That’s a Wrap: The Belgian Royal Family Visits the Ince Studios, Culver City, 1919

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Among the more interesting film-related photographs in the Homestead’s collection are some snapshots commemorating the October 1919 visit of the royal family of Belgium to the Culver City studios of Thomas Ince.

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The administration building of the Thomas H. Ince Studios, built in 1918, still stand at what is now known as the Culver Studios in Culver City.  This October 1919 snapshot is from the Homestead’s collection, as are the other three images shown in this post.

Ince has been mentioned in a post on this blog (click here to read it) concerning his house “Dias Doradas”, designed by architect Roy Seldon Price, who also worked on the Temple family’s La Casa Nueva at the Homestead.

A major Hollywood figure prior to his untimely death in 1924 following a jaunt aboard media tycoon William Randolph Hearst’s yacht which led to rumors that Hearst mistakenly shot the studio head in a jealous rage–again, read the previous post.

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Actors and studio employees gather at the door to a structure at the Ince Studios during the visit of the Belgian royal family on 17 October 1919.

In any case, in 1915, Ince established with Harry Culver the Triangle studio in the new town of Culver City.  When the Triangle company dissolved, Ince established his own studio nearby in 1918.  The first building to go up on the place was an American Colonial-style headquarters said to have been modeled after George Washington’s home at Mt. Vernon in Virginia.  By the end of the year, filming began at the new location.

Within about a year, the Belgian royal family of King Albert, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Leopold embarked on a tour of the United States to thank Americans for their support of the European nation, which was decimated by the horrors of World War I.  The prince was keenly interested in film and his parents agreed that a Belgian film industry was needed.  In pursuit of this, the family decided to visit a studio while in Los Angeles.  Their stop was at the Ince facility on 17 October 1919.

Part of the coverage of the visit of King Albert, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Leopold and their entourage from the Los Angeles Times, 18 October 1919, specifically involving an official statement by Los Angeles mayor Meredith P. Snyder about the Ince Studios visit.

There was very little time allotted in the crowded royal schedule, which began with a 9 a.m. ceremony in Los Angeles after the train carrying the party arrived at the old Arcade depot of the Southern Pacific Railroad on Alameda Street between 5th and 6th streets.  According to a statement by Los Angeles mayor Meredith P. Snyder in the Los Angeles Times on the following day, there was but five minutes provided for the Ince visit, to which the studio owner replied that it was “ample”.  Ince prepared a program that covered just that amount of time, with the activities apparently involving seeing a couple of scenes from film shoots on the lot.

Snyder then reported that he began preparing for the royal party’s departure, but that a State Department official tasked with escorting the group through the country replied, “No, the king and queen are interested in this and they can stay here as long as they want to.”  When the mayor tried later to get the party moving, noting that there were some Los Angeles appearances, a visit to the Santa Anita ranch owned by the late Lucky Baldwin’s daughter, Anita, and a lunch in Pasadena, the official reiterated, “we will stay here as long as we please.”  Evidently, the Los Angeles events were cancelled, the lunch changed to a quick bite aboard the train ferrying the royal party, but the Baldwin ranch visit continued.

A sidebar in the Times’ coverage concerned King Albert’s embarrassment at seeing a romantic scene being filmed at the studios during the royal visit.

The Times also ran a sidebar noting that the Belgian royals were a bit taken aback by some filmed romance while at the Ince studios.  According to the paper, “they saw an impassioned lover chase a blonde around a luxurious parlor and, finally trapping her in his embrace, kiss her in the presence of royalty.  The king blushed.”

The photographs highlighted here show the main Ince Studios building, some of the actors from the studio gathered at the door to a studio building, and two shots of the royal party walking through the lot.  One of these has Mayor Snyder in his formal wear to the king’s left and Ince walking behind and to the right.  The queen is the woman in the black dress in the two latter photos.

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King Albert (in uniform in the center), Queen Elizabeth (far right), Los Angeles mayor Snyder (in formal wear between the royals) and Ince (behind at the left) stroll the grounds of the studio.

As to the Ince Studios, ownership passed after his death to Cecil B. DeMille, who then sold the property in 1928 to RKO Pictures.  Such classics as “Gone with the Wind” and “Citizen Kane” were filmed at the studio.  In 1956, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball purchased the studio for their Desilu Productions company and it was used mainly for television work until 1968 when it was sold again.

Shortly thereafter renamed Culver Studios, the facility went through several hands, including that of television producer Grant Tinker, who recently passed away, before Sony Pictures took possession in 1991.  Two years ago, a private investment firm purchased the studios, which is approaching its centennial.

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The royal party walking through the studio grounds during their quick visit.

For an interesting article by noted film historian Mark Wanamaker on the Culver City Historical Society’s website about the Belgian royal family visit to Ince Studios, click here.  A bit of the studio’s history on the Culver Studios website can be found here.

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