The U.S. premiere of Akram Khan’s Until the Lions lands “on location” in the historic Hollywood monument Culver Studios October 18-21, 2017. This groundbreaking engagement marks the first time Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center will present a dance performance at a location outside of our Downtown Los Angeles campus, and it is our first-ever on a soundstage.
A bastion of Hollywood film and television history, The Culver Studios is not open to the public, and no tours are offered. In that sense, this performance is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to step foot on a studio lot steeped in history and to experience a dance piece that transforms a simple soundstage into an immersive experience.
Michael Solomon, vice president of Presentations and Education, says, “Until the Lions provides Angelenos with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience dance in an entirely new way. The Music Center chose to present this engagement at a sound stage because it allowed our team the flexibility to create an environment unique to this production.”
To fully appreciate the “On Location” experience, read below as we take a deep dive into The Culver Studios’ exemplary history.
The History of The Culver Studios
The Culver Studios has had many different names over the years since opening in 1918. RKO, Laird, Howard Hughes, and Desilu studios have all laid their claim on this plot of land in Culver City, seven miles southwest of Hollywood.
If you’re a fan of classic motion pictures, you will immediately recognize the studio’s colonial mansion from the opening credits of David O. Selznick International productions, such as “Gone With the Wind.” The Culver Studios’ recognizable mansion was the first to be erected on the lot when silent movie pioneer, Thomas Ince, began construction in 1918 after he acquired the location from landowner Harry Culver.
The exteriors of most Hollywood studios are notoriously plain and reassemble very large and mostly non-descript buildings. The Culver Studios is the exception to that rule. Its exterior facade on Washinton Boulevard features a grand white colonial “mansion,” which is a virtual copy of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The original studio was named the Thomas H. Ince Studios after its founder. On your way to Until the Lions you will notice that the street running along the east side of the studio is named Ince Boulevard in honor of the studio’s original owner.
After Ince’s suspicious death aboard William Randolph Hearst’s yacht, the studio was purchased by Producer/Director Cecil B. DeMille in 1924.
DeMille ran the renamed “DeMille Studios” lot for two years, during which time he wasted no time in starting several large-scale expansions and renovations. These renovations included the construction of the DeMille theater pictured above and a replica of the streets of Jerusalem for his film The King of Kings (1927).
However, despite a couple of box-office hits, DeMille failed to make the studio financially sustainable. In addition to merging his company with Pathé Exchange Inc., DeMille signed a three-picture deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which left the lot in the control of several companies.
In 1928, RKO acquired Pathé and began to operate the studio lot as a sole owner. However, as RKO already owned a studio lot in nearby Hollywood, it seldom used the space to shoot its own productions and rented out the lot for virtually the entirety of its ownership. One notable exception was the filming of the original King Kong (1933), which was shot on the backlot.
From 1935 to 1946, the site was leased to Selznick International Studios, owned by Director David O. Selznick. Selznick is most notable for directing Gone With The Wind. His company filmed the memorable burning of Atlanta sequence at The Culver Studios on December 10, 1938. The city of “Atlanta” was actually composed of various old sets (including sets from King Kong), which they set ablaze to make room for the construction of the exterior sets of Tara. However, when this sequence was filmed, Scarlett O’Hara had not yet been cast. As Selznick watched “Atlanta” from atop an observation tower, his brother Myron introduced him to Vivien Leigh, with the words: “I’d like you to meet your Scarlett O’Hara.”
In 1940, classic films Orson Wells’ Citizen Kane and Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound were filmed on the lot. During this ‘Selznick’ period, Bette Davis, Robert Mitchum, Cary Grant, and Katharine Hepburn also saw their careers blossom on the Culver Studios Lot. However, some stars decided to stick around. The Culver Studios reports Thomas Ince has haunted the location since the 1940s.
After 1946, RKO-Pathé resumed operation of the site and leased the space to David O. Selznick’s new Vanguard Films Inc., as well as a variety of other independent production companies. Just four years later, multi-millionaire tycoon and movie producer Howard Hughes acquired RKO Pictures and the lot. The company continued to lease out space to production companies until Hughes sold RKO Pictures to General Tire in 1950.
In the deal, Desilu Productions, co-owned by husband and wife Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball (I Love Lucy), purchased the RKO-Pathé lot. This purchase ushered in a time of prosperity for The Culver Studios as a television studio. Desilu Productions renamed the lot Desilu Studios. Television shows filmed during this period include The Untouchables, The Twilight Zone, Lassie, The Andy Griffith Show, Hogan’s Heroes, Batman, and even the Star Trek original pilot episode.
During this time, the so-called “Back Forty” backlot at The Culver Studios provided the backdrop for many television shows broadcast during the 1960s, including The Andy Griffith Show, Star Trek ,and Bonanza. The land was initially leased from landowner Harry Culver during Cecil B. DeMille’s tenure. The 28.5-acre backlot was used to build full-scale outdoor sets. In 1968, the studio was purchased by Perfect Film, and the backlot was sold off. Today, the land it once occupied is just a few blocks down from the studios and serves as an office park.
In 1970, Desilu Studios was renamed The Culver City Studios. The studio changed hands quite a bit it was acquired by Sony in 1991. During this period of unrest, many classic films graced its stages including Rocky, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, RoboCop, Beetlejuice, A Few Good Men and many more. Although, nowadays the studio is owned by a private investment group, Hackman Capital Partners (HCP). The company is committed to maintaining the colonial mansion and the stages, in addition to renovating the studio to bring it to the modern era of filmmaking.
A Tour of Present Day Culver Studios:
In more recent decades, The Culver Studios has again become the setting for movies including The Matrix, Argo, Legally Blonde, Night at the Museum, Alice in Wonderland and I Am Legend, while providing a home to popular television shows such as Arrested Development and Cougar Town.
In addition to the 13 stages, The Culver Studios has on-site offices, a Cecil B. DeMille screening theatre, a recently renovated commissary and a fitness facility. The Mansion House still stands with administrators occupying the original offices of Ince, Cecil B. DeMille and David O. Selznick.
Interestingly, the lot retains a collection of four bungalows dating back to the 1920s and 1930s. These have been occupied by some of the brightest writers, directors and actors in Hollywood History. Alfred Hitchcock used one as his office for years. Another bungalow was used as a residential space for Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh during the filming of Gone With the Wind. Other bungalows have been connected to Olivia de Havilland, Lucille Ball, Gloria Swanson and Orson Welles.