Posts Tagged ‘Mack Sennett’

Keystone Centennial

Thursday, May 17th, 2012


Fort Lee celebrates centennial of Keystone studio, where film comedy was born




By Jim Beckerman
Staff Writer


It was 100 years ago that movie comedy made its grand entrance – slipping on a banana peel and dodging a pie as it came through the door.


This was due mainly to one studio: Keystone, Mack Sennett’s pioneering slapstick factory, where such talents as Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mabel Normand and Charlie Chaplin himself took their first pratfalls.


What most people don’t know is Keystone’s keystone. The first building block in Sennett’s media empire was an office or small studio – no one’s really sure which – in Fort Lee, which Sennett opened in the spring of 1912.


“It was around Kaufer Lane, at the intersection of Lower Main Street, but we really don’t know much about it,” says Tom Meyers, executive director of the Fort Lee Film Commission, which honors cinema’s little-known pre-Hollywood roots in Bergen County.


This is a banner year for them: In addition to Keystone, Universal Studios and the long-defunct Solax USA (important because it was the home base of film’s first major female director, Alice Guy-Blache) got their start in Fort Lee in 1912.


But Keystone is the key – because it’s the fount from which flowed all modern movie comedy, from Jim Carrey to Zach Galifianakis. To celebrate the big year, the film commission is spearheading several events. A production of “Mack & Mabel,” Jerry Herman’s 1974 musical about the romance of Sennett and his leading lady, Normand, is being staged Friday and Saturday by students of Fort Lee High School, with $10,000 in funds raised by the commission. And the “Reel Jersey Girls” exhibit at Fort Lee Museum on Palisade Avenue, continuing through July 1, contains a whole section devoted to Normand and the Keystone comedy universe she helped to create.


“This was all new,” Meyers says. “Before this, there was no pie-throwing in movies. They were all very staid affairs, almost like a stage play. Mack Sennett’s only message was laughs. He reached out to the audience, grabbed them by the lapels and shook them. Not subtle. He was about as subtle as an atomic bomb.”


Although most people these days haven’t seen a Keystone film, many probably have a rough impression of what these frantic early comedies were like. There were chases, falls into mud puddles, kicks in the rear end. There were fat men, thin men, cross-eyed men, pop-eyed men, men with walrus mustaches and baggy pants. There were pies in the face, of course, usually blackberry pies, not custard ones (blackberry photographed better). There were pretty girls in bathing suits. All this, plus the famous, bumbling Keystone Kops.



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The movies arrive

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011


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.



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Hobart Bosworth remembers early filmmaking

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011


The early days of filmmaking as remembered by Hobart Bosworth



On October 27, 1911 producer David Horsley came from New York and converted a deserted tavern on the northwest corner of Sunset and Gower into Hollywood’s first movie studio. On Thursday we will celebrate one-hundred years of filmmaking in Hollywood. Films were already being made in Los Angeles in the Edendale section where actor Hobart Bosworth was making films since 1909. The following is taken from a 1936 letter that Bosworth wrote a Los Angeles Times columnist reminiscing about those early days in Los Angeles and Hollywood.


“The Fanchon-Royer studio was the original permanent studio established by Francis Boggs, director for the Selig Polyscope Company. The buildings which have just been torn down were built by him from plans approved by Col. Selig. That was the triumph of Bogg’s life, which was ended by a bullet fired by a crazed Japanese gardener when Boggs was on the threshold of great things. Another bullet dangerously wounded Col. Selig.


“The Selig Polyscope party, on a location tour from the plant in Chicago, stopped in Los Angeles in May, 1909, and made two pictures, The Heart of a Race Track Tout, mostly at the old Santa Anita track, and Power of the Sultan, in which Stella Adams and I were the leads. The ‘studio’ for these two was a Chinese laundry on Olive near Eighth. Then the Selig part went north as far as the Columbia River, but was driven back by fogs and hired a little wooden hall on Alessandro Avenue (now Glendale Blvd.), built a little stage and, I think, made one picture there. In the meantime, Boggs had written me at Ramona, where I was battling a gangrenous lung. In September 1909, I started playing the Roman in the old Virginius story with a happy ending.


“Boggs asked if I would write a plot he could produce, which would enable us to use the same scenery and costumes for another picture. I did it by stealing from The Rape of Lucrece, Cymbeline, Quo Vadis and Arius the Epicurean, setting a fashion for acquiring stories which has been considerably followed ever since. So I wrote and acted my second picture, and wrote, directed and acted my third, Courtship of Miles Standish. I have the records to prove all this.


“In November, 1909, a little independent company called Imp started on the other side of the street and a little further down. A year later Mack Sennett occupied that studio. It expanded across the street and had a big growth. But before that, I think in 1910, Jimmie Young Deer began making Westerns for Pathé. He hired a lot nearer us and on the same side of the street which became the Norbig studios. It is there yet, just as it was when I moved to it in 1914 to make the interiors for Jack London snow pictures.


Tom Mix, after he became a Fox star, moved a long way farther out on the Glendale road to what was called Mixville. He had his stables there. Curly Eagles ran them. He was a member, with the Stanley boys, Art Accord, Hoot Gibson and Bosco, of a little stranded rodeo troupe. They came to Boggs in 1910 to work in westerns, but began with Mazeppa, in which I was the gent who was bound to the fiery, untamed steed. It was Kathlyn Williams’ first picture.


“The next studio was established by Al Christie and Dave Horsley at Sunset and Gower. Vicky Ford with her mother and father were there. It later became Universal. Griffith brought the Biograph to Georgia Street in January 1910 and it rained for a month. He was about to go back when he learned that Vitagraph, Lubin, etc., were starting out here because our pictures had such fine scenery and light. Selig had scored a scoop. Griffith brought Mary Pickford, Jack Bennett, Henry Walthall and a lot more.”


—Hobart Bosworth

May 1936



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The Hollywood sign’s history

Sunday, February 14th, 2010


The story of the Hollywood sign



By Allan R. Ellenberger
February 14, 2010


The Hollywood Sign has recently been in the news because of developers attempts to build condominiums on nearby Cahuenga Peak. A move is on to raise money to buy the land and turn it over to the city of Los Angeles to become a part of Griffith Park and thus save the pristine view from the flats of Hollywood. To aid its case, the sign has been covered to read, “Save the Peak.”


The Hollywood Sign has had a remarkable and turbulent history and has endured its share of problems, including a suicide leap from the H, squabbles over who should maintain it, markings from mountain-climbing spray painters, hassles among community groups about its worth, and several threats over the years to tear it down.


The sign has been a major part of the local scenery for more than 86 years, longer than most city landmarks such as Grauman’s Chinese, City Hall, the Shrine Auditorium and UCLA. It even predates Mulholland Drive and is decades older than any freeway.


As most know, the Hollywood sign is the remnant of an advertisement for a 640-acre real-estate development. When it was erected in 1923 the sign said HOLLYWOODLAND, the name of the housing development on the slope just below it. The sign, however, was an afterthought.


As with many Hollywood origins, the sign’s beginnings also have more than one version. The one I chose for this article goes as follows:



In the spring of 1923, John Roche, a 26 year-old advertising and promotional man, was working on a brochure for the Hollywoodland subdivision. He had drawn in proposed home sites, streets and equestrian trails. Behind them, on the side of Mt. Lee, he had penciled in HOLLYWOODLAND.


When Roche arrived at the office of one of the project’s developers, Harry Chandler, then publisher of the Los Angeles Times, with the drawing, Roche says Chandler liked the idea and wanted to know if Roche could actually put up a sign that could be seen all over Los Angeles.


To get a good perspective, Roche went to Wilshire Boulevard, then a little, partially asphalted road, to see if he could see the mountain from there. Roche took photographs and then made drawings of the Hollywood hill. Roche determined that each letter would have to be 50 feet high to be visible from that distance. When he reported to Chandler that such a sign would be seen that far, the project began.


“I made a sketch almost that big,” Roche explained in 1977. “I took it to Mr. Chandler’s office about 11 one night – he sat in his office until midnight every night and would talk to anybody – and he said, ‘Go ahead and do it.’ We didn’t have engineers or anything. We just put it up.”



As Roche had determined, each individual letter was made 50 feet high and 30 feet wide. They were put together on metal panels, each three-by-nine-feet, and painted white. The next step was attaching the panels to a framework that consisted of wires, scaffolding and telephone poles, which were brought up the steep hillside by mules.


Fifty to 100 laborers dug the holes with pick axes and shovels. An access road was completed so the enormous sheet metal letters could be brought in. The sign was built in about 60 days at a cost of $21,000, Roche said. “I think we built it faster than you could today (1984).” Roche recalled the sign being lighted, but insisted there were not lights on the original HOLLYWOODLAND. “That came sometime later,” he said.


Regardless, at some point the sign was illuminated at night by a series of 4,000 20-watt bulbs that were evenly spaced around the outside edge of each letter. This required the services of a caretaker, Albert Kothe, who lived in a cabin behind the first “L” and maintained the sign and its lighting system. To replace burned out bulbs, Kothe would climb onto the framework behind each letter, new light bulbs tucked in his shirt.


Since it was planned to promote real-estate, it was not designed to survive the sale of the last lot. Public sentiment, however, led to keeping the sign long after its commercial function was over.


During the sign’s heyday, many stars bought homes in Hollywoodland. The highest lot above the sign was sold to comedy producer Mack Sennett, but he never built there. Sennett did use the sign, though, to pose bathing beauties between the O’s for publicity stills.


There have been rumors of several suicides from the sign, especially during the Depression years, but the only acknowledged one occurred in 1932, when a young actress named Peg Entwistle, who came to Hollywood from the Broadway stage the previous year, jumped to her death from the H.


In 1939, the lights were extinguished when the maintenance fund was discontinued by the realtors. It’s rumored that all 4,000 bulbs were stolen.


In 1945 the development company that owned it donated the sign and the land surrounding it to the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission as an adjunct parcel to Griffith Park. The sign by this point had been neglected and vandalized for several years.


The “H” falls down after a storm (LAPL) 


In January 1949 the H blew down in a windstorm, and nearby residents complained that the sign was a hazard and an eyesore. On January 6, the Recreation and Parks Commission announced that the sign would be torn down. They denied a request of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to alter and repair the sign to read Hollywood.


Several days later, Councilman Lloyd G. Davies (who represented Hollywood) introduced a resolution before the City Council that the Chamber of Commerce would repair the sign, at an estimated cost of $5,000, furnish bond to guarantee its maintenance and provide the city with proper liability coverage, if the parks commission would consent. Davies said his district was sensitive about becoming known as “ollywood.”


The parks commission later reversed its decision and allowed the first nine letters to be repaired and cut down the last four, to read HOLLYWOOD, therefore transforming it from a commercial display into a community one.


By the early 1960s, weather again had taken a strong toll on the sign’s condition. At a cost of $4,500, it was restored by the Kiwanis. At irregular intervals, several civic groups and the metal facing repainted, but little structural maintenance was done.


In 1973, the city once again threatened to tear down the sign. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and local radio station, KABC began a campaign to “Save the Sign,” hoping to solicit $15,000 from the public to finance structural repairs, replacement of fallen facing panels and a fresh coat of paint. That same year, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board designated it a monument, thus giving it dignity but no money.


One woman sent the repair fund a large check with a note: “My little girl in 1925 learned to spell from the sign.” Another recalled a proposal of marriage made to her in 1944 up near the sign; she “foolishly” rejected it but wondered how many accepted proposals were made there. A third woman calculated that if “All the couples who parked up there sent in $1, there would be more than enough.” Fortunately the campaign was successful and the sign received a facelift and a reprieve — but it wouldn’t last for long.


On January 1, 1976, several young men, to mark the change in the marijuana law in California, masked the OOs with EEs made from white sheets. It read HOLLYWEED for a day.


Just a year later, in January 1977, the D became wobbly because of recent rainstorms and there was concern about how long it would stay in place. Up close, the sign creaked and rattled, even in a light wind. Its timbers were rotting. Sheet metal, rusted and corroded, fell from its face and loose securing cables dangled from some of the 50-foot high letters.


It was estimated that a replacement sign would go as high as $120,000. To generate interest in preserving the sign, a press conference was held at the base of the sign with invitations sent out accompanied by a snake bite kit.


The chamber hoped to use money raised in 1975 by KIIS radio station to do some cosmetic work on the landmark. “But the sign is in such bad shape it will do us no good to raise small amounts of money,” said Michael Sims, executive director of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. “We’re either going to lose it or take care of it. That’s going to be up to Hollywood. What we really need now is a guardian angel.”


A few months later, in April 1977, the sign was altered to read HOLYWOOD for Easter Sunrise service, viewable from the Hollywood Bowl.


The Hollywood sign in 1978 (LAPL)


The following winter, the final blow came as wind and heavy rainstorms once again took a toll on the sign. The top of the first O fell off, the Y buckled inward toward the hillside, and the last O collapsed completely.


A campaign was established once again to “Save the Sign.” Eventually, after several efforts to raise money was not sufficient, nine donors came forward, each choosing a letter, and contributed $27,777 each. The donors included: (H) newspaper publisher, Terrance Donnelly; (O) Italian movie producer, Giovanni Mazza; (L) Les Kelly (Kelly Blue Book); (L) Gene Autry; (Y) Hugh Heffner; (W) Andy Williams; (O) Warner Bros. Records; (O) Alice Cooper, in memory of Groucho Marx; (D) Dennis Lidtke.


The new letters were made of steel, and was unveiled on Hollywood’s 75th anniversary, November 14, 1978.


Caltech students pose for photo after altering the Hollywood sign (LAPL)


Over the following years unauthorized alterations have been made to the sign. In July 1987, it was changed to OLLYWOOD, (Ollie North) during the Iran-Contra hearings. During the Gulf War it read OIL WAR and in 1993, 20 members of UCLA’s Theta-Chi fraternity changed it to GO UCLA. They were charged with trespassing and this prompted the installation of a security system featuring video surveillance and motion detection. However, it didn’t prevent another institution of learning to alter it to CALTECH ten years later.


That brings us to the recent alteration of SAVE THE PEAK, to help raise money to purchase the 138-acre parcel to the west of the sign on Cahuenga Peak, preventing possible development that would permanently spoil the view. The land would become part of Griffith Park.


For more information on how to help, go to:



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Happy Birthday Mack Sennett

Sunday, January 17th, 2010


Mack Sennett



Born January 17, 1880, Richmond, Quebec, Canada


 Click below for a clip of “This is Your Life – Mack Sennett”





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Selig Polyscope Studios

Friday, May 22nd, 2009


Selig-Polyscope Studios


The original Selig-Polyscope Studio that was located at 1845 Glendale in the Edendale area of Los Angeles (Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1940)


By Allan R. Ellenberger
May 22, 2009


The Chicago-born Col. William N Selig started out in the theatre both as an actor and manager. But in 1883 he became interested in photography and began experimental work which later led to the development of a motion-picture camera and a projector known as the Selig Polyscope. His experimental work brought him into conflict with Thomas Edison, who also was deeply interested in film recording and projection, and for years the two were involved in patent litigation.



Selig first visited California in 1893, but made his first commercial picture three years later in Chicago. One of his early films, The Count of Monte Cristo (1907), was photographed on the roof of a Los Angeles office building.



In the spring of 1909 Selig established a temporary studio in a small building behind a Chinese laundry on Olive Street between Seventh and Eighth Streets in what is now downtown Los Angeles. There, Francis Boggs directed In the Sultan’s Power (1909). The following August, Selig and Boggs moved to an area known as Edendale, setting up Los Angeles’ first permanent studio in a rented bungalow at 1845 Allesandro Street (now Glendale Blvd.).



Edendale soon became Selig-Polyscope’s headquarters. Selig sparred no expense in fitting up the permanent studio. The company built the exterior, which faced Allessandro (Glendale) Street, to represent an old Spanish mission and used genuine adobe. In the interior was sunk an enormous water tank. The studio itself, composed entirely of glass, was the second largest of its kind in the world at the time. It contained stages, dressing rooms, offices, and a modestly sized film laboratory. The total cost of the studio renovations was estimated to be a quarter-million dollars



The Selig-Polyscope company produced hundreds of short features here, including many early westerns featuring Tom Mix. The studio made dozens of highly successful films, among them was The Spoilers (1914), probably their best feature-length effort starring William Farnum, Kathlyn Williams and Tom Santschi.



Actor Hobart Bosworth, who was one of the Selig regulars, made many of his early films at the Edendale studio.



“The first picture I did on my return to (Selig) in Edendale was called The Roman,” Bosworth recalled in 1929. “We had good little sets and costumes. The story I recognized at once. It was Sheridan Knowle’s old tragedy of Virginius. Tom Santschi, Frank Montgomery, Jim McGee, Frank Richardson, Stella Adams, Iva Sheppard, William Harris, Betty Harte, Roscoe Arbuckle, Robert Z. Leonard were among those in it.



“(Francis) Boggs asked me as we finished this picture in three days, if I could remember another Roman story that we could do with this scenery and costume investiture. I was able to dig one out.”



Photo above shows Selig’s lot in Edendale where he built the first official motion picture studio (LAPL)


Remembering the early days of the Edendale studio, Bosworth said:



“This was a little frame hall used by a local improvement society with little cubicles for dressing-rooms, a barn at the back for props and scenery and in front of it a little 16×20 platform of asphalt or cement with two by fours laid laterally to nail the braces to. Great things sprang from that little source, great things for Los Angeles, greater for the world.”



Tragically, the first celebrity murder also occurred here on October 27, 1911 when Frank Minematsu, the studio caretaker, went berserk and shot and killed director Francis Boggs. In the struggle to retrieve the gun, William Selig was shot and wounded in the arm.



Ironically, the day before Boggs’ murder, producers David Horsley and Al Christie made their first film in a little community to the west called Hollywood.



Film companies that popped-up in Edendale near Selig-Polyscope included Pathé, Bison and Mack Sennett Studios.



In 1915, Selig moved his company to Lincoln Park where he also established a zoo, and the Edendale lot was taken over by Fox Studios. Over the years several production companies produced films on the old Selig lot, including J. Warren Kerrigan Studios, Marshall Neilan Studios and Garson Studios where Clara Kimball Young produced her films. Among those who made films here were Thomas Ince, Conway Tearle (Michael and His Lost Angel, 1920) and Marie Prevost (Beggars on Horseback, 1924).



Garson Studio map


A map of the studio when it was known as Garson Studios in the mid 1920s. Note: The street address was originally Allesandro before it was changed to Glendale.




Postcard of the former Selig-Polyscope Studio (known as Garson Studios here) in the mid 1920s. (Postcard courtesy of Greta de Groat)


Selig-Polyscope location


Above is the site of the former Selig-Polyscope as it appears today. Compare it to the postcard above. The inclined street on the left, which is Clifford, and the hill in the background have not changed.


Selig-Polyscope location

Another angle of the former location of Selig-Polyscope Studios.


Sadly, the site of the former Selig-Polyscope studios is now an empty lot in a mostly industrial area. The community that surrounds the spot and the people who pass by are most likely unaware of the historical significance of the site. It’s unfortunate that an archeological dig could not be done there before a warehouse or some other industrial building is constructed.



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