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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: Exhibitors Herald, March 20, 1920

The Corsican Brothers


On February 22, 1920, The Corsican Brothers was released. The working title was The Honor of the Family. This was not an early Mafia movie, as the titles might suggest. It was actually based on a novel of the same name by Alexander Dumas in 1844.


Although the movie contained the usual duel to settle an honor debt, one of the behind-the-scenes injuries involved the star, Dustin Farnum, and a Santa Catalina Island seagull. "Dustin Farnum undertook to caress a seagull  and had to postpone work . . . as a consequence. The seagull did not like, or liked too much, his most important thumb." – Santa Cruz Evening News (Santa Cruz, California), November 22, 1919


A copy survives in the Library of Congress.

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Image: Böhringer Friedrich

"Chewing the Scenery"


This expression generally refers to an actor behaving melodramatically, but in this case, the scenery was actually chewed — by a goat! A scenario writer for the "Flying A" studio in Santa Barbara, California had sketched out 114 scenes of a movie on paper and left them lying on a table on his front porch.


When he returned to continue working on his story, he discovered to his horror that his housemate's goat was happily munching on his storyboards. He "grabbed the goat by the whiskers with one hand and made a desperate lunge for the disappearing manuscript with the other. He was only partly successful, as when he counted the salvage, there were only four scenes, and they looked as if they needed a trip to the laundry."

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Image: Moving Picture World, February 26, 1910

Respectability Arrived Early


Movie making started early in Montecito, California. By 1910, filmmakers were using the mansions and formal gardens of the estates here. The earliest movie made here that I've been able to find in my research was The Roman, released on February 14, 1910.


The movie starred Hobart Bosworth, a famous stage actor whose presence helped to bolster movies' reputation. "Many stage players looked down on the movies and were afraid that they would hurt their standing in legitimate theater by working in 'galloping tintypes,' but the thinking began to change when popular stage actor Hobart Bosworth appeared in The Roman." – Silent-Era Filmmaking in Santa Barbara, Robert S. Birchard, 2007


No copies are known to survive.

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Image: a 1903 Bioscope movie camera. "We Put the World Before You By Means of the Bioscope and Urban Films," 1903

The First Movie Made in SB


Lots of movies have been filmed on locations in and around Santa Barbara, California. But did you ever wonder what was the first movie filmed in Santa Barbara? According to the local paper, this happened in 1904, and starred the local fire department.


"This morning at 10 o'clock, the local fire department will be photographed by a moving picture camera while it makes a dash from the City Hall down State Street as far as Cota." - Santa Barbara Morning Press, December 22, 1904


The film was shown in January - "At the opera house [now the Lobero Theater], Monday, January 23rd. 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

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Image: Motion Picture News, December 18, 1915



California's Channel Islands were popular spots for mermaid movies. At least five movies filmed offshore involved mermaids. One of these was Undine, released on February 7, 1916. It was filmed on Santa Cruz and Santa Catalina Islands.


The film featured lots of mermaids exposing lots of feminine form. One reviewer suggested that Undressed would have been a better title. "Never in any film production to date has there been so much female loveliness with so little draping. In fact, there were entire stretches of the picture when the female loveliness wasn't draped at all." - Variety, February 1916



No known copies survive.

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Image: Film Fun, January 1918

Flying High

In 1918, Edward Wales, a one-time actor at the "Flying A" film studio in Santa Barbara, California was now a volunteer in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War I. Wales completed an aviation course at North Island, San Diego where he set a student altitude record of 10,800 feet. Now Lieutenant Wales, he stopped by Santa Barbara to show off his new skill to fellow actor William Russell.

"Mr. Russell took a few trial flights . . . but you could tell that he sort of wanted to hang around as near the ground as possible." Wales tried to allay his friend's fears by telling him that aviators whose planes were shot down were usually dead before they reached the ground. (That was supposed to make him feel better?)

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Image: Moving Picture World, February 12, 1921

The Offshore Pirate


On January 31, 1921, the six-reel movie The Offshore Pirate was released. Many of the marine scenes were filmed on or around California's Santa Catalina Island.


"Viola Dana has departed for Catalina Island where she will spend two weeks working on her new starring picture, The Offshore Pirate. – Camera, September 25, 1920

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Image: Bemidji Daily Pioneer (Bemidji, Minnesota), February 23, 1916

The Bait


On January 22, 1916, the movie The Bait was released. Described as, "a stirring drama of frontier life," a number of the scenes were filmed on California's Santa Catalina and Santa Rosa islands.


The bait was actually a woman who was used in an attempt to entrap a wealthy stranger. Reviews were mixed: "fascinating," "entertaining," and "poorly constructed."



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Image: Intertitle from "The Primitive Lover" (1922)

Movies – a bad influence?


The movies were having a bad in­fluence on written communication, ac­cording to an opinion piece in the local paper penned by Santa Barbara, California writer Sarah Redington in January 1917.


"I wish to go on re­cord with the statement that the mov­ies have ruined the gentle art of letter writing. How in the world will the ris­ing generation (boys and girls who get all their ideas of life from the doings of film favorites) have any opportunity of learning how to keep up a friendly correspondence? . . . When it comes to the writing on the screen, the shorter the better, is the rule . . . Why write real letters when our film favorites get on perfectly well by writing telegraphese? . . . Let us not allow the movies to kill correspondence."


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Image: Bioscope, June 24, 1915

Mignon - an unusual movie


On January 18, 1915, the movie Mignon was released. Some scenes were filmed at one of the palatial estates in Montecito, California. It was an unusual movie – a silent movie based on a French opera that was based on a novel by Goethe.


However, reviews were favorable. "Exquisitely beautiful settings." – Bioscope [London, England], June 24, 1915.


"Beatriz Michelena's portrayal of the title part is said to be as nearly perfect as the art of acting in pictures can be effected." – Motion Picture News [New York, New York], December 12, 1914

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