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Movies Way Back When, Silents on the Islands, & Silents in Montecito, etc.

MOVIES WAY BACK WHEN

Image: Motion Picture News, June 19, 1915

Special Effects on the Cheap

One hundred years ago, movie studios had neither budget nor equipment for special effects, so they leapt into action to film natural disasters such as shipwrecks and use them in a film. In 1915, the Norwegian ship Aggi ran aground on California's Santa Rosa Island. The Universal Film Company of Universal City paid $4,000 for the rights to film on the wreck and produced a film aptly titled The Toll of the Sea.

 

No copies are known to exist.

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SILENTS ON THE ISLANDS

Image: Moving Picture Weekly, April 23, 1921

The Diamond Queen
Some scenes of this adventure serial, released on March 15, 1921, were filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island. Here's the summary of just one episode of "The Diamond Queen" starring Eileen Sedgwick:

"She is called upon to jump from the rails of an ocean liner, in the dead of night, into a rough and shark-infested sea. Rough water had no terrors for Eileen Sedgwick, but sharks were an experience. Needless to say, she performed the hazardous feat herself, and it was marked by the same spirit of courage and daring which is so characteristic of this girl's screen work." – Moving Picture Weekly, January 21, 1921


No copies are known to exist.

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MOVIES WAY BACK WHEN

Image: A scene from the "Flying A" movie The Quest which was filmed at this estate in 1915. Reel Life, March 13, 1915

Touring the Piranhurst estate

 

There were a couple of walking/hiking groups in Santa Barbara, California in the 19-teens. One was the Nature Study Club. This group was fortunate enough to be allowed to wander around some of Montecito's grandest estates. (In those years, some of the estates were open to the public.)

 

In 1919, the group visited the Piranhurst estate belonging to H.E. Bothin on Cold Spring Road. "A walk through a lovely canyon under rustic arbors covered with trumpet vine and passion flowers led to the open-air theater that is unique in its setting and is a joy and delight to the beholder." The "Flying A" and a studio from Los Angeles had filmed silent movies at this estate.

 

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SILENTS ON THE ISLANDS

Image: Exhibitors Trade Review, October 3, 1925

The Black Pirate

 

This movie was released on March 8, 1926. Many of the scenes were filmed on or around California's Santa Catalina Island. To perfect his form, Douglas Fairbanks was said to be taking lessons in knife throwing, using a cutlass, as well as swimming lessons with swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller. Weissmuller later transitioned to movies and television.

 

Fortunately, copies of this film do exist and are available on Youtube for your viewing pleasure. 

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MOVIES WAY BACK WHEN

Image: New York Public Library

A Pelican in the Spotlight

 

Captain Sebastian Larco, the man who was called the father of Santa Barbara's fishing industry, had a couple of pet pelicans. In 1915, one of them was filmed in an episode of the "Flying A" serial The Diamond from the Sky.

 

The diamond in the serial keeps getting lost or stolen at the end of each chapter, and if you want to find out what happened, you'll have to come back to watch the next installment. In this particular episode, the pelican flies off with the coveted jewel. (No copies are known to exist.) 

 

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SILENTS ON THE ISLANDS

Image: Exhibitors Herald, September 2, 1922

Kindred of the Dust

 

On February 27, 1922, the tear-jerker Kindred of the Dust was released. Some scenes were filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island. A young wife with a baby discovers that her husband is a bigamist and leaves him. She and the child are shunned by society – like it was her fault or something! – until she marries a young man and ends up saving his life.

 

"The characters are all incredible, and every one of them is a glutton for suffering." – New York Times, August 28, 1922

 

A copy survives in the George Eastman House.

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SILENTS ON THE ISLANDS

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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MOVIES WAY BACK WHEN

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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SILENTS IN MONTECITO

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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MOVIES WAY BACK WHEN

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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