Notes From Your City Historian
by Julie Lugo Cerra
Harry H. Culver’s interest in the emerging movie industry paved the way for Culver City to host three major movie studios, smaller studios and support services. Moviemaking offered a source of employment and generated a significant part of the revenue stream for a balanced community. Many families boasted at least one friend or relative who worked in the industry. The wide scope of occupations ranged from actors to artists, craftsmen, writers, directors, barbers, to drivers and…
The landmark M.G.M colonnade in 1937. Note the signal to the right. One of these,
is on display at the Archives (donated by former Mayor Richard R. Brundo.)
From early times, productions like The Last of the Mohicans, Ben Hur and Gone with the Wind offered locals a bonus, like a box lunch and a little added income to act as “Extras!” Other locals collected autographs at studio gates. Gwen Verdon lived in Culver City, where her mother taught dance. (Her “merry widow” from the movie of that name is currently on display.) Before Culver High was built, Myrna Loy lived in Culver City and attended Venice High. She was a student when she posed for the famous statue in the front of the school. Culver City’s “Mayor Emeritus,” Dan Patacchia, was a limousine driver for the studios before he opened Culver Park Realty. Linda Gray, destined to play Sue Ellen on MGM’s “Dallas,” grew up in the area south of the studio where it was filmed. Most locals have family or friends who worked in the industry. Martha Sigall worked in animation, June Caldwell worked for studio bosses, and our Parrish family boasts generations of prop masters!
As the movie studios grew, so did the city economy. The industry flourished in spite of The Great Depression. Moviemaking was a source of local pride. The current Culver City seal was designed in 1936. It reads: “Culver City, The Heart of Screenland.”
By the 1930s, most movie credits showed “Made in Hollywood,” or nothing at all. The locals’ irritation at the lack of credit reached its high point. It was estimated at the time that 60% of California releases were made in Culver City. The business community reacted. The Citizen newspaper ran a contest to rename the city. “Filmville” and “Cinema City” were popular entries. “Culver City, where Hollywood Movies are made,” appeared on the stationery of the Culver City Chamber of Commerce in the 1930s! In 1937, as irritation peaked, a “Bury the Hatchet” ceremony was held at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Culver City people rode to the event in vehicles from “The Prisoner of Zenda.” The governor was invited, and local officials watched a hatchet thrust into wet concrete. It was not until 1991 that Culver City was mentioned regularly in any movie credits.