Given that major movies in America’s cinema history have been made in Culver Studios, grande dame of all studio lots, where legendary actors and directors dazzled, ghost sightings are part of the ambience.
Spectral presences, seen or heard since Thomas H. Ince (1882-1924) founded Culver Studios in 1918, are friendly, Steve Auer, current operations manager said during a recent walking tour as part of a Women in Film charity croquet match.
Auer recounts one vignette: A secretary was working late alone in “The Mansion,” a white 1918 Colonial Revival 15,000 square foot office building; the first structure on 14 acres west of Los Angeles. She entered a ladies room stall. The room door opened. She heard hand washing. The water went off. The outer door closed. Up and down the hall, she saw nothing. When she examined the basin, it was completely dry, Auer said.
Studio founder Ince died a mysterious death after leaving a party on publisher William Randolph Hearst’s yacht, triggering sensational speculation. The steel walk-in safe where he stored stacks of cash remains in his office, built as if inside an ancient ship’s galley.
Culver Studios are still going strong, with movie, television and commercial products in production on its 13 sound stages, and 50,000 square feet of office space.
The climactic “burning of Atlanta” scene in Gone With the Wind, Robert DeNiro’s Raging Bull, Michael Jackson music videos, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, financier Howard Hughes’ productions, Cecil B. DeMille epics and ET — were all filmed here as well as television shows with Alfred Hitchcock, Desilu Productions (I Love Lucy), The Dick Van Dyke Show plus current programs.
A tiny bungalow nestled near the Miami set, is where political patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy romanced actress Gloria Swanson in the 1930s while both were married to others. Kennedy owned a share of the studio during its many years of being bought and sold.
Across the street is the chic six story Culver Hotel, one of the most glamorous, elegant boutique hotels I have seen in my years of travel. “A glorious time-capsule of the 1920s” wrote one visitor.
Munchkins from the movie Wizard of Oz stayed here while filming, said manager Steve Horowitz. Visitors also report seeing friendly apparitions of real estate magnate Harry H. Culver (1880-1946).
From the hotel outdoor patio you can watch extras line up hoping for studio jobs, or imagine you and David O. Selznick discussing your role. It’s Hollywood!
The 40,000 population town is charming: full of bungalows and fun non-chain shops. It’s a great day trip out of LA.