Monday, April 2, 2012


Today, Sunday, April 1st, at one p.m., a mob filmmakers and filmgoers gathered outside ‘The Lot’, on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, to try and save Pickfair, the oldest functioning movie studio in the world.  Built in 1919 by producer/director Jesse D. Hampton, he soon sold it to America’s sweetheart, Mary Pickford, and her sweetheart, Douglas Fairbanks.  It was here that she made, among many others, MISS ANNIE ROONIE and TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY; he did great swashbucklers like MARK OF ZORRO and THIEF OF BAGDAD, and they made their one film together, the early talkie THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. 

When they united with Charlie Chaplin and D. W. Griffith to have greater control of their movies, and formed UNITED ARTISTS – prompting Metro Pictures president Richard Rowland to quip, “The lunatics have taken over the asylum!” -- it became United Artists Studios. 

Griffith, Pickford, Chaplin and Fairbanks

They all produced successfully there, and were soon joined by independent producers like Howard Hughes and Samuel Goldwyn.  The fortunes of Goldwyn in particular grew as, with the coming of sound, the careers of the original four shrank, and the lot became Goldwyn Studios, where for decades, some of Hollywood’s finest films were produced, from DEAD END to BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES.  Billy Wilder located his offices at the lot.

Goldwyn Studios was Sam Peckinpah’s home base from MAJOR DUNDEE through THE WILD BUNCH and beyond – the scuttlebutt is that he actually lived in his offices for some time.   In the 1990s Warner Brothers bought it, and changed the name to Warner Hollywood Studios.   It has been a busy lot right from the start, and has continued with feature and TV production – currently several of its seven soundstages are in use for HBO’s TRUE BLOOD. 

Studio seen from the air

But since 1974, when a bubble-machine on the set of SIGMUND AND THE SEAMONSTERS overheated and burned down a sound-stage, the studio has never been under a serious threat until about a week ago.  That’s when The Lot’s new owners, The CIM Group, announced a six step plan for the ‘renovation’ of the studio that would call for the destruction of the Pickford Building, the Goldwyn Building, the Fairbanks Gym, and many others. 

The greater Los Angeles area – whether talking about L.A. proper, Burbank, West Hollywood or the San Fernando Valley – is notorious for its disinterest in its own history.  Over the past dozen or so years, Warner Brothers, Walt Disney Studios and Paramount Pictures destroyed most or all of their western streets and other standing sets to make room for multi-level garages and office buildings.  The doomed structures at Pickfair would be replaced by glass towers. 

In spite of the fact that the threatened buildings all deserve landmark status, the West Hollywood City Council quietly approved these plans, and CIM Group intends to begin bulldozing in a couple of weeks.  Rumor is that they may start sooner, to make the protests moot.  One interesting aspect of the situation is the The Lot straddles the Los Angeles/West Hollywood border, and some of the structures the West Hollywood City Council has signed off on aren’t even in their city. 

Joe Dante speaks with the press

And who are the CIM Group?  The developers of, among many other projects, the heavily taxpayer-underwritten Hollywood & Highland.  On their websites they describe themselves as, “…a transformational urban real estate and infrastructure investment firm founded in 1994 with over $9.5 billion in assets under management.”  To find out more about the CIM Group, you can visit their site, which includes contact info, here: can read an LA WEEKLY article about them, called CIM GROUP, HOLLYWOOD’S RICHEST SLUMLORD, here:

Director Allison Anders (FOOD, GAS, LODGING) has spearheaded the protests, and was present, along with familiar faces like director Joe Dante (GREMLINS) and special effects wizard Greg Kimble (INDEPENDENCE DAY).   Director Michael Donahue, whose upcoming THE EXTRA stars Tyrone Power Jr., John Saxon and 103 year-old Carla Laemmle, niece of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle, puts it this way: “I have worked in studio management for twenty-five years.  And there has been an unspoken agreement between management, film preservationists, and people who love tourism, that they would leave old Hollywood alone.  (When CIM bought the lot) they promised to preserve it.  They are instead…tearing everything down and building it new.”  That’s the problem with unspoken agreements, and buildings that are of landmark status, but haven’t been officially named landmarks.

If you’d like to learn more, and sign the petition, go HERE.  On Monday at 6:30 p.m., the West Hollywood City Council will be meeting.  If you would like to attend, and need more information, go HERE. The phone number for the City Council is (323) 848-6460.  Their email is

UPDATE MONDAY 4/2/2012 3:46 PM.  Just wanted you readers to know that I heard from the media contact for the folks trying to save Pickfair Studios.  They're very happy with the coverage, and wanted me to encourage you to contact the West Hollywood City Council and CIM Group to let them know you want Hollywood history to be preserved.  I KNOW WE HAVE MANY INTERNATIONAL READERS, AND I ENCOURAGE THEM TO MAKE THEIR FEELINGS KNOWN.  THIS AFFECTS THE INTERNATIONAL MOVIE COMMUNITY, NOT JUST US LOCALS.


As fans of Spaghetti Westerns know, Almeria, Spain (not Italy) was the center of production for sagebrush sagas in the 1960s and 1970s.  To recognize that region’s importance to film history, as part of its Almeria, land of Cinema project, the City Council of Almeria is inaugurating a ‘Walk of Stars’ outside of the Cervantes Theatre.  And the first star to be honored will be Eduardo Fajardo.  

Not a household name in the United States, Fajardo is one of the great suave villains of the Euro-Western, usually playing an evil or corrupt authority figure.  He was the despicable Major Jackson in DJANGO, the Colonel in COMPANEROS, General Huerta in DON’T TURN THE OTHER CHEEK, and General Duarte in BAD MAN’S RIVER.  He was a favorite of director Sergio Corbucci, for whom he did five movies. 

The event will be held at 6:00 p.m. on Friday April 13, when the actor will place the first star, with his name inscribed in bronze.



My personal favorite of the ‘War Effort Westerns’,  Tuesday at 2 pm Eastern time, Roy battles Nazi saboteurs in KING OF THE COWBOYS (1943), directed by the great Joe Kane.


On Wednesday, April 4th, the Cinemateque at the Aero in Santa Monica will show Robert Altman’s MCCABE & MRS. MILLER, starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. 


As they do on the first Saturday of every month, the Autry Center will show a free (with Museum admission) Gene Autry double feature in the Imagination Gallery’s Western Legacy Theater.  This time it’s BACK IN THE SADDLE (1941 Republic) and HILLS OF UTAH (1951 Columbia).  The movies start at noon. 


April 8th and 9th, the New Beverly Cinema will play a great pair of Siegel/Eastwood collaborations: COOGAN’S BLUFF and TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA.  Listen for the excellent but rarely heard Morricone score in the latter!



One of a dozen or so Zane Grey novel adaptations that Paramount turned out in the 1930s, DRIFT FENCE (1936) is well done, and the DVD from Finders Keepers Video is particularly handsome, taken from a print with few scratches, no noticeable splices, and a complete range of greys.  Though presented as starring Buster Crabbe, he’s actually the second lead, and a villain at that – a nice novelty for an actor who was almost always the hero.  And for those of us who have been numbed by watching the virtually indistinguishable Billy The Kid films Crabbe made for PRC soon after, it’s nice to see him given a chance to act. 

The star of the tale in Tom Keene, westerner friend of wealthy dude Benny Baker.  When Baker’s dad wants him to go west and take over the family’s ranch, he convinces Tom Keene to take his place, and Keene is soon up to his neck in rustlers, led by Stanley Andrews and his henchman, Slinger Dunn (Crabbe).  There’s a nice mix of humor and the stoicism Grey’s stories were known for, and an interesting cast.  The lady in the story is Katherine DeMille, C.B.’s adopted daughter.  There’s a nice bit with Walter Long, one of the screen’s great heavies, from BIRTH OF A NATION to Laurel and Hardy comedies.  One young, handsome cowboy is Glenn Erickson, who later changed his first name to Leif.  And speaking of changing names, star Keene, perhaps wanting to shed his B-western association, changed his name in 1944 to Richard Powers, and had a busy action career for another fifteen years.  Like all the Finders Keepers Videos, this one is $7.00  


Colonel Tim McCoy’s best pictures were behind him by the time he got to PRC, but that’s not to say there is nothing to recommend TEXAS RENEGADES.  It has an amusing premise: the folks of Rawhide are tiring of cattle rustling, and Nora Lane sends for Marshall ‘Silent’ Tim Smith to take the situation in hand.  Tim is on his way, and sees another man mistaken for him and gunned down.  Tim plants his own i.d. on the dead man, and uses a known outlaw’s named to infiltrate the gang – where he is asked to impersonate himself!  Tim has to cope with people who know who he and those who don’t, with the outlaw gang and a pack of vigilantes – who are secretly being run by the same leader. 

While it’s a big step down from the Colonel’s Columbia Pictures days, it has its moments, and it doesn’t look as impoverished as most PRC westerns – at times there are a dozen men on horses in the frame.  And there’s a nice cattle stampede through the town.  I wonder what bigger-budget movie it originally came from.  It’s directed by Sam Newfield, the first of fourteen movies he directed in 1940, and is a step above his rather low standards.  This title was long unavailable, and the film print it’s taken from is filled with vertical black-line scratches throughout, but the grey-range of the print is very good.  It’s not great, but as a fan of the Colonel, I consider it well worth seeing.   Happily, a year later, after seven PRC pics Tim moved to Monogram for his last western series, THE ROUGH RIDERS, teaming him with Buck Jones and Raymond Hatton, the best work he did after leaving Columbia.  This one is $7 from Finders Keepers Classics.  You can find them HERE. 

That’s going to have to do until next week, when I should have a review of the New Zealand western GOOD FOR NOTHING, and part two of my interview with Andrew J. Fenady.  Until then…

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright April 2012 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. Hollywood is a funny place. They want everyone to still think of them as the movie capitol of the world, but they do little about preserving any of the past that has to do with the film industry and its history.