On Location: New book presents a photographic history of filming in Los Angeles

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For nearly four decades Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker has indulged his passion: collecting photographs from location film shoots in Los Angeles dating back to the early 1900s.

Now, he hopes his new book featuring more than 200 vintage images, including Harold Lloyd dangling off the side of a building above 8th and Spring streets in the 1930 film “Feet First,” will remind the film industry of the city’s rich heritage at a time when much of production is migrating elsewhere.


Wanamaker, a film history consultant and former curator of the Hollywood Heritage Museum, has collected about 250,000 still photographs that document the countless hotels, ranches, parks and beaches across Los Angeles that supplied the backdrop for some of Hollywood’s greatest films.

He has published his choicest photographs in the newly released “Location Filming in Los Angeles,” highlighting the diversity of locations that drew filmmakers to Los Angeles as early as 1907, when director Francis Boggs was assigned by a Chicago studio to film some beach scenes for “Monte Cristo.’

There are also pictures of Laurel and Hardy clinging to a beam atop the downtown Western Costume Building on South Broadway in the 1929 movie “Downtown” (and another shot revealing scaffolding just beneath them that shows how the perilous-looking effect was created), Mary Pickford boating on Venice Canal in D.W. Griffith’s 1910 film “Never Again,” Marlon Brando readying for a battle scene in Bronson Canyon in MGM’s “Julius Caesar” (1953), and Judy Garland taking an order at the Top Deck Drive-In at Sunset and Cahuenga boulevards in “A Star is Born” (1954).

Wanamaker, who co-wrote the book with local authors Karie Bible and Harry Medved, said he wanted to use the photos to highlight L.A.’s deep ties to the movie business as film industry promoters and city officials attempt to stem runaway production. This week the nonprofit group FilmL.A. unveiled a new marketing campaign to boost the local film industry.

“It’s really disconcerting with all these films and TV shows leaving Hollywood,’ said Wanamaker, who has served as a history consultant on such films as “Chaplin” and “The Aviator” and most recently the TV series “NCIS: Los Angeles.” “This book is kind of a reminder that location filming really helped build Los Angeles.”

Wanamaker, who was born in Echo Park, developed an early fascination with film location, having worked as a child actor on such TV shows as “Spin and Marty” and “Outer Limits.” His mother was an actress and singer and his uncle was the actor and director Sam Wanamaker.


His interest in photographs was piqued when he worked as a production liaison at the American Film Institute and began building a research library. In 1970 Wanamaker got a call from the head of publicity for Columbia Pictures asking if he wanted to pick up hundreds of boxes of publicity photographs that were about to be discarded because the studio was moving from its old headquarters at Sunset and Gower Street.

To expand his archives he collected more photographs from flea markets, memorabilia stores and the various studios where he worked as a researcher, then spent 2 1/2 years cataloging them for his book.

The collection highlights some of the landmarks and parks that have been featured repeatedly in films over the decades, such as the Bradbury Building on South Broadway (“The White Cliffs of Dover,” “Murder in the First”), Griffith Observatory (“Rebel Without a Cause”) and Venice Pier (Charlie Chaplin’s 1928 film “The Circus”).

“These photographs provide a glimpse into our cultural heritage,’’ he said.

-- Richard Verrier