August 17, 2020 - Hollywood

Region 27    

The first Hollywood movie was filmed on Whitley Estate on October 26, 1911.  Of all the products of popular culture, none is more sharply etched in our imagination than the movies. Most Americans instantly recognize images produced by the movies: Harrison Ford, as Indiana Jones, as an adventurous archeologist in Radars of the Lost Ark. Sean Connery, the gun-toting James Bond in Gold Finger, and Carrie Fisher, the beautiful princess who is fighting the evil emperor in Star Wars. Even those who have never seen ET, Casablanca or Gone With the Wind respond instantly to the advertisements, parodies, and TV skits that use these films' dialogue, images, and characters. So when was the first Hollywood movie filmed?

According to Hollywood myth, the first film made there was produced Cecil B DeMille's The Squaw Man in 1914, after the director decided not to alight in a snowbound Flagstaff, Arizona, but to proceed to Los Angeles. However, in 1911 a new exciting era of Hollywood was ushered in. The motion picture industry already had several studios in the heart of Los Angeles. The movie In the Sultan’s Power was produced in 1908 by Colonel Selig. It was the first full-length motion picture shot in an old mansion at Eighth and Olive. The motion picture industry did not come to Hollywood until HJ Whitley, The Father of Hollywood, spent over fifteen years and millions of dollars developing and beautifying the area. Considering how strenuously others urged producers and directors to settle in a number of other excellent sites, it is amazing that one man could convince the majority of them to settle in Hollywood. The first Hollywood motion picture taken by a Hollywood film company was taken on October 26, 1911. Although the movie never really had a name, it was a true piece of Hollywood’s history. The Whitley home was used as its set. The movie was filmed in the middle of their groves. The motion picture was directed by David and William Horsley and Al Christe. HJ was fortunate to meet the Horsley brothers as they were touring Hollywood and suggested that they might be able to lease the Blondeau Tavern on Sunset and Gower. He felt sure that it could easily be converted into a movie studio.

In the fall of 1911, the Nestor Motion Picture Company opened the first motion picture studio in Hollywood in the Blondeau Tavern. In May 1912, the Universal Film Company was formed and David Horsley and other small studios merged, each accepting shares in Universal as payment for their business. HJ realized at once that he had found a rare, untapped jewel that would make his town stand out from others. The rules of the game he now played were simple, much like the game of marbles he played when he was a child. The games would last several minutes, and the best player would leave with all the jewels. In this new game, the jewels were movie producers and directors. Others would try; but HJ possessed a decisive edge, a mystical power that drew people to him. HJ’s charm disarmed strangers and made them instant friends. He was a friend to everyone, one who would cheer you on when you were successful and who would support you when the going got rough. It was difficult to explain just how HJ created these bonds. After knowing HJ for just a few hours, it was like you knew him all your life; and you knew you would be friends forever. HJ stood out from others because of the levels of concern and service he offered.

David Horsley was walking down Hollywood Boulevard near the Hollywood Hotel and looking a little lost and confused when a pleasant, well-dressed gentleman appeared and asked if he could help. David told HJ what he was looking for. HJ not only pointed him in the right direction; he escorted him all the way down the street to his destination. David asked him his name and occupation. To David’s surprise, he introduced himself as the developer of Hollywood.  “I built the bank and hotel at the corner of Highland and Hollywood Boulevard.” When HJ spoke, his face lit up with an inward fire. He was transfigured. As the conversation wore on, an instant friendship developed. HJ even offered David the use of his elaborate gardens for filming. HJ was thrilled with the idea that this young, budding filmmaker would soon be opening a studio that would enhance the face of Hollywood.

Horsley’s studio achieved great success; and soon, many other studios were drawn to the area. HJ convinced David to purchase three lots: 3639 Whitley Heights, 3737 North Heights, and 4546 Whitley Heights Park Tract. He never lost a chance to make a sale. Hollywood began to grow by leaps and bounds, attracting many others to its famous hills. The Hollywood Hotel, which HJ Whitley built, played an enormous role in placing Hollywood on the world map. Industry giants, such as Jesse Lasky, Carl Laemmle, Louis B. Mayer, Harry Warner, and Irving Thalberg would stay at the hotel. Producers, directors, and writers held conferences on its broad verandahs. There was a continuous flow of silver screen stars arriving daily. Many of the famous silent screen movie idols made it their home. They were a lively bunch who attended dances held every Thursday night in the ballroom. Rudolph Valentino taught tango lessons to an influential studio executive, June Mathis, who later offered him the lead in Metro’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The movie was a commercial and critical success and the beginning of Valentino’s career as a star. The Hollywood Hotel gained celebrity status when Valentino impulsively married actress Jean Aker in the lobby days after meeting her there. Rudolph Valentino lived in room 264. Where there were stars, there was gossip about their adventures. It was considered the place to be seen, and many business deals were transacted in its rooms. HJ made a suggestion to movie mogul Joe Schenck to put his entire company, including his movie star wife, Norma Talmadge, at the hotel while moving his studio from New York to Hollywood. Many years later, Norma would be their neighbor in Whitley Heights. HJ and Gigi (his wife) became friends with other notable stars that stayed at the hotel. The hotel register listed Charlie Chaplin, Norma Shearer, Douglas Fairbanks, Fatty Arbuckle, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, King Vidor, Lon Chaney, Carrie Jacobs Bond, Blanche Sweet, Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore, Buster Keaton, and countless others. As a thank-you to their faithful patrons, the hotel painted stars on the ceiling of the dining room with the actors’ names inside them. That way it was easy to identify which table belonged to which star. When the hotel was demolished in the 1950s the Hollywood Chamber decided to continue the tradition with the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Silent film stars danced and romanced in the hotel’s Dining Room of the Stars. As Hollywood grew, the hotel had a continuous flow of silent screen movie stars making it their home. Many ordinary citizens would stay at the Hollywood, hoping to get a glimpse or an autograph of their favorite star.

The Cahuenga Pass also played its part by offering a route through the hills to the Valley. It had originally been a simple, winding trail over which cattle had been driven. In 1909 HJ Whitley headed a land syndicate that purchase 48,000 acres to develop the San Fernando Valley. In 1911, the tracks to the Red Car were laid. When the San Fernando Valley became a center for the movie studios, the pass was the main link between it and Hollywood. For the biggest stars in Hollywood, there were mansions. The hills of Hollywood were filled with directors, producers, writers, stars, HJ and Gigi’s close friends. But the crews and struggling extras that stood in line daily, hoping to get picked for parts, needed less expensive places to live. HJ saw that the Valley offered such a spot. Soon, thousands of hopeful young men and women came to California seeking fame and fortune in the motion picture industry. Not long after Nestor Company opened in Hollywood Cecil B. DeMille and D. W. Griffith began making movies in Hollywood. They had been drawn to the community by HJ Whitley's marketing campaigns. By the early 1920s, Hollywood had become the world's film capital. It produced nearly all films shown in the United States and collected 80 percent of the revenue from films shown abroad. During the 20s, Hollywood strengthened its position as world leader by recruiting many of Europe's most talented actors and actors, like Greta Garbo, Rudolph Valentino, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr, directors like Ernst Lubitsch and Alford Hitchcock, as well as camera operators, lighting technicians, and set designers. Silent cinema defined a new art form in the comedies of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd and the psychological dramas of Erich von Stroheim and King Vidor. They joined a homegrown supply of actors — lured west from the New York City. By the end of the decade, Hollywood was the nation's fifth largest industry, attracting 83 cents out of every dollar Americans spent on amusement.

The studios that made the first silent classics in Hollywood would continue to grow for the next century and become the giants of today. Warner Brothers Pictures incorporated in 1923. In 1924, MGM, Columbia Pictures and MCA were founded. In 1926, Famous Players-Lasky Corporation spent $1 million on United Studios' property where Paramount Pictures have been located since 1935.


Information generously provided by Gaelyn Whitley Keith, Great-Granddaughter of H.J. Whitley (October 7, 1847 – June 3, 1931) and author of The Father of Hollywood.   Gaelyn with her husband Randy is a resident of El Dorado Hills CA. If you would like your city or town featured here, please contact Christine Esser in our administrative office at [email protected]!


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commented 2020-09-03 19:07:44 -0700 · Flag
I obtained a picture of H.J. and a postcard of Hotel Hollywood from Randy Keith, Gaelyn’s husband – H.J. Whitley, the Father of Hollywood Publicist and posted it to the Hollywood article.
commented 2020-08-21 22:26:36 -0700 · Flag
This article on Hollywood made me interested in doing a more in depth look at H.J. Whitney. On the internet was reference to Gaelyn Whitney Keith, who has written a book about her Great Grandfather called The Father of Hollywood. Reference:
published this page in Archives 2020-08-18 14:19:57 -0700