The Grove Book of Hollywood is a richly entertaining anthology of anecdotes and reminiscences from the people who helped make the City of Angels the storied place we know today. Movie moguls, embittered screenwriters, bemused outsiders such as P. G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh, and others all have their say. Organized chronologically, the pieces form a history of Hollywood as only generations of insiders could tell it.
We encounter the first people to move to Hollywood, when it was a dusty village on the outskirts of Los Angeles, as well as the key players during the heyday of the studio system in the 1930s. We hear from victims of the blacklist and from contemporary players in an industry dominated by agents. Coming from a wide variety of sources, the personal recollections range from the affectionate to the scathing, from the cynical to the grandiose.
Here is John Huston on his drunken fistfight with Errol Flynn; Cecil B. DeMille on the challenges of filming The Ten Commandments; Frank Capra on working for the great comedic producer Mark Sennett; William Goldman on the strange behavior of Hollywood executives in meetings; and much more. “A masterly, magnificent anthology,” The Grove Book of Hollywood is a must for anyone fascinated by Hollywood and the film industry (Literary Review, London).
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Eluding the Patent Agents
Fred J. Balshofer from Fred J. Balshofer and Arthur C. Miller, One Reel a Week(1976)
Fred J. Balshofer was a stereoscopic-slide photographer who joined the Lubin Manufacturing Company in Philadelphia in 1905. He subsequendy became a producer and found himself on the receiving end of a lawsuit from the Edison-led trust, the Motion Picture Patents Company. In 1908 he founded the Crescent Film Company and thereafter was joined by Adam Kessel, an ex-bookmaker, and Charles O. Bauman, a former streetcar conductor, in the New York Picture Company, which set up the subsidiary companies Bison and Keystone. He retired from film production soon after sound came in.
After a long weary ride of four nights and five days our small company, consisting of Evelyn Graham, Charles French and his wife, Charles Inslee, J. Barney Sherry, Young Deer and his wife Red Wing, Bill Edwards (the prop man), Maxwell Smith, who came in Arthur Miller's place, and I, arrived in Los Angeles the day after Thanksgiving, November, 1909.
We were among the first of the moving picture companies to begin building a moving picture center in California. Los Angeles at that time was a sprawling city of approximately 250,000 residents, many of whom were Spanish-speaking. Their customs and gentle way of life immediately won my admiration and friendship.
In 1909, there was darn little paper money to be had. It was so scarce, in fact, that when I went to the Security Bank on Spring Street, in the heart of the city, and deposited two thousand dollars in twenty, fifty, and one hundred-dollar bills to the account of the New York Motion Picture Company, the clerks eyed me as though I had held up a train. When I asked the teller to change a twenty-dollar bill for ones, he handed me 'cartwheels.' 'Bills,' I said. He shook his head but managed to find five one-dollar bills, and I was obliged to take the remainder in silver dollars.
Just about the first to come to California to make movies, I believe, was Colonel William (Bill) Selig, who sent Francis Boggs, his ace director, and a few actors to Los Angeles in the fall of 1907 to establish a studio of sorts in a former Chinese laundry on Olive Street not far from the center of the city. In January, 1910, the Biograph company sent a unit headed by D. W. Griffith with Mary Pickford, Henry B. Walthall, and Billy Bitzer, to name a few, out to Los Angeles. They established a studio in a vacant carbarn at Georgia and Pico streets, on the southwest side of the city. Gilbert M. Anderson (real name Aaronson), a six-foot rugged individual of about thirty-five, who made the character of Bronco Billy famous, was George K. Spoor's partner in the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company and was making western pictures starring himself in Niles, California, nearly four hundred and fifty miles north of Los Angeles.
Like the Biograph, we intended to return to New York in the spring, so we set up a temporary studio in a former grocery and feed store that had a large barn and some old shacks on a fenced-in plot of ground on Alessandro Street, which was a hilly, sparsely settled section some three miles west of Los Angeles. We converted the store and shacks into dressing-rooms for our players and put up a small outdoor stage where we could shoot our interiors. The rented property included a small house across the street that I used as an office and as a place to lock up the camera equipment. There also was enough space for a small laboratory to develop the daily negatives, which I had to do myself until I trained a former cook from the Alexandria Hotel.
I would cut the negative scene by scene, leaving about six inches extra at each end, and number them, starting with scene one, two, and so on; the main, sub-, and spoken titles I wrote and sent with the developed picture negative to be photographed in our laboratory in Brooklyn. In those days, the negative of a complete reel or picture was not joined in one roll for printing; certain scenes were selected to be toned or tinted different colors, so these scenes had to be printed in separate rolls and handled on separate drums. The girls who assembled the positive prints worked at a bench on which there was a row of numbered wooden pegs. The joiners, as they were called, cut the individual scenes from each roll, and the number of a particular scene was placed on the corresponding numbered peg. On the rewinder a piece of the leader was put first, then the main and subtitle, followed by scene one, two, and so on, including the descriptive and spoken titles. The finished reel or picture had a splice at the beginning and end of each scene and title. As there were no machines or even guides to make splices, the accuracy of the splice depended upon the skill of the joiner. The above seems fantastic compared with modern film processing. Today the full reel of a picture has hardly a splice.
Col. William Selig had come to Los Angeles to avoid the wintry blasts of Chicago and had intended to return in the spring. Instead, he decided to stay. Selig was a short, heavyset man about forty who had been a traveling salesman and magician before he organized his moving picture company in Chicago in 1897. Judging by the looks of his new studio in California it was obvious that he was making money hand over fist. His studio in Edendale covered a city block on Alessandro Street and was half a block or more wide, surrounded by a high, vine-clad wall. Huge wrought-iron gates of Spanish design formed the entrance to the studio, and just beyond the gates was a lush tropical garden.
It was here that such coming stars as Tom Santschi, Hobart Bosworth, William Farnum, and Robert Leonard, among others, played in his pictures. Late in the summer of 1910 Francis Boggs, top director for Selig, was shot to death in the studio garden by a Japanese gardener who went berserk. When Selig attempted to take the gun away from the gardener, he was shot in the arm. Selig might have been fatally wounded had not others arrived in time to overpower the gun-brandishing Japanese, who, for no apparent reason, was all for killing Selig too.
As far as I know, there is no actual record of who was the first to photograph a movie scene in Hollywood. Dave Horsley has the distinction of being the first person to establish a studio when he took over a former tavern on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street in the fall of 1911. As early as January, 1910, however, we photographed scenes around Hollywood, riding our horses from the studio in Edendale to the picturesque hills over the winding roads. There were some adobe buildings on a fair-sized ranch just west of LaBrea Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard where we photographed many horse chases, gun battles, stagecoach holdups and other similar scenes for our Bison pictures before we discovered Griffith Park. Griffith Park was a beautiful place with tree-covered hills, ideal for western pictures. It was only a few miles from our studio, and many times we set up an Indian village and left it there for days at a time in the section now known as Griffith Park golf course.
We were doing fine in California and hadn't yet seen McCoy or any of his henchmen so we decided to stay. We began to convert our temporary studio into a permanent one. Our stock company of actors and actresses had grown to include Jewell Darrell, Marguerite Favar, Marin (named for Marin County where she was born) Sais, George Gebhardt, Art Acord, Jack Conway, Art Ortega, Roy Purden, Frank Montgomery, Howard Davies, Princess Mona Darkfeather, Ann (Anna) Little, Jess McGaugh, Tex Cooper, Charlie Avery and several others. We also had Bebe Daniels, a child actress, and her mother, Phyllis, who acted as my secretary and bookkeeper.
I had bought several horses to use in our western pictures, some of them from a Mexican fellow. The day he delivered them he was mounted on the most magnificent white stallion I had ever seen. The minute I saw that horse all I could think of was what a valuable addition it would be to our Bison pictures. I tried every argument I could think of to convince the Mexican to sell us the horse, but he simply wouldn't listen. However, I was able to make a deal to rent the horse for one picture. We had just started the film and were shooting some scenes at the old wooden bridge that used to be on Los Feliz Road near the entrance to Griffith Park when Jack Conway came thundering across the bridge on the white stallion. A plank loosened and the edge struck the horse a severe blow across his forelegs causing him to fall. Conway was sent sprawling but fortunately was not hurt. One of the cowboys ran to put his weight on the horse's head to prevent him from getting up, while others did what they could to quiet the animal. It appeared as though he had broken his leg.
Jess McGaugh, who was in charge of our horses, took over and did a fine job on the foreleg which turned out to be severely lacerated but not broken. The Mexican owner became quite excited over the incident. He had no idea what the injury amounted to and could well wonder about the soundness of the horse after taking such a spill, even if the stallion hadn't suffered a broken leg. McGaugh estimated the veterinary charges at seventy-five dollars, and if the Mexican insisted on being paid for rental of the horse during the time it was out of action, it seemed better to buy the horse as it was. McGaugh thought that the owner, under the present circumstances, might be willing to sell, so I talked it over with him. The result was that I bought the beautiful white stallion for a hundred dollars on the strength of McGaugh's opinion that he would be as good as new in a month or so.
What a bargain this proved to be! While the horse was healing, I made plans to feature him in one of our Bison pictures. I chose the obvious name of Snowball for him as he was snow white without a mark on him. In his first picture, I took advantage of every opportunity to insert his name in the spoken titles. When the picture was shipped East and my partners saw it, they wired me to 'Buy that horse called Snowball even if you have to pay a thousand dollars.' It delighted me to be able to wire back, 'We own Snowball. Bought him for $100.' Snowball became well known to movie audiences throughout the country; bags of mail were received asking for more pictures with Snowball in them. With our famous horse and Inslee in his naked Indian hero roles, our Bison pictures were outselling most of the pictures made by members of the trust. This was a bitter pill for them to swallow.
Not long after that, Kessel and Bauman, who had been visiting in California for a few weeks and were about ready to go back East, and I were sitting in the lobby of the Alexandria Hotel in Los Angeles enjoying an after-dinner smoke. I noticed a man sitting across from us. What drew my attention to him was that he was holding the newspaper he was pretending to read upside down. The top of his head, which was all that showed above the newspaper, looked familiar. I kept watching him, and sure enough, it was the old snooper himself, Al McCoy, the Patents Company detective. I nudged Kessel, pointed and whispered, 'Al McCoy.' Kessel studied him awhile and told me I was imagining things. He insisted and said, 'I'll bet you a five-dollar gold piece that's not McCoy.' I replied, 'I'll take your bet.' Kessel smiled and wanted to know how I could prove it. I said I'd go over and talk to him. I stood up and walked over to where the man was sitting and stood looking down at him. 'Hello, Slim,' I said, smiling. 'What are you doing way out here?' I honestly felt sorry for McCoy at that moment. He looked up at me like the cat that swallowed the canary. 'It's my job, Fred,' he said in an apologetic manner. Calling me Fred sounded like he wanted to be on a sort of friendly basis. 'I'd hate to see you get hurt,' I answered in a pleasant tone, 'but you're out West now and the cowboys here are a real tough bunch. They carry six-shooters, and I don't think they want to be interfered with.' I really put it on and could see that it was having an effect. I continued, 'I'm giving you a friendly tip. Don't start anything here or you're going to run into trouble. I'll keep quiet about your being here and the rest is up to you.' With that I left him, walked back to Addie Kessel, and collected the five-dollar gold piece. I didn't think we would have any trouble with McCoy and told Kessel and Bauman they could leave as planned and not to worry.
McCoy took my advice and kept himself pretty scarce, but every now and then I would see him standing on a rise watching us through field glasses. I never told anyone who he was, as some of the scare talk I had handed him at the hotel wasn't without basis. Whenever I spotted him, I'd send one of the cowboys riding in his direction with instructions just to inquire who he was, but McCoy always disappeared before the rider reached him. A couple of weeks went by without my seeing him so I thought he had become discouraged and departed. This proved to be a poor guess. It wasn't long before I learned I had made a mistake.
One Saturday night I went up to visit George Gebhardt, who lived on the hill overlooking our studio in Edendale. During the course of the evening, his wife, Madeline, went to the back porch to get something and noticed a light in my office. She thought it was unusual at that hour so she told me about it. Gebhardt got out his forty-five gun, and he and I started down the hill to investigate. We arrived at the office just as the lights went out. It was mighty dark on the porch, but Gebhardt had his gun ready for anything that might happen. In spite of the dark, we could make out the figure of a man tiptoeing his way out the side door. Gebhardt jammed the gun in the man's back and barked 'Hands up.' A package dropped to the porch floor with a thump as he made haste to comply. 'Don't shoot,' he cried. 'It's me.' You could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather when I discovered it was Maxwell Smith, my camera boy and the only other person I trusted with a key to the place. He blabbered out a confession that he had made sketches and used the office lights and our 5x7 still camera in an effort to make photographs for McCoy of the inside movement of my Pathé movie camera. I found the plate holders where he had dropped them on the porch floor and smashed them. Smith nearly had succeeded in his plan but almost lost his life for a few measly dollars. As a matter of fact, he did lose his life from a shotgun blast a short time later while on a hunting trip with his uncle who accidentally shot him in the stomach.
This incident with Smith made me more cautious than ever, and I never left the camera in the office after that. I took it home with me every evening and brought it back the next morning. Weekends and between pictures, I wrapped the Pathé in a Navajo blanket and stored it in a large safety box I had rented for the purpose in the Commercial Bank in downtown Los Angeles, where we had our bank account. Although I hadn't seen hide nor hair of McCoy since I fired Smith, I often wondered what his next move would be.
Late in 1910 Charlie French made other connections, which meant that I had to take over the entire directing job. It was impossible to get any kind of a cameraman in Los Angeles then, so I had to operate the camera as well as direct our pictures for the next several months. Then I broke in Robert Newhard, a hardworking youth I had hired after the Smith fiasco.
To add to my troubles, I was subpoenaed by the Patents Company to be examined at a deposition hearing in Los Angeles, as they were preparing an infringement suit against us in New York. Kessel and Bauman came out to California post-haste when I wired them the bad news. When they arrived, they too, were subpoenaed to be examined. Our patent attorneys, Lyon and Lyon, together with our regular attorney, Frank Graham, got them out of appearing by pleading that Kessel and Bauman were nonresidents. On the advice of all our lawyers, they went back to New York, leaving me to face the situation alone. The attorneys for the Patents Company knew their subject well, and it wasn't very long before they had me hanging by a thin thread with their questions as to what kind of a camera I was using.
'What make is it? Describe it. Can you make a sketch of it, and the movement?' I shook my head. 'I don't know how to draw,' I said, and then gave them a run-around story by describing another French camera that I well remembered and that was not an infringement of the Edison patents. They were well aware that I was telling them a fish story, but they had to prove it. They brought up the fact that I had rented a safety deposit box at the Commercial Bank, which I had to admit. How the lawyers found this out I don't know, but I began to sweat. Luckily, lunch recess was called moments later. 'What about that safety deposit box? Is the camera in it?', Graham asked when he and I were alone on our way to lunch. When I nodded 'Yes,' he told me the opposing attorneys would seek a court order to examine it. I had no time for lunch; the most important thing was to get the camera out of the safety deposit box immediately.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Grove Book of Hollywood"
Copyright © 1998 Christopher Silvester.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Fred J. Balshofer,
Jesse L. Lasky,
Agnes DeMille Constance Collier,
Bessie Mona Lasky,
Cecil B. DeMille,
Irene Mayer Selznick,
Donald Ogden Stewart,
Jesse L. Lasky,
Edward Dean Sullivan,
P. G. Wodehouse,
Noel Coward Samuel Marx,
Sir Cedric Hardwicke,
Marion Hill Preminger,
S. N. Behrman,
Darryl F. Zanuck,
Budd Schulberg Bette Davis,
J. B. Priestley,
S. N. Behrman,
Irene Mayer Selznick,
F. Scott Fitzgerald,
Richard G. Hubler,
Henry and Phoebe Ephron,
Robert Lewis Taylor,
Darryl F. Zanuck,
Paul Henreid Amy Porter,
Darryl F. Zanuck,
Kevin McClory Charles Shows,
Jill Schary Zimmer,
Walter Wanger and Joe Hyams,
Jack Brodsky and Nathan Weiss,
John Gregory Dunne,
Stephen Farber and Marc Green,
John Gregory Dunne Julia Phillips,
Richard E. Grant,
Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters,
Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters,
Richard E. Grant,
John H. Richardson,
William Goldman Rob Long,