culver City Fire Department officers in attendance. The Mayor of Los Angeles Snyder presented Tom Ince with the Chief badge making him an honorary Coast Fire Chief on behalf of the Pacific Coast Fire Chiefs Association.”

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The Culver City-Palms Pacific Electric Station

Reel Culver City
by Marc Wanamaker

Rail transportation was one of the major factors in the rapid growth of Culver City since 1915.

The Pacific Electric’s depot on Venice Blvd. was just west of Bagley Avenue (which becomes Culver City’s Main Street on the south side of Venice). It was the transit stop for the Venice Short Line, the Redondo Line, the Santa Monica Air Line and the Playa Del Rey Line.

The station itself was situated at the intersection at the fork in the rail system in Culver City – splitting off the Redondo Line which ran down Culver Blvd. and the Venice Short Line which ran down Venice Blvd.

ADJACENT TO MEDIA PARK
Located at 9013 Venice Boulevard, the station was adjacent to Media Park where the Ivy Substation is currently located. By the 1930s, the station was known as the Culver City-Palms Pacific Electric Southern Pacific Station.

There were only two major stations in the area: the Culver City Station and the Palms Station nearby at Featherstone Avenue (later to become Exposition Blvd.). Both Stations were used by the studios as film locations and serviced the area until the 1960s when all rail service was discontinued.

IVY SUBSTATION – AN HISTORICAL LANDMARK
All that is left of the station’s legacy is the Ivy Substation which was behind the depot and originally just called the “Ivy.” It became an historical landmark along with Media Park in the 1990s. Thanks to railroad preservationist David Cameron, who put the Ivy Substation on the National Register of Historic places, the legacy of the Culver City Pacific Electric Station is kept alive as a part of Culver City’s history.

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Culver City’s “40-Acres” Studio Backlot Ranch

Reel Culver City
by Marc Wanamaker

One of Culver City’s most famous studio backlots was a 40-acre location property on the north bank of La Ballona Creek.

INCE & DEMILLE
The story begins with the creation of the Thomas H. Ince Studio in 1918, the second of two studios in the new town of Culver City. At this time Thomas Ince Productions used La Ballona Creek and the surrounding hills as film locations.

When Ince died at the end of 1924, his friend Cecil B. DeMille purchased the studio in the following year with the help of Pathé America as his financial partner and film distributor. DeMille acquired acreage on La Ballona Creek at what is now Higuera Street and Ince Boulevard. One of the first films shot on this new backlot ranch was The Road To Yesterday (1925), and over the next three years, DeMille used the area for his epic film The King of Kings (1927), among others.

PATHÉ, RKO & SELZNICK
In 1926, the Radio Corporation of America merged with Pathé and by 1928, had changed its name to Pathé Studios Culver City. The backlot ranch at this time contained around 32 acres and another eight acres were added along the north bank of La Ballona Creek.

By 1930, the backlot was called the RKO-Pathé ”40-Acres” (though, in fact, it was only 29 acres). Between 1930 and 1935, more sets were built in and around the previous settings of the DeMille days. In 1932, the large King Kong “jungle wall” sets were constructed, later to be burned down during the shooting of Gone With the Wind in 1938. When David O. Selznick leased the entire studio complex in 1935, the ranch name alternated between ”30-Acres” and ”40-Acres.”

In 1946, RKO-Pathé purchased the “40-Acres” ranch after a long lease arrangement. Throughout the 1940s, Selznick used the backlot for such films as Since You Went Away, Duel In the Sun and Portrait of Jennie.

HUGHES & DESILU TV
In 1950, Howard Hughes took over ownership of RKO and continued renting the RKO-Pathé studios to outside producers. In 1951, the early “Superman” TV series was shot on the 40-Acres – beginning the backlot’s television history. At this time such films as Jet Pilot, The Big Sky and Androcles and the Lion were also shot on the RKO 40-Acres.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz took over the old RKO-Pathé lot and renamed it “Desilu-Culver” in 1957. Over the next few years, Desilu TV shows such as “The Untouchables,” “The Texan,” “Whirlybirds” and “Sheriff of Cochise” used the backlot settings.

In 1965, for the epic film, The Greatest Story Ever Told, several more sets were built among the many already there. During the sixties, the most prominent show dominating the back lot was ”Hogan’s Heroes.” When Desilu was sold to Paramount in 1967, the “Star Trek” television series was the most popular show using the studio and 40-Acre backlot.

THE END OF AN ERA
The studio was sold to a chemical company in the following year and renamed the ”Culver Studios” where the television show ”Lassie” continued to use the studio and the backlot settings.

When Laird International purchased the studio property at the end of 1977, they thought they were buying the studio lot and the 40-Acre backlot. To their surprise, the 40-Acre parcel had been pre-sold to a developer who demolished the entire lot and built an industrial park on the site – which has grown and developed into its current form.

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