by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This post will not have much in the way of text, but will, hopefully, make up for that in visual interest as it is basd on a set of snapshots developed at a San Diego photo shop on 13 November 1925 and taken, presumably, not long before that date, showing filming of movies on location and at studios in Hollywood.
The unnamed photographer did label the photos, but the inscriptions do not offer much detail at all. So, the location shots are usually captioned “making movies in the streets of Los Angeles” or “the actors” or “making movies,” and so on. Fortunately, we have a clue or two to identify the location of some of these snapshots, as noted below.
We have a little more to go on with the studio images, as most of them are noted as being at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (the studio was launched in a mega-merger in spring 1924) lot, this being located in Culver City on the former studio of Thomas Ince, who died aboard a yacht owned by publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst, also in 1924. Just two of the ten studio photos were taken at Universal, situated, of course, at Universal City in the lower end of the San Fernando Valley.
With respect to those location shoots, of which there are nine, it is assumed that they all were from filming for the same picture, but there is no identification, of course, as to what movie and the photographer may not have known, though it does seem clear that they were well enough connected with someone associated with the production to get such get close-ups of the action.
Three of the photos show rather rickety looking race cars with one labeled “Rider—Cowboy” and “Leterbuck” and another marked “X 8.” Presumably this was a comedy and one with plenty of action and another trio show traditional automobiles with the locations being a mix of commercial and residential locales.
On this last point, we do have a location established for at least four of the images, thanks to some well-labeled buildings. These were taken at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and El Centro Avenue, just east of where the Pantages Theatre was built later in the decade and, for music fans, just a hop, skip and a jump (who says that anymore?) from Amoeba Records. You couldn’t tell the location from any modern references as this section of Hollywood has changed dramatically, but there are two obvious clues to help pinpoint the spot.
For two of the images, this would be the prominent signage for the Hotel Regent, which was situated at 6162 Hollywood and was freshly minted, as the hostelry, which boasted that it offered “A Radio in Every Room” (foreshadowing later advertising about a color TV and later cable in every room at innumerable hotels and motels) for its grand opening at the end of April. The builder was the Christie Realty Corporation, which was directly tied to filmdom because its owners were Al and Charles Christie.
The Christies, natives of Ontario, Canada, were veterans of the movie industry with Charles behind the scenes at the administrative end, while Al was a director and producer who started with the Centaur Film Company in New Jersey before migrating to Los Angeles to operate the Nestor Studios, a pioneering local outfit. One of the early Nestor stars was Princess Mona Darkfeather, the stage name of Josephine M. Workman, granddaughter of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman.
When Nestor was absorbed in 1912 by the newly launched Universal Film Company, Al Christie took responsibility for making comedies and remained in that capacity for four years before he and Charles formed their own studio, albeit with renting space from Universal until early success allowed for ownership of the Universal lot when that studio moved to its current location. In 1927, the Christies opened a new facility at Studio City.
Among the comedians who worked for Christie were Fatty Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd, while the well-known Marie Provost and Marie Dressler were among their marquee female actors for the studio. The studio was also among the first to make films with African American actors for a Black audience.
In 1922, Al and Charles formed the Christie Realty Corporation and their $500,000 hotel was built on the site where Nestor made its first films, the earliest made in Hollywood. The brothers also constructed a building for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce on Sunset Boulevard and they turned it over to the chamber for the net cost of building and they also had their own realty office structure, as well. Their Tudor-style Waverly Mansion in Beverly Hills, completed in 1926 at a cost of up to $150,000 showed just how well the brothers were doing in their film and real estate ventures.
The Christies, however, were devastated by the Great Depression and were forced to sell their studio and realty holdings during the depths of the downturn in the early 1930s. Charles worked in real estate in Beverly Hills, while Al continued to produce comedies for studios, and both died in the 1950s. The Christie Film Company, much less the brothers’ realty firm, has been largely forgotten, despite their pioneering work in Hollywood.
Adjacent to the Hotel Regent was the corner building of the Star Car Company, located at 6150 Hollywood. The firm was established in 1922 under the auspices of Durant Motors, ran by the recently fired chief executive officer of General Motors, William Durant. Durant established his own brand, as well as the Flint and Star makes to compete with such GM products as Buick, Chevrolet and Oldsmobile. The enterprise failed after about a decade and Star phased out its production of autos in 1928.
The other readily identifiable structure is Bennett Motors, which was located across Hollywood Boulevard from the Hotel Regent and signage on the building from one of the images shows that it sold Chandler and Cleveland automobiles, both of which are largely forgotten, but both started as separate entities in Cleveland, Ohio, before merging in 1926 with the peak of production coming the following year before it was sold two years later to the Hupp Motor Car Company of Detroit, maker of the then-famous Hupmobile.
With respect to the studio shots, there are several great views, including two associated with the epic Ben-Hur, which was an incredibly expensive and time-consuming production discussed in a previous post on this blog. The MGM picture, directed by Fred Niblo, whose home was featured in a Pictorial California magazine highlighted on this blog a couple of days ago, was critically acclaimed when finally released in August 1926 and eventually turned a profit.
One of the snapshots is taken from the other side of railroad tracks running along the studio and a large banner on framing for parts of the massive set proclaims that it was the “World’s Largest Motion Picture Set.” Another view shows the heavily detailed pointed arch entrance to one of the colossal buildings of the studio lot.
Another pair of photos shows filming for a western at MGM, including one where the crew is setting up a scene and a great snap shwoing a line of about a dozen actors in cowboy gear and a horse posed in the middle of a wide dirt street lined with “Old West” buildings including the “Palace Hotel.” On the reverse is the inscription “MGM movie lot / They went thru this scene about 20 times.”
One image shows a medieval castle complex and the inscription stated that “a battle will be fought here / MGM movie set.” A photo was taken outside a long structure which were described as “studios for inside sets” and another shows a woman standing in a streetcar which has a sign at the front reading “To the Barbecue.” Finally, there is a great image of what is now known as the Spadena House and which has also been the subject of a post on this blog.
Of the two snapsots taken at Universal, one shows a man standing next to a pair of monkeys, dressed in human clothing and perched on sidechairs. All that was written on the back was “Universal’s animal lot.” The other view shows actors convorting inside a soundstage and the inscription reads: “Universal lot / Andy Gump movie / A big night at Andy’s being filmed.”
While most of us in greater Los Angeles may associate “Andy Gump” with port-a-potties, the original Andy Gump was a very popular cartoon character created in 1917 and who was the head of a family whose comic exploits ran for over four decades. Between 1923 and 1928, Universal filmed a series of about forty two-reel shorts based on the comic strip, but producers were concerned about finding an actor who met the physical requirements.
Fortunately, studio head Carl Laemmle hired Joe Murphy, a lanky vaudevillian who did a Mutt and Jeff (another famous cartoon) act and was one of the original Keystone Cops, to play Andy. With his lanky 6’3″ frame, long neck and a prosthetic nose, Murphy was a perfect fit and he is easily seen in the middle of the scene captured in the photo.
This set of photos is a remarkable group of documents of location and studio filming associated with the MGM and Universal studios as well as associations with the Christie brothers and are a great addition to the Homestead’s collection and to the “That’s a Wrap” series of posts.