Reel Culver City
by Marc Wanamaker
CULVER CITY WAS HOST TO BELGIUM ROYALTY
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.
THOMAS INCE BUILDS 2NDSTUDIO & SUPPORTS WAR EFFORT
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.
BELGIUM ROYALTY GRATEFUL TO U.S.
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.
OCTOBER 17, 1919 ROYAL VISIT
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.”
CULVER CITY’S INTERNATIONAL PROFILE
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.