Before the Wind Came

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In writing my most recent Memories post (The SoCal Trip 1975), I was curious about one of the sites we visited on that particular vacation, so I did a little research.

The site was (and is) the Selznick Studio, which is wedged away in a small enclave in Culver City, California. (It still does business but now under the name of the Culver Studios). Formed in 1919 when Thomas Ince broke away from Triangle Pictures (whose other two partners of the troika were D. W. Griffith and Hal Roach), it has changed hands a number of times over the years. After the mysterious death of Mr. Ince in 1924, Cecil B. DeMille moved into the lot. He merged the concern with the Pathe company in 1926, which in turn was acquired by RKO in 1932. Selznick leased the lot from RKO in 1936.

[Check out this history, that chronicles some of the films (and TV shows) done on the lot. Of particular note were the old sets on the lot (i.e. ones for King Kong, etc.) that were torched for the burning of Atlanta sequence for GWTW.]

When doing some research for another project, I came across this brief article in Variety for October 30, 1935 p 7.

Shearer-Garbo in with Selznick-Whitney Prods.

Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo are among those who are reported tied in financially with the new Dave Selznick producing firm in which Jock Whitney is also concerned.

I realized this article heralded the genesis of Selznick’s involvement at the Culver Studio (then RKO). Shearer and Garbo disappear from any connection to Selznick, in so far as any corporate involvement is concerned. He had been pursuing Garbo prior to this for the role that finally went to Bette Davis in “Dark Victory” when the rights were sold to WB. Instead Garbo chose to do “Anna Karenina” as one of Selznick’s last projects as a producer in the employ of MGM. Garbo was close to Shearer and her husband Irving Thalberg, so this conjunction of their names is not unusual. The untimely death of Thalberg the following year and the subsequent turmoil may explain their absence from the concern going forward.

This article also set me off on another “rabbit trail,” in so far GWTW was involved.

The name in the last phrase, Jock Whitney, was completely new to me, and it proved fascinating to learn more about him.

Whitney was the young well-to-do scion of an East Coast family (who inherited 20 million from his father after 1927, and 80 million from his mother after 1944). His full name – John Hay Whitney gave the first clue to his family history. To anyone who has read about Abraham Lincoln, John Hay is a familiar name. He was one of Lincoln’s secretaries during his time in office. Later he was appointed ambassador to London, and later still served as Secretary of State under both McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt. And Jock Whitney is his grandson and namesake. His other grandfather, served as Naval Secretary under Cleveland.

  Whitney graduated from Yale, and was a member of the Scroll & Key secret society while there, (his father also was an alumnus, but a member of the Skull & Crossbones secret society). He started as a clerk in a banking house. But once he came into money, he invested in personal interests. He was a major “angel” for Broadway productions during the 1930s. – “Here Goes the Bride,” “Life with Father,” and “Jumbo.” From there it was short hop to film.

He had been brought into the film business by Merian C. (“King Kong”) Cooper, then a producer and head of production at RKO. By 1933, Jock founded his own production company, Pioneer Films.  And around the same time he acquired a 15% interest in Technicolor. He used the process in making a musical short “La Cucaracha,” and later the first technicolor (three strip process) feature “Becky Sharp.” Pioneer was merged with Selznick Int’l Pictures in 1936, and Whitney ended up as chairman of the board of the new company.

Together on the Culver lot they were responsible for such films as “A Star is Born,” “Nothing Sacred,” “Rebecca,” and “Gone with the Wind.” In fact, it was through Whitney’s direct investment that Selznick acquired the rights to the Margaret Mitchell novel, which laid the foundation for what would be Selznick’s “signature” film.

In the Yale yearbook for 1926, in its write up about Whitney it noted that his future plans looked to an occupation in either the field of literature or diplomacy. Actually he “checked off both boxes.” The thirties and forties mark his time of involvement with literature as literary projects were translated to the stage and to the screen (in the 1940 census he lists himself as an executive in the Motion Picture Industry). He was an Eisenhower supporter in the fifties, and was consequently appointed the US ambassador to London, following in the footsteps of his maternal grandfather.

Re-fighting the Civil War

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We recently took in the Civil War Re-enactors event down at Fort Stevens near Warrenton, OR put on by the Northwest Civil War Council. It is a three day event that is scheduled for the Labor Day weekend each year. We originally attended it several years ago when our kids were high school age.

This time  around we had our #2 grandchild with us. We arrived early (got a parking space right up front) and stayed through the afternoon battle. We did catch both battles during our day there (skirmishes really), one in the morning (the South won), and the other in the afternoon (the North won).

Following are some of our photos – caught by my wife’s sure hand.

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Some celebrities in the mix.

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Then there was the cavalry.

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Where our grandson –

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…lined up on this rider.

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I saw these guys (Louisiana Tiger Zouaves):

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and wanted to follow up on them – an ancestor of mine was a Zouave in a northern unit. Karen got this great shot – 

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All in all a great day a Fort Stevens.

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Rebel Treasure sixteenth post

EXT. MAIL STEAMER, OFF GULF COAST OF PANAMA – DAY
Title: April 1861
Early morning haze rises from the water along the shore, giving the appearance that the land is floating on a low cloud.
Lon paces the foredeck in his U. S. uniform, deep in thought. At Romeo’s approach, he stops his pacing and goes to meet him.

ROMEO
The captain’s steward told me that the mail steamer that passed us yesterday is the one that’ll be taking the gold North.

LON
Good. We’re in time.

INT. SHIPPING OFFICE – CRISTOBAL, PANAMA – DAY
A more than puzzled look greets Lon in the face of the balding, fortyish MR. HARVEY, seated behind a desk piled high with shipping manifests. He looks away from Lon to his SECRETARY who had ushered him in.

MR. HARVEY
(to the Secretary)
What’s the meaning of this interruption? Can’t you see I am busy?

SECRETARY
I believe, your standing order requires me to present immediately anyone sent by Mr. Clay.

MR. HARVEY
(flustered but unrepentent)
Quite right! So you have, now begone!

As the secretary retreats behind the door, Harvey thrusts an open palm out to Lon.

MR. HARVEY (CONT’D)
Your bona fides?

Lon removes a strip of paper from his wallet and passes it to him. Mr. Harvey holds it up to the lamp on his desk, the heat of which causes a message to appear. He grunts in satisfaction.

MR. HARVEY (CONT’D)
And what can I do for you, Mr. Turner?

LON
Some information. Mr. Clay informed me that you would be able to put a ship at my disposal.

MR. HARVEY
You’ll have to make other arrangements, I am afraid.

LON
Sir?

MR. HARVEY
Haven’t you heard the news?
(Lon shakes his head)
Here!

He shoves a newspaper headline at him, it reads:
“The War Begun”

LON
It finally happened! When?

MR. HARVEY
Two weeks ago. Baltimore is in flames. Norfolk is ours. Old Abe is quaking in his boots.

Mr. Harvey’s jubilation sobers as he notices Lon’s downcast demeanor.

MR. HARVEY (CONT’D)
That upsets your plans?

LON
Mine. And those of our fellow Knights. I was charged with scouting out the possibility of seizing a certain shipment before it was delivered to New York.

Mr. Harvey’s gaze wanders to his window and the ship moored to the dock.

MR. HARVEY
Ah! But she is not going to New York! Washington has ordered that the gold be taken to the capital via Annapolis.

LON
Interesting!
(he walks to the window)
I think I’ll ask her captain the favor of transporting me and my servant back to the Academy.
Can you get a message right away to Mr. Clay for me?

Rebel Treasure sixteenth post

[next pt 17]

Fireflies and Ticonderoga

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First you placed two chairs, preferably wooden with high backs, some three to five feet apart, and then stretched between them a blanket or a sheet that you could either secure to the chair seats, or if big enough pull them out as wings forming a larger structure. And thus you had a fort. And there, especially on rainy days, with your toys about you, you entered the joy of an imaginary realm.

But what was better was visiting an actual fort.  

One summer day, Dad loaded us up in the car and we set out westward to Cambridge in Northern New York. My Mom wanted to visit an old classmate from her hometown of Colville, who now lived there with her family.  I remember two things about our stay there. I was fascinated to meet my Mom’s friend, because she told us all ahead of time that her friend had been born a Hanks, the same family related to Abraham Lincoln’s mother. I was a little awed. It was strange to realize that here was someone in the present connected to someone from the past that I had heard about in school.

The other – was my first sighting of fireflies. In the cool of the evening they flitted among the trees at the back of their property.  It was eerie to see them as they moved. Their luminiscence blinking on and off in a totally random fashion, but somehow in a left-hand kind of way revealing an intricate pattern, a choreography of dots to which your mind’s eye supplied the lines.

From there it was on through the countryside and towns named after falls – (but no Bedford Falls and no Jimmy “George Bailey” Stewart), up to Fort Ticonderoga, a stone edifice alongside Lake Champlain. Originally built by the French, it fell to the British in 1759, and to the Americans in 1775.  On this latter occasion its cannons were transferred to Dorchester Heights and were instrumental in breaking the British seige of Boston.

Standing inside, it was difficult to see the beauty of its design. Being limited to the two dimensions of Flatland, you needed to be lifted up to a point above to see the star like configuration. The map helped in that regard. But the mind wandered to other things, like the view from the walls outward from the fort – and in the mind’s eye seeing Hank Fonda (Jimmy Stewart’s good friend) slipping out of a beseiged fort to go for help in the film Drums Along the Mohawk. An imaginary realm you could reach out and touch.

The Second Clue

Second clue Salem paper 1960

North and South. Union and Confederate. Slavery and free.  I knew about these as concepts.
I didn’t know much about the Civil War when it came to the details involved.  Sure I knew about the individuals – Lincoln and Davis, Grant and Lee, etc.; and some of the battles.  But when it came to regiments, brigades and other units with state names and ordinal designations, I was in the dark.
And to discover how E. T. fit into all this, I would need to educate myself.  But where to begin?
I thought I had something when I found an old newspaper clipping in one of my grandfather’s volumes. It was from a Salem MA newspaper, I think from the 1960s. The writer of the article was describing a picture with something to do about the first casualty from Salem in the Civil War.  It gave his name as George A Thompson of Company H.  And he died in the first Battle of Bull Run.  It stated further that our mutual ancestor (Herbert is a distant cousin of mine) served with George and was a prisoner of war.
When I was first looking at this it was 1996 or 1997, so there wasn’t a whole lot of stuff on the Internet.  I had dial up at home, but no graphic interface (I went to the library for that).
So, it appeared that ET was in Company H and a POW.
Where to from here?
Stay tuned.