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Movies & Million-Dollar Mansions, Behind the Scenes at the "Flying A," Silents on the Islands, Way Back When: SB in 1924


Image: In 1913, the "Flying A" filmed "In the Days of Trajan" at Montecito's Gould estate. Estate photo from House Beautiful, March 1909. "Flying A" photo from Motography, September 20, 1913

Why Santa Barbara?


I've written in an earlier post that the "Flying A" moved to Santa Barbara from La Mesa in San Diego County in 1912. One reason was that we have a greater diversity of filming locations – mountains, beaches, historic adobes, mansions in Montecito, and islands – Santa Cruz Island in particular.


Another reason was the lack of afterhours activities in La Mesa. The Santa Barbara paper stated, "One reason why the company ["Flying A"] decided upon a change of base was that there were no amusements for the members of the company."


And a third reason was that Santa Barbara laid out the welcome mat for the movie company, mostly in the hopes that movies made here would encourage tourism. Quite the opposite occurred in La Mesa. "When the company first came to La Mesa, there was a certain element of the town that raised its hands in horror, anticipating an influx of undesirables. A sermon was even preached against the company." (Santa Barbara Morning Press, July 21, 1912)

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Image: screenshot



The 10-reel anti-war movie Civilization was released on June 2, 1916. Some scenes were filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island.


A submarine captain refuses an order to torpedo a defenseless passenger ship and is killed by his crew. He is reincarnated as Christ who visits world leaders and asks them to end the war (World War I).


*Good news! This movie is available on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwU035gIGO8

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Image: Moving Picture Weekly, May 21, 1921

Do or Die was released on May 30, 1921

Most of this adventure serial was filmed in Cuba, but a few scenes were filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island. Here's the story: Some members of an American family live in Cuba and own a special ring that contains a map to buried pirate treasure. A guy named Satan is the bad guy. (What else could he be with a name like that?) Satan tries repeatedly to gain possession of the ring.

A member of the family from the United States goes to Cuba to help combat Satan. He finds it's not as easy as it sounds because it takes 18 hellish episodes to combat the forces of evil.

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Image: Motography, July 1, 1916

The Secret of the Submarine was released on May 22, 1916

Two of the episodes of this 15-part adventure serial were filmed on California's Santa Cruz Island by the "Flying A" film company.


"Some unusual stunts were done at Santa Cruz Island for The Secret of the Submarine, and still photos secured by Faxon Dean are exceptional. One shows the house on the cliff after it had been dynamited. It was caught toppling down the cliff-side. Another shows Al Thompson making a leap over a precipice sixty-five feet high. This was not a regular dive. Thompson struck the water below but was unhurt." – Morning Press (Santa Barbara, California), April 26, 1916


The plot involves a young woman, whose father has invented an apparatus that enables submarines to dive to a great depth. She battles foreign spies who are trying to steal the secret plans of the apparatus.


(Submarines were in the news during World War I, so this was a very timely serial. The United States had not entered the war yet, but there was much talk about "preparedness.")

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Image: screenshot

Beverly of Graustark was released on May 17, 1916

Dozens of scenes from this movie were filmed at one of Montecito's grandest estates, near Santa Barbara, California. "Thirty members of the Biograph company in Los Angeles ... took about 30 scenes at George O. Knapp's estate, Arcady, in Montecito for ... Beverly of Graustark." – Morning Press (Santa Barbara, California), March 10, 1914

Although the filming took place in 1914, the movie was not released until 1916. I don't know why. But here's some good news – this film still exists and can be viewed on the Library of Congress website: https://www.loc.gov/item/2012600253/

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Image: theater poster

The Love of an Island Maid was released on May 13, 1912


This is one of the earliest movies filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island.


Catalina is the name of an island maiden who sells seashells down by the seashore. While doing so, she is attracted to a visiting yachtsman. He flirts with her and this causes problems with her island boyfriend. The guys tussle in the sea, Catalina joins the tussle, and sends the boyfriend to the bottom. She then decides she doesn't want the yachtsman either, and goes back to selling seashells down by the seashore.


No copies of this one-reel movie are known to exist. 

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Image: Exhibitors Herald, May 17, 1919

Miss Adventure was released on May 4, 1919


The leading lady had a close call during the filming of this five-reel adventure movie on two of California's Channel Islands – Santa Cruz Island and Santa Catalina Island.


"Fox Star Narrowly Escapes Being Hurt. Carried over a cliff and into the sea by a runaway automobile, Peggy Hyland . . . narrowly escaped drowning last week . . . The accident happened at Catalina Island, Cal., where Miss Hyland and her company were filming scenes for Miss Adventure . . . Miss Hyland, with Director Lynn F. Reynolds . . . was going to a location on the edge of a sharp bluff overlooking the Pacific. The road was narrow, but as it was straight and there were no visible difficulties, Mr. Reynolds, who was at the wheel, was driving at a rather rapid pace. Coming suddenly upon a hairpin turn, he was unable to swerve the car quickly enough . . . the machine [car] shot over the edge of the cliff, raced down the sharp incline and plunged into the surf." – Exhibitors Herald & Motography, April 12, 1919


There are no known copies of this film.

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Image: Motography, May 5, 1917

Whose Wife?


On April 30, 1917, the five-reel film Whose Wife? was released. Some scenes were filmed at the Miramar resort in Montecito, California. (The film doesn't seem to have survived. The resort has survived, but it has been totally rebuilt.)


The lead actress created a minor furor by refusing to wear a swimsuit. "Star Refuses to Wear Bathing Suit. Gail Kane . . . broke the hearts of her masculine associates by refusing to wear a bathing suit in the beach scene in the picture." – Los Angeles Herald, May 11, 1917

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Neptune's Daughter

On April 25, 1914, the seven-reel mermaid fantasy Neptune's Daughter was released. Some scenes were filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island, although most of it was filmed in Bermuda.

Reviewers from as far away as Scotland were impressed by the film. "Lovers of the sea will be charmed and fascinated with the graceful movements of the mermaids." – Devon Valley Tribune (Clackmannanshire, Scotland), August 1, 1916

Copies of this film do exist.

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The Tiger's Trail

On April 20, 1919, the adventure serial The Tiger's Trail was released. Some episodes were filmed on California's Santa Cruz Island. Maybe it should have been called The Trail of the Spider. Read on.

"During the making of this picture, Miss Roland [the star] had to lie outstretched on the studio floor for several hours waiting for a tarantula to crawl up her arm so that the camera could register the scene." – Photo-Play Journal, April 1919

"In one scene . . . she has to let [a tarantula] climb up her bare arm . . . she says it 'stepped on her as carefully as if she had been a warm personal friend.'" – Star (Seattle, Washington), April 10, 1919

There are no known copies of this serial.

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