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

MOVIES & MILLION-DOLLAR MANSIONS

Image: screenshot from Purity

Happy Birthdate, Nigel de Brulier!

 

August 8 marks the birthdate of actor Nigel de Brulier in 1877. He appeared in more than 100 silent and sound films. In 1916, he starred in Purity, filmed by the American Film Company ("Flying A") at several of the million-dollar mansions in Montecito, California. Copies of this film exist.

 

It was common for visitors to be allowed to watch the filming of silent movies in Montecito, but this was not case for Purity because many of the actresses were scantily clad. NO VISITORS ALLOWED, "It is only in the case of this picture that the usual liberal policy of the American ["Flying A"] with sightseers does not prevail." – Santa Barbara Morning Press, April 22, 1916

 

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MOVIES & MILLION-DOLLAR MANSIONS

Image: Picture Play Weekly, September 11, 1915

Movie Made in Montecito's "Spanish Town"


This movie was released on August 3, 1915. Most of the silent films made in Montecito, CA used the million-dollar mansions there as the locale, but not this one, filmed by Santa Barbara's "Flying A." Scenes for Cupid Takes a Taxi were filmed in the area of upper Montecito, California once known as "Spanish Town." (Little of this location survives. This movie did not survive either. Only about 15% of the silent movies filmed in Montecito still exist.)


A young man from a rich family turns his sportscar into a taxi, à la Uber, and promptly falls in love with one of his passengers – an attractive young lady from a poor neighborhood. I suppose this is why the movie was filmed at this location.


The parents of the poor girl already have a match in mind for their daughter who she does not like. The parents arrange a night at the opera for themselves, their daughter, and their young man of choice. Things look grim. They call for a taxi and guess who is the driver! Things start to look better.


Somehow, the driver manages to communicate with the daughter to meet him during intermission. She does, and things get even better when they run away and tie the knot before the fat lady sings.

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MOVIES & MILLION-DOLLAR MANSIONS

Image: Exhibitors Herald, August 16, 1919

The Afterlife on the Screen

 

Life after death was a common subject in the late 19teens as people tried to cope with the massive death toll from World War I and the Spanish Flu. Most of the silent movies made in Montecito, CA have happy or happily-ever-after endings. Our Better Selves released on July 27, 1919, is one of the exceptions.

 

A husband and wife from the upper class in France, cast their frivolous pastimes aside and try to help the war effort when Germany invades France.

 

They are both killed, and the movie ends with their souls crossing the river Styx together. Montecito's Gillespie estate "El Fureidîs"  represented heaven.

 

 

There are no known existing copies of this film.

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MOVIES & MILLION-DOLLAR MANSIONS

Small world! The day after a post about my new book appeared on a Santa Barbara website, I discovered that my post had been translated into Spanish, and posted on the website of a newspaper in Spain. 

 

https://es.postsus.com/entretenimiento/libros/232449.html

 

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SILENTS ON THE ISLANDS

Image: Motion Picture News, June 19, 1915

Movie Filmed on Shipwreck

 

The two-reel silent drama The Toll of the Sea was released on July 17, 1915. Some scenes were filmed on California's Santa Rosa Island. This was one of the very few movies filmed at this location.

 

This movie was filmed on and around a Norwegian ship named Aggi that ran aground on Santa Rosa Island. "This freighter was engaged in carrying [dried beans] . . . to Europe when she was caught in heavy gales and stranded . . . As soon as Director Henry McRae heard of this wreck, he gathered a few of the death-defying actors and actresses together with a cameraman and went to the scene and made a sensational drama." – Weekly Argus (Goldsboro, North Carolina), August 5, 1915

 

There are no known existing copies of this film.

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SILENTS ON THE ISLANDS

Image: Moving Picture World, July 22, 1916

The Smugglers

 

This five-reel silent comedy was released on July 6, 1916. Some scenes were filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island. A wealthy couple travels to Paris where they stop at a jewelry shop to buy an expensive pearl necklace. When his wife is not around, the husband buys an imitation pearl necklace and gives it to a chorus girl.

 

But, wouldn't you know it, he mistakenly gives the expensive pearls to the chorus girl. When he realizes his error, he doesn't want to admit his mistake to his wife, of course. But he also doesn't want to pay customs for the fake pearls, which is how the smuggling scenario comes about.

 

There is an existing copy of this film.

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SILENTS ON THE ISLANDS

Image: Exhibitors Herald, May 29, 1926

The Road to Mandalay with Lon Chaney

 

This silent movie was released on June 28, 1926 and starred Lon Chaney. A man who is unable to care for his young daughter, gives her to his brother in Singapore to raise. Twenty years later, he meets her, but his derelict appearance scares her, and she does not know he is her father. He attacks her boyfriend, and she kills him. The man dies in his brother's arms.

 

Some scenes were filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island. The biggest problem in filming the movie seemed to be uncooperative insects. "Mosquitos were caught to help lend the atmosphere of Singapore . . . But they didn't want to be photographed. They refused to appear before the camera. They whirred blithely away when released, despite the application of much attractive ointment." – Picture-Play, July 1927

 

Good news! There is an existing copy of this movie.

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SILENTS ON THE ISLANDS

Image: Moving Picture Weekly, June 16, 1917

The Flame of Youth


This five-reel adventure drama was released in June 1917. Many scenes of this silent movie were filmed on Santa Cruz Island, off the coast of California. A young man from a wealthy family is sent to inspect the family's mine on a remote island. There he meets and falls in love with a local lass, even though he is already engaged to a society girl back home.
The mine superintendent has evil intentions – toward the mine, and toward the local lass. Someone is knocked overboard, someone dives off a cliff, someone is kidnapped – the regular stuff in an adventure flick.


This silent film drew mixed reviews from around the world.
"Drama of love and adventure with innumerable thrilling episodes that keep the interest of the adventure alive from beginning to end." – Evening Post (Wellington, New Zealand), November 19, 1917.
"An American film of a type with which we in this country never feel quite at home." – Guardian (London, England), December 7, 1917.


No copies are known to exist.

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MOVIES & MILLION-DOLLAR MANSIONS

Images: Moving Picture World, August 1, 1914; House & Garden, January 1906

A Floating Japanese Summer House


I was very happy to be able to match up a scene from the "Flying A" silent film called Nancy's Husband with a photo of the floating Japanese summer house at the old estate in Montecito, California called Riso Rivo. (This estate no longer exists.)


The movie was released on June 9, 1914. It was only about 10 minutes long, but the location used for the movie was much admired by reviewers. "The scenes are most gorgeous and pleasing to look upon." – Motion Picture News, June 30, 1914


No copies of this film are known to exist.

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SILENTS ON THE ISLANDS

Image: Screen shot

Civilization on Santa Catalina Island


This anti-war movie was released on June 2, 1915 after World War I had begun, but before the United States joined the conflict. The leading character is a submarine captain who refuses an order to torpedo a defenseless passenger ship. His crew mutinies and he drowns.


But wait! It's not over yet. The captain ends up in the afterworld where Christ enters his body and then returns to the world to plead for peace. The mothers of the world ask the world leaders to end the war, and the movie ends with soldiers returning home.


Some scenes were filmed on Santa Catalina Island, immediately after the island's city of Avalon was largely destroyed by fire.


Good news! This movie is available on Youtube.

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