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features candid, exclusive voices and photographs from the people who worked there, and includes hundreds of rare and unpublished photographs.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.

Memories Of A Visit To Culver City’s Famous "40-acres" Backlot In 1972


by Marc Wanamaker


In the summer of 1972 while working at the American Film Institute in Beverly Hills, I was asked by an AFI writer to be the photographer on a field trip to the famous “40 Acres” backlot in Culver City. The writer was engaged to write a small book or documentary on the history of the sets and films that were

shot on this famous backlot and we were granted access to this legendary filming site. This visit began my lifelong project to write an encyclopedia of the American Film Studios of which I’m still engaged.


This backlot was first created by producer/director Thomas Ince when he built his own studio on

Washington Blvd. in 1918. The original backlot consisted of a small village and some shacks near the La

Ballona Creek.

After Ince’s death in 1924, the studio and backlot were sold to Ince’s friend, Cecil B. DeMille, and the

studio became known as the DeMille Studio. The “40 Acres” backlot was used for many DeMille directed or produced films such as The King of Kings (1927).

By 1929, DeMille turned the studio over to his partners, Pathé America and the studio became the

Pathé Culver City Studio. With the merger of Pathé and RKO in the same year, the new name of the lots

was the RKO-Pathé Studio. Classic films such as King Kong were shot on all the RKO lots with the “40 Acres” backlot filling in for ‘Skull Island’ along with the famous colossal wall containing King Kong.

In 1935, David O. Selznick signed a long-term lease of both properties and produced among other films,

Gone With The Wind, burning down the former King Kong jungle wall to make way for the Atlanta Railway Station. With the success of Gone With The Wind, the Selznick International entire RKO Studios assets were sold to Desilu, the company owned by stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

The Desilu Culver Studios became the home for many early 1950s television shows such as Whirley Birds, The Untouchables, Lassie, Hogan’s Heroes, the Andy Griffith Show among others.

In 1962, director George Stevens produced The Greatest Story Ever Told at the studio using the same stages and the “40 Acres” backlot used by Cecil B. DeMille thirty-five years earlier.

By 1967, Desilu sold out all their assets to Paramount and the studio became known as the Paramount Culver Studios. Paramount used the “40 Acres” and the main lot for a couple of years before they sold the entire lot to the Perfect Film & Chemical Company who changed the name yet again to The Culver City Studios in 1969. In 1981, the studio was sold again, this time to the Laird International Studios who operated it as a rental lot. Sadly, “40 Acres” was sold to a developer who demolished what was left of the famous sets still existing and created an industrial park, as it is today.

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…