Film In Coronado
CORONADO: A HISTORY OF MOVIE MAKING
As the doors to the Hotel Del were first opening in 1888, the first motion picture camera was patented and “the movies” were born. Early on, a number of moviemakers were drawn to Coronado. Siegmund “Pop” Lubin, a Philadelphia motion picture pioneer, opened a studio and a processing plant in 1915, at Orange and First Avenues, on property leased from the owner of the Del, John D. Spreckels.
The Lubin Coronado Studio was a highlight of the Panama-American Exposition, which celebrated the new Panama Canal as well as the start of the famous Balboa Park. San Diego wanted the world to know that the new passage between the North & South Americans continents was now open and the first U.S. port of call was, of course, San Diego. Lubin was an honored guest at the Expo, showcasing the emerging world-class city of San Diego. The studio’s first production Just Retribution, was hailed as another example of what this area had to offer.
One of the early Coronado films, Tent City, was produced by John D. Spreckels, a true marketing genius. Spreckels instituted a row of tents along the Coronado Beach south of the Del, where a middle class family could enjoy access to the amenities of the elegant hotel for a mere $4 per week, instead of $24 for a room in the hotel. Using the film as a promotional invitation, Spreckels expanded the hotel’s market with moving pictures of sunbathers basking in the beautiful climate of Southern California, children playing in a swimming pool and on a merry-go-round, and happy vacationers sailing on the Bay and out into the Pacific. Other movies included the 1902 Belles of the Beach, and the 1902 Ostrich Farm, which features a man walking with the Coronado ostriches.
The first movie that had a story based in Coronado was likely The Maid and the Man. This 1912 society comedy-drama featured the interior and gardens of the Hotel del Coronado. The movies continued with Mary Pickford in The Girl From Yesterday filmed in 1915 by Adolph Zukor, and The Pearl of Paradise, about a shipwreck.
Other films followed including Saved From the Harem, The Scarlet Bracelet, The Dragonman, Meg of the Cliffs, The Vengeance of Cal McCall, The Moment Before Death, The Dusty Gentlemen, A Delayed Reformation, One of the Chosen, Out for the Day, The Law’s Injustice, The Embodied Thought, His Majesty Plays, A Modern Paul, and Faust.
Stars were easily lured to the luxurious accommodations and wonderful climate of Coronado. And the island soon became a popular location for military films because of the North Island military base and the birth of Naval Aviation.
In the earliest days, the Hotel Del welcomed silent screen starts such as Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Al Jolson and Mary Pickford. Later would come Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Bette Davis, Gary Cooper, Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan and many more. In 1939, Errol Flynn filmed Dive Bomber in Coronado, spending his evening bellying up to the bar with the Naval aviators at the North Island Officers Club. Anita Page came to shoot a movie, fell in love with a young naval officer, married him and stayed for the rest of her life.
Generating great excitement in 1958 was the filming at the Del of Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. And then there was Richard Rush’s brilliant The Stunt Man, nominated for three Oscars, starring Peter O’Toole and Barbara Hershey (1979), and Act of Valor (2012), featuring actual Navy SEALs.
In this tradition of stellar movie making, the Coronado Island Film Festival (CIFF) seeks to balance the celebration of seasoned filmmaking excellence with the nurturing of the filmmakers of tomorrow. CIFF is committed to preserving, researching, and supporting this important visual art. With “the education of aspiring filmmakers” as one of its top objectives, CIFF strives to make scholarships and rare mentoring opportunities open to serious students of film at the high school and college levels.
Please join us as we catalog the contributions of the past and showcase quality films in the future.
Photos Courtesy of Coronado Historical Association