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New book shows Montecito mansions once were a featured backdrop to many motion pictures

MONTECITO, Calif. - Mansions in Montecito most people never saw in person were once on the big screen in motion pictures from the early days of movies. That was more than 100 years ago.

They are featured in a just-released book by Santa Barbara author Betsy J. Green, called "Movies & Million-Dollar Mansions."

It was a COVID-19 project. Staying in forced her to finish this project, a 250-page hardcover book with 450 photos.

Green said more than 20 movie studios came to the mansions and estates of Montecito to film more than 60 silent movies.

Most of the locations do not exist anymore.

This all took place before the golden years of Hollywood became established. Back then, film companies like Santa Barbara's Flying A studio had full production calendars with local sites as the primary locations.

Green said "some of the mansions were huge and the estates and formal gardens could be like ancient Rome or France in the time of Louis the XIV (14th)."

Green said "and I was finding more and more material and then I was surprised to find that almost half of the movies filmed there (Montecito) and there were about 65 were companies from Hollywood that came up here."

The Santa Barbara/Montecito area was viewed as welcoming to the film industry and crews from Hollywood. Green says her research showed some companies working in San Diego County back then were rejected, including by some churches.

The industry also eased its way into various topics to make sure the films had a turnout.

"Doing a religious movie meant you were serious and it also meant you had a guaranteed audience of churches and other social organizations," said Green.

Some of the buildings where the movies were made decades ago, have since been demolished, remodeled or rebuilt.

Green said of the remaining ones, others are hard to recognize.  "The estates are usually not as big as they used to be so the entrance used to be over there and now it is over here," she said. "But there is one place that's still here and that is the All Saints by the Sea Church. There was a movie filmed there it was a Dickens movie called 'The Cricket on the Hearth' and there were some scenes filmed there, right there at the church," she said.

When the movies were shown, there were subtitles or full screen story lines to help the audiences in some cases, and often there was live music.

Green said "and they also had sound effects. Some of the organs had sound effects like a train whistle  'whoo whoo' and things like that."

This book was assembled with hours of research,  and some good luck on the internet.

She said, "one of the nice things about writing about silent movies is a lot of the material is in the public domain because of its age."

Green has a catalog of books on Santa Barbara history. She is currently also working on a book about movies made on the Channel Islands.

For more information go to: Betsy J. Green

Article Topic Follows: News

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John Palminteri

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