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CULVER CITY : Society Plans Video History of Local Filmmaking

October 20, 1994|MARY MOORE

When Vivian Leigh met her match--Clark Gable--in "Gone With the Wind," she was nowhere near a plantation in Georgia. Her fits and flirtations were filmed in Culver City.

And that's just one of many notable movies Culver City can claim as home-grown. "Citizen Kane," "King Kong," and portions of Sylvester Stallone's first "Rocky" were also shot there.

Today, as the movie industry's foothold in Culver City continues to loosen, the Culver City Historical Society is attempting to preserve on video the city's history as a company town, filming interviews for what it hopes will be a two-hour documentary: "Reel Life in Culver City."

The project will cost the historical society about $250,000, which the group hopes to raise through donations. The society is currently discussing the project with film and television companies, including the Arts & Entertainment channel, said Hal Horne, the society's president.

In its film, the Historical Society plans to look at Culver City's movie industry through the eyes of the people who worked behind the scenes or played bit roles--drivers, stunt people, artists, cinematographers and extras.

"These are the stories no one has heard, like the stunt man who told us that one time he waited with Greta Garbo in a boat out in the middle of a lake until the weather cleared and they could start shooting," Horne said. "They joked around and swapped stories about their children."

Just weeks before his death earlier this year, former Culver City Mayor Dan Patacchia described his experience on camera of trying to manage the city from 1962 to 1968, when the movie industry still dominated the local culture.

"Milton Berle wanted to bring gambling to the city, but the city didn't want it, so Patacchia told him, 'You may be a funny man, Mr. Berle, but this is no laughing matter,' " Horne said.

Added Ross Hawkins, producer of the project and a Culver City resident: "The movies influenced people on how they dressed, how they smoked, how they talked and probably even who they voted for."

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was the biggest force in the area from 1924 until it sold some of its property to Sony in the late 1980s.

"During the heyday of MGM, all the people who worked on the sets--the craftspeople, the stunt people--everyone lived in Culver City," said Horne.

"It had a direct impact on the economic vitality in the city. You had people who worked at the studio for 40 or 50 years."

One of MGM's longtime employees was the late Ben Carre, who for 35 years designed sets for some of the studio's box office smashes. Among his finest was the backdrop for the 1923 version of "Phantom of the Opera."

"Sometimes, because of weather, they had to finish a location shot in the studio and, if he didn't design the backdrops, they wouldn't have been able to complete the picture," said his wife, Anne Carre, 87.

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