By Barbara Wingo
I recently visited the Hollywood Heritage Museum, located in the Lasky-DeMille Barn in Hollywood, California. The structure was the location for the making of The Squaw Man (1913), the first feature-length motion picture shot in Hollywood. The motion picture was produced by Jesse L. Lasky and is also notable for being Cecil B. DeMille’s directorial debut. The building itself was part of Paramount Pictures and used for movie production from 1912 to 1979.
There is much that is interesting and valuable at the museum, especially for those interested in the history of silent films. However, before discussing any of the exhibits, I must mention Richard Adkins, Darryl Haase, and Brian Judd , all of whom I was fortunate to meet at the museum. Their knowledge and their willingness to share that knowledge were exemplary. Norman Studios would be honored to work with them in the future.
As to the exhibits, of special note is the recreation of Cecil B. DeMille’s first Hollywood office (1912-1915) in the building. The office was restored with original DeMille items as well as Paramount Studios furniture and artifacts. (It is an inspiration for us to recreate Richard Norman’s office and workshop in the second phase of our museum project.) A special exhibit concerned Theda Bara, featuring items belonging to her as well as Theda Bara memorabilia. A fabulous costume from Cleopatra was on display. It is interesting to note that Bara’s star-making role was in A Fool There Was, filmed in St. Augustine, Florida. Other Theda Bara motion pictures filmed in St. Augustine are The Devil’s Daughter, Her Greatest Love and Heart and Soul.
There were other reminders of the Hollywood-Florida connection. The exhibit on Francis X. Bushman, highlighting his role as Messala in Ben-Hur (1925). reminded me of the films he made in Jacksonville. The exhibit on Rudolph Valentino reminded me of Stolen Moments, which was made in St. Augustine and Savannah, Georgia. And there were Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Oliver “Babe” Hardy began his career with motion pictures made in Jacksonville.
There was much more to see. I especially recommend the exhibit of cameras and projectors. Again, thanks to Messrs. Adkins, Haase, and Judd for their welcome and assistance. And, lastly, is that the Creature from the Black Lagoon (shot in California and Florida) that I see?
Looking for “BROTHERS EQUAL”, a 1916 film shot in Jacksonville, Florida by Thanhouser studio. Anyone?
The Hollywood Heritage Museum was honored to have Barbara Wingo visit our museum. At one of the “Mostly Lost” conventions held at the Library of Congress’ Culpeper, Virginia facility, I was awed by the presentation by Ms. Wingo on the topic of the Norman Studio. You see in Hollywood, there are writer’s buildings still at the historic Ince-DeMille-Pathé-Selznick-RKO-Desilu studio, there are dressing rooms at the Vitagraph studio in East Hollywood, a screening room at the Scientology Studio, and stages at the Fox Studio, but nowhere in Hollywood is there a complete, intact silent studio. So when I learned of the Norman Studio, I realized what a treasure this site is. Not only is it a complete studio, but it is a complete studio known for its films made for the underserved African American audiences during the silent-to-sound period. It was my pleasure to meet Ms. Wingo and a far greater pleasure to have her visit our early barn-turned-to-studio. We shared some “war stories” and marveled at the similarity of our projects and our passions for them. I am so pleased that we will be presenting a Norman Studio Program, February 8th, 2023, at our museum, with Ms. Wingo’s participation, albeit digitially, at our museum. This will only further our coast-to-coast bond. Thank you, Barbara for your dedication and our thematic kinship.