CIFF festival-dates

The Ist Coronado Island Film Festival will be held from January 15 – 18, 2016 in Coronado California. This Film Festival has been a long time in the planning, something I remember talking to its founder Doug St. Denis about doing at her dining room table back in 2012. After all, there is no lack of film festivals around the country, but why not here? Before Palm Springs, Coronado was Hollywood’s playground, and remained so through the 1940s. And filmmaking in Coronado had its own rich history.  Allan Dwan, then of the American Film Co. began shooting short films in Coronado in 1912, and by 1915 was working for Paramount Pictures directing America’s sweetheart Mary Pickford for a Coronado shoot of A Girl from Yesterday.  America’s heart-throb  Rudolph Valentino had his first starring role in The  Married Virgin , made in 1918 with scenes shot on the Coronado beach and the Hotel del Coronado. In 1915 Siegmund Lubin opened up a short-lived Southern California branch of his Lubin Studios in Coronado, which cranked out 2 and 3 reelers. And with the opening of Coronado’s  North Island Naval Aviation Base/Rockwell Field in 1917, a series of aviation pictures were made there, starting with The Flying Fleet in 1929 starring Ramon Navarro and Anita Page, the latter taking up residence in Coronado.

CIFF Leonard-Maltin

Leonard Maltin will be serving as Honorary Jury President for the Coronado Island Film Festival (CIFF) which opens Friday January 15th with a screening of  Disney’s The Finest Hours. The film, directed by Craig Gillespie, stars Chris Pine, Casey Affleck and Ben Foster in the true story of the greatest small-boat rescue in Coast Guard history.  The closing evening will feature the awards contender 45 Years, which stars actress and one-time super-model Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay as a married couple who experience relationship issues leading up to their 45th wedding anniversary.

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“Their Finest Hour,” Walt Disney Pictures

A Meet the Producers panel will be led by Lisa Bruce, producer of  the Oscar winning The Theory of Everything, and a Meet the Critics Breakfast and Panel Discussion led by renowned film critic and author Leonard Maltin.

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Lisa Bruce, Producer of “Theory of Everything” and former Coronado resident

Enjoy an informal breakfast and find out what critics actually look for when reviewing  movies. Leonard Maltin is also known in the film industry as the consummate authority on animation and its history. His book on the subject, Of Mice and Magic: a History of American Animated Cartoons, has been called “The Old Testament of Animation.” He will be leading a panel discussion on this subject.

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CIFF’s other highlights include a special bonfire and evening screening of the iconic 1958 movie Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis,  shown on the beach in front of the Hotel del Coronado where parts of the movie was filmed. Separately, Chris Lemmon, son of Jack Lemmon, will give a special performance called A Twist of Lemmon, playing a Steinway piano, telling stories of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and and showing photos and home movies on the screen. Dive Bomber will also be shown, along with special guests Rory Flynn, Errol Flynn’s daughter and Sean Flynn, his grandson, Sean is an  actor in his own right. Rory Flynn will share her reminiscences  of her father. and will have copies of her book, The Baron of Mulholland, for sale.

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Dive Bomber with Errol Flynn at right and Fred MacMurray at left, filmed at North Island Naval Base Coronado


The Greyhound bus where the Freedom Riders rode while challenging segregated restaurants was set on fire

The Coronado Island Film Festival will continue through the Martin Luther King Day holiday on January 18, and as a special tribute will feature Emmy-Award winner Laurens Grant, with a screening of two of her award-winning documentaries: Jessie Owens and the gripping Freedom Riders. Ms. Grant will be in attandance for a question and answer session following each screening. The Film Festival has many outstanding documentaries in its lineup, with several up for awards. The Head Juror for Documentaries is Ira Wohl, Oscar-winner for Best Boy.

CIFF Occupation-Dreamland

Another special documentary screening will be Occupation Dreamland, co-directed by Coronado’s own Garrett Scott, with Ian Olds, a documentary about US soldiers in Falluja, Iraq, which won awards at Full Frame and Independent Spirit. Just as this filmmaking star was beginning to rise, Scott died suddenly of a heart attack in 2005 at age 37. Coronado Island Film Festival has named their Garrett Scott Documentary Film Awards in his memory. Ian Olds will be on hand to introduce the film.

Peter O'Toole The Stunt Man

The Stunt Man, 1980, with many scenes filmed at the Hotel del Coronado will also be featured. This brilliant, quirky film starring Peter O’Toole, Barbara Hershey and Steve Railsback was the film Peter O’Toole said was his best movie.  Written, produced and directed by Richard Rush, the film garnered three Oscar nominations, including best Director for Richard Rush. Rush, now in his 80s, will be with at the festival to introduce the film and conduct a Q and A afterwards.


CIFF DoubleFeature

Unique back-to-back award-winning documentaries featuring two political icons of the same era, Senator Barry Goldwater and California Governor Pat Brown, as seen through the eyes of their granddaughters will also be shown.  Goldwater on Goldwater, produced by Coronado-raised Tani Cohen, featuring CC Goldwater, granddaughter of Sen. Goldwater, and California State of Mind: the Legacy of Pat Brown, as seen through the eyes of his granddaughter, award-winning filmmaker Sascha Rice, whose family lives in Coronado. Meet the granddaughters and the makers of these two documentary films.

Another unique documentary is Wampler’s Ascent, a heart-stopping film about Coronado’s own Steve Wampler, who was born with Cerebral Palsy, and his astonishing climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan. Directed by Elizabeth Wampler,produced and edited by Coronado’s Jacques Spitzer. A true triumph of the human spirit. The Wamplers and Spitzer will be on hand for a Q and A.

Daydream Hotel is the world premiere of a feature film produced by the widely-recognized Coronado School of the Arts, and written and directed by filmmaker and CoSA instructor Tony Perri. Filmed on location at the Hotel del Coronado, the first movie to be made there since Steve Martin’s My Blue Heaven in 1990. Look for local Coronado talent, including an appearance by Andre Zotoff, real-life Vice President and General Manager of the Hotel del Coronado, who plays the part of the Daydream Hotel General Manager.


Exhibit: Filmed in Coronado. In the Coronado Library Gallery. A special exhibit of original studio photographs,  posters, and memorabilia of Coronado’s 100-plus years of moviemaking history, curated by author, collector and film historian Christian Esquevin, who is also Director of the Coronado Library and a CIFF Board member. Several films with scenes shot in Coronado will also be screened, including, The Married Virgin, The Flying Fleet, Devil Dogs of the Air, Coronado, and Wings of Eagles.

The Coronado Island  Film Festival is led by Co-executive directors Doug St Denis and Andy Friedenberg, with Mary Sykes as CIFF Board President. The Board has much talent and dedication and great sponsors, donors and volunteers. A receptive audience to appreciate the work of the submitted films is what is needed now.

See more about the Coronado Island Film Festival, including parties and event passes at:

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MGM facade

The 1974 film That’s Entertainment, was a surprise hit for MGM, placing in the top 20  movies of the year and resulting in a sequel in 1976. The movie showed clips of the studio’s library of great musicals, narrated by its former stars.: Fred Astaire; Gene Kelly; Elizabeth Taylor; and Frank Sinatra, among others, and were filmed as they walked through the old standing sets of the back lots 3 through 6. In 1974 these back lot standing sets looked forlorn and worn down. Fred Astaire began the documentary at the train station on lot 2, where years earlier he had sung the first song in Band Wagon. He walked in front of a train wagon that was falling apartBing Crosby narrates a visit to the English lake and its Waterloo bridge that he describes as looking “scruffy.” Donald O’Connor introduces the Esther Williams movies by visiting the outdoor pool that had been built just for her films. The whole area looked looked like some of our Southern California foreclosed properties of late.

The 1970s were not good years for MGM. Losses from declining revenues led to a corporate take-over by Kirk Kerkorian in 1969. He had little interest in movie-making, Kirkorian was mostly interested in using the MGM name for his hotel development in Las Vegas and other locations. Kirkorian installed James Aubrey as his hatchet man.  A large staff-cut was Aubrey’s first move, with several film projects cancelled. Next was the  famous (or infamous) 1970 MGM auction held over eighteen days of the studio’s collection of 12,000 props and rolling stock, even including its paddle steamboat, as well as some 350,000 costumes and “star wardrobe.” The year after That’s Entertainment was made, all of the lots with the standing sets were sold for residential development, thus all traces of them are gone today.

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The old entrance to the M-G-M Studio

With its patriarch Louis B. Mayer long gone, apparently the only persons that thought the back lots should be preserved for posterity, as a museum  or attraction park, was Debbie Reynolds, and Robert Nudelman of the Hollywood Heritage organization. Debbie had tried to buy them for that purpose (no doubt at an affordable rate) but was unsuccessful. A virtual tour of some of the standing sets through M-G-M’s Golden Age follows.

MGM lot sign (1)

The classic era M-G-M studio had several lots. Lot number 1 where all the offices and major buildings were located was bordered by Washington Street, Culver Blvd. Overland Avenue, and Madison Blvd. While most of the lot had been taken over by sound stages and various buildings by the 1930s, part of the lot still had exterior standing sets through the 1950s. That lot is now occupied by the Sony Studios.

Lot 1 also had standing sets, these changed over time, some having been there since the days when it was the Thomas Ince studio and then the Goldwyn Studio. The M-G-M standing sets were on the Overland Avenue side of the lot. This area even included a concrete lined “lake” and the waterfront town as can be seen below.

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The European town waterfront above could be changed with its storefronts reconfigured and re-painted as-needed for each movie. It extended its length and was known as “Waterfront Street.”


The more wild appearance of the lake or lagoon above was used for jungle-like settings, including for filming parts of Tarzan the Ape Man. Lot 1 also had standing sets replicating haciendas, medieval France, and New York City.

Moving over to Lot 2 across Overland Avenue, the lot was mostly used for standing sets, although various storage facilities were scattered throughout the lot.  The New England town of the Andy Hardy movies was there, and the “Small Town Square”  used in movies as diverse as Raintree County and The Philadelphia Story, not to mention The Twilight Zone, and there was also  the “Grand Central Station.” used in various films.  The “Waterloo Bridge” seen in That’s Entertainment, was also in lot 2, used in its prime for movies like The Divorcee in 1930, The Three Musketeers in 1948, Little Women in 1949, and  Royal Wedding in 1951.

Nearby is “Quality Street,” which was used for a variety of medieval and 18th century European towns.

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Quality Street was one of the old standing sets, originally built for Marion Davies’ starring vehicle Quality Street, from 1927, which William Randolph Hearst and his production company Cosmopolitan Pictures produced for her at M-G-M. It was also used for filming the 1948 production of The Three Musketeers.


Quality Street was also redecorated as an English Street for the Jeanette MacDonald film, Smiling Through from 1941, as seen above.

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A continent away in architecture and theme but adjacent on the lot was a Chinese set used for The Good Earth in 1937. The castle wall and entry was used and re-used for a variety of films set in different countries and eras. It may have been originally built for the first Ben Hur in 1925.

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The mansion-looking set above was used for several movies but looked different for each. In two it was an academic building, having been built, apparently, as a “girl’s school” for Forty Little Mothers in 1940, where the structure had a bell tower. It featured notably in Tea and Sympathy with Deborah Kerr and John Kerr in 1956. The structure as it looks above was used for The Cobweb, where it was a psychiatric clinic. This 1955 movie starred Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Charles Boyer, and John Kerr.

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The New York Street on Lot 2 was a larger set than a similar set on Lot 1. It had nearly ten acres of sets and could serve for a variety of urban settings.  Many movies were filmed there, starting with Wife vs Secretary in 1936others including Words and Music, Band Wagon, Singing in the Rain, and many more were also filmed on these sets.


The photo above shows the suspended electrical power lines feeding into the various sets. The framing supports behind the façades can also be  seen.

We take the tram down Overland to Lot 3 at Overland and Jefferson. This more remote lot (or so it was in the 1930s and 40s), allowed for some expansive outdoor sets.


One of the most famous “neighborhoods” on Lot 2 was the “St Louis Street,” named for Meet Me in St. Louis starring Judy Garland and directed by Vincent Minnelli. It was built expressly for the latter film at Minnelli’s direction. Minnelli can be seen directing the scene on the boom above.

The outdoor set below is the New England street and set for the Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney. It became known as the “Andy Hardy Street.”


The first permanent Western Town set on Lot 2 was built for the 1939 film Stand Up and Fight, starring Robert Taylor, Wallace Beery, and Charles Bickford. The standing set is amazingly detailed, especially compared to the western sets of the films from the 1970s- on and the spaghetti westerns.


Above is the Adam & Thomas McGara Store set from Stand Up and Fight.


Above is the General Store in the center of the photo with the Drug Store to the left.


The “Bullet Stage Yard” is in the foreground above with a view to Dan Rock’s Restaurant and Saloon.

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Dan Rock’s Restaurant & Saloon is seen above with its hitching posts for horses and teams.

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The house above was the attorney’s home on the set – note the partial front on the neighboring house, but the carefully built picket fence and shutters.


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Note all the paraphernalia at the Hardware Store.

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A proper town needed its Sheriff, and the town of Cumberland had theirs as seen above.

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Luggage is part of the set dressing at the “Bullet Stage Line.”

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The teams and wagons are part of the set at the Bullet Yard

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The Blacksmith’s shop looks like it’s ready to take on any work

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A porch on Cumberland Street opposite the Restaurant & Saloon

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The Church is our last stop as we leave the wild west for other locales.

Lot 3 also had another lake and waterfront, seen below in this Port scene from some unknown film.

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More familiar is the “Cotton Blossom” from the movie Show Boat, which M-G-M publicist Lionel Ascher visits below.


The photo below shows the concrete storage sheds for storing MGM nitrate film cans, circa 1936.  Later, M-G-M had an electrical fire in 1967, destroying most of the studio’s cartoons, silent films, and films from the earlier Metro, Goldwyn, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures.


A fly-over Lot 1 shows the classic era M-G-M and the standing sets that existed, with the Thalberg Building at the bottom left.


The corporate history of MGM post-1974 is its own story, but it separated the classic film library and the studio lot from the name. Similar fates had befallen RKO and Columbia. The three-week long auction of the props and costumes is its own fascinating, if sad story, a subject for another post. The destruction of the many standing sets and the sale of the lots was a tragedy to classic movie fans.

For a thorough history of the M-G-M back lots, please read Steven Bingen’s, Stephen Sylvester’s, and Michael Troyan’s M-G-M: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot published in 2011 by Santa Monica Press.