Round The Studios America
Round The Studios
A brief survey of the best-known producing centres of Hollywood, Britain and Europe.
Warner Bros, and First National Studios, Burbank, California.
BEHIND a busy steam-laundry, overlooked by Beverly Hills, First National produced their first pictures on an open-air stage with the only lighting then possible—the sun.
It was not until March, 1926, that the foundations of the present Warner Brothers and First National studios were laid at Burbank. Before that, the two companies which threw in their lots together had studios literally “ all over the place.” They used to make pictures now here, now there. And what with transporting scenery, equipment, and players hundreds of miles at expensive railway rates, the executives soon saw that a great central studio must be built.
So they covered more than 70 acres with buildings They laid out more than four miles of paved streets. They appropriated 1,100 acres of mountain, river and meadow which lay behind Burbank, so that they could have any sort of location they wanted, from desert to jungle, at a moment’s notice.
On June 5th, 1926, the great place was complete. The very first picture to be made in the new two-and-a-half-million-pound studios was The Masked Woman, starring Anna Q. Nilsson.
Then the talkies came and Warner Bros, was the firm that introduced them to a wondering world and a staggering film-world.
Nowadays, Burbank Studios fairly boil with activity. Warner Bros, and First National pictures are produced at the rate of something like 70 a year, as well as many Vitaphone features.
There arc twelve large sound-proof stages. There is, among other specialized departments, a wonderful research library. This is a room which, to the casual visitor, looks like the reading-room of any comfortable club. In reality, it is an encyclopedic store which contains information on every possible and impossible subject which might have a bearing on scene, costume or story. There is a barber-shop, built and decorated in the Spanish style, with pantiles, “ patio ”—which we would call “ veranda ”—and cool white stone arches. There are splendid laboratories, all white enamel, glass plate, and porcelain. Enough electricity is generated to light a town of ten.thousand inhabitants.
When first completed, the studios comprised 44 buildings, with a total iloor space of 515,000 square feet ; now it is bigger and better than ever. * Refer to maps : Plates 57, 58, 59, 61.
Incidentally, it is interesting to note that, between June, 1930 and Ma}i 1931, this studio supported the " colour film ” movement to the extent of making nine films in colour.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Corporation, Culver City, California.
SHOULD you look down from an aeroplane over Culver City, you will see, spread out beneath you, a sharply-defined rectangle of a town. It is bounded on one side by a long, straight road, on another by a broad, tree-lined boulevard, while a third imposing highway leads up to the main gates of this walled city.
You will notice that the town, in spite of its size, consists of eight main buildings of gigantic area. It is here that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer make their films.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, where Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Ramon Novarro, Norma Shearer,Wallace Beery and a dozen other first-class favourites make their films. M.G.M.—with the "roaring lion ’’ trademark—whose studio-gate is as difficult to pass as the entrance to a lion's den. There are few privileged visitors strolling between the big buildings. M.G.M. stars are closely guarded.
Should you be one of the favoured few, you will see laundries in the Culver City precincts, where all sorts of cleaning is done, from wispy gowns to yards and yards of linen and canvas. There is more than one " drug-store," where you may buy soap, razor-blades, or the ice-cream beloved by all Americans. There is a modiste’s shop and a restaurant where you may eat the finest meal in California.
The cutting-rooms, property-vaults, test-rooms and laboratories are the finest of their kind in the world. There are numerous pits and stages for special processes. The dressing-rooms provided for the stars are palatial suites, with reading-room, rest-room, and bath-room with showers and plunges. Ramon Novarro had a piano in his.
Culver City—eight miles from Hollywood, the film-centre—is just another film-cbntre.
Fox Film Corporation, Movietone City, Westwood, California.
HE Fox Film Corporation began its activities in California nearly
eighteen years ago on a single open stage surrounded by a fence, opposite the old Mack Sennett studio. A staff of about 100 was the sum total of its production-unit.
Early in 1932, the Fox organization moved from its then studios on Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, to the enormous £5,000,000 premises of Movietone City, in Beverly Hills. There you find a talking-picture town nearly a mile long and half as wide, containing 108 acres of propertj'. The main studio buildings alone cover a 54-acre space, surrounded by a 14-feet high wall. There are 75 permanent buildings, all fireproof and built of concrete and steel in the most modern style. There are acres of exteriors, duplicate settings, and scenery from every quarter of the globe.
The studios contain 12 sound-stages, each one cooled in summer and
Hound the Studios
heated in winter with washed-air. Outside, there are office-buildings, industrial blocks, a fine clubhouse in its own park, fire and police stations, and a modern caf6.
All the chief members of the Fox staff have their own bungalows in Movietone City ; fifteen were built for the writing-staff alone. There is even a squared-U of buildings, separate and sectionalized, which is known as “ Director’s Row.”
Movietone City has been constructed as a self-supporting and entirely self-contained community. It is laid out in a manner which produces a really fine “ landscape ” effect in the beautiful surroundings of Beverly Hills. The principal players are catered for even more lavishly than the directors or the writers. Rows of orange trees front their dressing-room windows. Will Rogers has a small, desert-style bungalow with a cactus garden ; next door is the thatched-roofed Irish cottage of Janet Gaynor, which was originally built as a studio daytime home for John McCormack, the Irish tenor.
The electricity system at the Fox studio is in itself a marvel. It develops
12.000 electrical horse-power, which would be enough to light a city of
20.000 inhabitants. All this power comes from a huge turbo-electric plant hundreds of miles away in the Sierras. Its initial pressure of 33,000 volts is broken down at the studio electric plant to one of two pressures— 2,300 or 220 volts—according to special requirements. Thence it is distributed through the 54 miles of conduit, under Movietone City’s five miles of paved streets, to do its work in the thousands of sun-arcs and spotlights used in the studios.
Paramount Ptiblix Corporation, 5451, Marathon Street, Hollywood, Cal.
LITTLE group of film personalities was gathered round a luncheon
table in the Paramount studio restaurant on December 30,' 1931, to celebrate Hollywood’s eighteenth birthday. It was on the morning of December 30, 1913, that Cecil B. De Mille called “ camera ” for the first scene of The Squaw Man, Hollywood's very first feature-film. It was the initial production of the Jesse Lasky Feature Play Company, now called the Paramount Publix Corporation.
The events which led up to the selection of Hollywood as the centre of the motion picture industry are closely linked with Paramount’s history. Cecil B. De Mille and Jesse Lasky met in New York, in the autumn of 1913, to discuss their plans for the winter vaudeville season. They were joined by Dustin Farnum, who had just finished a tour in the stage play, The Squaw Man. Lasky and De Mille decided to form a film company, and invited Parnum to join them in putting up £1,000 capital. He refused, but agreed to work for them on a weekly salary. It was a fateful decision that cost him several million dollars in after years, when the two originators of Paramount were reaping the rewards of their enterprise.
De Mille went west from New York, intending to choose a site for his studio in Arizona. But the weather in Arizona was cold and cloudy that winter, and he went on to the little town of Hollywood. There he rented
a lime-grove in which was a barn. That barn was Hollywood's first film studio.
To-day Paramount has a 26-acre studio-town, in which 1,600 people work. There are fifteen sound-proof stages and twenty-five other structures with more than 100 distinct departments. At Calabassas, outside Hollywood, is the Paramount 2,700-acre ranch for exterior locations.
In the laboratory 78,000,000 feet of release-prints were prepared in one year, the finished celluloid witness to the work of 46 contracted players, 36 directors, 40 writers, and 55 camera-men.
Paramount is Hollywood epitomized. It has developed into a huge, organization, and produces 65 feature-films and countless shorts in a year.
Yet, even more important was its unpretentious beginning, for had there been no Paramount, there vrould have been no Hollywood film-land.
Radio Pictures Studios
Radio Pictures, Inc., 780, Gower Street, Hollywood, California.
IMMEDIATELY adjoining the Paramount Studios and not far from the United Artists, Columbia, and Metropolitan production-centres, lies the Gower Street studio of Radio Pictures. It is a studio on a grand scale. Ten huge stages offer space for the production of six full-sized pictures. For location work, four sound-trucks are in constant readiness to cope with the recording operations.
The Radio studio is another city-in-miniature. It has its own police-force of twenty constables. It has, of course, its own fire-brigade, with water-tower and sprinkler-system all complete. There is a studio telephone-exchange, with thirty-three trunk lines, and operators dealing with three hundred personal calls per day.
Radio prides itself on its restaurant, which seats two hundred and twenty-five people and serves about five hundred meals a day. The studio even has its own hospital, equipped for all emergencies, where there are three beds and a trained nurse on duty from 7 a.m. until 1 a.m.
Another feature of the Radio organization is its story department, which is modelled on entirely new lines. Early in 1932 a “ story cabinet ” of four members was formed, under the supervision of David O. Selznick, the vice-president in charge of production.
Each member of the “ cabinet ” has his or her special duty. There fs Adela Rogers St. Johns Hylands, a celebrated American novelist, who supervises stories for women ; H. N. Swanson, editorial director of a famous American college magazine, serves on the cabinet in selecting stories with an appeal to youth ; Kenneth MacGowan, a well-known stage-producer, sits in judgment on stage plays, selecting those suitable for screen adaptation ; and James Seymour, formerly story-editor at the Pathe studio, is responsible for the choice of original plots contrived specially for the screen.
As a sidelight on the scarcity of real talent in film-writing, it should be explained that one of the first things the “ cabinet ” did in its search for stories was to seek young Americans as apprentice writers in the studio. Of seven hundred applicants in the first few weeks, two were chosen !
Plate 45 Radio
DOLORES DEL RIO and JOEL McCREA in The Bird of Paradise.
Plate 46 Columbia
ROMANCE ! LEE TRACY and EVALYN KNAPP make a love-scene
for Night jMayor
MAE CLARKE and LEW AYRES in Night World.
Plate 48 Radio
JOHN BARRYMORE, as the mad father, and KATHARINE HEPBURN, as his daughter, in A Bill of Divorcement.
United Artists’ Studio
United Artists Corp., 1041, N. Formosa Avenue, Hollywood, California.
UNITED ARTISTS in Hollywood is the most romantic of all the world’s film studios. The story of its conception and inauguration, its history and its policy, is rich with the romance of the most famous film-stars.
The germ of the United Artists idea came from Benjamin P. Schulberg, one-time shorthand writer and book reviewer, and later a member of the Famous Players-Lasky film organization, under the leadership of Adolph Zukor.
Schulberg was thoroughly familiar with the prices paid by cinemas all over the world for pictures by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Charlie Chaplin was at the crest of his popularity-wave and D. W. Griffith was Hollywood’s best-known director. Accordingly, Schulberg brought it about that these four famous personalities should sever their connexions with all other producing organizations and form a new group, to be called “ Allied Artists ”—a title since changed to “ United Artists.” It was thus that the United Artists’ stars found themselves in the position of being their own masters, instead of paid employees.
Robin Hood, one of their first ventures, was made at the Santa Monica Boulevard studio in 1920 and established new standards of screen entertainment and financial success. Costing £140,000, it made £600,000, and Douglas Fairbanks immediately followed it up with The Thief of Bagdad, an extravaganza on gorgeous lines, on which nearly £400,000 was spent.
Meanwhile Charlie Chaplin was making his films in the Sunset Boulevard section of United Artists studios. The Gold Rush was one of his masterpieces, and he wrote and directed A Woman of Paris, the wonderful drama in which Adolphe Menjou made his first triumph.
So much for United Artists’ early history. The studio stands to-day for the same policy as always. It is run and part-owned by this same group of stars, who are joint shareholders. It is a studio of strange and impressive corners, such as the special private suite, with its separate entrance, reserved exclusively for Sam Goldwyn. The dressing-rooms arc unsurpassed for luxury. Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford often live in theirs when engaged on important filming, so well constructed and laid out are their quarters.
Certainly the United Artists’ lot breathes screen history and friendliness and comfort, but it is also rich in its technical perfection. Perhaps this, more than any other reason, is why new people are constantly clamouring for admission to the studios. Howard Hughes (of Hell’s Angels fame) has moved in ; Harold Lloyd now works there, although his films are released by Paramount. The arrival of producers of this calibre, however, is sufficient tribute to the quality of United Artists’ studio accommodation.
Universal Pictures Corporation, Inc., Universal City, California.
ONE of the most powerful film organizations in Hollywood is Universal Pictures Corporation. Its president is Carl Laemmlc—" Uncle ” Carl—loved, feared, and hated in filmdom ; a pioneer and a magnate,
the writing of whose biography was a task worthy of the pen of John Drinkwater.
The Universal studio is the largest in the world. It covers an area of two hundred and thirty acres on the site of the most celebrated battle of the Spanish-Mexican War. The studio was opened in 1915, and it holds the industry’s record for productions. In 1919 no fewer than forty-two companies were at work in Universal City simultaneously. In 1932 more than twenty-five full-length feature-films, five serials, and one hundred and fifty “ shorts ” were produced, and the studio budget for 1932 was nearly three and a half million pounds sterling.
Universal City gives regular employment to one thousand workers. It has its own government post-office, as seems fitting and proper for a “ city.” There is a zoo, with elephants and lions, monkeys and tigers ; there is a poultry fann, with several thousands of chickens. There is large stabling, with many horses. At one time, when " westerns ” were at the height of their popularity, Universal City’s inhabitants included a number of cowboys. They were a permanent staff, known as the “ Universal Ranch Riders.”
They still keep, on the lot, the largest permanent set in any studio— the huge cathedral replica originally built for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It might be thought that to keep such a set standing for years is mere waste of space, but it should be noted that it has paid for itself many times over in rentals from other companies who have used it for subsequent productions.
There is a recreation hall for employees. There is a golf course. There is a huge and noisy restaurant, the only one in any studio which is open to the public.
Prior to 1915, Universal had been making pictures in a little studio in PI oily wood itself, situated where Gower Street joins Sunset Boulevard. That studio later became the home of Century Comedies until it was burnt down.
Carl Laemmle foresaw the vast growth of the film industry. He foresaw the need of more room and so he moved to what was then a barren bit of desert. He was laughed at by those who considered his action a folly of waste, but 45,000 people came in special trains to see the new wonder !
Thomas Edison and Henry Ford motored down, that first summer, to dedicate the first artificially-lit stage.
. On the Universal roster of stars of those days you will find such names as Harry Carey, Mae Murray, Mary MacLaren, Monroe Salisbury, Marie Walcamp, Ella Hall, Fritzi Brunette, Herbert Rawlinson, and Dorothy Phillips ; Universal produced one of the first woman directors, Lois Weber.
After the war Universal embarked on a series of super-productions. Erich von Stroheim proved the value of film spectacle with Blind Husbands; and followed it up with Foolish Wives, the first film to be heralded as a “ million-dollar picture.” Lon Chaney became famous in a night as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Hoot Gibson began to build up his reputation as a cowboy star.
When talkies came, Universal City was plunged headlong into the new medium, and was re-equipped with every latest device and mechanism that the new medium demands. But Hollywood veterans sigh for the
old days. True, Universal City has a million-dollar developing and printing factory, a scenario department of thirty-five famous writers, a post office, and a golf course. Still, veterans sigh for the days when Universal City was a harum-scarum, haphazard movie-factory, with stars rising in a night and falling in a da}^, cowboys firing pistols in the streets, and mad ventures turning in a breath to triumphs.
The world film encyclopedia, 1933
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