Hollywood in Oceanside

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The popular drama “Animal Kingdom” will soon finish filming its sixth and final season in Oceanside. But did you know that Oceanside has been a popular site for film and television studios for over 100 years? For almost as long as Hollywood has been making movies, Oceanside has been a film locale and our hotels used to house cast, director and crew.

Filming Animal Kingdom in Oceanside; Photo courtesy Zach Cordner/The Osider  

For decades our locals have played extras while Hollywood has used our beaches, Mission San Luis Rey and other landmarks as backdrops. Oceanside has also been a getaway for movie stars and entertainers. 

Many of the earliest movies filmed in and around Oceanside have not survived, but some still exist to this day. The following is a list of some (not all) of early as well as contemporary movies and television episodes that have been filmed in our City.

Director Cecil B. De Mille

Beginning in 1914, the Laskey Feature Film Company stopped in town with film director Cecile B. De Mille. Noted as the “founding father of the American cinema” De Mille made 70 films between 1914 and 1958, and it is noteworthy that one of his first was filmed partly in Oceanside. De Mille, a registered guest at the Oceanside Beach Hotel, was here to film David Belasco’s drama, “The Rose of the Rancho” featuring scenes from the Mission San Luis Rey and Pala.

The Beach Hotel (aka El San Luis Rey) along North Pacific Street

The Beach Hotel where De Mille frequented several times, was located at Third (Pier View Way) and Pacific Streets. This three-story hotel opened in 1904 and was originally named the “El San Luis Rey Hotel” after the Mission San Luis Rey. (It was reported that the fireplace mantle in the lobby was made from “one of the original timbers from the ruins of San Luis Rey bought from Father O’Keefe for ten dollars.”) The Beach Hotel was often used for a variety of film crews and actors over the years.

Another view of the Hotel where many crews and stars stayed while filming.

In 1917 the Signal Film Company used the San Luis Rey River Bridge for the scene of a “thrilling wreck”. Directed by J. P. McGowan, “The Lost Express,” took advantage of the old cement bridge over the San Luis Rey River which had washed away in the Flood of 1916. The film company ran a 1913 Studebaker off the north approach. The Oceanside Blade described the scene in which the two stars put themselves in danger:  “When the car started it was occupied by Miss Helen Holmes and Eddie Hearn, and driven by a dummie chauffeur.  In leaving the car, Eddie Hearn had a narrow squeak from taking a tumble himself.  The auto jumped in the air then made two complete somersaults and landed on the wheels right side up, without puncturing a single tire.” After filming the film company donated the wrecked car to local resident Brownie Dodge of the Oceanside Garage.

The San Luis Rey Bridge was destroyed in the Flood of 1916. Filmmakers took advantage of the wreckage for a thrilling scene.

In November of 1918 the Blanche Sweet Film Company shot scenes of a war film entitled, “The Unpardonable Sin”.  One scene included an automobile wreck at South Oceanside, but most of the action involved chasing after “German spies” on the coast highway south of Carlsbad.

In 1922 Warner Bros. Studio filmed stunts from the “tops of moving trains and bridges”. While filming these daring scenes the movie cast and crew stayed at Oceanside’s Beach Hotel.

In July of 1922 the Cosmopolitan Picture Company established headquarters at Oceanside for the filming of Peter B. Kyne’s story, “The Pride of Palomar.”  Scenes from the Santa Margarita rancho, San Luis Rey Mission, Rancho Guajome and Oceanside were used.  The film company registered at the Beach Hotel. 

Rancho Guajome where the “Pride of Palomar” was filmed.

Universal Pictures filmed scenes for a western, “The Love Brand” on the Rancho Santa Margarita in 1923 and it was noted that it featured a cattle roundup and “real buckaroo work”.  The film starred Roy Stewart who played “Don Jose O’Neil”.

Cattle roundup on the Rancho Santa Margarita

The local newspaper noted that Stewart, a San Diego native and an expert horseman. “spent much of his time on the famous Santa Marguerite (sic) rancho, one of the biggest and most famous in the West. After the style of vaqueros of the Southwestern cattle country, Stewart acquired a taste for beautiful saddles and bridles and eventually procured one of the finest looking outfits in the country. He utilized this equipment for the first time before the camera in “The Love Brand” his latest starring vehicle for Universal. The saddle is silver mounted, carved in a beautiful Spanish design, and the bridle is also extravagantly, though beautifully, decorated with silver. The outfit is very valuable, but Stewart never figures its value in dollars and cents. He wouldn’t part with it at any price. Stewart rides his own horse, a beautiful thoroughbred, in the play and other principals in the cast also ride horses from his famous stables, although dozens of horses were available for “atmospheric players” at the Santa Margarita rancho.”

Roy Stewart

When the film was released, it played at Oceanside’s Elysium Theater in November of that year and the theater owner noted in his weekly newspaper ad that the movie was locally filmed. It was a crowd favorite and Oceanside residents never tired of seeing the local landscape and notable landmarks on the screen.

Hollywood’s most famous silent movie stars and notable couple, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, were frequent guests to Oceanside.  In June of 1923 Fairbanks and Pickford established a beach camp used by other film notables throughout that summer as well.  Fairbanks reported that it was his “sixth season here and that Oceanside has undoubtedly the finest beach in California.” The June 21, 1923 Blade reported:  “Among the guests of the tent colony of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford on the beach during the past week has been Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. of New York. 

The Tiffany Company of the Bud Borsky Productions filmed a 1927 production on the ship “George Billings”. The boat was owned by local Harry Brodie. It was used to take groups out to sea to fish but for its Hollywood debut the boat was fitted with a new “suit of sails”. The cast included Montagu Love, Dorothy Sebastian, and Ray Haller and they along with the film crew stayed in Oceanside. The film was released as “The Haunted Ship” based on a story White and Yellow written by Jack London. 

The “fishing boat” that was used for the movie “The Haunted Ship”

Many Oceanside residents became movie extras in the spring of 1936 while shooting for the picture, “Vigilantes,” by the Republic Production company, with the Mission San Luis Rey used as a background.  The plot “centered on early California history … when the Fathers were having a struggle to keep the missions free from corruption, and invasion by the Indians”.  Many local residents appeared in the picture, including well known resident Bill Lawrence.  The film was released with a new title “The Vigilantes Are Coming” and was a serial with 12 parts, many of which feature the Mission San Luis Rey, its bell tower and interior. The film’s star was Robert Livingston who played a masked vigilante “The Eagle” and was a precursor to the more widely known “Lone Ranger” with his mask and white horse.

In 1942 comedian Bob Hope and members of his comedy troupe visited the 101 Cafe:  “Herb Evers, of the 101 Cafe, at Hill and Wisconsin, says that he can’t get ahead of Comedian Bob Hope in wise cracks, but that Bob admitted Evers could prepare a better steak than he could.  Hope and other members of the radio troupe stopped in the 101 this week for dinner and all ordered steaks.  For a while the 101 was a regular radio show, while the troupe enjoyed their steak dinner.”

In 1949 “Sands of Iwo Jima” starring John Wayne was filmed at Camp Pendleton, and for which Wayne received his first Academy Award nomination. Other war films including “Flying Leathernecks”, “The Outsider”, “Battle Cry” and “Retreat, Hell!” were filmed at Camp Pendleton.

John Wayne, Cast and crew of Sands of Iwo Jima with Camp Pendleton Marines

In 1951 Oceanside children were the “stars” in the “Kidnapper’s Foil”. This short film was just one of hundreds made by Melton Barker between the 1930s and 1970s. Barker traveled across the country hawking his vanity film projects in small towns. Each film would include hometown children as actors. Barker was paid by parents in exchange for the privilege of their child to appear.  

The plot of each short film was repeated in each film: “A young girl is kidnapped from her birthday party and rescued by a search party of local kids. The relieved neighbors celebrated with a party where youngsters would display their musical talents.” The finished film would be shown on hometown theater screens to the delight of the children and their families.

Actual ad that ran in the Oceanside Blade Tribune

In July of 1951, Melton Barker ran in an advertisement in the Oceanside Blade Tribune in which the headline read: “OCEANSIDE CHILDREN WILL STAR IN MOVIES”.  The ad text provided the details: “Melton Barker will arrive in Oceanside to produce a two-reel comedy, according to an announcement by the manager of the Crest theater. The picture will be made In Oceanside using local children as well as children from surrounding territory in the cast After the cast has been selected, there will be two or three days of rehearsals, teaching them to act before the sound camera. There will be a small charge for this training. However, there will be no charge for registering or tryouts. Children between the ages of three to 14, wishing to try for parts, must register at the Crest Theater at once. When the casting director arrives in town, he will get In touch with those who have registered and arrange for tryouts.”

This ad (with the word kidnapper misspelled each time) ran in the Oceanside Blade Tribune for the film’s screening.

The film featuring the Oceanside children was shown at the Crest Theater after the movie “Angels in the Outfield” in October of 1951.

The Mission San Luis Rey was used for a backdrop in the popular “Zorro” television series starring Guy Williams .  An episode entitled “Zorro Rides to the Mission” aired on October 24, 1957 and featured the cemetery gate of the Mission with the skull and crossbones. Some have attributed this to Walt Disney Productions, but this element of the cemetery gate predates the Zorro series.

Cemetery gate of the Mission San Luis Rey with skull and cross bones circa 1938

Again in 1962 the Mission was the location for another television series: “Have Gun – Will Travel”. In Season 6, episode 10 “A Miracle for St. Francis” aired with the lead character Paladin, played by Richard Boone in search of a rare brandy and the Padre in search of a rare statue.

In 1972 “Baby Blue Marine” starring Jan Michael Vincent was filmed at the barracks in the 13 Area of Camp Pendleton. The Aaron Spelling/Leonard Goldberg production for Columbia Pictures told the little known story of the Marine Corps’ “washouts and misfits” and the title refers to the blue suits they were issued to go home in.

“Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” a movie that is just as bad as it sounds, was filmed in Oceanside and San Diego in 1978. Although a very broad and silly “horror” film, a very serious and near-deadly helicopter crash occurred during filming.  While filming at the Wackerman ranch off North River Road, a helicopter piloted by Thomas Watts with two actors, George Wilson and Jack Riley, crash landed and burst into flames. All three men escaped without serious injury but the crash captured on cameras was incorporated into the film.

In 1984 filming began on Camp Pendleton’s beach for a television miniseries based on James A. Michner’s fictional account of the American space program, which covered the years after World War II to the Apollo moon landings. Despite the crowds enjoying a summer day, the film crew captured footage of vintage planes in flight simulating air combat.

Filming of the television miniseries “Space” at Camp Pendleton

In 1985 filming began of what would become a box office blockbuster and when it was released on May 12, 1986 the film launched Tom Cruise to super stardom. “Top Gun” was shot on location at Miramar, San Diego and Oceanside.  The “Top Gun” house at the corner of Seagaze and Pacific streets was featured as the home of Cruise’s love interest, played by Kelly McGillis. 

Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise in Oceanside filming in 1985.

Scenes in this popular movie featured Cruise on his motorcycle racing Oceanside’s beautiful palm-lined Pacific Street, overlooking the ocean.  Today, the newly restored house has been moved just one block north and sits between two new resort hotels.

Newly restored “Top Gun” House. Historically it is the Graves house, built in 1887. Photo courtesy John Daley

Beginning in the summer of 1986, Heartbreak Ridge was filmed at Camp Talega, Chappo Flats and Mainside at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton starring Clint Eastwood. Camp Pendleton Marines were used as extras. A barroom brawl scene was filmed at Carl’s Tavern in Vista. While the film was initially supported by the Marine Corps, it was not without controversy with its loose story line and the way Marines were portrayed as “undisciplined.” Still when it was released in December of 1986, it drew crowds of local moviegoers to Oceanside’s Mann’s theater.

Oceanside’s Mann Theater. “Heartbreak Ridge” opening day with local Marines and residents in line to view.

In January of 1995 “The Women of Spring Break”, a television movie starring Shelly Long and Mel Harris aired on CBS.  Much of the movie was filmed at Oceanside’s beach and pier with the characters staying at Oceanside’s Mira Mar Motor Inn, which had long seen better days. The made-for-TV movie was later renamed “Welcome to Paradise”.

In 2004 “Veronica Mars” starring Kristen Bell aired on the UPN television network. Many of the series’ scenes were filmed at Stu Segall Productions in San Diego, California and most of the scenes featuring “Neptune High” were filmed in Oceanside. The director liked that it was “a seaside town that still feels like middle-class people live there.” The setting of Neptune High, which was featured in the first two seasons, was also located at Oceanside High School, which was paid $7,750 for the use of the campus and extras.

Kristen Bell played Veronica Mars. Oceanside High School was featured as “Neptune High”

“To Save a Life” was filmed in 2009 and released the following year. Featuring a large cast of locals, it was filmed at various North County locations including Oceanside High School, MiraCosta College and Eternal Hills Memorial Park.   

Scenes of the popular 2010 cheerleading movie, “Bring It On” starring Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union were filmed at the Oceanside Amphitheater.  It was so popular it became a franchise with a series of sequels.

Screen shot of the movie “Bring It On!” at the Oceanside Bandshell

Pop star Katy Perry filmed her music video “Part of Me” at Camp Pendleton. The video was shot over three days in February of 2012 and scenes were filmed at Red Beach and Camp Horno.  The video depicted Perry as a Marine training with male Marines. Today this is now reality with female Marines training alongside Marines at the School of Infantry starting in 2018, for decades only training men.

TNT’s Animal Kingdom followed the fictional Cody family and their exploits while living in Oceanside. Viewers around the world see some of Oceanside’s best assets, the Pier, Harbor and Strand. Filming has been done in over 70 locations in our City including the Real Surf Shop and Surf Bowl on Coast Highway. Character Daren Cody’s fictional bar has been a popular location at 314 Wisconsin, as well as a beach cottage on the South Strand where character “Baz” lived with his girlfriend.

314 Wisconsin Ave was a popular locale for the Animal Kingdom series. Photo courtesy Zach Cordner/The Osider  

While Oceanside has been the backdrop for Hollywood for years, the Oceanside International Film Festival was established in 2009 to provide an opportunity for independent filmmakers to have their work screened and considered for wider distribution. Many local filmmakers, along with those from around the world, converge on Oceanside to show their films each year.

No doubt our City will “star” in another cinematic feature soon. It’s still as thrilling to see Oceanside through the lens of a camera as it was in the early days of film.

Al Capone and the Rancho Santa Margarita

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In late January of 1931, newspapers across the United States published stories with a similar rumor:  That famed gangster Al “Scarface” Capone was bringing his mobsters to Southern California along with plans to purchase the Rancho Santa Margarita. The Los Angeles Times reported that if taken over by Capone, the vast property could be “fortified into an estate defying entrance, with a boat landing where liquor could be landed at will, defying Federal forces.”

Al Capone both terrified and captivated the Nation with his crimes and exploits. Two years prior Capone’s men were responsible for the deadly St. Valentine’s Day Massacre which killed seven men. Although he was not at the scene of the murders, it was believed he ordered it. He was then given the status of “Public Enemy Number One.”

Al “Scarface” Capone

The little town of Oceanside had a population of just 3,500 people. Residents enjoyed a quiet relationship with the owners of the Rancho Santa Margarita. The cattle ranch employed a number of locals and area farmers leased land to grow crops, including lima beans, sugar beets and alfalfa. This would seemingly come to a halt should the Rancho be under the control of the most infamous gangster in America.

Fred Jones was just one of many who farmed on the Rancho

Los Angeles law enforcement revealed that among various gangsters in the Southland included Frankie Foster, Baldy Nevins, Louis Frank, Bill Bailey and a brother of Ralph Sheldon. The men were said to be “all known hoodlums from the ranks of the gangster army.”

Charles S. Hardy, the general manager of the Rancho bordering Oceanside to the north, refuted the claims that Capone was buying the vast property. The Oceanside Blade published his statement: “We have had no call from agents relative to the sale of the rancho for some time,” said Hardy, “I am positive that neither Capone nor any of his men nor anyone representing him has ever made any overtures to purchase the holdings. I doubt very much that any of the Chicago gangsters ever heard of the ranch, much less started an attempt to purchase it.”

The Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores once belonged to Pio Pico, last Governor of Alta California under Mexican rule. Pico sold his interest to his brother-in-law, John Forster. After Forster’s death in 1882, the property was sold to Comstock silver magnate James C. Flood, who hired cattle rancher Richard O’Neill as manager. Some years after the death of James Flood, Richard O’Neill was given half ownership of the land, 133,440 acres. O’Neill gave his interest in the Rancho to his son Jerome. When Jerome O’Neill died in 1926, the rancho was inherited by his descendants who later hired Hardy to help manage it.

Pio Pico

While Hardy’s statement sought to dispel the rumor of Capone’s interest in the Rancho, law enforcement was in fact “on the trail of men described as gangsters” who were associated with a series of recent crimes in Southern California.  The Oceanside Blade newspaper reported that the suspects were believed to be members of the Sheldon gang, a notorious bootlegging gang in Chicago affiliated with Al Capone.  

Despite Hardy’s denials, The Los Angeles Times reported “Heads of a local real estate firm are said to have reported three men representing themselves as agents of Capone recently offered $200,000 for an option on the ranch, which has an 18-mile ocean frontage and attempted to rush the deal before authorities could prevent it.” In another article, it was said that the men had a certified check ready to remit as a down payment.

Law enforcement believed a smuggling ring was particularly interested in the historic rancho because of the extensive ocean frontage it provided.  “Long miles of unguarded coast line and Southern California’s easy accessibility to the Mexican border” were attractive to the “racketeers” and had in fact been used by smugglers and bootleggers for many years.

With the onset of Prohibition, boats were often used to transport alcohol that was smuggled from Mexico. The open coastline north of Oceanside was a perfect place to land small boats, and bootleggers made extensive use of the lonely beaches in landing their cargoes. Oceanside Police and other law enforcement were kept busy chasing bootleggers and confiscating liquor.

While authorities downplayed the Capone story near Oceanside, Southern California residents may have been surprised to hear that police admitted that “75 percent of the Hollywood speakeasies [were] under the control of a Chicago gang.” Bootleggers were assigned territories and promised protection as long as they agreed to purchase liquor from the gang. This takeover was described as an “octopus” with strength and muscle to control the area.   The Times also reported that an “influx of Chicago, Detroit, New York, St. Louis and Kansas City gangsters” were an indication that Southern California would soon be a “smugglers’ paradise.”

Whether or not Capone was in the State of California, just two months earlier, Capone was blamed for what was called the “grape juice war” with California grape growers.  It was alleged that Capone warned Fruit Industries, Ltd. to stop selling and distributing juice concentrate in Chicago, which could later be turned into wine and therefore compete with Capone’s illegal liquor sales. The Sacramento Bee reported that Capone had threatened that if sales were attempted against his orders that someone was “going to be bumped off”.

In Washington D.C. an elected official seeking legislation against Capone commented, “When Al Capone can go from Chicago to California and threaten the life of a man who is selling grape juice, something must be done.” Even the Federal Bureau of Investigation monitored the “grape juice war” and is included in the FBI files on Al Capone.

Los Angeles newspaper reporters claimed that they went to a ranch outside Los Angeles to an undisclosed location to speak directly to a man who identified himself as Al Capone (who told them not to divulge the ranch’s location). During the interview Capone denied involvement in the grape juice wars and instead blamed it on the New York mob.

Where was this ranch where Capone was residing in 1930? It may have been in Lancaster, California.  Just days after the news that Al Capone had made an offer on the Rancho Santa Margarita, newspapers reported that there was a mob hideout in Lancaster, about 75 miles north of Los Angeles where bombs and weapons had been found. (It was later rumored but never substantiated that Capone also had a house in Fontana.)

Oceanside residents were rightfully concerned. What would happen if Capone took control of the Santa Margarita? Would local farmers lose access to their crops? Would gangsters seek control over the tiny beach town? Would access via the state highway through the Rancho be hindered? It was a lonely stretch of road that was even lonelier at nightfall.

The road from Oceanside through Ranch Santa Margarita

Fears of the Rancho being taken over by gangsters subsided in February, when Capone was found guilty in Federal Court on a contempt of court charge and was sentenced to a brief stint in the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois.

However, in June of 1931, Homer Croy, a writer from Hollywood, resurrected the story in an article that he wrote for Liberty Magazine. The two page article declared that Al Capone had in fact “acquired a domain in California about two thirds as large as the state of Rhode Island, 35 miles from end to end and with many miles of seacoast.”  A photo of Capone, along with a map of the Rancho Santa Margarita, was included.

Croy wrote that Capone would be well suited to Rancho life and that “horseback riding will do him good, for Al is getting overweight” and added, “Don Alfonso Capone can live on his hacienda, sit in his patio, and smoke and talk to his friends to his heart’s content about real estate.”

The Oceanside Blade Tribune suggested that Croy’s piece was fiction and “some good publicity” as the map provided in the article showed the San Luis Rey Mission and Oceanside’s proximity to the famed rancho.

And while Homer Croy’s article was written either tongue in cheek or for pure sensationalism, it didn’t matter. Liberty magazine boasted a readership of over 2 million, and was sold from coast to coast. The story of Capone purchasing the historic ranch once again attracted national attention and was front page news.

Charles Hardy once again went on the defensive, vehemently denying that the Chicago crime czar had purchased the property.

Whether Al Capone really attempted to purchase the Rancho Santa Margarita is unknown. But if so, Capone would never have a chance to pursue or close the deal. Just days after the Liberty Magazine story was published and circulated, Al Capone pled guilty to tax evasion and prohibition charges under the assumption he would serve a light sentence as before. But on October 17, 1931, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax evasion and he would eventually be sent to Alcatraz. It was the end of his life of crime but he would long reign as America’s most notorious criminal.  

Oceanside residents breathed a collective sigh of relief and a sense of normalcy settled back in. Little would change until a decade later when the historic Rancho became the largest military base in the country, training Marines for World War II.