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Movies & Million-Dollar Mansions, and Silents on the Islands

MOVIES & MILLION-DOLLAR MANSIONS

Images: Stella Maris screenshot, Piranhurst garden from Beautiful Gardens in America, Louise Shelton, 1915

Mary Pickford and the movie dog

 

Silent-movie star Mary Pickford came to Montecito, CA to film a scene for Stella Maris. This movie was released on January 21, 1918. Pickford stood in the garden theater that was located on the Piranhurst estate, owned by the Bothin family. (Santa Barbara's "Flying A" film studio also used this picturesque estate on Cold Springs Road in several of their movies.)

 

Mary was accompanied by Teddy, a famous movie dog that belonged to director Mack Sennett. Mary had a great deal of respect for this Great Dane. She told a newspaper interviewer, "All through the play, the dog's acting is as fine as any human being's and the expression in his eyes, perhaps, even more wonderful, for can any eyes express as much love as one sees in the eyes of a dog?" (Times Union, Brooklyn, New York, February 11, 1918)

 

Good news – you can find this movie on Youtube!

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SILENTS ON THE ISLANDS

Image: theater poster

The Sea Beast

 

This movie was released on January 15, 1926. It is very loosely based on Herman Melville's Moby Dick, with some romance thrown in, plus a happy ending. The whale is still the whale, however. It was filmed in the waters around California's Santa Catalina Island.

 

John Barrymore and Dolores Costello had the leads. Reviews were generally favorable, but a couple of eagle-eyed writers found some inconsistencies.

 

"The close-up of the fastidiously manicured fingernail of a dirty and grizzled sea captain (Barrymore himself)." – Exhibitors Trade Review, January 23, 1926.

 

"Dolores Costello left her house in a flowered dress and reached the quay in a plain one." – Motion Picture, September 1926

 

Good news! Copies of this film still exist, and can be seen on Youtube.

(Image: theater poster)

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SILENTS IN MONTECITO

Image: Reel Life, December 27, 1913

The Power of Light

 

This silent movie was released on January 5, 1914. It was filmed in Sycamore Canyon, a region of Montecito, California. The movie features a family of moonshiners in the Canadian North Woods. The dad is in the illegal hooch business, but his son becomes a minister.

 

As the movie ends, we see the son destroying the illegal liquor equipment, but [spoiler alert!] six years later when Prohibition begins and the U.S. goes "dry," he may regret his rash actions.

 

This movie was produced by Santa Barbara's "Flying A" studio. There are no copies known to exist. 

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SILENTS ON THE ISLANDS

Image: Universal Weekly, December 12, 1925

The Scarlet Streak


Universal Pictures released the first installment of this 10-part serial on December 20, 1925. Some scenes were filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island.


A scientist invents a "death ray" weapon that shoots deadly lightning bolts. Just down the street, is "the house of closed shutters," so you know that's where the bad guys live.

 

Throughout the 10 episodes, the bad guys battle the good guys – the inventor's daughter and a newspaper reporter – for possession of the weapon. In the end, the bad guys are defeated – maybe by the death ray? – and the daughter and reporter fall in love.


No copies are known to exist.

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MOVIES & MILLION-DOLLAR MANSIONS

Image: Motion Picture Magazine, May 1916

Montecito subs for Hawaii


A million-dollar mansion in Montecito, California was the stand-in for Hawaii for the movie Aloha Oe which was released on December 12, 1915. Here's the story – a high-powered attorney in the United States turns to alcohol to relieve the tension of an important trial. When the trial is over, his friends put him on a boat headed for the South Pacific, hoping that the change of scene will help him dry out. (I guess piña coladas had not been introduced to the remote islands yet.) Of course, the movie involved a volcano and a comely island maiden.


After spending time on the island, the man returns to civilization – until he hears the song "Aloha Oe" played in a cafe. So, he returns to the island, the comely maiden, and dines happily on pupu platters for the rest of his days.


The studio constructed "20 bungalows on the banks of the creek running through the Gillespie place in Montecito, for temporary use in photo-play work . . . [there is] no place in California that presents so many excellent scenic features for photoplay requirements as are available on the Gillespie place." – Santa Barbara Morning Press, June 9, 1915


No copies are known to exist.

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SILENTS ON THE ISLANDS

Image: Exhibitors Herald, December 11, 1926

Old Ironsides


The Famous Players-Lasky released this maritime movie on December 6, 1926. Many scenes were filmed on and around California's Santa Catalina Island. The large numbers of cast and crew proved quite a challenge.


"Filmed at Catalina and the players and technicians were housed in tents. There were about 2,600 to provide for and food was served in cafeteria style in four large dining rooms seating about 500 persons. Food was brought from Los Angeles in two barges every morning." – Exhibitors Herald, May 21, 1927


"Four barge-loads of tent equipment were taken from Avalon to the Isthmus last week. It is stated that in one scene, more than 1,500 persons will be required. The pier at the Isthmus has been changed so that it typifies a waterfront scene from the historical records of Salem, Mass. Fifteen old-type sailing vessels are now anchored in the vicinity of Bird Island and Ship Rock." – Catalina Islander (Avalon, California), March 31, 1926


You can find this movie on Youtube.

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SILENTS ON THE ISLANDS

Image: Theater poster

His Jonah Day


This movie was released on November 26, 1920. Very little information is available about the plot of this short comedy, filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island. (Maybe there wasn't much of a plot.) Here's a review that sums it up best: "There is a whale, a bottomless boat, a sea-going baby carriage and an octopus. There are many exciting scenes, with laughs in every one." – Daily Pioneer (Bemidji, Minnesota), June 21, 1921


Although not the star, Oliver "Babe" Hardy had a "large" part in this film. (No copies are known to exist.)


Everyone – around the globe – seemed to enjoy this brief comedy. "Really entertaining comedy. The story is scanty as all stories around which comedy pictures are built are, but it is well told." – Kinematograph Weekly (London, England), February 10, 1921

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MOVIES & MILLION-DOLLAR MANSIONS

Image: Moving Picture World, November 14, 1925

East Lynne


This movie was released on November 23, 1925. East Lynne was a silent movie that had been filmed shortly before the big 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake in June, 1925. The Fox Film Corporation filmed scenes at one of the million-dollar mansions in Montecito, California.

 

The novel East Lynne, dating to the 1860s, has been performed on stage, on radio, on television, and on the silver screen countless times. Obviously, the general public never tired of watching rich people behaving badly, and then getting their well-deserved comeuppance in the end. Previous versions of the film had been made in 1913, 1916, and 1921.


(There are no known copies of this film.)

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MOVIES & MILLION-DOLLAR MANSIONS

 
 
Image: Goldwyn Pictures

Bonds of Love

 

This silent movie was released on November 2, 1919. It takes place in a mansion on the East Coast, but the movie was actually filmed by Hollywood's Goldwyn studio in one of the million-dollar mansions in Montecito, California.

 

"Channel City Charms Popular Goldwyn Star . . . the Pauline Frederick company spent six days in Santa Barbara obtaining exterior action . . . At Montecito, the famous G.O. Knapp estate, "Arcady," was used . . . Montecito, Santa Barbara's fashionable residential suburb, world-famous for its mansions and picturesque countryside, was taken full advantage of . . . The action is laid in Long Island." – Santa Barbara Morning Press, June 22, 1919

 

(There are no known copies of this film.)

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SILENTS IN MONTECITO

Image: The Cinema, December 9, 1915

The Miracle of Life


This 1915 silent film was an unusual "Flying A" movie about abortion. Some scenes were filmed at a million-dollar mansion in Montecito, California. A young married woman is unhappy to discover that she is pregnant. She is reluctant to give up her present lifestyle, and so obtains a medication to induce a miscarriage.


But before she can drink the medication, she falls asleep and dreams of herself as an unhappy old woman who regrets not having children. When she wakes, she has a change of heart and pours the medication into the garden on a plant that shrivels up. She then tells her husband that they are going to be parents, and this becomes another movie with a happy ending.


This film paved the way for a similar movie called Where Are My Children? made by another silent movie company in 1916.


There are no known copies of this film.

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