Culver City, Where Hollywood Movies Are Made!

Julie Lugo CerraNotes 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…

MGM Colonnade - Culver City Historical SocietyThe 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!

This vintage Chamber of Commerce button, donated by the Reese family, is rare evidence of the spirited rivalry between Culver City and Hollywood. (currently on display in the ARC.) - Culver City Historical SocietyAs 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.

“Meet Me At The ARC”!

News from the Costume Chair
by Sharon Shore, Costume Chair

Visitors to the ARC are in for a treat from the golden age of musicals!

IMAGE.CostumesOur costume display features a one-piece worn in Meet Me in St. Louis, a film made by MGM in 1944.  This romantic musical starring Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien portrays the story of a family who lived in St. Louis in 1904 just before the opening of The Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair.The film, which depicted a forward-looking and exciting time of expansion in United States history, was made during a dark period with the nation involved in World War II.  Directed by Vincent Minnelli, the film was very successful and won many awards and accolades.  It has been designated as culturally significant by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry.

Dress Styles Reflect Optimistic Spirit Of The Early 1900s

Western dress styles in 1904 reflected a spirit of exuberance and opulence with wide brimmed hats supporting huge arrangements of flowers and feathers, as well as elaborate “day” and “afternoon dresses made of gathered and pleated cotton voile emphasizing tiny waists and mono bosom bodices.  The peach-colored dress in our display reflects the period style of the “day” dress with contrasting turquoise trim, a tightly cinched waist and puffed sleeves.  It has a high collar with yoke-like design below made up of rows of applied trim at the bodice.  The gathered skirt and sleeves are embellished with rows of ruffles.

The costume design for Meet Me in St. Louis dress is attributed to Irene Sharaff and worn by Jean Francis (as noted on the costume’s sewn-in label).  The attributions are recorded in original provenance notes in the archives but are not confirmed by other sources at this time.

Historic Information Welcomed

The Culver City Historical Society is fortunate to have had this dress included in the MGM collection and would welcome additional information about the dress as used in the film to add to our meager provenance notes.  If you happen to have such information, please send it to the attention of the Costume Committee Chair, Culver City Historical Society (see email and US mail address on the last page of the newsletter).

Costume Care Tip For Fall

Family keepsakes and or family heirloom collections often include a textile which is too fragile to store with the rest of the collection or one considered important enough to warrant special treatment. It might be a grandmother’s wedding veil or a boy scout uniform and the value it holds is usually not defined by dollars alone (or not at all). One of the most important considerations for storing these textiles is the wrapping used inside the box, drawer, bag or other container chosen.  The best wrapping consists of archival white tissue paper in sheet form.  Unlike white tissue gift wrapping paper, the archival tissue paper costs around $1.00 per sheet, depending on quantity purchased and source.  It is manufactured to be chemically non-reactive in contact with textiles and has no brightening or other additives.  It is soft, semi-transparent and often referred to as “acid free” (actually it usually falls somewhere around 6.0 to 7.0 on a pH meter) and UNbuffered. A second type of archival tissue paper is “buffered” but for chemical reasons beyond the appropriate boundaries of this column, it is not safe for use with most textiles.

Sony Pictures Donation Kicks Off Free Screenings with Easter Parade

Easter Parade - Culver City Historical SocietyA warm and hearty thanks goes out to our friends at Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) for their generous donation of a new 40” flat screen Sony Bravia Television and a Blu-ray/DVD player to the Archives & Resource Center (ARC).

Not only has SPE, which came to Culver City in January of 1990, taken historic preservation seriously (they returned Thomas Ince’s first movie lot in Culver City to a state-of-the-art entertainment facility and have two city-designated Landmark structures and several Significant structures), they’ve proven to be a wonderful corporate citizen as well. Sony adopted the Culver City Unified School District in 1991 and has been instrumental in the success of the Academy of Visual and Performing Arts.

Janice Pober, Sr. VP of Corporate and Social Responsibility oversees their philanthropic support, particularly in areas of education and the arts. She is a presence at events sponsored by the CCUSD, CCEF to Friends of the Library, and of course, the Culver City Historical Society, of which Sony is a corporate member. In addition to donating a display case for the ARC, SPE also generously gave the Historical Society a grant that has enabled us to do a free celebration for the City’s 90th Anniversary of Incorporation.

Sony Pictures Donation Kicks Off Free Screenings with Easter Parade - Culver City Historical Society

Their recent TV and Blu-Ray/DVD donation will enable us to screen video oral histories, footage of events from Culver City’s past (such as the early La Ballona Days parades), and classic movies made at the studios right here in “The Heart of Screenland.”

Yes, you read that correctly. Come by the ARC on the first and third Sundays of the month and enjoy a classic movie shot in Culver City, free of charge! (See the sidebar on the right for a schedule of upcoming presentations.)

Time to Clean Out Your Closets & Garages!

by Louise Coffey-Webb, Costume Committee Chair

Oscar-winning design - Culver City Historical Society

Summer is upon us and I, for one, am trying to clean out the quantities of “stuff” that seem to multiply mysteriously over the years in my garage. I unpack my summer clothes and look at them once more.

Do they still fit? Are they representative of who I am this year? Even though that garment used to be my absolute favorite – isn’t it a bit shabby after all these years?

All this evaluating got me thinking about the readers of this column and what you may have in your garage.

Might There Be Some MGM Auction Items Around?

Although I moved here from England over three decades ago, I was not here for the legendary MGM auction. I have worked at various museums where donors have come in from time to time with items they purchased at the auction saying “it seemed like a good idea at the time!”

And actually it was, because now those objects have been saved from obscurity (as well as Halloween and the grand kids dress-up!), and will be catalogued, researched and preserved for current and future generations to enjoy.

So I am wondering if any of you have items in your garage that may be of interest to the Culver City Historical Society? We are particularly interested in costumes that were acquired at the MGM auction, or other costumes that you may have held onto, because you mother or grandmother worked in the industry, or perhaps you yourself were an actor and held onto a favorite character you played.

CCHS ARC Donation Policy

The policy of the Culver City Historical Society Archives and Resource Center (ARC) states that it “will gratefully accept donations that relate to local history.” However, “the Society reserves the right to decline donations deemed inappropriate to the enhancement of the collection.”

Each donor will receive an official letter of acknowledgement stating the CCHS is a charitable non-profit 501(c)3 organization, with our tax identification number listed along with an inventory or description of the donation.

As it is considered a conflict of interest for the CCHS to appraise your donation, please speak with your accountant about valuing your donation. The IRS often changes such details and sums under which donations need not have an official appraisal, which is why I advise professional advice in such situations.

Academy Award Winner

Here is a photo of a costume that was donated by Ann Bein to the Woodbury Fashion Study Collection, from the MGM auction. It is from the 1962 musical The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm starring Laurence Harvey & an all-star cast, and it won a costume Oscar for Mary Wills.

Again, be reminded that costumes and other film artifacts should be pertinent to the local history of Culver City as well as having connections to our three majors and the minor studios which make us the “Heart of Screenland.”

Now, I wonder what you will discover in your “summer” cleaning…