Charlie Chaplin


John Jasper

1919

A veteran of the Little Tramp's filmmaking fiefdom for 13 years, designer John Jasper quits Chaplin Studios to build three production-stages on a stretch of undeveloped Hollywood property. Hollywood Studios, Inc. (aka Jasper Hollywood Studios) is born, and it's operated by Chicago moneyman C.E. Toberman. He is the first in a long chain of real estate developers, businessmen, and producers who flirt with these 15 acres of studios and bungalows.

The early stages look like horticulturists' hothouses built with steel frames, cloth walls, and glass roofs and clerestory windows. The greenhouse effect is necessary in order to illuminate sets in these days of slow film stocks before arc lighting had been perfected. This doesn't happen until the early 30's when Edison makes industrial-strength incandescent light bulbs.

Clara Bow


Harold Lloyd

ON THE LOT
1922

Comedian Harold Lloyd leaves Hal Roach Studios and moves to Jasper's lot with his entourage. In May, Fred Newmeyer directs Grandma's Boys. Later in the decade he teams with screenwriter Sam Taylor to direct Girl Shy, Hot Water, and The Freshman. Alone, Taylor directs For Heaven's Sake in 1926.

1923-25
The studio changes hands once, when it's bought by some LA businessmen in 1923 and then again in 1924 when B. P. Schulberg, the producer who discovered Clara Bow, buys a controlling interest in the studio for Preferred Pictures Corp. In January 1925 , the studio is flipped over a third time when John Jasper leaves and Al and Charles Christie, producers of the Christie Comedies and owners of the Christies Film Corporation, buy the lot. Toberman takes with him the frontage on Santa Monica Boulevard and the studio entrance is moved to the Las Palmas side. William Sistrom, formerly a production manager at Universal City, is named the new manager.


Howard Hughes

 

 

1925

After being talked into making a picture by a movie star acquaintance, the restless millionaire, Howard Hughes leaves the management of the family oil drilling business to his financial advisers and makes himself president of Cado Pictures. An unsalvageable disaster, Swell Hogan doubles in budget and is never released, but Hughes, the producer, has bought himself a film school education on real sets. Lewis Milestone, sells him on his next picture the nine-reel Two Arabian Knights in 1927. (Milestone won his first best director Oscar for the picture; today he's perhaps most famous for the Rat Pack Vegas caper movie Ocean's Eleven.)

During the summer or '26, Metropolitan's executives hear the sound of the future and, yes, it involved audio. They break ground on the Metropolitan Sound Stages. It is the introduction of sound that converts filmmaking to an indoor activity--audio requires packing production into a soundstage where recording levels and acoustics could be better controlled. By 1929, Stages 1 and 2 are being outfitted with Vitaphone equipment and the Las Palmas lot is renamed Metropolitan Sound Studio.

While Harold Lloyd plays handball in a garage on the lot, Howard Hughes goes from dilettante producer to wannabe auteur. He cans two directors and takes over the helm of the WWI dogfight film Hell's Angels , part of which is shot at GSS. Enamored as much with audio as with aviation, Hughes reshoots with sound for many sequences and fires his leading lady and replaces her with Jean Harlow, who makes her screen debut.

 


Harold Lloyd


1928

Over the course of the shoot--which is half Heaven's Gate half Twilight Zone, the movie--Hughes employs 28 cameramen working under two DPs, three stunt pilots are killed, and the Depression takes with it a small chunk of Hughes' fortune during postproduction. Nineteen months and $4 million dollars later, the film is released. But at 25 cents a ticket, the film never makes its money back. And reflecting on his high-flying costs and what the red ink might imply about his prowess for producing, Hughes retrenches to more modest budgets.

By the end of the decade Harold Lloyd wraps For Heaven's Sake (1926), The Kid Brother (1927), Speedy (1928) and Welcome Danger(1929). In 1929 110 million people are going to the movies every week.


General
Services Studio

ON THE LOT
1930

Trem Carr (later head of the Monogram Studio) shoots The Chinatown Mystery, a serial on existing sets, an idea that Roger Corman later turned into a low budget commandment.

Howard Hughes leaves a year after releasing The Front Page; his new digs are at United Artists (1041 N. Formosa Ave). The laughs keep coming though; Harold Lloyd follows Feet First (1930 in Movietone Sound) with Movie Crazy, considered one of his best films. Far from being the hapless victim of circumstance he plays on the screen, Lloyd is becoming one of the wealthiest men in Hollywood as an the independent producer of his own films.

The Depression makes an entrance from stage left, and in January of 1933, the Christie brothers find themselves in receivership and cede control of Metropolitan to General Service Studios which operated several studios on both coasts. Its parent company Electrical Research Products, Inc., (ERPI) an AT&T holding which had developed Vitaphone sound, positions the stages to capture sound business. Stages 1 and 2 become showplaces for shooting talkies. Both are built from the ground up with a double-walled thermos style peripheral barrier creating a dead sound-proof space. Today, you can still walk entirely around both stages between these peripheral walls.

 


Mae West


1935 & 1936

Charles Christie is still on the lot supervising Vanity Comedies, the Andy Clyde Comedies, and the Moran and Mack Comedies. Merle Oberon moves into Bungalow A, her husband, the director and Hungarian expat Alexander Korda, joins her.

After scandalizing the Hays Office with Belle of the Nineties, Mae West arrives on the lot under strict orders from Paramount to clean up her act. Originally called Ain't No Sin and written by West, the offending film featured the Divine Miss M as an unrepentant "scarlet woman," who was not only good at what she did but fast with the louche double entendres that propelled West to fame. The film was cut after raising the pique of Mr. Hays himself, an ex-Post-Master General charged with enforcing the Production Code, an equation guaranteeing that good triumphed over evil in Hollywood pictures.

Westerns are riding a wave of popularity and Harry Sherman settles in at the lot to produce the Hopalong Cassidy films, a 21 picture series starring William Boyd, for Paramount Pictures.

 

Alexander Korda

 

 

ON THE LOT
1940

At the peak of their creative golden age, United Artists leases General Service studio for their producers, Alexander Korda and Benedict Bogeaus. Korda, came to the US from war-torn Britain, with the reels of The Four Feathers as collateral against which he raises nearly $4 million for the production of six pictures (four to be made in the States). Korda edits The Thief of Bagdhad on the lot and goes on to direct Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh in That Hamilton Woman. Writer Gore Vidal remembers the film, a glorification of war, in Palimpsest: ..the film was made..to glorify resistance to a predator-tyrant like Hitler. British propaganda in the thirties and forties was most effectively deployed in Hollywood films so that the American people would be emotionally ready to fight, yet again, with England against Germany." Later Korda produces Lydia and Jungle Book.

By '42 Korda and other high-profile producers had left, precipitating a downward slide in UA's slate that continues unchecked until 1950.

 

1941

AT&T is ordered by the U.S. government to divest its interest in GSS. Two suitors, both independent producers, zero-in a for the lot: Benedict Bogeaus one of UA's second-string who rose to the front rank when David Selznick and Alexander Korda left, and Eddie Small. Bogeaus wins with the low bid by promising to give the government use of the facility for the wartime effort. The army's propaganda machine, as it turned out, doesn't demand much, and before long Bogeaus is back in the commercial motion picture business with six releases from United Artists and the overflow from Paramount.

From 1941-1942, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Fred Astaire, Carey Grant, Glenn Ford, Frederic March, Erich von Stroheim (in an acting role) and the Artie Shaw Orchestra are on the lot. The United Artists producer David Loew exercises a stock option and buys control of General Service Studios from its major stock holder Benedict Bogeaus in 1943. David was the son of Marcus Loew, who'd gone from operating a 23rd St. arcade in Manhattan called the People's Vaudeville Company, to owner of one of the US's largest film chains and the man who fashioned MGM out of Metro Pictures, Louis B. Mayer's operation and Goldwyn.

James Cagney

 

For the next four years, there are only a few producers working on the lot. The very popular RKO actress Constance Bennett and UA are among the most active. Expat Jean Renoir directs The Southerner for David Loew in 1945 and the Marx Brothers star in A Night in Casablanca the following year. By March 0f 1946, Bogeaus is back. He reorganizes his company, acquiring the land and all of the buildings of the studio. By May, he begins a $500,000 construction program of television sound stages.

In July, William Cagney (brother and partner of Jimmy) purchases a substantial interest in the studio. Bogeaus aligns his production company with Cagney Productions which moves into 1040 N. Las Palmas. (Charles is president, Jimmy is vice president, and Edward serves as secretary.) Blood on the Sun (1945) and The Time of Your Life (1948) are both made on the lot. It's not a long stay, the Cagneys decamp to Warner Bros., their distributor, in 1949.


George Burns

1948

Another trio of brothers Jimmy, George, and Ted Nasser, managers for Bogeaus/Cagney buy into the studio. By 1950 they own it outright. They zero-in on the niche of television which the majors reject after being barred from entering the new medium by a monopoly-wary FCC. Because they can't join 'em, the studios are forced into a beat 'em mentality. Seeing only competition from television, they bar it from their lots. As television was passing from its live era in New York, to its prerecorded form in LA, the Nassers capture a windfall of new business. Burns and Allen moves in during the early fifties (George Burns was a tenant until March 1996 when he died at 100 years-old).

At this time, there is only other place in LA to produce television, Hal Roach Studios. TV at the turn-of-the-decade is really in the hands of advertising agencies and sponsors, it's not until the 50's that the networks take control of programming, largely through deals with independent producers.

 


Ronald Reagan


Desi & Lucy

ON THE LOT
1951

Ronald Reagan is taking direction for Lewis R. Foster in The Last Outpost. Lucille Ball and husband Desi Arnaz rent Stage #2 to shoot the pilot for I Love Lucy. Ball and her sponsor insist on filming the series in front of a live audience with three-cameras, this, and the fact that the comedienne won't back down on the decision to cast her Cuban husband Desi as Ricky, causes CBS to sell its financial stake in the series back to Desilu. Lucky for Lucy: The series is the most profitable 30-minutes in CBS history and the show stays in the Top Ten for nine seasons. Sound Stage 2 is retrofitted for the series which costs between $21K and $27-an episode to shoot. Desilu also produces the Eve Arden series Our Miss Brooks and shoots spots for Philip Morris cigarette and General Foods. Desi and Lucy stay for two years.

l952

CBS has thirteen shows in production on the lot. From this point on, GSS continues to service a full load of television productions. Ozzie and Harriet, The Bob Cummings Show, The People's Choice and Hennesey locate there and at the same time the commercial business begins to thrive.

 

 


Mr. Ed

ON THE LOT

Hollywood General becomes a sort of ground zero for popular culture, the home of TV shows that babysit the baby boomers and decorate their lunchboxes. Many of the series are greenlighted under the watch of CBS head James T. Aubrey who returns the network to strong ratings and prosperity with: Green Acres, Mr. Ed (which ex-vaudevillian George Burns produced), Beverly Hillbillies, and Petticoat Junction. Also shooting on the lot are The Lone Ranger and The Addams Family (in 1991 director Barry Sonnenfeld returns to the lot to shoot the movie of the Charles Addams classic). Burns and Allen and Perry Mason are successfully reworked from radio to TV shows, as early seasons of I Love Lucy had been. Radio retreads were a way to generate scripts in the early, comparatively low-budget days of TV.

 

ON THE LOT

After 27 years of running the lot the Nasser Brothers finally sell it to the Dallas oil and gas firm, Miles Production Company in the winter of 1976. Owner Ellison Miles renames the lot Hollywood General Studios and moves with the times to provide video services. Universal Television rents nine stages, paying yearly whether they are in use or not. The studio produces Baretta, The Rockford Files, and the Wheels miniseries on the lot.

The last theatrical feature to be shot in the 1970s was the me-decade send-up Shampoo. Offices were booked up through the 70s, by producers such as James Aubrey, Frank O'Connor, Pat Curtis, Herm Saunders, George Burns, and Irving Fein.

By 1979 the Nasser Brothers appear on the scene once again to take control of the lot, but only briefly because producer/director Francis Ford Coppola is in the wings.

 



Francis Coppola

the 80s

ON THE LOT

Francis Ford Coppola takes over the lot March 14, 1980, intending to film a slate of his own pictures there. Zoetrope produces Hammett, One From the Heart, The Outsiders, The Black Stallion Returns, Rumblefish, and The Escape Artist.

Ironically it's One From the Heart, an elaborate modern musical that pushes the studio into financial difficulty. The budget escalates on the picture largely due to the creation of lush period sets within the studios' sound stages. In 1984, the studio is acquired by the Singer family, Canadian real estate developers.

 

ON THE LOT

Studio Management Services, headed by Tim Mahoney, moves quickly to renovate the entire facility and within a year, all eight sound stages are revitalized. Office space is redone to house a community of new tenants. The stages are marketed to commercial spot producers, independent feature film producers, and the music industry, which uses the stages for rehearsal. A new rock & roll client base starts shooting music videos and specials, including artists Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Jackson Browne, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Ray Charles.

Also during this period, the eighties classics Body Heat and When Harry Met Sally shoot on the lot.

ON THE LOT

Today the lot is a creative neighborhood that is home to TV series, commercial production companies, production support, special effects and post outfits and new media operations. And if you've heard the HCS referred to as "being wired," it's because you can jack into the vanguard of new digital production services here. Review storyboards, edits, or casting sessions from other cities, or set up digital video conferences.

Hollywood Center Studios taps into the digital revolution in 1995, when Alan Singer and Tim Mahoney start to lay the infrastructure for the most advanced sound stage facilities in Hollywood by wiring the studios with the bandwidth necessary to carry high-quality digital images and sound around the lot.

This decade has seen the production of Robert Altman's instant classic Hollywood satire The Player, many TV shows, and hundreds of commercials.

 

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