icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

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


(Image: Paramount Book, 1917)

Happy Birthdate, Lehua Waipahu!


Well, that was not her real name. In fact, that name was only used for her appearance in The Bottle Imp, in which she costarred with Sessue Hayakawa in 1917. (That wasn't his real name either, but that's another story.) Anyway, Lehua was actually Margaret Loomis, who was born on May 27, 1893.


The movie takes place in Hawaii, and the studio claimed that it was filmed there as well. But guess what! That was also a bunch of "movie-magazine malarkey." Much of the filming was done at a mansion in Montecito, California.


The folks in Hawaii were not amused. "It is … claimed that 'the setting of the story is picturesque Hawaii' … The truth of these claims must be judged by the members of the audience." – News (Maui, Hawaii), September 17, 1917


Be the first to comment


Image: Film Index, July 2, 1910

The Little Doctor of the Foothills


Essanay released this one-reel silent on May 21, 1910. This was one of a dozen or so movies that this studio filmed during their three-month stay in Santa Barbara in 1910. Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson directed and performed in this film, along with Clara Williams.


When an attractive female doctor arrives in a Western town, the cowboys pretend to be sick, one after another. The doctor is wise to their "illnesses," however. When she tires of these fakers, she takes action. The next time a cowboy is "sick," she pulls out her butcher knife. The cowboy suddenly recovers.


When another cowboy is accidentally shot, the doctor assumes it is another fake report, and refuses to go to the scene. The injury is real, however, and the cowboy is brought to the doctor. She is horrified to see that it is a real injury, and takes care of him ASAP. As the movie ends, she falls in love with her patient.


This movie was said to be filmed somewhere around Hope Avenue, which was still a rural area.

Be the first to comment


Image: Art Acord. (Joel Conway Collection)

Happy Birthdate, Art Acord!

Silent film cowboy/actor Art Acord was born on April 17, 1890. He had a very serious accident while working for the "Flying A" in Santa Barbara, according to this article. He did make more movies, and lived until 1931, so perhaps this article is another example of "movie-magazine malarkey."

"Acord's part called for him to ride down a steep slope among boulders and through thick underbrush. At one of the most perilous points, the horse lost its footing and fell sideways down the incline. Feeling the horse going, Acord attempted to spring off on the upside. One of his spurs caught in a worn cinch, and he was dragged after the rolling, pitching, struggling horse. Before the animal could regain its feet, it had rolled over the rider inflicting severe internal injuries." – Moving Picture World, June 17, 1916

Be the first to comment


Russell and turkey friend. (Photo-Play Journal, February 1917)

Happy Birthdate, William Russell!


Russell was born on April 12, 1884. The "Flying A" leading man had a bird of a birthday in 1916. "When William Russell, the popular local film player, approached his home . . . last evening, the house was dark and everything as quiet as a mouse. As soon as he entered the door, a flood of light was turned on and there were about half a hundred of American Film Company people and a few of his more intimate friends, who had adopted this method of surprise on Mr. Russell's birthday.


During the evening, Mr. Russell's pet turkey was injected into the proceedings, and the bird cut quite a figure as it strutted about among the guests." – Santa Barbara Morning Press, April 13, 1916

Be the first to comment


Marshall Neilan. (Who's Who on the Screen, 1920)

Happy Birthdate, Marshall Neilan!

Marshall Neilan was born on April 11, 1891. According to "Flying A" director Alan Dwan, in 1912, Marshall Neilan recommended Santa Barbara as the new headquarters for the "Flying A." Dwan recalled, "I thought we better get out of La Mesa [their former location]. It was getting a little cramped for us." So, Dwan asked Neilan to look around. "One day I got a phone call from Santa Barbara. He was down there at the Potter Hotel. I could tell from the way he was talking that he was feeling pretty good too. He said, 'I've found exactly what you want down here.' So, I packed up the outfit, put them on their horses and their wagons and off we went from La Mesa down near San Diego all the way to Santa Barbara." – Alan Dwan - letter on file at the Gledhill Library, Santa Barbara Historical Museum

(Neilan later went on to direct dozens of films, including Stella Maris with Mary Pickford. One of the scenes in that movie was filmed at a Montecito estate.)

Be the first to comment


Image: Motography, April 22, 1916

Ramona released April 5, 1916


There have been several versions of Ramona in sound and silent versions. On April 5, 1916, a silent movie version was released starring Adda Gleason and Monroe Salisbury. It was 14 reels, a length which was unusual at that time. In fact, one reviewer mistakenly wrote that it was directed by D.W. Griffith, because The Birth of a Nation had been a similar length.


The movie was filmed in multiple areas. "Locations . . . have been selected at San Diego, Santa Paula, Santa Barbara, San Clemente Island, in the San Fernando Valley, and at San Francisco . . . On San Clemente Island, unusual pictures were made in which the ten thousand goats grazing on the rocky island took part." – Moving Picture News, October 9, 1915


Good news – this movie does exist at the Library of Congress.


Be the first to comment


Image: Motion Picture News, April 17, 1920

Terror Island

Many people know about Harry Houdini, the magician, but did you know that he made a few silent movies as well? In April 1920, his movie Terror Island was released.

Houdini plays the part of a submarine inventor who tries to rescue a young woman held captive on a tropical island. Some of the scenes were filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island. Unfortunately, this seems to be another silent film lost to history.


Be the first to comment


Image: A scene from "The Ghost of the Hacienda." (Motography, September 20, 1913)

Overheard at the Hacienda


A major misunderstanding occurred during the filming of the "Flying A" silent movie, The Ghost of the Hacienda. A journalist, who was new in Santa Barbara, got excited when he heard a woman at the Casa de la Guerra saying, "They have shot out all the windows and now they are smashing in our door." The newspaper man thought he had found a front-page story, until he noticed a cameraman filming the scene.


"The making of the scenes at the old mansion attracted quite a crowd. There was shooting and a very sensational piece of work when the door was battered in. The ['Flying A'], however, provided its own windows and doors, all of which were completely demolished." – Reel Life, September 20, 1913

Be the first to comment


Image: Picture Stories Magazine, February 1915

Happy Birthdate George B. Field!


Field was a ruggedly handsome silent-film actor who was born on March 18, 1877. He appeared in dozens of Santa Barbara's "Flying A" films from 1913 to 1916. Field had been a performer in live theater before his filming career. I hope he also had some acrobatic training, judging from this description of a scene in Alice of Hudson Bay.


"It is considered the greatest actual drop ever made before a motion picture camera. It was made from the top of the shale cliff up the Sycamore Canyon Road." In the movie, two men are fighting, and one falls over the edge of the cliff.


"Measurements later made showed that Field traveled 120 feet . . . Strange as it may seem, Field was not quite satisfied with the first fall and insisted on doing it over again . . . the worst of it was that he grabbed a blackberry bush on the way down and was pretty badly cut by the thorns." – Santa Barbara Morning Press, September 12, 1915


Be the first to comment


Image: Story World, May 1923

Covered Wagons on Catalina


On March 16, 1923, the silent movie The Covered Wagon was released. Part of this movie was filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island, according to Lee Rosenthal in her book Catalina in the Movies, 2003.


Many of the covered wagons in the film were authentic, and the people riding in them were descendants of actual pioneers. In a way, it was an early reality production.


Be the first to comment