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Countdown to 2000: Culture

November 03, 1999

Noaki Schwartz

In the early 1900s, rural Newport Beach must have sparked the

imaginations of Hollywood filmmakers. With the addition of a few props --

farm animals, some costumes and boats -- the city was transformed into

the Wild West, Egypt and even World War II Europe.It all began in the

spring of 1912 when a group of women in peasant dresses and men in knee

breeches emerged from the Balboa Hotel to the confusion of local

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residents. The filming company borrowed two cows from the Irvine Co. and

proceeded to make the movie "The Sands O'Dee."

However, Newport's first major motion picture was shot five years later

-- "Cleopatra." Theda Bara, who portrayed the Egyptian queen, was taken

down Upper Newport Bay (the Nile) followed by 29 ships, each propelled by

60 oarsmen. The battalion met with 700 Roman soldiers who ran down the

west banks of the bay.

It was reported in the Newport News as "the most magnificent and

spectacular scene ever taken on water."

Following this stellar endorsement, other filmmakers flocked to Newport

to shoot movies on the sand dunes and along the coastal plains, as well

as the bay.

As Newport was still a coastal fishing town, local fishermen were a

logical choice when extras were needed for films being shot on the bay.

In this way, Hollywood could save its leading thespians from drowning,

since most early actors couldn't swim.

Throughout the years, Newport continued to be a popular location for

making movies. Notable films included "Treasure Island" (1934), "Captain

Blood" (1935), "The Sheik" (1921) and "All Quiet on the Western Front"

(1930).

Sources:

"Newport Beach: The First Century, 1888-1988," James Felton, Ed., 1988

"A Slice of Orange: The History of Costa Mesa," Edrick J. Miller, 1970.

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