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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: Illustrated Films Monthly, September 1913

For the Crown


Some of the earliest movies that Santa Barbara's "Flying A" studio filmed in Montecito, CA were costume dramas. One million-dollar mansion in particular was perfect for the 1913 movie For the Crown, which was set in France in the 1600s. It was one of about 18 silent movies filmed at the famed Gillespie estate.



It was fairly common for Santa Barbara residents to watch movies being filmed, even on the large estates. (These estates had fewer privacy and security issues a century ago.) One movie magazine wrote, "As is usual on outside locations, a crowd gathered to witness the taking of the picture." – Motography, September 6, 1913.


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Image: Exhibitors Herald & Motography, July 19, 1919

Happy Birthdate, Clara Kimball Young!


September 6 is the birthdate of silent film star Clara Kimball Young in 1890. She started on the stage and switched to movies around 1910 when she signed with the Vitagraph studio. She appeared in more than 160 movies over her long career.


In 1919, she starred in The Better Wife, which was filmed at several of the million-dollar mansions in Montecito, CA. A newspaper in Montgomery, Alabama used the title of the movie in their advertising with ads such as, "The Better Wife uses a Hoover because it cleans by Shaking, Sweeping & Suction." (I rather doubt that the paper obtained permission from the movie studio to run this ad campaign.)

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Image: Movies & Million-Dollar Mansions, 2022

Happy Birthdate, Ruth Roland!

August 26 marks the birthdate of Ruth Roland in 1892. She appeared in more than 200 movies. Although she is best known for her roles in cliff-hanger serials, in 1914 she starred in a one-reel slapstick comedy filmed by the Kalem Company in Montecito, California called The Slavery of Foxicus.


Roland plays a young woman in Ancient Rome who is in love with a penniless poet named Foxicus. (Maybe the name is supposed to be a tip-off that he is smarter than he looks, or something.)

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Image: Exhibitors Herald & Moving Picture World, 9-1-1928

Happy Birthdate, Colleen Moore!


August 19 marks the birthdate of actress Colleen Moore in 1899. She appeared in more than 60 movies. In 1928, near the end of the silent era, Moore starred in Oh, Kay!, a silent movie that was based on a Gershwin musical.


The movie was filmed at an estate in Montecito, California by First National Pictures.


There are no known copies of this film.

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Douglas Fairbanks gets Down to Earth


This rom-com was released on August 16, 1917. Doug plays an athletic young man who has a girlfriend who has checked herself into a sanitarium full of hypochondriacs. He believes their problems are all in their heads, so he takes them on a boat ride and then pretends that the boat is stranded on a deserted island. Once ashore, he teaches them to gather food, exercise, etc. to show that they are not really sick.


There was one sad event, however, that occurred during filming. "Member of Fairbanks Company Drowns . . . Production of Down to Earth delayed. Important member of company drowned off Catalina Islands [sic] despite frantic efforts to rescue him . . . The drowned player was Pep, a mongrel cur.'" – Motography, August 11, 1917


Good news –this film is available for viewing on Youtube.

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Image: Wikimedia

Happy Birthdate, Pauline Frederick!


August 12 marks the birthdate of actress Pauline Frederick in 1883. She appeared in more than 60 movies. In 1919, she starred in Bonds of Love, filmed by Goldwyn Pictures in Montecito, California.


Frederick received glowing reviews, such as this one: "Bonds of Love affords its star a role that permits her to reveal the full power of her emotional ability and stunning beauty."

– Herald (Washington, DC), October 12, 1919


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Image: Moving Picture Weekly, July 27, 1918

The Brass Bullet


The first episode of this adventure serial was released by Universal Studios on August 10, 1918. Some scenes were filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island.


The leading character is a young man who has been confined to a mental institution by mistake. He manages to escape and ends up on Pleasure Island. There, he meets a group of bad guys who are trying to kidnap a wealthy young woman. Obviously, since this is a serial, the kidnappers are not successful in their first attempt, or second, or third . . .


World War I was still taking place in Europe when this serial was released, and the title caused some theater owners to feel that it was about the war (see image). "Word that exhibitors were inclined to regard The Brass Bullet as a war serial has led Universal to take prompt steps toward dissipating this idea." – Motion Picture News, August 3, 1918


There are no existing copies of this serial.

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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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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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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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