While we credit David Wark Griffith with creating the visual language of filmmaking in America – the father of Hollywood as a cultural force, a purveyor of dreams, a life style – is Cecil B. De Mille (August 12, 1881 – January 21, 1959).
In the teens De Mille came West with his friend and colleague from Broadway, Jesse Lasky. They rented a barn… and put on a show.
The Squaw Man:
At the time Hollywood was sleepy town of unpaved roads bounded by orange groves and scrubby hills. Cecil B. wore jodhpurs, knee high boots, and a sidearm to work to protect him from rattlesnakes and the enforcers of Edison’s east coast film trust.The Trust was a syndicate that levied a fee for every foot of film shot in exchange for distribution. Happily Hollywood was far, far, away from the establishment of the east – and an industry took off.
Between 1913 and 1920 (by which time he was earning $260,000 a year), Cecil B. De Mille served as Champion Driver in the establishment of Hollywood as a subculture of Southern California and as a place of national significance. In each aspect of his personal style – his directorial costume, his military campaign demeanor on the set, his mansion in the Laughlin Park area of Hollywood on a street later named De Mille Drive, his ranch hideaway, Paradise, where De Mille provided his guests brightly colored Russian silk blouses, and cummerbunds as mandatory dinner wear – Cecil B. De Mille created a reputation which became a legend and a legend which in turn became a founding myth. Like Griffith, De Mille maintained a troupe–Gloria Swanson, Ina Claire, Ramon Novarro, Wallace Beery, Mervyn LeRoy, Walt Disney–became themselves legends; others – opera diva Geraldine Farrar, most notably – came to De Mille with existing reputations. Cameraman Alvin Wyckoff worked closely with De Mille in much the same way as Billy Bitzer served Griffith. For years Anne Bauchens cut and edited all of CB’s films. William Churchill, CB’s brother, directed a staff of six scenarists who were constantly churning out scripts. One of them was Jeannie Macpherson, an astonishingly beautiful ex-actress who, like Anita Loos and Elinor Glyn, was destined to exert significant influence on the story content of the Hollywood cinema. Cecil and William invented the concept of in-house writing, carried on with team precision, a major premise of the studio system.
By Kevin Starr in “Inventing the Dream, California through the Progressive Era” (part of a definitive series of books on California History: “Americans and the California Dream”).
Here we have William, Cecil, and Jeannie working at lunch:
Decades later we have Oscar winning Anne Bauchens with Charlton Heston and Cecil B. receiving an ACE Achievement award during the time she was editing “The Ten Commandments”:
And, because he was known for his flamboyant style and costume epics (please note, Mr. De Mille is still in character and still in his costume some forty years after he established “the look”) – at any rate, here we have Cecil B. and Ezzrett “Sugarfoot” Anderson on set: