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.

Author and Cinematographer to Discuss MGM Backlots at Next Culver City Historical Society Meeting

M-G-M Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot by Stephen Sylvester - Culver City Historical SocietyStephen Sylvester, co-author of M-G-M Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot, and Academy award winning cinematographer Fred Koenekamp will share the spotlight at the next general meeting of Culver City Historical Society on Wednesday, April 16, 2014, at 7 p.m. in the Veterans Memorial Building’s multi-purpose room.

Sylvester will present a short film and a PowerPoint presentation illustrating the history of the soundstages and outdoor sets where Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced many of the world’s most famous films. The book features candid, exclusive voices and photographs from the people who worked there, and includes hundreds of rare and unpublished photographs.  Sylvester will be selling and signing his book that night.

Koenekamp, known for his camera work on Patton, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Papillion, and The Towering Inferno, for which he won his Academy award, and many other fine films, will also share his memories of the MGM years.

There will be a brief discussion of upcoming programs and projects, as well as updates on the activities and exhibits in the Archives & Resource Center (ARC) which will be opened following the meeting.

All members of the Culver City Historical Society and the public are welcome to enjoy this free program and students are encouraged to attend.  The entrance to the multi-purpose room is through the back of the building near the parking lot, and through the Archive & Resource Center space.

“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.

The Annual Costume Society of America Symposium

Hedy Lamar costume - Culver City Historical Society

News from the Costume Chair

by Louise Coffey-Webb, Costume Committee Chair

I have just returned from rainstorms in Boston where I was attending the annual Costume Society of America Symposium. I presented a lecture on Ganna Walska, a well-known Polish opera singer and socialite, whose designer of choice was the legendary Erté – famous for his Art Deco sinewy figures and fantastical ornaments.

Erté was also contracted to design sets and costumes for MGM in 1925, and his credits include The Mystic, Bright Lights, Time, the Comedian, Dance Madness, La Bohème, and Paris – all made during that one year! He was often partnered with designer Andre-Ani.

Even though his Parisian studio was replicated on the MGM lot to help him feel comfortable, one year was all he could bear!

New Displays of Costumes of Hedy Lamarr & Eleanor Parker

There are a couple of new costume displays in the ARC that I wanted to tell you about.

The first is an outfit made for Hedy Lamarr (pictured above) that looks like a two-piece skirt and top, but is actually made in one piece of a pretty red printed flower on black silk.

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna and was a star in Europe before signing with Louis B. Mayer, who changed her name. She was a contracted star with MGM from 1937 through the end of World War II. [In 1942, at the height of her Hollywood career, she patented a frequency-switching system for torpedo guidance that was two decades ahead of its time; but that’s another story!]

We do not know the designer, as the production number written inside: “3684” belongs to a production that never came to fruition. It’s possible that this outfit was made for PR purposes. I have dated it circa 1940.

The other costume looks like an Asian pajama set, and is superbly finished to couture standards with a pale green chiffon silk lining. It is from The Seventh Sin (MGM, 1957) and was worn by Eleanor Parker as “Carol Carwin.” The hand-written labels sewn to the interior seams, say “Eleanor Parker” and the film production number “1710.” The designer was Helen Rose.

When you next enter the ARC, look for the photograph on the left of the old Meralta Theatre on Culver Boulevard, which is displaying on it’s marquee, the film The Seventh Sin with Eleanor Parker! The theatre was near the old City Hall and we can date the photograph to 1957 – as that was the film release date. This coincidence was noticed by Justin Scupine, Editor of when he visited the ARC last month.

Visit the new Displays at the Pacific Theatre

I hope you have had a chance to look at our new display in the window of the Pacific Theatre, opposite The Culver Hotel. We will be changing sections every couple of months, to keep you up-to-date with our events and activities.

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.)