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Letters in VIEW : Uncovering Film History

January 28, 1985

Regarding your article on the excavation of the Egyptian set of the 1923 "Ten Commandments" ("Solving Buried Riddle of a Hollywood Sphinx" by Paul Dean, Jan. 20): It was not the first use of Technicolor. The first Technicolor film, "The Gulf Between," was made in 1917, and the second, "Toll of the Sea" (1922) is currently being restored by the UCLA Film Archives. This, incidentally, was a two-color (red-green) process.

According to a 1939 speech given to the Society of Motion Picture Engineers by Technicolor co-developer Dr. Herbert T. Kalmus, in order to interest Hollywood in the process they approached various companies with the idea of doing selected sequences and (director Cecil B.) DeMille, who had reportedly been unhappy with a process he had been using developed by Alvin Wycoff and Max Handschiegl, which involved adding color to black-and-white prints via a stenciling process, agreed to allow Technicolor cameras to photograph the Exodus with no obligation to pay for the footage if he didn't like it. He did, and not only did this accelerate interest in Technicolor sequences in other films, but DeMille's company, the Famous Players-Lasky unit of Paramount, contracted to do a feature, "The Wanderer of the Wasteland," in the process.

I do not know the source of the claim in the article that the Coliseum for the 1925 "Ben Hur" was built in the Malibu mountains, since most sources claim that it was built in Culver City, somewhere south of the MGM studio, and production stills I have seen seem to reflect that terrain. Another Coliseum set was built in Rome, incidentally, while the company was on location there, but apparently never used.

KIRK MITCHELL

Hollywood

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