Cecil B. DeMille, a.k.a., Papa Hollywood…

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. DeMille (August 12, 1881 – January 21, 1959).

In the teens DeMille 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 DeMille Drive, his ranch hideaway, Paradise, where DeMille provided his guests brightly colored Russian silk blouses, and cummerbunds as mandatory dinner wear – Cecil B. DeMille created a reputation which became a legend and a legend which in turn became a founding myth. Like Griffith, DeMille 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 DeMille with existing reputations. Cameraman Alvin Wyckoff worked closely with DeMille 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:

demilles-working-lunch-paramount-w-scenario-writer-jeanie-macpherson

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”:

the-ten-commandments-editor-anne-bauchens-recieves-ace-award

And, because he was known for his flamboyant style and costume epics (please note, Mr. DeMille 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:

cecil-with-ezzrett-sugarfoot-anderson-on-set

11 comments

    • Cecil B. actually did call Gloria Swanson “young fellow” and in her memoir she expresses great fondness for him. It speaks to Billy Wilder’s genius that he was able to make their actual relationship mythic. Which is kind of a pompous way of saying, SUNSET BLVD. is one of my favorite movies of all time.

  1. Have you guessed? I am looking at old posts of yours that I missed. I used to go to the old Hollywood Memorial Cemetery when I was in my late teens and visit C.B.’s tomb…and I would sit on Tyrone Power’s….(what would you call it… a bench like monument?) and talk to him. Yikes! What kind of teenager was I? I always thought that they needed to clean up the refection pool at Douglas Fairbanks grave and pull the weeds. Then I would look at the back wall of Paramount and think…Geez they must have just chucked them over the wall when they were done with them.

  2. George Kaplan

    Anyone who would like to know more of this Sacred Monster of Old Hollywood might like to read Simon Louvish’s magisterial biography, it contains a wealth of insight into his work and the contradictions and hypocrisies of his life.

  3. I must have some Cecil in my blood… my dream has always been to refurbish an old theater, with a bar/restaurant attached, and show nothing but classic films – and require all guests to dress in period attire. The bar will serve nothing but vintage cocktails – Manhattans, pink champagne, Old Fashioneds, Side Cars, etc. The restaurant will serve only era-appropriate food. Linen table cloths and napkins, and etched champagne coupes all ’round! The quintessential “dinner and a movie” in classic style. In the restaurant, a big band orchestra will provide dining and dancing music to the tunes by Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and the rest of the best. Sadly, I’ve not yet won the lottery, so that dream is still in the clouds…

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