The Movies get moving
Early filmmaking in Hollywood (LAPL)
By Jim Bishop
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.
- Book/Film News , Hollywood at 100! | Tags: Biograph, carl laemmle, cecil b demille, Charlie Chaplin, d. w. griffith, David Horsley, Francis Boggs, harold lloyd, Kalem, Lubin, Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett, Mary Pickford, Motion Picture Patent Co., Nestor, Pathe, Selig Polyscope, Thomas Edison, Tom Mix, vitagraph, William Farnum, William Fox, William S. Hart, William Selig