Friday, May 13, 2011

Hollywood at Sea

The Hollywood Navy (Part One)
First printed as the cover story in the Compass Rose, Vol. 6 No. 2 Spring 1987. The complete story will be posted in two parts.

When the motion picture industry moved its theater of operations from New York to Hollywood early in this century, the studios almost immediately enlisted this harbor as a permanent prop, as well as venerable sailing vessels, the Bark ALDEN BESSE and Barkentine FREMONT, by 1908. These veterans are followed in later years by an assortment of square-riggers and schooners, purchased outright or chartered for countless epics involving the sea. Among these numerous sailing fleet are recalled: INDIANA, MELROSE, BOHEMIA, IRENE, LLEWELLYN J. MORSE, PALMYRA, LILY, WILLIAM H. HARRIMAN, W.F. JEWETT, SAMAR, S.N. CASTLE. LOTTIE CARSON, METHA NELSON, not to mention numerous smaller craft and occasional steamers, engaged for a single picture.

Some ships were altered in appearance for the sake of authenticity and others brought from far afield, such as the Gloucester fishing schooner ORETHA F. SPINNEY from the East Coast for filing the Academy Award winner “Captain’s Courageous”, one of the truly classic examples of sea films.

With the advent of TV more than thirty years ago, Hollywood invaded the American home on a nightly basis. Nor does the public love affair with the film capital’s aura end there, judging by the number of visitor inquiries regarding the Los Angeles Maritime Museum’s “Hollywood Navy” collection.

In general, men seem intrigued by the different types of ships but most women and youngsters readily identify with any model bearing movie credentials. “Hollywood Navy” originally was the title of a photographic exhibit that Ed Hauck, our founding creator, had at one time aboard the old ferryboat, SIERRA NEVADA, at Ports O’Call. It featured photos of some of the motion picture industry’s top stars and directors of the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s at leisure aboard their yachts…
Depicted herewith are a few of the many vessels employed in one or more motion picture productions in Southern California waters. Most of these were moored in San Pedro or Long beach between pictures. The first vessels secured for this work were the venerable Barkentine FREMONT (1) and Bark ALDEN BESSE (2) circa 1905-1910. Subsequently the three-masted schooner LOTTIE CARSON (3). The first HMAV BOUNTY replica (4) was created from two-masted schooner LILY. CHERYLANN (5) Preston Foster’s tug in WATERFRONT was a unit of the Wilmington Transportation Co. fleet. The Gloucester fishing schooner ORETHA SPINNEY (6) was brought out here to become the WE’RE HERE in the first film adaptation of CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS. The mini “steam schooner” VAQUERO (7), a motor vessel built to carry cattle to and from Santa Rosa Island often earned extra movie money. The 4 masted schooner IRENE (8) was one of several such employed off and on. Some were destroyed for the finale, others became fishing barges.

"The Hollywood Navy", an article by long-time Museum volunteer Marian Skidmore was presented on the front cover of the Spring 1987 issue of The Compass Rose, a newsletter of the Friends of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, published between 1981 and 1996. Note that the original article was printed 24 years ago, reflecting the historic nature of dates, names of movies stars and motion pictures of the day.

Explanation of terms used:
Compass Rose:
A term used in navigation, it refers to … see prior blog post, “Jack London in Southern California” for explanation.

theater of operations
The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 1966, p. 1470 is quoted here: "part of the theater of war, including a combat zone and a communications zone, that is engaged in military operations and their support."

The Oxford Dictionary of Ships and the Sea, 2005 (OUP), p. 553, is quoted: "square rig, a term that refers to the use of square-cornered sails, usually rectangular, set from horizontl spars or yards, balanced across the mast."

The International Maritime Dictionary by Rene de Kerchove, 1961 (Litton), p 687 is quoted here: "schooner. A fore-and-aft rigged vessel with 2 to 6 masts, common in the coasting and fishing trades."

a four-masted schooner is shown in this photograph from the Papers of William Olesen.

Hollywood Navy:
This week's post features Marian Skidmore’s article and her references to ships in the Los Angeles Harbor and ship models donated to the Museum. More on the movie Captain's Courageous can be seen at Wikipedia’s entry, “Captain's Courageous”.

Books in the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library are available for borrowing by Museum members. See books in collection in our online catalog.

More new book titles in the Library can be viewed in the Library at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum or online at
New books and pamphlet this month!