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, Behind the Scenes at the "Flying A," & Silents on the Islands


Exhibitors Trade Review, March 31, 1923

A Genuine Black Eye


Dateline: February 1923


Things got kind of rough during the filming of a silent movie called The Isle of Lost Ships that was taking place on a ship near Santa Catalina Island, CA. Here's the story for the movie: A small group of passengers on a ship is stranded in the middle of the Sargasso Sea when their ship collides with a shipwreck floating amidst the seaweed. One of the group is a nasty guy who is mean to everyone, including the only young woman in the group.


When the hero steps in to save the folks, he has to battle the nasty guy, and the fight got pretty realistic. (Sometimes actors in silent films used a movie fight as a way to settle an old score.) Somehow, the actor playing the hero got an honest-to-goodness injury. "[The actor] is wearing a 'beautiful' black eye, the result of an honest-to-goodness battle . . . one of the most thrilling scenes in the big melodrama." – Camera, February 3, 1923


Be the first to comment


A scene from Snow Stuff. (Motography, April 1, 1916)

An Icy February Swim

Dateline: February 1916
The "Flying A" studio sometimes ventured outside of the Santa Barbara, CA area to find some variety in the landscape. For the silent movie Snow Stuff, they headed up to Truckee in Nevada County in search of some snowscape. As expected, the February weather made some stunts even harder to perform.

"[An actor] was called upon by the script to fall into the Truckee River, which was cold enough to make the bottom drop out of a thermometer. He did the stunt once and was rejoicing that it was finally in the past when [the director] added insult to injury by calling for a 'retake.' As a result, the rotund character man had to take two more immersions in the icy water before the proper effect was obtained. [The actor] says that from now on wild animals, autos, railroad trains and explosives will have no terrors for him."

The cameramen who were shooting this scene were also having a hard time. "Both of them were standing up to their waists in the river in order to 'shoot' the tumble from the best angle." – Santa Barbara Morning Press, February 20, 1916

Be the first to comment


Movies & Million-Dollar Mansions, Betsy J. Green

Mary Pickford Films in Montecito Estate Garden


Dateline: January 1918





One of the more unusual silent films that Mary Pickford made was Stella Maris, in which she played a dual role. She personified both a rich woman and a bedraggled orphan, and looked dramatically different in both roles.


While playing the rich woman, some scenes were filmed in the garden of the palatial Bothin estate in Montecito, CA. Both Pickford and the scenery got a rave review in the Variety trade journal in January 1918. "It is a whale of a Pickford release . . . It is a revelation in exterior locations and interior settings." – Variety, January 25, 1918


Good news! This film is available for viewing on Youtube.

Be the first to comment


Jack Richardson (Reel Life, August 8, 1914)

Villains and Kids Don't Mix     


Dateline: January 1915


Sometimes the folks making silent movies in Santa Barbara, CA had a hard time convincing the kids in the cast that they were only pretending. One day, "Flying A" actor Jack Richardson's acting was so real, he scared one of the children in a scene from The Law of the Wilds.


"The famous villain made a lunge at the youngster, letting out a fine line of choice expletives. The startled child gazed, paralyzed for a moment, into the sinister face of his pseudo parent. Then he gave vent to a terrified shriek, and to another, and yet another, wailing hysterically and refusing to be comforted. . . The small actor had to be returned to headquarters and another less sensitive child taken out to the location." – Reel Life, January 16, 1915


Be the first to comment


A 1903 Bioscope movie camera. (We Put the World Before You By Means of the Bioscope and Urban Films, 1903)

Santa Barbara's First Movie


Here's another news nugget from December way back when.


In 1904, the Bioscope motion picture company came to Santa Barbara and filmed the local fire truck rushing down State Street on December 22.

In early January, the film was shown at the Lobero Theater. "Don't fail to see the Santa Barbara fire department run, taken by the Bioscope company, the first and only moving picture ever taken here. Prices 10, 25, 35." – Santa Barbara Morning Press, January 3, 1905

The Bioscope company also filmed fire trucks in Chico, Woodland, Marysville, Oroville, Visalia, and Colusa at about the same time. Does anyone else have info about this in their city?


Be the first to comment


The good guy gets the girl. (Motion Picture News, November 13, 1915)

Saskatchewan in Santa Barbara – Why Not?

December movie-making in northern Canada would have been beyond difficult, so Santa Barbara's "Flying A" kept close to home for this film called Alice of Hudson Bay. In the movie, the good guy and the bad guy are fighting on the edge of a cliff, until the bad guy goes over the edge.

"The fall . . . over the shale cliff in Sycamore canyon is one of the realest things staged before the camera. [The actor] is seen tumbling the entire distance and not for a second does the camera miss him. He strikes right in the foreground and as he picks himself up and limps away, one knows the stunt was actually done." – Santa Barbara Morning Press, December 14, 1915

Be the first to comment


Minter and cat friend. (Photo-Play Journal, April 1917)

Nighttime Robberies Mystery – Solved!

Here's another December happening way back when in the silent movie world of Santa Barbara.

"Capture of a night prowler in the grounds of the American Film Company's studio was accomplished last week as the climax to a mystery . . . Thefts of a peculiar nature puzzled the amateur criminologists whose attention was attracted to the . . . goldfish pond in the center of the court within the studio grounds. Each morning, there would be one or two [fewer] goldfish than on the preceding day.

"The trap was simple in its operation. Lampblack [soot], unnoticeable in the dark, was sifted over the cement around the pond, and the studio sleuths hoped by that means to obtain a trace of the prowler. They were successful, but followed the footprints in shocked surprise. The trail led directly and significantly to the dressing room of Miss Mary Miles Minter . . . the tracks were those of a cat, and when the dressing room was searched, telltale signs of a feast of the stolen fish were found." – Santa Barbara Morning Press, December 24, 1916

Be the first to comment


Motography, October 18, 1913

In the Days of Trajan


One of the reasons why early filmmakers settled in California was the ability to film outside in the winter. This month, I'm featuring news about happenings during silent movie filming in December.


Santa Barbara's "Flying A" filmed a movie about Ancient Rome in the fall of 1913. Many of the scenes with men in sandals and skirts for In the Days of Trajan were set outdoors on several of the million-dollar mansions in Montecito. Trajan [TRAY-juhn] is the emperor of Rome, and he feels that if you aren't with him, you are against him.


One of the estates used for filming was "El Fureidîs," the James Waldron Gillespie property in Montecito. (This estate still exists, although it has been altered over the years.) It sounds like a number of area residents were recruited for crowd scenes. "Nearly 100 people will be used with the Gillespie place as the principal setting." – Santa Barbara Morning Press, December 15, 1912


Be the first to comment


Bear trap. (Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)

Oops! Bear Trap Stunt Goes Wrong


It could have been a lot worse, but it still sounded like it was pretty painful. The scene began with a "Flying A" actor's foot caught in a bear trap, while filming in Santa Barbara, CA. That was supposed to happen. Then, another actor was supposed to release the trap.


But, oops! Something went awry, and the trap snapped close again and trapped the rescuer's hand. It then took four cowboy-actors to release his hand. Fortunately, no broken bones resulted. – Santa Barbara Morning Press, May 8, 1913


Be the first to comment


Miramar postcard, courtesy of John Fritsche

Robbers on a Train


In 1910, the Essanay movie studio spent several months filming in Santa Barbara, CA. A number of misunderstandings startled local residents who were not used to such goings on. The first incident occurred during the filming of The Mexican's Faith.


"The Essanay company boldly held up the Southern Pacific train at Miramar this morning, tumbled out a few of the passengers who happened to be in the company's pay, enacted a most blood-curdling and realistic scene, much to the wide-eyed curiosity of such passengers who had not been let in on the deal." – Santa Barbara Independent, January 5, 1910.



Be the first to comment