Sept. 13, 2005


Hollywood Movie Studios

 

          On December 11th, 1938 Atlanta burned to the ground.  This was the very first scenephotographed for the film Gone With the Wind, and it was shot on the RKO-Pathé lot in Culver City, next door to MGM Studios.  Although producer David O. Selznick needed the scenes of Atlanta burning for the film, the initial reason for the fire was to clear the 40-acre film lot of all the old movie sets cluttering it up so they could build new sets.  Among the old sets set aflame that night were the giant doors and wall from the Skull Island set of King Kong, to which they had simply nailed antebellum facades.  But the set wasn’t even originally built for King Kong; it was actually built as the main gate and walls of Jerusalem for Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 film, King of Kings.
          That is a perfect example of the transitory nature of Hollywood: one thing becomes something else, which then gets destroyed, then something else is built on top of it, then nobody remembers what was there originally.  There is not a person living who remembers when the biggest stars in movies were Florence Lawrence and John Bunny, and they were huge.  At some point in the none-too-distant future nobody will remember who Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts were, either.  Fame is fleeting.
          The same transitory nature applies to the movie studios themselves.  Almost all of the Hollywood movie studios have changed owners and locations many times over the years, yet nearly nobody remembers where or what they once were.  It’s been just about one hundred years since filmmakers began shooting movies in Los Angeles.  Even though this isn’t a very long history, as far as history goes, we seem to know more about the Roman Republic 2,000 years ago than we do about Hollywood 90 years ago.  Just like the King of Kings set, and King Kong set (and the Gone With The Wind sets, too), once they’re gone, nobody remembers that they were ever there in the first place.
          Motion pictures were so eager to come into existence that they were simultaneously invented between 1888 and 1890 in the USA, England and France.  For the first twenty years of the movies’ existence, the capitals of world filmmaking were New York City, where hundreds of film companies sprang up almost overnight; Lyon, France, where the Lumiere brothers were located; West Orange, New Jersey, where Thomas Edison’s company was located; or Vincennes, France, where the Pathé company was located (until 1918 over 60% of all cameras in use in the world were made by Pathé).
          But instead of any of these exotic places, the motion pictures found their capital in a sleepy little southern California town called Los Angeles, whose population in 1900 had just passed the 100,000 mark.
          The first reason anyone came to Los Angeles to shoot a movie was because of the good weather.  In 1907 the very first film crew arrived in Los Angeles to shoot jungle movies, a setting they were having great difficulty faking in a studio in Chicago.  They were from the Selig Polyscope Company, one of the first film companies in existence, having begun in 1896.  Selig Polyscope was owned and run by Col. William Selig, who had never actually been a colonel of anything.  He had been a clown, a juggler, and a minstrel show producer, when he saw an early demonstration of Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope, a device that showed 12-second movies in a hand-cranked machine
William Selig

that you peered into, which cost a nickel (thus the establishments where these contraptions we found became known as “Nickelodeons”.  It was for the Kinetoscope that Edison ordered from George Eastman at Eastman-Kodak, who had just recently invented celluloid film, a specially-designed celluloid roll film with a frame size of 35 millimeters, with four perforations on either side, which has remained unchanged right up to today).  Meanwhile, Col. Selig was so impressed by the Kinetoscope that he immediately went into the motion picture business.
          Col. Selig liked the look of the footage he was getting back from Los Angeles so much, with its many sunny days that made outdoor filming much easier and more dependable, that in 1909 he

built the very first movie studio in Los Angeles, Selig Polyscope Studios, at 3800 Mission Road in Echo Park.  Col. Selig also started a zoo next door to his studio, aptly named Selig Zoo, mainly to supply the animals needed for his jungle pictures, but it was also open to the public.  Selig Polyscope went bankrupt in 1918, and the facility then became Louis B. Mayer Pictures.  Selig Zoo, however, stayed in business for over 25 more years, and finally went under in the mid-1930s during the Great Depression.
          The second reason that filmmakers began coming to Los Angeles to make movies was due to the Motion Picture Patents Company, otherwise known as the “Edison Trust.”  In 1908 Thomas Edison, along with the companies: Vitagraph, Biograph, Kalem, Lubin, Selig, Essanay, Pathé, Méliès, and Gaumont, having collected together all the available patents on motion picture cameras and projectors, tried to stop anyone else from producing, distributing or exhibiting movies anywhere in the USA unless licensed by them.  There were already so many film production companies that were not members of the trust, and were thus in immediate defiance of the trust, that this quickly escalated into what became known as the “Patents Trust War.”  Agents from the trust would actively sabotage the productions of “independents,” frequently firing bullets from sniper rifles into their unlicensed movie cameras.  So, if you got on a train and left New York City going west, the last stop was Los Angeles, and that was as far as you could get from the Trust.  To escape the Trust, some early filmmakers also set up productions in Cuba.
          In 1909 the British company, Kinemacolor, owned by American, Charles Urban, built a film

studio at 4500 Sunset Blvd. in Los Feliz (which is next to Hollywood), where Sunset Blvd. and Hollywood Blvd. meet.  Kinemacolor was a very early two-color process (although not the first color process), which used only red and green.  Although the Kinemacolor process never took off, quite a few films were made using the process in the teens, including the very first color feature film, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, produced in 1914.
Vitagraph Building, present-day

          In 1910 the New York-based company, Vitagraph Pictures, one of the largest film companies of the early silent era, founded in 1896 by two British Vaudevillians, opened a studio in downtown Santa Monica on 2nd St.  Vitagraph had such early film stars as: Florence Turner (known as “The Vitagraph Girl),” Norma Talmadge, Rudolph Valentino (at the very beginning of his career), Maurice Costello, and the very young Adolphe Menjou.  The Vitagraph building in Santa Monica is still there with a plaque on the wall commemorating that it was once Vitagraph Pictures.
          The very first movie studio to open in Hollywood itself, in 1911, was the Christie-Nestor Studio, at 6100 Sunset Blvd., on the corner of Sunset Blvd and Gower St.  Every week Christie-Nestor

produced three, one- and two-reel films (a reel of 35mm film is ten minutes long): one comedy, one drama, and one western.  Soon, there were so many actors dressed as cowboys and Indians loitering around on that corner waiting for film work that it became known as “Gower Gulch.”  Today there is a shopping center there called “Gower Gulch.”  Today the site of Christie-Nestor Studios is occupied by KCBS TV.

          That same year, 1911, directly next door to Christie-Nestor Studio, at 6101 Sunset Blvd. opened IMP Studio, or Independent Motion Pictures, another New York-based company, which was owned by the diminutive German immigrant, Carl Laemmle, one of the early pioneers of film
Thomas H. Ince

production.  Laemmle sent out from New York a former actor named Thomas H. Ince to direct pictures at the new little Hollywood Studio.
          After a year with IMP, Ince saw the incredible possibilities just waiting to be had in Los Angeles in the motion picture business.  He quit IMP and became partners with New York Motion Pictures in their Los Angeles studio, called Bison Pictures (at 1719 Alessandro [now known as Glendale Blvd] in Glendale, which is near Pasadena).  Thomas Ince immediately purchased the 101 Ranch and Wild West Show from the Miller Brothers, located in Santa Monica at Sunset Blvd. and the Pacific Coast Highway, which then quickly became

known as “Inceville.”  The company was then renamed the Bison 101 Company, and specialized in making westerns.  This is the present-day location of the Maharishi Center.
          In 1912 Mack Sennett opened Keystone Studio in Glendale, (at 1712 Alessandro) in the neighborhood called Edendale, which is now Glendale.  Sennett released his first Keystone Kop

short film, Hoffmeyer’s Legacy, in late 1912.  Mack Sennett also started the real estate development called Hollywoodland, and built a big sign in the Hollywood Hills.  This is the present-day Hollywood sign, minus the L-A-N-D.
           Also in 1912, Thomas Ince left Bison 101, formed Thomas H. Ince Pictures, and built a studio at 9336 Washington Blvd in Culver City.  This 40-acre lot (known as “The Forty Acres”), would later become (among other short-lived things): Cecil B. DeMille Studios, Pathè Studio, RKO-Pathè Studio, Selznick International, Howard Hughes, Desilu, Laird International Studios, Tinker & Gannett, Culver City Studios, and is now owned by Sony.  The main street of the lot is Ince Blvd.
          And in 1912, another early pioneer of motion pictures, Sigmund “Pop” Lubin, opened a studio, the Lubin Film Company, at 1725-1735 Fleming St. (now Hoover St.) in East Hollywood.

  Lubin went out of business in 1917.  This facility was subsequently owned or rented by: Essanay (which was really S & A, for George K. Spoor and Gilbert “Broncho Billy” Anderson), Kalem, Willis & Ingles, Hampton, Charles Ray Productions, Jean Neville, Ralph M. Like, Monogram, Allied Artists, Colorvision TV, and is now the Los Angeles PBS affiliate, KCET.
          In 1913 a new company, The Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, formed by Jesse Lasky, Cecil B. DeMille and Samuel Goldfish, in NYC, sent a crew to Hollywood to shoot The Squaw Man, starring Dustin Farnum.  As their studio they rented a barn at 6284 Selma Ave., on the corner

of Selma Ave. and Vine St.  This was the very first feature film shot in Hollywood or Los Angeles.  Soon thereafter they built more permanent stages on that corner, stretching from Selma to Sunset Blvd.  The “Lasky Barn,” as it became known, is a Los Angeles landmark, and has been moved around town many times.  It sat for many years on the Paramount lot.  It is now located in a parking lot on Highland Ave., across from the Hollywood Bowl.
          In 1913 D. W. Griffith took over the Kinemacolor Studio at 4500 Sunset Blvd. and began D. W. Griffith – Fine Arts Studio.  This is where Birth of a Nation was shot.  Griffith’s films were financed by Mutual Pictures, although Mutual’s west coast studios were in La Mesa and Santa Barbara.

          In 1915 IMP and several other companies, including their neighbor, Christie-Nestor Studios, and Thomas Ince’s old company, Bison 101, merged and became Universal Pictures, run by Carl Laemmle.  Universal bought 230 acres of land in the San Fernando Valley from David Burbank and opened Universal City at 3900 Lankershim Blvd., which is still there in the same place.
          Also in 1915, D.W. Griffith, Mack Sennett and Thomas Ince formed Triangle Pictures, and began building a very big studio in Culver City at 10202 W. Washington Blvd., directly next to Thomas Ince Pictures.  This is the present-day site of Sony Studios.  But first, before their new studio was finished being built, Triangle started off renting space at the Griffith - Fine Arts lot.

          And also in 1915, Hal Roach opened his studio in Culver City, at 8822 Washington Blvd., and National Blvd. Hal Roach Studios, where many of the Harold Lloyd, Laurel & Hardy, and Our Gang movies were shot, was known as “The Lot of Fun.”  The studio was bulldozed in 1963.
          In 1916 Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players merged with Jesse Lasky’s company and became Famous Players-Lasky, which opened another studio in Hollywood at 5823 Santa Monica Blvd. (on

the NW corner of Gower St.).  The first thing Zukor and Lasky did was to fire Sam Goldfish (who was also Jesse Lasky’s brother-in-law).  The name of the distribution company handling their films was called Paramount Pictures Releasing Corp.  Soon thereafter they purchased another studio, this one on 201 N. Occidental Blvd. in downtown L.A., formerly the Oliver Morosco Photoplay Co.  This studio was then known as Famous Players – Lasky – Morosco.

          In 1916 D.W. Griffith shot his epic film, Intolerance, at his Griffith – Fine Arts Studio.  The rotting Babylon set with its enormous seated elephants remained standing on that corner for over the next 20 years.
          In 1917 Triangle Pictures folded.  Griffith went back to his studio on Sunset Blvd., Thomas Ince went back to his own studio next door to Triangle, and Mack Sennett dropped the Keystone name and continued making comedies in his Glendale studio under the name Mack Sennett Motion Picture Comedies.
          In 1917 First National Pictures opened a big studio facility in Burbank, in the Cahuenga Pass.  First National was the largest film company in the world at that point, having just secured the services of Charlie Chaplin, and already having the biggest star in the world, Mary Pickford, who had recently defected to them from Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players.  Mary Pickford, meanwhile, had her own production company which was located at the Robert Brunton Studio on Melrose Ave. between Gower Ave. and Van Ness St., at 5451 Marathon St. (the little side street that runs into the front gate).
          Also in 1917 Sam Goldfish and Edgar Selwyn formed Goldwyn Pictures.  Goldfish liked the

name so much he took it as his own, then Selwyn sued him and lost.  In 1918 Goldwyn Pictures purchased the old Triangle lot in Culver City.  Goldwyn Pictures adopted Leo the Lion as their logo (with the Latin slogan, “Ars Gratia Artis” meaning “Art for Art’s Sake”).  When shooting the film opening of the logo, the Goldwyn company rented a lion from the Selig Zoo.
          And also in 1917, Technicolor Corporation, which had started in Boston in 1915, opened a lab and factory in Hollywood.
          Also in 1917, William Fox opened a facility at 1401 N. Western Ave. called the Fox Film Corporation.
          And finally in 1917 Charlie Chaplin, having signed a million dollar deal with First National, built his own studio, Charlie Chaplin Studio, at 1416 N. La Brea Ave, at the corner of DeLongpre

St., in Hollywood (Chaplin had previously been under contract to Mutual, and had a studio at 1025 Lillian Way, called Chaplin-Mutual, which, for a short time, was Buster Keaton’s studio).  Chaplin’s La Brea studio would eventually become A&M Records, and is now Jim Henson Productions.
          In 1918, directly across the street from Robert Brunton Studio, at 5300 Melrose Ave.,

William “Billy” Clune, who owned one of the largest movie theaters in downtown L.A., Clune’s Palace (later the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for many years), built Clune Studio.  In the following 90 years this studio has been: United, Tee-Art, Prudential, California Pictures (Preston Sturgis and Howard Hughes’ company), Enterprise, Producer’s Studio, and it’s now Raleigh Studios.
          In 1919 Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith formed United Artists, and moved into the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio at 7200 Santa Monica Blvd., at Formosa Ave., which had previously been owned by the director, King Vidor.  The studio’s name changed to United Artists in 1921, then changed to the Samuel Goldwyn Studio in 1939, and remained Samuel Goldwyn Studio until 1980, when it was purchased by Warner Bros. and became the present-day site of the Warner Hollywood Studio.
          In 1923 Walt Disney and his brother Roy opened their first studio in Los Angeles in the back of the Holly-Vermont Realty office, called Disney Bros. Studio.  They soon took over the whole building, as well as the building next door.
          Also in 1923, Goldwyn Pictures merged with Metro Pictures, owned by the theater-chain Loew’s, Inc., and soon thereafter they fired Sam Goldwyn.  That same year Sam Goldwyn formed his own company, without any partners, and called it Samuel Goldwyn Pictures.  He located his new company on the United Artists lot.

          In 1923 brothers Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack Warner (whose last name was actually Eichelbaum) officially incorporated Warner Brothers Pictures, although they had been making films under various other names since 1918 in their own facility at 5800 Sunset Blvd., which was called Warner Brothers Studio.  The president of the company was the oldest brother, Harry, and the head of production was the youngest brother, Jack.
          In 1924 Metro-Goldwyn merged with Louis B. Mayer Pictures and became Metro-Goldwyn-

Mayer, with Mayer as the president.  Louis Mayer left his headquarters at the old Selig Polyscope lot on Mission Rd. (next to the zoo), and moved onto the Goldwyn lot (formerly Triangle), which now became the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lot, and stayed that way for the next 50 years.

          In 1924 CBC Pictures, run by brothers, Harry and Jack Cohen, and Joseph Brandt (and had been around since 1920), became Columbia Pictures and opened at 1432-1440 Gower Ave. (which is now Sunset-Gower Studios) and across the street from the very first Hollywood studio, Christie-Nestor Studios.

          In 1924 Rayart Pictures took over the old Selig Polyscope Studio in Echo Park, next to the zoo.  Rayart became Monogram Pictures in 1930, then it became Republic Pictures in 1935.
          Also in 1924, on November 19, Thomas Ince died onboard William Randolph Hearst’s yacht.  It has always been suspected, though never proven, that Hearst shot Ince believing that he was Charlie Chaplin, whom Hearst suspected of having an affair with his paramour, Marion Davies.  Ince’s body was immediately cremated, and there was never any investigation or inquest.  This brought an abrupt and inglorious end to Thomas H. Ince Pictures.  Cecil B. DeMille left Paramount Pictures, started the Cecil B. DeMille Studio, and moved onto the Ince lot.  This is where DeMille made King of Kings (an obvious extra in the film was author Ayn Rand, who had just immigrated to America).
          In 1925 Walt and Roy Disney opened a new facility for Disney Bros. Studio on Hyperion St. in downtown Los Angeles.
          In 1925 Warner Brothers merged with First National, forming Warner Bros.-First National Pictures, and took over the big First National lot in Burbank.  This is where Warner Brothers is still located, at 4000 Warner Blvd.

          In 1926 Famous Players-Lasky moved to the former Robert Brunton Studios on Melrose, and this is when it officially became known as Paramount Pictures.  This is where Paramount is still located.  Incidentally, all of the manhole covers on the Paramount lot still all say “Robert Brunton.”
          In 1928 RKO Pictures was formed by RCA (Radio Corporation of America), Keith-Orpheum Theaters, and the FBO company, which was the Film Booker’s

Organization, owned by Joseph P. Kennedy (father of former U.S. president John F. Kennedy), who had already purchased the remains of Mutual Pictures (including Griffith-Fine Arts Studio) and Pathé (including the Ince/C.B. DeMille lot), as well as the Robertson-Cole Company, located at 860 N. Gower St. (at the corner of Gower and Melrose, with Paramount on one side and Columbia on the other, and the Hollywood Cemetery on the other).  So, RKO moved onto the Robertson-Cole lot, and had the top corner of the building built to look like a globe, and on top of it was RKO’s trademark radio tower.  This building is still there, and the globe is still there, too, but not the radio tower, and the stages are now part of Paramount.

          Also in 1928, Fox Films bought cowboy star, Tom Mix’s, ranch in West L.A. and renamed it the Fox Ranch.  Fox Films kept their headquarters on Western Ave. and used the Fox Ranch as their backlot.
          In 1933 Darryl Zanuck, at the age of 31, left his job at Warner Brothers as head of production, and started his own film company called 20th Century Pictures, with Joseph Schenck, brother of Nicholas Schenck, who was the president of Loew’s, Inc., the parent company of MGM.  20th Century Pictures moved onto the UA lot on Formosa, which had already become the Samuel Goldwyn Pictures lot.
          In 1935 David Selznick (previously the head of production at RKO, then a producer at MGM), at the age of 33, formed Selznick International Pictures, then moved into the old main

building of Thomas Ince Studio, which was then RKO-Pathé, in Culver City, next to MGM (where David Selznick’s father-in-law, Louis Mayer, was president).  Selznick used the main building as not only his headquarters, but also the company’s logo (as well as the front of the Tara plantation in Gone With The Wind).  The rest of the lot remained the RKO-Pathè lot.
          In 1935 the Fox Film Corporation merged with Darryl Zancuck’s 20th Century Pictures to become 20th Century-Fox, with Zanuck as it’s president.  They then moved the company from Fox’s Western Blvd. headquarters to the Fox Ranch in West L.A., at 10201 W. Pico Blvd., which

is where 20th Century-Fox is still located (although all of what is now the development, Century City, used to be part of it).  The Fox Film Laboratory, located a block away from their original location on Western Ave., at 1377 Serrano St., then became the 20th Century-Fox Laboratory, which then finally became Deluxe Labs, which is still there in the same place.
          In 1937, with the enormous success of the first animated feature-film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Disney brothers relocated to a 51-acre lot in Burbank at 500 S. Buena Vista St., and changed their name to Walt Disney Productions.
          So, by 1937 every Hollywood studio had finally arrived at its proper place.  This is where they would all remain for at least the next 20 to 30 years.  Some of the studios, like Paramount, 20th Century-Fox, Universal, Warner Bros. and Disney, are all still in those same places.
          In 1948 Howard Hughes, who had been independently producing movies since 1927 (such as Hell’s Angels in 1930, and Scarface in 1932, with his production company, Howard Hughes Productions, located on the RKO-Pathè lot, although he himself had an office at Samuel Goldwyn Studio), bought the controlling interest in RKO Pictures for $9 million, then began accumulating the rest of the stock cheaply.  Hughes owned the studio from 1948 to 1954, managed to lose $40 million, then sold the studio at a $10 million profit, due to the advent of television and the value of the studio’s film library.  The purchasers of the studio (MGM bought the film library) were Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who in 1954 were in the midst of their huge hit TV series, I Love Lucy, and they turned RKO into Desilu Studios.  In this deal they also acquired the RKO-Pathè lot.
          In 1968, with the great success of his film The Dirty Dozen, Robert Aldrich purchased the old Oliver Morosco Photoplay Studio, that had been Famous Players-Lasky-Morosco, and it now became The Aldrich Company.  He went bankrupt in 1973.
          In 1975, at the peak of his career, Francis Ford Coppola purchased Hollywood General Studio at 1040 N. Las Palmas, smack in the center of Hollywood, and named it American Zoetrope Studio.  This facility had been there since 1919, and had existed under various names, such as: Jasper Hollywood, Metropolitan Pictures, and Educational Pictures.  After the release of the notoriously expensive box office failure, One From the Heart, as well as Hammett and Rumble Fish, Coppola and American Zoetrope went bankrupt and vacated the premises in 1983.  Brothers Ridley and Tony Scott had their offices there in the 1980s.  Francis Coppola and American Zoetrope are still in business, but are now located in San Francisco, where they had originally started.  The studio in Hollywood on Las Palmas has become Hollywood Center Studios.
          Since 1975, most of the Hollywood studios have changed hands numerous times.  The Sony Corporation owns Sony Pictures, Columbia Pictures, and Columbia Tri-Star (and is located on the old Triangle/MGM lot); Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. owns 20th Century-Fox; Paramount is owned by Viacom; MGM and UA (which merged) are both owned by Kirk Kerkorian (neither has studio facilities anymore); Warner Brothers is now part of the Time-Warner-AOL conglomerate; Universal is now a subsidiary of the NBC Universal; the Walt Disney Company owns Walt Disney Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, and Miramax.
          And that’s pretty much where all the Hollywood studios stand, for the time being.

 

 

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