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


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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Images: Stella Maris screenshot, Piranhurst garden from Beautiful Gardens in America, Louise Shelton, 1915

Mary Pickford and the movie dog


Silent-movie star Mary Pickford came to Montecito, CA to film a scene for Stella Maris. This movie was released on January 21, 1918. Pickford stood in the garden theater that was located on the Piranhurst estate, owned by the Bothin family. (Santa Barbara's "Flying A" film studio also used this picturesque estate on Cold Springs Road in several of their movies.)


Mary was accompanied by Teddy, a famous movie dog that belonged to director Mack Sennett. Mary had a great deal of respect for this Great Dane. She told a newspaper interviewer, "All through the play, the dog's acting is as fine as any human being's and the expression in his eyes, perhaps, even more wonderful, for can any eyes express as much love as one sees in the eyes of a dog?" (Times Union, Brooklyn, New York, February 11, 1918)


Good news – you can find this movie on Youtube!

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Image: theater poster

The Sea Beast


This movie was released on January 15, 1926. It is very loosely based on Herman Melville's Moby Dick, with some romance thrown in, plus a happy ending. The whale is still the whale, however. It was filmed in the waters around California's Santa Catalina Island.


John Barrymore and Dolores Costello had the leads. Reviews were generally favorable, but a couple of eagle-eyed writers found some inconsistencies.


"The close-up of the fastidiously manicured fingernail of a dirty and grizzled sea captain (Barrymore himself)." – Exhibitors Trade Review, January 23, 1926.


"Dolores Costello left her house in a flowered dress and reached the quay in a plain one." – Motion Picture, September 1926


Good news! Copies of this film still exist, and can be seen on Youtube.

(Image: theater poster)

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Image: Reel Life, December 27, 1913

The Power of Light


This silent movie was released on January 5, 1914. It was filmed in Sycamore Canyon, a region of Montecito, California. The movie features a family of moonshiners in the Canadian North Woods. The dad is in the illegal hooch business, but his son becomes a minister.


As the movie ends, we see the son destroying the illegal liquor equipment, but [spoiler alert!] six years later when Prohibition begins and the U.S. goes "dry," he may regret his rash actions.


This movie was produced by Santa Barbara's "Flying A" studio. There are no copies known to exist. 

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