Detours on the Way to Hollywood
Detours on the Way to Hollywood
Oh! the spaciousness of this great picture. The limitless plains, the wild scurry of the horses, the freedom.
—Review of Selig's Ranch Life in the Great Southwest, in Moving Picture World, 9 July 1910, p. 78
In 1909 the great film centers were New York and Chicago and their suburbs. Chicago came close to rivaling New York in the importance of its production. Two big Patents Company producers, Selig and Essanay, operated out of Chicago, and the important importer-distributor George Kleine had his headquarters there. At the same time, the city was the center of the independent movement, the place where the exchange men rebelled against the Trust and began new, independent production companies. Outside of these two cities, Philadelphia was home to the Lubin Company, and there was some minor production in many other places, as is evident if one notes the location of independent companies founded in 1909 and 1910.
Under the conditions of an organized distribution system, a producer had to be able to depend on steady production, week in, week out. The long winter months of New York and Chicago presented problems for that kind of production, however, especially among those producers who did not yet have a well-equipped studio and adequate artificial light. The hours of daylight grew too short, the sun too uncertain, and the weather too severe to stay outdoors making movies. As a result, the film producers of Chicago led the way westward in search of landscape and sunshine, while the New Yorkers were more apt to head south when they wanted a place to make films in the wintertime. Nobody, it seemed, stayed put in one place all the time.
By 1910, to keep up with increased production demands, major producers had several stock companies filming in various locations in different parts of the country at the same time. The rapid growth of the industry by that year is reflected in the fact that film companies could afford to rent private railroad cars to transport large groups of players, directors, and cameramen across the continent, or to send stock companies overseas by ship. A lot of players had to give up some of their newly acquired home life after all, as production companies traveled all over the country and outside of it searching for the ideal backgrounds, sunny weather, and exotic atmosphere. But the idea of trooping around the United States to make moving pictures probably seemed natural to those who once spent all their days with touring stock companies.
In a single sentence Fred J. Balshofer of the New York Motion Picture Company supplied the two reasons generally given for the shift to Hollywood as a production center: "Los Angeles with its mild climate and sunshine beckoned as an escape both from the winter months of the East as well as the ever-present Patents Company detectives." Thus, he went on, "late in November, 1909, found our little company of players … departing for the West Coast."1 Of the two reasons, the mild climate and sunshine must have been the stronger one, because the New York Motion Picture Company had already managed to escape the Patents Company's pursuit just by going to Neversink in the Catskills that summer. Furthermore, by Balshofer's own account, they were easily found by Patents Company spies in California a short time after they got there. At the same time, the Trust companies, which had nothing to hide, were also discovering the great California winter sunshine. Nonetheless it could be said that the move was a delaying factor for the independents because lawsuits had to be carried on in different court systems far from Patents Company headquarters.
The witnesses for the defense in the case of the U.S. government versus the Motion Picture Patents Company swore that there were never any detectives or hired spies to go after the independent producers who violated their patents. Files now open for research at the Edison National Historic Site supply ample evidence that these witnesses were not telling the truth. In any case, there was already a network of exchanges and exhibitors all over the country, a substantial part of whom would be loyal to the Patents Company. It was an existing "spy network," which became a tighter web in 1910 with the setting up of the General Film Company exchanges. One now-obscure Los Angeles "spying" case of 1911 was reported openly at the time because the spy gave evidence in court. A cameraman named Harry A. Kelly was an employee of the Patents Company who "inveigled himself into home and family" of Fred Siegert for the purposes of detection. He testified that Siegert was using a Pathé camera, and a California federal court decision put Siegert out of business.2
When Mark Dintenfass enlarged the Champion studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in the fall of 1911, he explained to a reporter that the existing buildings
are not pretentious, [but] it must be remembered that they were built at a time when it was extra hazardous for anyone not working under a license from the Edison Company to own anything tangible…. Such structures were called upon to serve not only the purposes of the manufacturer, but to preserve secrecy and afford defense as well against the prying eyes of a score of detectives and United States marshals looking for violations of the patent laws (Moving Picture World, 18 November 1911, p. 542).3
As Champion was little more than a year old at this time, and as Dintenfass mentions an Edison license, one can't be sure whether he was referring to mid 1910 or some earlier period when the studio was constructed for another company. It might be concluded that there was no longer any reason to worry about prying eyes in the fall of 1911, but that was not yet the case. The independent movement had become quite strong and confident in the past year; however, the Patents Company was still looking for evidence of illegal use of their camera patents until the court decisions of 1912 made such evidence useless.
As for the landscape, which offered a far less ambiguous motive for the establishment of Southern California as the center of the industry, it was not only spectacular but extraordinarily varied. Summer greenery and winter snow, sunny beaches, barren deserts and rocky mountains were all within a short distance of each other. Florida and Texas could supply the climate for year-round outdoor filming, but they did not have quite the range of scenic choices within a day's trip from the studios. Even the light of California was different, gently diffused by morning mists rolling in from the Pacific or by dust clouds blowing off the sandy hills. The rugged western landscape and the wide-open spaces were felt as enormous attractions in the rest of the world. The lasting popularity of the Western genre owed a lot to these spacious lands.
Gilbert M. Anderson, who left a job with Selig in 1907 to establish the Essanay Company in partnership with the exhibitor and exchange man George K. Spoor, led a small expedition in the summer of 1908 to make Westerns in rugged landscapes around Golden, Colorado, and that trip was so successful that it was repeated in September 1909. On the 1909 trip Anderson traveled with his cameraman, Jesse Robbins, Jack O'Brien (who played the villains), and five other members of the party. Anderson himself played the leading roles as well as directing and writing most of the stories. He picked up leading ladies and the rest of the cast from stock companies he encountered along the way. In the West he recruited genuine cowboys who could rope and ride, which was more than he could do himself. Declared Anderson, "Colorado is the finest place in the country for Wild West stuff. Some of the Eastern companies try to use the Adirondacks, but they don't get the effect that the Rockies give."4
Anderson was already looking for a place to set up a permanent western studio. Otherwise he had to return to Chicago to shoot the interiors for his films, and in order not to delay production on a long location trip to the Rockies, would also have had to restrict himself to exterior shooting. He had to send his negatives to Chicago for printing. In November 1909 he set off from Denver for El Paso, Texas, and went on to Mexico in his determined search for rugged locations for his Westerns. Perhaps he also wanted to avoid the windy city in the winter months. At any rate, "Broncho Billy," as Anderson was to become known, didn't stop traveling until he reached Niles, California, where he set up Essanay's western studio early in 1910. Essanay advertisements in 1910 emphasized films "made in the West, in the very heart of the Rockies, amidst scenes of beauty which are alone well worth viewing. The Essanay Western pictures are genuine, and that's the reason they are so successful."5
Francis Boggs, a stage actor like Anderson, came to the Selig studio in Chicago in 1907. As adventurous a traveler as "Broncho Billy," he also went through the South-west, and is said by some historians to have been in Los Angeles on a location trip in the fall of 1907. He was definitely there no later than the beginning of 1908, because he did the exterior shooting for The Count of Monte cristo in Los Angeles. A surviving Selig film, The Cattle Rustlers, released in September 1908, shows genuine western backgrounds and was probably made by Boggs on his summer trip through the Southwest. He was far from the first to actually make films in California, because there had been films shot there in the previous decade, but he may have been the first representative of a major company to come there on location and then return to establish a studio. Boggs came back again on another trip in 1909 and set up what have been called "permanent facilities" by renting the back lot of a Chinese laundry on Olive Street. The Selig studio was established by Colonel Selig in Edendale the following year, and the more famous Selig studio and zoo were constructed in 1913 in the Lincoln Park area. Boggs may have been a real pioneer, but he didn't live long enough to enjoy that status. In October 1911 he was murdered by a man identified as "a crazed Japanese gardener," who also shot but didn't kill Colonel Selig.6
The independent New York Motion Picture Company arrived in Los Angeles in November 1909. Balshofer said it was intended to be temporary, and the facilities were rented, but they never went back East. That fact should give to Fred J. Balshofer nearly as much claim to be the first pioneer as Boggs. In the first six months of 1910, many more companies arrived, although when they came for the first time, nobody thought they were going to stay permanently.
The third big company to set up temporary quarters in Los Angeles was Biograph. Griffith brought out a group of about fifty people by train at the end of January 1910. They stayed until April, when they returned to New York by way of San Francisco, resolved to return the following winter. Many of the eastern producers who stayed in New York must have felt a racing pulse when they viewed the dramatically beautiful films the Biograph Company had produced in California: the breathtaking mountain vistas in Ramona, the memorable seascapes in The Unchanging Sea, the gripping desert scenes of Gold Is Not All. Nothing made in Biograph's little enclosed studio on Fourteenth Street in New York could compete with such films.7
Before there was a Hollywood film industry, the production companies were traveling everywhere. The Kalem Company had no studio in the fall of 1908 and depended on exterior shooting for everything. Frank Marion decided to take the Kalem
players to Florida for the winter of 1908-1909. The adventurous Kalems were the first to start production in Jacksonville, Florida. This sleepy southern town had a population of sixty thousand in the fall of 1908, and two store shows for movies, one for whites and one for blacks. There the Kalems set up production and a home base for several years, specializing in Civil War films. Gene Gauntier wrote and starred in the Girl Spy series there, and a permanent studio was established for other Kalem companies to work in while the company led by Olcott traveled elsewhere around the world.8
Early in November 1910 the Mirror remarked on the peripatetic motion-picture companies: "How far will a modern motion picture company go to get 'atmosphere' for a film drama? This question has been answered a good many times … during the last year or two." In the summer of 1910, Kalem, with a company under the direction of Sidney Olcott, and Gene Gauntier as leading lady and scriptwriter, had set off on a filmmaking trip to Ireland and Germany. It was, said the Mirror, "merely to get the local color for two or three motion picture stories." Reviewing A Lad from Old Ireland, one of the first pictures that came back from the O'Kalems, as they were soon to be known, the Mirror concluded, "The picture is genuine Irish and needs no labeling to prove it. It carries its authenticity on its face."9
A Lad from Old Ireland showed its authenticity by beginning with picturesque scenes of peat diggers, the men doing the digging while a woman with a basket on her back picks up the clods with a practiced hand and throws them back over her shoulder into the basket. Scenes were also made on the ocean liner on which the Kalem party traveled, and real immigrants were seen arriving in America. Like most of Kalem's Irish pictures, the story was about the Irish coming to America and fulfilling the fantasies of many in the audience by becoming rich in the golden streets of the new land. In danger of forgetting those he left behind, the "Lad from Old Ireland" returns to get his sweetheart just as the family is about to be evicted from the old home.
The O'Kalems' Irish venture was repeated the following summer. Fifteen people sailed on the White Star Line's Baltic on 3 June 1911 and took up residence near Dublin. The group didn't return until the end of September, but by 6 November they were back at work at the Jacksonville studio. However, Sidney Olcott was not ready to stay in one place. By 2 December he headed a company sailing for the Middle East. By Christmas the company was in Rome on their way to the Holy Land, and they didn't return until late in 1912, bringing with them the feature production From the Manger to the Cross (at first known under the title The Life of Christ). During the absence of the world travelers, a new Kalem company headed by Kenean Buel was sent to work in Jacksonville. By this time, Kalem also had two companies working in California, the newest one under the direction of P. C. Hartigan with Ruth Roland as leading lady.10
While southern California was being settled, Jacksonville was becoming quite an active production center too. For a few years Florida's warm climate was competitive with California's. Florida labor costs were low, as was the price of land, and the Kalem players were only the first to set up a studio there. The Selig Company established its Jacksonville studio for the winter of 1910—1911 and built there one of the menageries for which Selig was famous. Arthur Hotaling, Lubin's director of comedies, had taken his company to Florida and the West Indies in 1909 and to Los Angeles in the 1910-1911 season; in September 1912 he was sent back to Florida to select a permanent location for the Lubin comedy company. Under his direction, Jacksonville became the permanent home of this division. Oliver "Babe" Hardy got his start in moving pictures with Lubin's Jacksonville comedy company in 1913. When Gene Gauntier and Sidney Olcott left Kalem to produce features under the name of the Gene Gauntier Feature Players at the end of 1912, they too chose Jacksonville for the winter home of their company. Majestic had two companies at work in Jacksonville early in 1913, and its pedro's revenge (April 1913) used the local color of an orange ranch to enliven its worn-out tale of two dismissed workers who kidnap the heroine. The sign of the Bank of South Jacksonville appears in one of its street scenes. Thanhouser also maintained a studio in Jacksonville at some point, and Metro was to come to the city after the close of our period.11
For a time Jacksonville used the slogan "World's Winter Film Capitol." According to a study by Richard Alan Nelson, this claim died rather abruptly in 1917, owing to a combination of factors, including the defeat of a movie-promoting mayor in a primary election, the failure of the Trust companies, price gouging, and a decline in banking support. All the studios closed up at about the same time, although intermittent filming continued in later years.12
Back in 1910, meanwhile, the fields and woods about Fort Lee, New Jersey, were crowded as usual with moviemaking that spring. But unfortunately for those filmmakers, all the great new locations beginning to appear in films made it quite impossible to go on shooting cowboy-and-Indian pictures there. One exhibitor complained about "an Indian picture in which they use toy bows and arrows, a western with scenes in Philadelphia suburbs labeled 'out west,' … and painted backgrounds with salt all over the place for snow." The New York Dramatic Mirror's "Spectator," meanwhile, began to use "Jersey scenery" as a symbol of all that was mediocre in filmmaking. This tack brought down on his head the wrath of civicminded New Jerseyites, and new searches were made to find some picturesque and not overused locations in that state.13
In March 1910 Colonel Selig not only had a company in Los Angeles, but had other touring companies in New Orleans and Mexico and was just preparing to send companies to Japan and the Orient. The following month he sent a special train to the Southwest under the direction of Otis Turner, loaded with "Indians, cowboys, cowgirls, rough riders, bucking broncos and steers, cavalry horses and paraphernalia, work stock and equipment, commissary and hospital department," according to the press story. If true, the train would seem to have been carrying coals to Newcastle, which gave a good laugh to the folks in New York who had been wounded by Chicago's remarks about "Bowery cowboys." It was during this trip that Turner picked up future cowboy star Tom Mix, a rodeo expert, to help with the horses and the cattle in the production of Ranch Life of the Great Southwest. Mix's name was used in advertising this production, but not as a movie actor; rather, his skill in western crafts was advertised to demonstrate the authenticity of the film. July 1910 found Mix helping out with a Sahara picture that Turner was trying to produce out at Dune Park, east of Gary, Indiana. Turner had brought a group of blacks from the city streets of Chicago and put them in loincloths. Perhaps Turner imagined that people dressed that way under the merciless sun of the Sahara, or that his audiences wouldn't know the difference. The city-bred fellows lost control of the camels and trusty Tom Mix rounded them up.14 A 1913 publicity story reported:
Tom Mix, last week, unloaded at Prescott, Arizona, a choice carload assortment of scenery, properties and small arms…. After the pictur esque Mix had unlimbered his hard work, he opened a second car of trained horses…. Tom Mix has a silver plate on his saddle, stating that he is the champion roper, steer, bull, dodger and broncho buster. His association with the company, under the direction of producer William Duncan, means a very efficient factor in that hard-working organization (New York Dramatic Mirror, 8 January 1913, p. 31).
The Méliès Company in the first months of 1910 transferred its operations from Brooklyn to San Antonio, Texas, and concentrated on making Westerns. Méliès acquired William Haddock as the chief director, William Paley as cameraman, and Francis Ford and Edith Storey as actors, as well as a group of experienced cowboys to provide the roping and riding stunts. The most ambitious of the Méliès projects in Texas was the filming of the Battle of the Alamo, called The Immortal Alamo (released 25 May 1911). In the spring of 1911 the company moved again, to Santa Paula, California, and a little more than a year later what was left of it began the prolonged voyage to the Far East, the South Seas, and the Southern Hemisphere. Gaston Méliès said he had had his fill of the frontier drama and decided that the public would like to see something else. Unfortunately, as we saw in chapter 7, the films he made on this journey did not fit the bill.15
As early as November 1909 it was announced that Vitagraph was building a studio in Paris, and J. Stuart Blackton was taking over a group of the Vitagraph actors to instruct French artists in the Vitagraph style. Pathé Frères soon returned the courtesy by opening a studio in 1910 in Bound Brook, New Jersey, under the charge of Ferdinand Zecca's experienced assistant, Louis J. Gasnier. The first release was a Western, the girl from arizona, on 16 May 1910. Pathé came to America to be able to make the authentic-looking Indian and Western pictures that were so overwhelmingly popular on both sides of the Atlantic, but New Jersey wasn't much better than Europe for that purpose, and the American branch of Pathé followed the American producers to Los Angeles that winter. The Eclair Company, after deciding to make its way into the lucrative American market by setting up its own distribution office in February 1910, and joining the independents in the Alliance, also decided to begin production, but it experienced many delays. Eclairs first American production, a two-reel film called Hands Across the Sea, was not released until November 1911.16
Vitagraph players moved around nearly as much as the Kalems. At the beginning of 1910 Vitagraph sent a company to Jamaica in the West Indies, and in the summer a company directed by Lawrence Trimble was at work on the coast of Maine, with Florence Turner, Charles Kent, and the dog Jean. At the end of 1910, Vitagraph sent a company to San Diego, California, for winter filming.17
A section of the Lubin company sent to Florida for the winter of 1910 moved on to Nassau, and after returning to home base in Philadelphia, director Arthur D. Hotaling took his company out West to set up a Lubin studio near Hollywood. In 1910 Edison sent a stock company to Cuba, where they filmed Tthe Princess and The Peasant, Sisters, and A Central American Romance. That same year, Essanay filmed exteriors in the Isthmus of Panama and in Mexico for The Hand of Uncle Sam: troubles in Nicaragua inspired this film in which the U.S. Marines were sent to the rescue of an American engineer.18
The Columbia Film Company, a new independent producer still struggling for existence, announced that after 15 October 1910, "we will make our productions at Miller Brothers 101 Ranch in Oklahoma." This Wild West show and rodeo, where the old western traditions and crafts were carefully preserved, provided the action for many movie companies that came to Oklahoma for location shooting. The Miller Brothers then decided to set up their own film production unit, but while Oklahoma could supply the materials for an authentic Old West, it could not supply a warm climate for year-round filming or the spectacular scenery of the California Westerns. Consequently, a large contingent of Miller Brothers "101" Ranch cowboys, Indians, and livestock wound up wintering in California in the season 1911-1912. The New York Motion Picture Company, brand name Bison, hired the entire outfit and set them up in the Santa Ynez canyon. With Thomas H. Ince in charge, the Bison "101" films became the most spectacular and beautiful re-creations of the Old West yet seen, giving new life to the genre.19
IMP, one of those companies working in the woods around Fort Lee in the summer of 1910, went off to Cuba at the end of the year, taking along Mary Pickford and Owen Moore, who were, as it happens, on their honeymoon. Nearly all of the IMP company staff went along, and the World headlined the news about the company's trip, "The 'IMP' Company Invades Cuba." There was talk about moving other plants to Canada or Bermuda. "Whatever other construction may be put upon this move of the Imp, it at any rate evinces great enterprise on the part of Carl Laemmle," hinted the reporter. While it may be that IMP was fleeing the wrath of the Trust, the move was no secret. Probably the more overpowering motive was the lack of a well-equipped studio and the need to find a warm place to make films in the winter. Soon there were two IMP stock companies at work in Cuba. As one reporter remarked, "Local color is the order of the day in moving picture making."20
Thomas H. Ince began directing for IMP in Cuba, and some of his first films made there still survive. His talent is not particularly visible in these early films, which were cheaply and hastily made and look old-fashioned for their time. Neither Ince nor the staff could see the results of the work, because the negatives went back to New York to be printed, the usual practice for touring companies at that time. Ince, a man of the theater recently come to the movies, probably hadn't yet enough experience to know how the films would look without seeing the daily "takes." The Penniless Prince did get some local color into its fanciful story of a down-onhis-luck European aristocrat who finds manual labor and true love in the tobacco fields. The opening shots showing the ships in the harbor may well be stock footage from some other film, but the scenes showing the tobacco plantations were made with the actors for this film.
In the early part of 1911, Bill Steiner and his Yankee Film Company spent several months in Bermuda, where, with two directors and a company of forty-six people, they turned out four reels a week. One of Yankees surviving productions, Her Mother's Fiancee (released 25 March 1911), was probably filmed there, but nothing in the film shows the "local color." Like the IMP films in Cuba, it was cheaply made. It features a garden party and an escapade in a rowboat on a lake or inlet, but one doesn't see the sea, and it might have been made almost anywhere.21
The outbreak of revolution in Mexico drew film producers to the scene of the combat like flies to honey. I. W. Ullman spent a month early in 1911 as a guest of President Porfirio Díaz, whose lengthy rule was being challenged, while Ullman's partner in Columbia Film, Revier, was at the front as the guest of the rebel general Pasqual Orozco. They announced that Columbia Film had been under contract with the Mexican government for the past six months, but that contract soon came to an end with the downfall of Díaz's regime. The United States government clamped down on Mexican war films, or that was the rumor, since any such directives, if given, were secret.22
"Mexican Subjects Delicate Ones" was the headline on the trade-paper story that followed the deployment of U.S. troops on the Mexican border, and as the article explained:
It is to be expected that the enterprising film companies now operating in Texas and Southern California will make full use of the opportunities afforded by the concentration of an American army division along the Mexican border. It is not likely, however, that any reputable film company will so far forget its patriotic obligations as to produce any pictures that may embarrass this country in a critical situation (New York Dramatic Mirror, 15 March 1911, p. 16).
Kalem's The Mexican Filibusterers was announced to be the first of a series on the subject of the Mexican revolution, but objections were reported to have come through the office of the Los Angeles district attorney. There was no need to be alarmed by the outbreak of Mexican-war films. As the reviewer of Kalem's The Insurrecto commented, "If this represents the Mexican imbroglio accurately, there is little inducement for soldiers of fortune to follow the insurrectos further into the Mexican domain."23
The Ammex Film Company, which had a studio in San Diego, rented Lower California from the Mexican government for exclusive filming rights in the beginning of 1913. This would probably have been an agreement with the government of Francisco Madero, which was also of short-term value.24
In 1914 Harry Aitken of Mutual signed up General Pancho Villa and sent Raoul Walsh to Mexico to make a film with him. According to Walsh's story, Villa staged battles with some of his own soldiers in federal uniforms for the benefit of the motion-picture cameras. The film, completed in California with W. Christy Cabanne as the director and Walsh playing Villa as a boy, was called The Life of General Villa.25
Despite all the wanderings of the motion-picture companies, by 1911 it had become evident that Los Angeles and its surroundings would be an important permanent film center. Location companies belonging to Essanay, Lubin, Kalem, and Nestor (the new company founded by Horsley, owner of Centaur) all showed up there during 1910. As early as November of that year, the Los Angeles Times was reporting, "It is predicted by theatrical men that Los Angeles will be the moving picture center of America next year."26 Nearly all the major companies arrived in California during the winter season of 1910-1911, although the majority of them still did not have the intention of staying on indefinitely. In 1911, however, Los Angeles began to have a more established film community.
With the issue of 7 January 1911, the Moving Picture World got its first regular West Coast correspondent, screenplay writer Richard V. Spencer. He became Bison's scenario editor in August of that year. Spencer's second report covered the story of the 1 January arrival of Biograph on their second annual trip, with a company that had somehow grown from the fifty people with whom it reportedly left New York to seventy-five by the time it arrived in Los Angeles. Biograph's production in Los Angeles was now a serious matter. The previous winter's trip had been an experiment, but now the company had permanent quarters for a studio, a laboratory, and developing rooms. The negatives would be completed, ready for printing, when sent to New York. They planned to remain at least until spring and to return in all future winters.27
Los Angeles at this time had a permanent population of 319,198 (according to the 1910 census), plus 150,000 tourists in winter, for Southern California had become a great tourist attraction. The suburban towns within a thirty-mile radius added another 150,000 to the population. There was a large percentage of wealthy and middle-class residents, according to trade-paper reports, and all kinds of entertainments were said to be heavily attended in Los Angeles, where the theaters were clean and respectable because the major portion of the population was "well educated and refined." There were two dramatic stock companies in residence, the Belasco and the Burbank, which could supply theater professionals for the movie industry. The "wine halls" had been closed a few years before, leaving the young people without amusement, it was said, and they took to going to the movies. There were ninety-five motion-picture houses, ranging from hole-in-the-wall nickelodeons to modern picture palaces such as the Clune Broadway, the Hyman, and the Liberty. Of the ninety-five houses, sixty-five were in the suburban districts, and the other thirty were in the downtown business districts. Los Angeles was a contender with Chicago for the title of "most moving picture houses per capita."28
At the same time that the Biograph Company was descending on Los Angeles for its second visit, Kenean Buel arrived with his stock company and headed for the Kalem studio in the foothills to specialize in Indian films. James Young Deer, Western producer for American Pathé, was ordering more studios to be built at Edendale, and Joseph De Grasse, former Belasco director, was added to the directing staff. Essanay had a company working at San Jose this year under the direction of John O'Brien, and it traveled to the Redlands for the summer months. In Los Angeles local papers reported in February that Art Acord, local broncobuster, had managed to subdue Bison's famed "Cyclone" for the benefit of the cameras. Selig was filming the Tournament of Roses at Pasadena, and Francis Boggs took a company off to Santa Barbara. The Los Angeles park commissioners threatened to revoke permits to film in Griffith Park because there were so many complaints about the filmmakers' bad behavior and annoyances to the public and officials. In this "largest city park in the world … the incessant firing of blank cartridges scares the deer and elk that roam the park." Griffith Park was so large that production companies sometimes erected temporary sets there and left them over several nights without being discovered. Biograph and Pathé had trouble with a three-week rainy season in February, but Bison and Selig were reported to have a good backlog of films to carry them through it. It was, of course, quite necessary to keep up the steady flow of releases to serve the system. Large producers had several companies at work in different parts of the country, but Biograph, dominated by a single-producer system, was all in Los Angeles at the same time and the New York Fourteenth Street Studio was unused. Since the previous year, there had been reports of work going on to build a large Biograph studio in the Bronx, but in fact no studio was ready for use there until the summer of 1913.29
In an April 1911 article on "Los Angeles as a Producing Center," Richard V. Spencer reported that "within the short period of two years [Los Angeles] has reached a position in the moving picture manufacturing field where it is second only to New York." According to Spencer, this remarkable growth was attributable first of all to the climate, which "provides 320 days for good photography, out of the 365." But the diversity of locations was also a factor:
Twenty miles to the west lie the pleasure beaches with a score of high class beach resorts within a forty minutes' trolley ride to the city…. There may be taken resort comedies with an Atlantic City or Coney Island background. Within the same radius on the same beach were taken the marine dramas made famous by the Selig and Biograph companies. Here were taken such pictures as: "The Unchanging Sea" (Biograph); "A Tale of the Sea" (Selig); "Fisher-Folks" (Biograph); "The Buccaneers" (Selig); "A Message of the Sea" (Bison); the sea scenes from "The Padre," a recent Selig release, and others…. Various street scenes and scenes in the city parks have been pictured by the Selig, Biograph and Essanay companies.
Within the same twenty-mile radius may be found some of the most beautiful country homes and gardens in the world. Several of these have been photographed by the Selig and Biograph companies, among which were the famous sunken gardens of the Busch estate in Pasadena, and the residence of Rudolph Schiffman of the same city. A scenic mountain railway offers the weary tourist an allurement in the shape of a trip from roses to the snow line in forty minutes. Within the same radius and near Pasadena are two historic missions, San Gabriel and San Fernando. Here were photographed "The Two Brothers" (Biograph) and "The Padre" (Selig).
Los Angeles and vicinity have acquired their reputation in the production of Western and Indian pictures. Here, of all places, is the ideal location for the production of such films. Here is found the necessary rolling country cut up by foothills, treacherous canyons and lofty mountain ranges in the background….
Each of the companies working in Los Angeles, he noted, had found its own kind of location:
The Selig Company chose Edendale, a city suburb, and have here erected a $75,000 plant. Within a block of them is the Pathe West Coast Studio, which, when completed, will probably represent a similar investment. A block below the Pathé Studio on the same side of the street is the Bison Studio. It is shortly to be enlarged and improved with new buildings. The Biograph Company last year occupied temporary quarters in Pasadena, but this year finds them at home in their new studio at Pico and Georgia streets in the heart of the city. The studio is to be permanent and will be occupied every winter by the company. Nine miles away, near Glendale, the Kalem Company have erected a studio in the foothills for the production of their Western and Indian films. Some sixty miles away, near Redlands, the Essanay Western Company are hard at work. At Long Beach, a local beach resort, a new Independent producing company is rushing operations to get into the market with their film (Moving Picture World, 8 April 1911, p. 768).
In the following winter season of 1911-1912, the Nestor Company bought property at Gower and Sunset, in Hollywood, where they had been working temporarily. On that corner, they built the first Hollywood studio, that is, the first Hollywood studio in name. All of Southern California was in the process of becoming "Hollywood," but that symbol was not yet born. As Spencer indicated, the wonderful California climate and 320 days of sunshine, before there was any smog, made it something like paradise for motion-picture people. California was also a very forward-looking place. The state had already given women the right to vote, and the first women were serving on juries there. By May 1911 there were ten motion-picture companies reported operating in Southern California, and it was said that three new independent producing companies were forming. The studios were beginning to have to fend off curiosity seekers. Southern California was reportedly going "picture mad," and every
day a new producer was announced. By the spring of 1915 the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce claimed in an advertisement that 80 percent of the country's motion pictures were produced there.30
The migration of movie companies everywhere around the country, and even the wide world beyond the borders, and the settlement in California, influenced films in several ways beyond the local color they picked up. During the early stages of these trips, the filmmakers were removed from the enclosed studios of home and without facilities. The films made on distant locations were mostly filmed out-of-doors and reflect the freer positioning of cameras and the movement of actors and horses and all living creatures deep in space. Because the action spread over a wider range than in a studio, it was more difficult to keep in the center of the frame, and the cameraman had to pan to follow it. The hazards of exterior filmmaking encouraged the use of more and shorter shots. Of course some filmmakers could travel three thousand miles and still set up a rigid, stagelike picture area to which men on horseback rode up and posed stiffly facing the camera, but the more talented ones found that filming on location loosened up some of the methods they had learned and gave them new ideas. Also, far from head offices, there was less opportunity for conservative executives to say, "You can't do that." By the time the negatives were shipped back by train to the office, it was too late.
Equally important was the emergence of spectacle as a more significant quality in picture making. It was to be of special importance to the growth of the feature film. While spectacle could be provided with enormous and costly sets, as the Italians did it, in California the landscape itself was ready to perform this function. The extreme long shot became an important element of the spectacle: there was no other way to do justice to the wide open spaces. The scenes filmed from the top of a California hill looking down into a California canyon, a nearby figure or bush on the hill giving scale
to the distant action—where good guys chased bad guys on horseback, the Indians encircled the covered wagons, the cavalry rode to the rescue, and the battles of war were fought with explosions and smoke: these are scenes engraved on the collective memory of moviegoers and fans of the Western. The Kalem pictures made in the green hills of Ireland contained some of these high-angle deep landscape shots as well, looking down from steep hillsides onto the seashore. By contrast, the films made in the flat lands of Jacksonville and San Antonio lacked this kind of visual excitement.
In Biograph's Ramona, filmed on the first California trip, the mountainside settings provided startling high-angle and extreme long-distance shots. The final scene shows a distant mountain at such a dramatic angle that it fills the frame, and no sky can be seen. Composition had to be affected by such rugged settings. Similarly, the extreme nobility of behavior of the characters in the films Thomas Ince was making for the New York Motion Picture Company seemed to conform to the mountain grandeur and the open spread of the plains. The opening title in The Bargain (New York Motion Picture Company, 1914) announces: "The West! The Land of Vast Golden Silences Where God Sits Enthroned on the Purple Peaks and Man Stands Face to Face with His Soul." The scene fades in on a magnificent landscape that fully meets these grandiloquent words with an extreme long shot of rocks and canyons, on which the camera plays a long, slow pan. Nature itself gave a vitality and a spontaneity to the films of this period that diminished once producers began to work more consistently in enclosed studios under artificial light, where there was the possibility of more control over the process of making films.