100 Years Ago in Hollywood


Nestor Studios in Hollywood.

In retrospect the year 1912 was a momentous one in Hollywood, although the district, before it was annexed by Los Angeles, had banned movie theaters.

Carl Laemmle founded Universal Studios after he was inspired by the popularity of nickelodeons, so-called for charging a nickel to view moving pictures.  He soon merged his company with Nestor Studios, which was making one-reelers in a vacant lot behind an unused tavern at Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street.

Distancing himself, geographically and philosophically, from Thomas Edison, whose company had patents on the equipment used to make movies, Laemmle began promoting his leading actress, Florence Lawrence, by name, establishing the star system.

Less than a month later Adolph Zukor laid the foundation for Paramount Pictures by creating his Famous Players Film Company and subsequently joining up with Jesse L. Lasky and Samuel Goldwyn and their distributor, Paramount Corporation. He, too, believed in his actors, signing Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Gloria Swanson, and Rudolph Valentino to his roster.

Zukor also recognized that the American public was ready for full-length feature films, contrary to conventional wisdom that the audience could not and would not sit still that long.  He released the four-reel French flic Queen Elizabeth with Sarah Bernhardt in the title role.

Not only are Universal and Paramount still in business, making bigger, if not better, movies year after year, so, too, is Western Costume, also celebrating its 100th anniversary.  It’s hard to imagine the movies without elaborate props, meticulous sets, and appropriate clothing, not to mention special effects.

Prior to L.L. Burn, an Indian trader, and his partner, Harry Revier, setting up shop, everything on camera was handled ad hoc.  The twosome initially worked out of a space so small it was nicknamed “The Hole in the Wall,” but business quickly expanded because of their attention to detail and emphasis on accuracy.

Today the Western Costume warehouse offers “eight miles of beautifully maintained clothing from every era,” and you don’t have to be a professional designer to take advantage of their selection.  They rent thousands of costumes from major motion pictures for Halloween and presumably private affairs, as well.

The choices can be overwhelming. Do you want to be traditional? Dress as a witch or a wench.  Looking for something with style?  Wear a zoot suit or strap on a six-shooter.  Let loose your inner self as Madonna or Maid Marion. Go historical as Anne Boleyn or hysterical as The Joker.  Or simply embody Hollywood history as one of Mack Sennett’s Keystone Kops who first made an appearance in…  1912.

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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