Archive for the ‘Hollywood at 100!’ Category

The movies arrive

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

The Movies get moving

 

 

Early filmmaking in Hollywood (LAPL)

  

By Jim Bishop
1979

 

Hollywood wasn’t always an open air asylum. It was founding in 1887 by retired bluenoses as a prohibition town. No drinks, no excitement.  A horse could not turn a corner at a speed greater than six miles per hour. It was a nice place if you were an orange.

 

Movies were unheard of in Hollywood, even in 1900. The flickering shadows were devised in a place called Fort Lee, N.J. It had forests, rocks, cliffs for cliff-hanging, and the Hudson River.

 

The movie industry had two problems. The weather was unpredictable, and Thomas Edison sued producers who used his invention. A romantic two-reeler could be made in three days for $1,000 if the rain stopped and if the process servers got lost on the Dyckman St. ferry.

 

The Selig Polyscope Co. heard from a director, Francis Boggs, that a tiny town called Hollywood, Calif., had everything. There was perpetual sunshine, palm trees, the Santa Monica Mountains for westerns, a beach for provocative mermaids, and an ocean for sea stories.

 

William Selig, the owner, went to see Edison. They organized the Motion Picture Patent Co. Selig was ready to go west. All he had to move were a couple of hand-cranked cameras, a director, a leading man and a leading lady, and a dozen unemployed actors.

 

 

 

 

In March 1909, Selig arrived in Los Angeles. He didn’t have to bring scenery. It was all in place. His two-reelers created envy in the East. In the autumn, Biograph and D.W. Griffith moved to Los Angeles. By spring, Pathé, Vitagraph, Lubin and Kalem had gone west.

 

Strangely, they not select the small town of Hollywood. The studios were in Glendale, Pasadena, Santa Barbara, San Diego and Santa Monica. It was not until 1911 that David Horsley moved his Nestor Co. west. The prohibition town, Hollywood, had an abandoned saloon at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street.

 

The prohibitionists learned too late that, while it was desirable to have no booze, Hollywood also had no water. The little town was forced to incorporate itself with Los Angeles. Local ordinances became invalid.

 

At the same time, the suburban towns yanked the welcome mat from the movie people. William Fox moved to Hollywood. Carl Laemmle bought the Nestor studio. Essanay and Vitagraph made it unanimous.

 

Mack Sennett shot his comedies at the beach or in the middle of the street. His actors pushed their way into public parades and skidded automobiles over dusty roads to create excitement.

 

 

 

 

Millions of people were paying a nickel a head to see these epics. Charlie Chaplin arrived. So did Harold Lloyd. A teen-ager named Mary Pickford was seen in a nightie, yawning and holding an automobile tire with a credo: Time to Retire.

 

The brought her out. And Mabel Normand, Tom Mix and William Farnum could actually ride a horse. So could William S. Hart. Movie plots became longer, more intricate. High-ceilinged studios were built. The prohibitionists left Hollywood in dismay. To them, it became a place of sin.

 

Cecil B. DeMille heard that Griffith had spent $100,000 on The Birth of a Nation, featuring the Gish sisters. He decided to spend more on sophisticated movies like Why Change Your Wife? and Forbidden Fruit.

 

The movie-goers admired certain actors. This led to the star system. In 1909, a star was paid $5 a day. Five years later, Mary Pickford was earning $1,000 a week. An English comic, Charlie Chaplin was paid $150 a week in 1913 by Mack Sennett. Two years later, he was getting $10,000 a week.

 

What had started as nickel theater became a gigantic industry. Some studios built their own theaters across the nation. Movies seduced the emotions of America two hours at a time—laughter and tears.

 

Where there is big money there are fights, consolidations and codes. The independent producer was squeezed out or bought out. Movie magazines, which pretend to purvey the private lives of the stars, flourished.

 

Pretty girls in Iowa and Maine were told “you ought to be in pictures.” They went out west and, with few exceptions, became hash slingers or worse. Hollywood became the magic Mecca of make-believe.

 

It was, in those days, a sparkling city of fame and light. Today (1979) it is smog and freeways, freaks and drugs, cults and sexual religions, front money and mortgages, stupendous hits and duds, economic knifings and gossip columnists, movie agents and press agents.

 

Baby, you’ve come a long, long way.

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Filmmaking in Hollywood approaching 100 years

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

HOLLYWOOD AT 100!

Filmmaking in Hollywood celebrates 100 years

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of when producers first made films in Hollywood. Back in 1911, when Hollywood Boulevard (then Prospect Avenue) was lined with orange trees and Sunset Boulevard was all lemon trees, Hollywood citizens scoffed when they saw films being made in the streets. According to Al Christie, pioneer film producer, the people of Hollywood used to regard the film people as lunatics. Over the next year, Hollywoodland will profile the historic people and events from Hollywood’s first year. The following is a remembrance of Christie, who along with David Horsley, opened the first motion picture studio at the northwest corner of Sunset and Gower on October 27, 1911.

 

By Al Christie, 1928

 

“Motion pictures are a business now, but they were a ‘freak’ when we came out to Los Angeles in 1911. Hollywood was a sleepy little town of dusty roads and yellow orchards, pepper trees, and a profusion of flowers. Hollywood Boulevard seemed all orange trees, Sunset all lemon trees. The flowers and fruit were so beautiful that we tried to use them as background in every picture.

 

“In those days we had no rushes. The films were shipped east before we saw them, to be developed. We saw the first picture we made in California three months later and we noticed, to our disappointment, that the oranges photographed black.

 

“On one of those first days, when we were shooting a comedy scene on a Hollywood street corner, one of the town’s good citizens came along, walked into camera range and stood there stiffly. I asked him if he would mind moving, and he replied, hotly, ‘I’m a taxpayer, sir, I’ve a right to stay her, and I’m going to!’

 

“‘Going to stay right there?’ I asked him.

 

“‘Yes, sir, right here!’

 

“‘That’s fine, were going to move across the road and you will be out of vision,’ I rejoined. He was pretty mad.

 

“None of us had heard of Hollywood before we came west. There were other companies in Los Angeles. D.W. Griffith was working at the corner of Georgia and Pico, where the car bars are now. Fred Balshofer was in Edendale and Selig in Glendale. A real estate agent told us he had a fine lot in a place called Hollywood. He took us out on Sunset Boulevard and while he was showing it to other members of the party I wandered away from him and across the street to what we decided upon as our first studio location.

 

“There stood an old abandoned roadhouse [Blondeau Tavern], a low, rambling building with a big veranda and many private dining rooms. There was a big bar which we made into a carpenter shop. Margarita Fischer and Harry Pollard were given the little dining rooms for dressing rooms. A lot of others who weren’t so fortunate dressed in the old bard, where the horses had formerly been kept. Russell Bassett, the eminent actor, now dead, once said, ‘That I should come to see the day when I should dress with the horses!’ And he was serious.

 

“Location trips meant work for everyone. Every actor used to know how to hammer and saw. In addition to doubling, loading props on and off the wagons, painting the legs of the horses when we wanted to double them, the actors build all the sets. In the winter we would stop camera shooting a half past three. Could the actors go home? No! We would say, ‘All right, boys, now we’ll put up the house for tomorrow.’ Even the women helped in their spare time. My mother made all the curtains for the sets.

 

“There was one motion picture theater in town. It was nothing extra, and not many people went to it. As a result, no one was much interested in what we did, except to think of us as a bunch of ‘nuts.’

 

“What a contrast to conditions today. Everyone in Hollywood knows almost as much about pictures as those of us in the business. If we took a company down Hollywood Boulevard today to make a street scene with a man jumping on and off a moving street car, we would get 100 per cent cooperation. I would be willing to wager that without knowing our plans, the first motorman who came along would slow up to let our man make his jumps. They’re all movie actors now.”

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One-hundred years of filmmaking in Hollywood

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

HOLLYWOOD AT 100!

 The 100th anniversary of Hollywood’s first movie studio

 

 

The above photo is reportedly a photo of David Horsley and his troup taken at the train station upon his arrival in Los Angeles, one-hundred years ago today on October 27, 1911. Horsely is on the far right with mustache and bowler. The boy with the camera is his son. Al Christie is over Horsley’s right shoulder.

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first movie studio located in Hollywood. There were other companies in Los Angeles by this time–D.W. Griffith was working at the corner of Georgia and Pico. Fred Balshofer was in Edendale and Col. William Selig in Glendale but no one had yet set up shop in Hollywood, which would become the film capitol of the world.

 

Brothers David and William Horsley formed the Centaur Film Company on the east coast. By 1910 their operation was producing three movies a week, including the Mutt and Jeff comedies. Along with other movie independents, they succeeded in defeating the monopolistic hold on the industry of Thomas Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company. However, weather conditions became so bad during the summer and early fall of 1911 that it was impossible to make motion pictures in the vicinity of New York City. The camera depended entirely on sunshine and there just wasn’t any sunshine to speak of. Frustrated, David Horsley took his three companies and loaded them on the train and moved his operations to California.

 

Horsley arrived in Hollywood with Al Christie, director and cameraman, and actor Thomas Ricketts and others. Hollywood was a sleepy little town of dusty roads and yellow orchards, pepper trees, and a profusion of flowers. Hollywood Boulevard seemed all orange trees, Sunset all lemon trees. Reportedly some footage was shot in the orchards of one of Hollywood’s early founders, H.J. Whitley. The following day, October 27, 1911, Frank Hoover, a local photographer with a studio at the southeast corner of Hollywood and Gower, introduced Horsley to Marie Blondeau, a widow who owned a closed-up roadhouse down the street on Sunset and Gower. The tavern was a low, rambling building with a big veranda and many private dining rooms.

 

 

Blondeau Tavern

 

 

After lunch they went poking around in the backyard of the roadhouse. The tropical foliage and orange groves so entranced them that they rented it that day from Mrs. Blondeau for $40 a month—backyard and all. As a result the Nestor Company opened the first motion picture studio in Hollywood on the site of a deserted tavern. The next day they started shooting The Law of the Range, starring Harold Lockwood.

 

At the new studio, Horsley had three units working simultaneously—one was under the direction of Milton H. Fahrney, who made one single reel Western picture every week; another was directed by Thomas Ricketts who made one single reel dramatic picture every week; and the third was under the direction of Al Christie, who made one single reel Mutt and Jeff comedy picture every week.

 

In those days there were no rushes. The negatives were developed after dark on the old screen porch of the tavern, and sent to Bayonne, New Jersey, to the laboratory for printing. The cast and crew did not see Law of the Range until three months later and they noticed, to their disappointment, that the oranges photographed black.

 

 

 

The above help-wanted ad, looking for actors, appeared in the Los Angeles Times on November 4, 1911, one week after Horsley set up shop in Hollywood

 

 

The old tavern had to be remodeled in order to meet their needs. There was a big bar which was made into a carpenter shop. The house was turned into offices, the barn into a property room. A stage was built in the yard—with muslin over it to diffuse the light. Margarita Fischer and Harry Pollard were given the little dining rooms for dressing rooms. A lot of others who weren’t so fortunate dressed in the old barn, where the horses had formerly been kept. Russell Bassett, the eminent actor, once said, ‘That I should come to see the day when I should dress with the horses!’ And he was serious.

 

Location trips meant work for everyone. Every actor had to know how to hammer and saw. In addition to doubling, loading props on and off the wagons, painting the legs of the horses when they wanted to double them, the actors built all the sets. In the winter they would stop camera shooting at three-thirty. Could the actors go home? No! The director would say, “All right, boys, now we’ll put up the house for tomorrow.” Even the women helped in their spare time. Al Christie’s mother made all the curtains for the sets.

 

 

Christie / Nestor Studios 1913

 

 

On one of the first days of filming Al Christie was shooting a comedy scene on a Hollywood street corner, and one of the local residents came along, walked into camera range and stood there stiffly. Christie asked him if he would mind moving, and he replied, hotly, ‘I’m a taxpayer, sir, I’ve a right to stay her, and I’m going to!’

 

“‘Going to stay right there?’ Christie asked him.

 

“‘Yes, sir, right here!’

 

“‘That’s fine, were going to move across the road and you will be out of vision,’ Christie said. He was pretty mad.

 

 

Above is the site of the former Blondeau Tavern, Nestor Studios and Christie Studios on the northwest corner of Sunset and Gower. In the late 1930s it then became the home of CBS. The building is now abandoned.

 

 

The studio was operated by David Horsley until May 20, 1912, when Universal Film Company was formed and took over every one of the independent companies then operating and each one took stock for his studio, laboratories and other picture interests. Horsley received $175,000 in preferred stock and $204,000 in common stock in the Universal Company. He also was elected to the office of treasurer of Universal at $200 per week salary, a lot of money in those days.

 

Throughout the next few months I will continue the story and post about the people and places of those early days of filmmaking in Hollywood.

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The story of Blondeau’s Tavern

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

HOLLYWOOD AT 100!

Blondeau’s Tavern — where it all began…

 

 

  

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first motion picture studio that was established in Hollywood-proper in a run-down tavern at the northwest corner of Sunset and Gower. This is the first in a series of articles over the next several months that celebrates the movies birth in Hollywood. Today is a look at the very beginning and the family that established that tavern – Rene and Marie Blondeau.

 

 

Blondeau’s Tavern stood at the northwest corner of Sunset and Gower. This hostelry has a place on history’s pages, in that the Blondeau’s were friends with artist Paul De Longpre and boosters who persuaded him to locate there. The old tavern also became Hollywood’s first film studio in 1911.

 

Rene Blondeau was born in 1839 near Normandie, France. In 1855, at the age of 16, young Blondeau arrived in New Orleans where he set up business as a perfume importer. In 1870, Rene returned to France for a visit and met twenty-year-old Marie Lousteau and married her the following year.  Rene took his new bride to New Orleans where they set up house.

 

In February 1875 the couple had a son who they named Rene Hyacinthe Blondeau. Sadly, the child died less than two years later. After the death of their son, the Blondeaus visited the principal cities of South America, and, while in Chile, adopted a daughter, Louise.  Before returning to New Orleans with a small fortune, in Argentina they assumed the responsibility of bringing up a half-orphan French-born boy who they called Louis.

 

The Blondeau’s had friends in California who owned a road house in a sleepy little village called Hollywood, just a few miles outside of Los Angeles. Martin Labaig was the proprietor of the Six-Road House on the northeast corner of Sunset and Gower. Labaig convinced Blondeau to relocate to Hollywood, so in 1889 they came across the Isthmus to Los Angeles and to Hollywood. There, Harvey Wilcox, the founder of Hollywood, sold Blondeau six acres of land for $2,000 across from the Labaig’s.

 

In 1892, Blondeau built an addition to his home and applied for a liquor license and began serving meals, calling his establishment, Blondeau’s Tavern. Two years later, Blondeau bought five acres across Sunset Boulevard at the southwest corner from Senator Cornelius Cole for $300 per acre.

 

In 1899 Blondeau was instrumental in bringing the well-known French painter, Paul De Longpre, to the Cahuenga Valley. De Longpre built Hollywood’s first tourist attraction – his home and flower gardens – at Prospect (now Hollywood Boulevard) and Cahuenga. De Longpre died in Hollywood in 1911 and has a street and park named after him.

 

Blondeau’s Tavern prospered over the years, feeding and quenching the thirst of countless travelers passing through the Cahuenga Valley. Shortly after the turn of the century, Rene began to suffer from complications of several diseases. On January 20, 1903, Rene Blondeau died at his home adjacent to the tavern. He was 63 years old. The funeral services were conducted by Father Cota of the local Catholic Church and interment was in Hollywood Cemetery.

 

 

 

 

Less than a year after Rene’s death, Hollywood became a prohibition town, voting to only allow the sale of liquor from a registered pharmacist, on the prescription of a physician. The ban of liquor ate into the profits of the local eating establishments, including Blondeau’s. Suffering from the drought induced by Hollywood’s liquor ordinance, Marie reluctantly was forced to close the tavern not long afterward and sat empty for several years.

 

The Blondeau’s adopted son, Louis, became a farmer when they first moved to Hollywood. He later dabbled in oil before investing in Hollywood real estate and becoming the town’s first barber with a shop near his father’s tavern. He eventually became what many have called a notorious landlord operating three buildings near Hollywood and Cahuenga. He was married and divorced, and died at age 57 at his Hollywood home at 1243 N. Laurel Avenue. He was entombed in the Foyer of the Abbey of the Psalms at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

 

 

In late October, 1911, Frank Hoover, a local photographer with a studio at the southeast corner of Hollywood and Gower, introduced Mrs. Blondeau to David Horsley, who had just arrived in town looking to rent space to make motion pictures. She rented him the closed-up tavern for $40 dollars a month; as a result the Nestor Company opened the first motion picture studio in Hollywood on the site of a deserted tavern.

 

Marie and her daughter Louise moved to their new house on property she owned a block away at 6123 De Longpre Avenue. It was here that Marie died forty years after her husband on April 9, 1943. She was buried next to Rene at Hollywood Cemetery.

 

 

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