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


Image: Moving Picture World, July 27, 1918

The Fallen Angel

This movie was released on July 28, 1918. Some scenes were filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island.

As you can probably guess from the title, this movie contains a strong moral lesson, and I'm guessing that plenty of moms took their daughters to see it. A young woman who works in a department store has an affair with her boss, a married man. After he passes away, she falls in love with a young man. However, when he learns about her past, he suggests that they shack up instead of getting married.

Here's one strongly worded review. "It rips away the purple, alluring mist of tawdry romance." – Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah), August 18, 1918

No copies are known to exist.

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Image: Motography, July 22, 1916


This controversial movie was released on July 23, 1916. It was filmed in several millionaire-estates in Montecito, a suburb of Santa Barbara, California.

Audrey Munson, the star of this movie, was famous for posing au naturel for sculptors, so you can guess what happens in this film produced by the "Flying A" studio. To give the appearance that this is an "art" film and not porn, the movie begins with a scene from Greek mythology showing Pandora opening a box and letting evil escape into the world. This is also an excuse for actresses to traipse around in flimsy costumes that you know their mothers would disapprove of.


One reviewer warned theaters: "Let it be said at the start, that Miss Munson appears several times in the picture unhampered by garments of any sort whatsoever, and there is scene upon scene in which she walks about thinly and diaphanously clad . . . however beautiful and non-salacious such scenes run, their chief spectators will be curiosity seekers." – Motion Picture News, August 5, 1916

*Copies of this film do exist.

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Image: Exhibitors Herald, July 16, 1927

The Blood Ship*

This movie about a captain-from-hell was released on July 18, 1927. It was filmed on or around California's Santa Catalina Island.

An African-American actor, who had a small part in the film, received a special mention from a film magazine that was probably unusual for the time.
"There is a colored gentleman in "The Blood Ship" cast who rejoices in the name of Blue Washington, and who certainly can act . . . I wondered why producers do not provide more prominent parts for negroes . . . Quite often we see white men playing blackface parts, which becomes ridiculous when you consider how many clever fellows we have who could play them without makeup." – Film Spectator, December 24, 1927


This film still exists.

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Image: screenshot from Man's Genesis

Man's Genesis*


This D.W. Griffith movie was released on July 11, 1912. It's a caveman story filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island that starts off with the theme "might makes right" and then evolves into "but brains are better." Two cavemen love the same woman (actress Mae Marsh), and it seems like the one named "Bruteforce" will win the love contest against his rival named "Weakhands" – until, wait for it – Weakhands invents the stone hammer and overcomes Bruteforce.


*You can find a shortened version on Youtube and see what you think, but it did get some good reviews at the time, such as this one: "A most remarkable picture, and one which should create some stir. It is an effort to supply the 'missing link,' and it is a consummately clever effort." – Bioscope (London, England), July 18, 1912

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Image: Reel Life, October 31, 1914

The Dream Ship


This one-reel "Flying A" period drama was released on June 16, 1914, and was filmed on two of the millionaire estates in Montecito, California. It was inspired by a poem which says that in dreamland, a king and a pauper can change places.


According to the story, a woman prefers a man who she believes to be a pauper, but when it is revealed that he is actually a rich guy in disguise, she manages to adjust. C'est la vie, and all that jazz.

No copies are known to exist.

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Image: Motography, February 1, 1913

A Failure to Communicate

"Flying A" actors and film crews often showed up unannounced and startled Santa Barbara residents. When the "Flying A" movie folks arrived in Santa Barbara at the beginning of July 1912, they began filming immediately. Back then, there were almost no regulations about where and when they could film, or who they needed to notify. No permits; no problem. Right?

Oops! There were a number of problems caused when actors and film crews showed up unannounced. They scared the bejeezus out of a couple of Chinese gardeners on a ranch just outside the city limits. The gardeners were minding their own business and working in a beanfield when a couple of the "Flying A" actors rode up on horseback, dressed as tough hombres, flashing their six-shooters.

The gardener ran out to the road, where he encountered a local police officer. In spite of the language barrier, the Chinese man was able to convince the copper that something terrible was going on. When they returned to the scene of the "crime," the film crew was able to explain the situation to everyone's satisfaction one way or another. After that, the gardeners had a fun time watching the "bad hombres" do their thing.

This was not the last time that filming by the "Flying A" startled the inhabitants of Santa Barbara. More about that another time.

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Image: In 1913, the "Flying A" filmed "In the Days of Trajan" at Montecito's Gould estate. Estate photo from House Beautiful, March 1909. "Flying A" photo from Motography, September 20, 1913

Why Santa Barbara?


I've written in an earlier post that the "Flying A" moved to Santa Barbara from La Mesa in San Diego County in 1912. One reason was that we have a greater diversity of filming locations – mountains, beaches, historic adobes, mansions in Montecito, and islands – Santa Cruz Island in particular.


Another reason was the lack of afterhours activities in La Mesa. The Santa Barbara paper stated, "One reason why the company ["Flying A"] decided upon a change of base was that there were no amusements for the members of the company."


And a third reason was that Santa Barbara laid out the welcome mat for the movie company, mostly in the hopes that movies made here would encourage tourism. Quite the opposite occurred in La Mesa. "When the company first came to La Mesa, there was a certain element of the town that raised its hands in horror, anticipating an influx of undesirables. A sermon was even preached against the company." (Santa Barbara Morning Press, July 21, 1912)

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Image: screenshot



The 10-reel anti-war movie Civilization was released on June 2, 1916. Some scenes were filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island.


A submarine captain refuses an order to torpedo a defenseless passenger ship and is killed by his crew. He is reincarnated as Christ who visits world leaders and asks them to end the war (World War I).


*Good news! This movie is available on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwU035gIGO8

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Image: Moving Picture Weekly, May 21, 1921

Do or Die was released on May 30, 1921

Most of this adventure serial was filmed in Cuba, but a few scenes were filmed on California's Santa Catalina Island. Here's the story: Some members of an American family live in Cuba and own a special ring that contains a map to buried pirate treasure. A guy named Satan is the bad guy. (What else could he be with a name like that?) Satan tries repeatedly to gain possession of the ring.

A member of the family from the United States goes to Cuba to help combat Satan. He finds it's not as easy as it sounds because it takes 18 hellish episodes to combat the forces of evil.

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Image: Motography, July 1, 1916

The Secret of the Submarine was released on May 22, 1916

Two of the episodes of this 15-part adventure serial were filmed on California's Santa Cruz Island by the "Flying A" film company.


"Some unusual stunts were done at Santa Cruz Island for The Secret of the Submarine, and still photos secured by Faxon Dean are exceptional. One shows the house on the cliff after it had been dynamited. It was caught toppling down the cliff-side. Another shows Al Thompson making a leap over a precipice sixty-five feet high. This was not a regular dive. Thompson struck the water below but was unhurt." – Morning Press (Santa Barbara, California), April 26, 1916


The plot involves a young woman, whose father has invented an apparatus that enables submarines to dive to a great depth. She battles foreign spies who are trying to steal the secret plans of the apparatus.


(Submarines were in the news during World War I, so this was a very timely serial. The United States had not entered the war yet, but there was much talk about "preparedness.")

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