[This article, written by G. P. von Harleman, originally appeared in the March 10, 1917, issue of The Moving Picture World]
In the early spring of 1908 the late Frank Boggs, at the head of a company of players, blazed the pioneer trail to the Pacific Coast by establishing for Colonel William N. Selig a motion picture studio at the corner of Seventh and South Olive streets, in Los Angeles. It wasn't much of a place, and a camera, a few lights and some painted scenery were about the entire equipment. In the party were James L. McGee, Thomas Santschi, James Crosby, Harry Todd, Gene Ward and Mrs. Boggs. Mr. Santschi and Mrs. McGee are still in the employ of Mr. Selig here, the former being a featured player and the latter western representative and general manager for the Selig enterprises on the coast.
The Selig company has now two studios in Los Angeles. One is located in Edendale, and at the present time leased by the Keystone. The other is the Eastlake Park Zoo. This is one of the show places in Los Angeles. It covers thirty-two acres of ground and is situated in Mission Road, opposite picturesque Eastlake Park. The Chicago film manufacturer has here one of the largest animal collections in the United States, including many rare specimens. The entrance to the Zoo is beautiful. The design was executed by Carlos Romanelli, an Italian sculptor, and the figures of the animals on the pedestal between the gates were modeled from beasts within the grounds.
Matching the entrance in striking and imposing appearance is the home of the lions and tigers. It is mission style, the great patio in well kept lawn. The home of the elephants, some distance away, is in the same style of architecture. So, too, is the large amusement pavilion. There are many buildings on the grounds, among them the costume rooms, special storage structures, monkey pavilion, animal cages, bear houses, and the many buildings devoted to the sheltering of birds large and small.
The Selig Zoo is one of the playgrounds of Los Angeles. During the summer time merry picnickers invade the place and local organizations hold festivals with many thusand people participating. Mr. Selig adds to his large animal collection whenever he has the opportunity, and before the war he used to buy animals from all parts of the world, and receive several times a year large shipments from Hagenbeck, in Hamburg, and Jarmack, in London. The only place now left open is Australia and the East Indies. The Zoo received a large shipment of valuable animals from Australia recently, including several kangaroos and many beautiful birds. Another recent addition to the Zoo was a collection of fifty peacocks.
The studio part of the Selig Polyscope Company is at the extreme rear end of the Park, separated from the public grounds by artistic walls, replicas of the great city walls of ancient times. Near the stages are large concrete dressing rooms. In the rear of the stages are the extensive carpenter shops, property rooms and quarters for the scenic artists. In the garage are numbered stalls, each employee--official, director, actor or other--owning a machine having his or her individual storage place. Along the southern side are the corrals for the animals other than those in the category of the wild sort. There are stables for the ponies and the many horses; here, too, are quartered a dozen or more camels.
Colonel Selig operates at the present time two companies in Los Angeles, and two large productions are now being filmed. Director Colin Campbell is producing a large feature treating the question of capital punishment, the temporary title of which is "Who Shall Take My Life?" The picture probably will be in eight reels. The cast includes Fritzi Brunette, Tom Santschi, Bessie Eyton, Eugenie Besserer, Harry Lonsdale and Al Filson. Director Al Green is producing another large picture, the title of which is "Little Lost Sister," from a story by Virginia Brooks. Several pretentious sets were built for this picture. The cast includes Vivian Reed, Bessie Eyton, Marion Warner, Joe Singleton and Will Aitken.
The next company to reach the Pacific Coast was the New York Motion Picture Corporation. As a matter of preliminary history, it might be of interest to mention that the inception of this large film manufacturing enterprise dates back to 1908, when Adam Kessel, Jr., Charles Kessel and Charles O. Baumann pooled their assets, which were extremely thin, and undertook to produce single reel pictures at a tiny studio at Coytesville, N. J. Kessel & Baumann, in the fall of 1909, dispatched a company of seventeen to Los Angeles, to cntinue the work of filming the one-reelers, which, incidentally, were known by the brand name of "Bison." Fred J. Balshofer was cameraman and general manager, and those under his supervision included J. Barney Sherry, Charles K. French (both of whom still are with the company), Jane Darrell, Evelyn Graham, William Edwards, William Gibbons, Charles Avery, Charles Inslee, James Youngdeer and Red Wing. The company established itself in the suburb of Edendale, on a tract of land graced only by a four-room bungalow and a barn. This same tract, since then considerably extended, is now the site of the Keystone producing plant.
The first picture turned out of the new plant was of an Italian nature, and its scenes were made in and about the orange groves of Pasadena. Then attention was directed at the making of Indian and military plays, for which there was a growing demand throughout the country. Kessel & Baumann enlarged their facilities from week to week. It was not long before the weekly expenditures of the organization approximated $1,500. Of this amount about $600 was spent for salaries.
About two years after the establishment of the company at the Edendale plant, Kessel & Baumann engaged Thomas H. Ince in New York and sent him to the coast to direct. Ince made only two or three single-reelers at the Edendale studio. Shortly after his arrival he had "discovered" the 18,000-acre ranch in the Santa Monica mountains, and obtained possession of it. This is now known as Inceville.
Upon Ince's arrival on the coast Balshofer relinquished to him the directorial reins and himself assumed the position of business manager. Thereupon there began a renewed campaign of expansion. Ince engaged more actors, built several structures on the Inceville domain and, in general, undertook to improve conditions in every respect. Among those who were associated with the organization about this time and some prior to it were such well-known figures as Charles Giblyn, Francis Ford, Burton King, Ethel Grandin, Frank Montgomery, Harold Lockwood, Edna Maison and Anna Little.
Following the making of several single-reel plays at Inceville Ince decided to introduce an innovation by offering to the market a "feature." So he produced "War on the Plains," a thrilling Indian drama, the length of which was two reels. It proved a success and he made another, "Custer's Last Fight." Then followed more Indian two-reelers, with an occasional Irish or Dutch picture intervening.
It chanced that as Ince moved to Inceville the entire personnel and equipment of the "Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch Show" arrived in Southern California to hibernate. Ince contracted with the Miller Brothers for the use of the entire outfit. The number of weekly productions was increased from one to two two-reelers, and the "Kay-Bee" brand was inaugurated. Still later "Domino" came into being.
With the termination of its contract with the Mutual program and the attendant organization of the Triangle Film Corporation the company planned the construction of what is now generally regarded as one of the most completely equipped and handsomest motion picture producing plants in the country--the Ince Studios at Culver City, where the Triangle-Kay Bee plays are filmed. Plans for this institution were drawn in the summer of 1915 and in the Spring of 1916 the plans became the new headquarters for the company.
The Biograph was the next company to reach Los Angles, arriving here in January, 1910. At this time it only remained thirteen weeks. Among the party were General Manger Hammer, D. W. Griffith, director, and Lee Dougherty. The first studio was at Washington street and Grand avenue. The company undertook the trip for the express purpose of filming "Ramona" in authentic locations. The Biograph sent companies to the coast every year until 1916, when producing activities were suspended.
An Essanay company of players under Gilbert M. Anderson left Chicago on Sept. 8, 1909, stopping at Denver, El Paso and Santa Barbara. In 1910 a company was located at Niles, Cal. Essanay at present is not producing on the coast. The studio at Niles has been closed for more than a year, and the Los Angeles studio was abandoned when Charlie Chaplin went with Mutual. V. R. Day, special representative of the Essanay Film Company, is now at Los Angeles, where are being taken scenes for a feature production. The company is occupying the old studios of the Culver City Film Company at Culver City. The production is under direction of Dave Hartford. When the picture is finished Mr. Day will return to Chicago.
In November, 1910, William Wright, now treasurer of the Kalem Company, came to Los Angeles to establish a studio. Mr. Wright found the ideal site in Glendale, and in picturesque Verdugo Canyon he built Kalem's first Western studio.
In addition to building the outdoor studio in 1910, one of Wright's tasks was to put up a log cabin for Kalem's Indian thrillers. There were no logs to be had. Mr. Wright sought the aid of William H. Clune and together they located a number of telegraph poles sufficient to build the cabin. The poles were transported several hundred miles.
In December, 1910, Kalem's first California company arrived from New York. Headed by Kenean Buel, the director, were Alice Joyce, Mr. and Mrs. George Melford, Judson Melford, Jane Wolfe, Frank Lanning, Howard Oswald, Frank Brady, Knute Rahmn and Daisy Smith.
Early in 1911 Carlyle Blackwell and the late William H. West joined Kalem's Glendale company. Kalem, specializing on Western pictures, fund the one reel a week from California insufficient to supply the demand. An additional studio was therefore opened at Santa Monica, where Ruth Roland, Marin Sais, Ed Coxen and Marshall Neilan were featured. Later when the Santa Monica company became a comedy organization, John E. Brennan joined the party of fun makers.
George Melford succeeded Kenean Buel as director at the Glendale studio, Buel going to Florida for Kalem, taking with him from New York Miriam Cooper, Anna Nilsson, Guy Coombs and Hal Clements.
In 1913 Kalem moved the Glendale studio from the Verdugo Canyon location to the present site on Verdugo Road. An additional studio was built at Hollywood, with Carlyle Blackwell directing. Then Marshal Neilan came to Hollywood to direct a Kalem comedy company. Neilan introduced Lloyd V. Hamilton and Bud Duncan, "Ham" and "Bud".
J. P. McGowan came West, after directing at Kalem's New York studio, and produced "The Hazards of Helen", featuring Helen Holmes.
In 1914, James W. Horne succeeded George Melford as director, Horne's first work being "The Girl Detective" series, which he followed with "Mysteries of the Grand Hotel," "Stingaree," "The Social Pirates," and "The Girl From Frisco." At present Mr. Horne is directing "The American Girl" series.
Helen Gibson, who followed Miss Holmes in the railroad series, "A Daughter of Daring," then joined the Kalem ranks and carried the subject into its third year.
In December, 1916, Phil Lang, editor for Kalem since 1911, came to Glendale, to work in intimate touch with the producers. Mr. Lang was joined later by Mr. Wright, again on an investigating expedition. Additional acreage was secured at Glendale on a long lease and the work of building a big interior studio and doubling the outdoor stage space was begun, under the direction of Storm V. Boyd, Jr., for eight years Kalem's technical director.
Mr. Lang, manager of production, still acts as scenario editor, with the assistance of Frank Howard Clark and William Piggot, formerly editor for American.
Kalem is transferring to Glendale from the Hollywood studio, which they have disposed of, the Ham comedy company, directed by Al Santell, and "The Daughter of Daring" company, featuring Helen Gibson, directed by Scott Sidney. "The American Girl" series and the "Stingaree" series are being produced, while every facility has been prepared for the "Grant, Police Reporter," series company, featuring George Larkin and Ollie Kirkby, under the direction of Robert Ellis, this Kalem organization heretofore working in Jacksonville, Florida.
David Horsley's Nestor forces were the first motion picture players to invade Hollywood. Mr. Horsley renting buildings for studio purposes at the corner of Sunset boulevard and Gower street and occupying them in October, 1911. He was also the first manufacturer to bring three companies to California. There were under Thomas Ricketts, producing dramas; Milton Fahrney, westerns, and Al E. Christie, comedies. On May 20 following the company was merged with the Universal.
David Horsley's new Los Angeles studios, at Main and Washington streets, are now completed. The buildings and yard cover an acre of 300x350 feet, situated directly in the rear of the Bostock Arena and Jungle, the park in which the Bostock animals are quartered.
There is an arena 144 by 144 feet surrounded by walls twenty feet high, built to take only animal pictures. This arena is constructed like a great hexagon, the camera being mounted in the middle at the apex of six triangles, which spread away to the circumference, like so many enormous fans.
The director and the cameraman are stationed on a concrete platform in the center of this arena, from whichplace one camera can cover all parts of the arena from one setting. The housing for the camera is made of reinforced concrete. It is surrounded by a moat, six feet wide and four feet deep, filled with water and crossed by the dividing fences. By plunging into the water and coming to the surface on the other side of the fence, the players who work face to face with the animals without intervening bars can easily escape in case of attack.
Each of the sections is planted with typical trees and shrubs, vines and grasses that give the character of the location to pictures--that is, bears, panthers and pumas have Rocky Mountain and general North American scenes, while lions, tigers, leopards, kangaroos and like animals are shown in their native wilds, away into a purple distance; huge, misshapen ledges of rock with a broken sandy foreground complete the picture of desolation. By a clever device, this last arena is so managed that in a few moments the background can be changed to a marine view and other effects.
Lying immediately west of the arena are the property rooms of the stage proper, in connection with half of the scene dock. The property room is on the east end of the stage, which is 70x140 feet, and spanned by sixteen structural steel trusses which carry the diffusers and canvas roof. This roofing and the diffusers are operated by means of geared shafting. The floor is constructed of the best material, laid on concrete foundations so as to do away with all vibration. Adjoining the steel work on the west end of the stage is the other half of the scene dock, public dressing rooms, lavatories, etc. These rooms are equipped with all modern facilities, including lockers, dressers, electric lights, etc., and are ventilated from above by skylights as well as by openings at either end of the room.
The stage and arena offer accommodation for six companies in addition to the facilities it provides for making animal pictures. The Horsley studios are at the present time operating two companies. One is under the direction of Milton H. Fahrney, featuring George Ovey in one-reel comedies, the other under the direction of Crane Wilbur, who also plays the lead in five-reel productions.
The Universal, as before stated, took over the Nestor studio on May 20, 1912. On July 12 following the company acquired the great plot of ground across the street, now the home of the L-KO Company. The next month William H. Swanson, then treasurer of the company, leased 1,299 acres at the end of San Fernando Valley, adjoining Griffith Park, and now known as the old ranch. In August, 1914, the company gave up this property, destroying the structures for picture purposes, and moved to the present site, ground for building on which had been broken the previous day. Early in 1915 the Universal again acquired the old ranch and still holds it. Carl Laemmle in the spring of 1912 made pictures for his Imp brand at a studio on Brooklyn Heights, but abandoned the plant on the organization of the Universal. Universal City was formally opened in March, 1915.
Carl Laemmle, president of the Universal, turned the golden key in the lock of the gate to the entrance to Universal City on March 15, 1915. There were then sixteen producing companies engaged in the manufacture of films, ranging from one to three reels and occasionally a four or five-reel feature.
Since then Universal City has grown by leaps and bounds, the laboratories having tripled in size, the production, technical, art, property and wardrobe buildings having expanded, and the stage space, both exterior and interior, has increased more than fourfold.
Today between twenty-five and thirty companies are at work day and night to keep up with the demand for Universal films, and the cost of production of the photoplays, forty reels of which are turned out weekly, easily has tripled the cost of two years ago.
"The making of our plays for the screen," said General Manager H. O. Davis, "means an annual expenditure of fully $3,000,000. If these plays were made in the unsystematic way that formerly prevailed it is safe to say that a million dollars would be tacked on to this sum. By the methods now in operation at Universal City we know just how each dollar is to be spent and each dollar that goes into the picture renders its entire value in the production of the play, whether it be a single-reeler or a five or six-reel feature production.
"There is a thorough understanding regarding the cost among the directors, the production manager, the technical department and the superintendent of photoplay before the actual picturization of the play begins, and so perfect is this understanding and so harmoniously do all the parties concerned work in the making of the play that frequently the picture is completed several hundred dollars under the amount allowed for its production.
"What is the value of the Universal City plant at the present time? With the improvements that have been made during the past year--electric light studios and additional equipment, laboratory additions and new stages--I should say that the Pacific Coast studios of the company and the 230 acres upon which they are located represent a value of several millions.
"The greatest stage space in the world is to be found at Universal City, amounting to 175,000 square feet, occupying something like four acres. There is ample room for fifty companies to work with comfort even with unusually large settings for their productions."
Universal City, in addition to the regular departments to be found at any motion picture studio, maintains a thoroughly equipped hospital, a police department, a fire department, several restaurants, garages, and a zoo complete in every respect. Lions, leopards, tigers, elephants, jaguars and other beasts of the jungle are all trained thoroughly and frequently and are used in photoplays where wild animals are required.
H. O. Davis is vice president of the Universal company and general manager of Universal City; E. G. Patterson, secretary; H. R. Hough, controller; O. L. Sellers, production manager; S. C. Burr, assistant production manager; Eugene B. Lewis, scenario editor; Eugenie Magnus Ingleton, scenario editress; George W. Elkins, cashier; H. H. Barter, technical director; John M. Nickolaus, superintendent of photography; Edward Ullman, chief of cameramen; Dr. Lloyd B. Mace, in charge of hospital; George Ingleton, librarian; Marshall Stedman, engaging director; M. G. Jonas, publicity manager; L. H. Buell, purchasing agent.