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


Image: Screen shot

Lois Weber & Anna Pavlova connect


On April 3, 1916, the silent film The Dumb Girl of Portici was released. The title sounds insulting to modern audiences, although a century ago, "dumb" simply meant "mute" or unable to speak. In the opera, which is the source, the mute girl dances and pantomimes, so it's not much of a stretch to have a prima ballerina – Anna Pavlova – play this part. Pavlova plays the sister of a humble fisherman. She spends much of her time dancing on the beach, instead of doing something useful like cleaning and gutting fish.


Lois Weber directed this eight-reel movie, and filmed the beach scenes on California's Santa Catalina Island. Other scenes were filmed at one of the million-dollar mansions in Montecito, CA.


Good news! This film survives and can be seen on Youtube.


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Image: Exhibitors Herald, April 26, 1924

The Shooting of Dan McGrew


This 7-reel romantic adventure silent movie was released on March 31, 1924. The story opens with a cabaret dancer in South America named Lou who is hoping for a big break in her career, and a shifty guy named "Dangerous Dan" McGrew who claims he can help her.


The opening scenes were filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island with Barbara La Marr as the star. The scenes that take place at the Malamute Saloon in Alaska were filmed elsewhere.


(There are no known copies of this silent film.)


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Image: Reel Life, March 13, 1915

The Quest for Love

The silent film The Quest, was released on March 22, 1915. In some ways, the theme for this movie seems like it would have fit quite well in the 1960s. It takes place in the present day on an island that time forgot. A wealthy young man is shipwrecked and ends up on this island inhabited by folks who look like they are wearing costumes from a high school production of Julius Caesar. At first, he can't wait to escape, but eventually he falls in love with a young lady, and decides to spend the rest of his life with a young lady who doesn't have a problem with guys wearing skirts.

Some scenes were filmed on California's Santa Cruz Island, and a million-dollar estate in Montecito. (Only a portion of this silent movie survives.)

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Image: Moving Picture Weekly, April 23, 1921

The Diamond Queen & her injuries

The first episode of this 18-part serial was released on March 15, 1921. Some scenes were filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island. The serial stars a young woman whose father, a diamond merchant, has just committed suicide due to some financial finagling by a gang of criminals. She tries to find them to bring them to justice. At the same time, they pursue her to obtain incriminating documents that her father gave her.

The star, Eileen Sedgwick, managed to survive several injuries during the filming. "Working absolutely without a 'double' and not availing herself of 'trick' photography to cover up a hesitancy to risk her life, Miss Sedgwick does hair-raising feats of skill and daring throughout the entire 18 episodes." – Moving Picture Weekly, April 23, 1921

"Eileen Sedgwick's arm is in a sling as the result of an accident during the filming of a fight scene in the Universal serial, The Queen of Diamonds." – Camera, August 7, 1920

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Images: Photoplay, February 1920, & Library of Congress

The New Faith in Montecito

The earliest commercial movie that was filmed in Montecito, California dates to 1911. The New Faith, a religious film, was released on March 4, 1911. If you look closely at the two photos, you can see the place on the "El Fureidis" estate where it was filmed.


(This silent movie predates Santa Barbara's "Flying A" film studio since that group did not settle here until 1912.)

The local paper wrote, "James Waldron Gillespie's Italian villa in Montecito was used as the background for a Roman play, The New Faith."

This million-dollar estate was one of the most popular locations for movies made in Montecito. (Copies of this film no longer exist.)

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Image: Motion Picture World, January 21, 1922

Kindred of the Dust

This domestic drama about a bigamist was released on February 27, 1922. It sounds like a real tearjerker. A newly married woman discovers that her husband is a bigamist. She leaves him and later gives birth. She and the baby are ostracized, except by her old high school boyfriend.

He wants to marry her, but his wealthy family objects. In order to keep the peace, she leaves.

It is yet another movie featuring a "noble suffering woman" that was more common on movie screens a century ago than now.


Some scenes were filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island. (There are no existing copies of this film.)

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I was happy to be part of the IWOSC (Independent Writers of Southern California) presentation on February 20, and read selections from one of my books. But when I watched the video of my part of the program, I realized I had had a "goofball moment!"



I concluded my reading by proudly holding up a copy of my book - UPSIDE DOWN! (Head thump!) I roared laughing when I saw it.

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Image: Mensajero Paramount, May 1927

It with Clara Bow

The silent movie It was released on February 19, 1927. This was one of the hit movies of the year. "It" was the code word for "sex appeal," and Clara Bow had plenty of it – from head to toe. Antonio Moreno was the male lead, and he's no slouch either in the "it" department, if you ask me.

Some scenes for this movie were filmed on or around California's Santa Catalina Island. Fortunately, this movie survives and is available for viewing on Youtube, so you can decide for yourself if Clara Bow had "it." What do you think?

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Images: Motography, February 1, 1913; postcard courtesy of John Fritsche

The Romance

This 1913 romantic drama was released on February 15. The movie begins with a wealthy young lady who's rather bored. Life is pretty mundane in the mansion on the hill overlooking the sea. Well, just how long can you look at the walls of a mansion, and out at the water that's just – water.

But when a handsome and wealthy young man enters the scene, life at the mansion starts improving at the tempo of a ragtime beat. This movie was filmed at Bellosguardo, one of the picturesque estates in Montecito, CA.

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Image: courtesy of Franklloydfilms.com

The Voice From the Minaret

This silent film was released on January 28, 1923. Some scenes were filmed in Montecito, California where a polo club was a stand-in for the Bombay Polo Club. The local populace was thrilled to be able to take part and schmooze with Norma Talmadge, Eugene O'Brien, and director Frank Lloyd.

"The story required that . . . part of the action occurs in Bombay, India. Hence the resplendent pavilions and awnings, hence the swarthy complexions, the fierce beards, the cork helmets, the gaudy uniforms; hence also the British flags and the tea . . . Santa Barbara did what it could to give the scene a Santa Barbara version of the proper British Indian atmosphere by . . . appearing in gauzy frocks and immaculate flannels." – Santa Barbara Morning Press, July 16, 1922

No copies are known to exist.

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