Manny P. here…
Santa Catalina has been the location for the filming of over 500 motion pictures, television programs, documentaries, and commercials over the past 90 years. Beginning as early as 1911, and continuing through the Silent Film era and the introduction of sound to cinema, the Island served as location for more than 225 films.
Throughout its history, the Island has been transformed into the coast of North Africa, Tahiti, and even the American frontier. It’s been called the lost continent of Atlantis, and the home of a famous mechanical shark… Jaws. In short, Santa Catalina Island holds a unique place in the history of motion picture productions as Hollywood’s exotic backlot.
During the 16 years of silent film production, many notable directors and actors frequented the Island and produced many classic films, such as Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, Treasure Island, Old Ironsides, and The Black Pirate. D.W. Griffith was one of the first directors on the Island. His feature Man’s Genesis was filmed in 1912. Many of the large studios followed Griffith’s lead and began utilizing the Island as the backdrop of their films. Universal, Lasky Film Corporation, Fox, Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn, and United Artists were among the many companies.
Another interesting and lasting impression of this unique history was the introduction of the North American Bison to the Island. Many believe that the bison were brought to the Island for the production of The Vanishing American, the movie version of Zane Grey’s classic novel, released by the Lasky Film Corporation in 1925. Perhaps the Island scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. However, a herd of the bison has been roaming the hills of Catalina since December of 1924.
Sound to motion pictures ushered in a new era of production for Hollywood and Catalina Island. It continued to be a prime location for many of Hollywood’s best filmmakers. One of the first talkies filmed was Condemned starring Ronald Colman. The following years witnessed Island of Lost Souls, Rain, Treasure Island, Captain Blood, Mutiny on the Bounty, and Captain’s Courageous being shot on the Island. The amount of motion pictures during this period introduced several screen favorites to the immense charms of Catalina.
Many famous actors and celebrities were spotted on the Island and off the coast in their palatial yachts. Each week, Harry Grattan, proprietor of the St. Catherine’s Hotel gift shop, would report his celebrity sightings. Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Betty Grable, Norma Shearer, Irving Thalberg, Richard Arlen, and Johnny Weissmuller were all steady visitors.
JOHN WAYNE JOHNNY WEISSMULLER LAUREL & HARDY HUMPHREY BOGART
The onset of World War II changed life on the Island and in Hollywood significantly. Avalon was closed to tourism and the use of the Island for filming was suspended. After World War II, the film industry’s use of Catalina Island slowly re-emerged. Memorable productions have been filmed at the location over the last fifty years, including The Glass Bottom Boat, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, Apollo 13, Waterworld, MacArthur, and Amistad. Most recently, aerial shots of the Island were featured in Disney’s Pearl Harbor. And, Natalie Wood infamously drowned off its coast.
Santa Catalina awaits the next cast and crew that will add another production to the already long list of memorable movies filmed on her shores.
Until next time> “never forget”