This photograph captures a scene from a movie being filmed at Gaston Méliès Movie Studio in Santa Paula in the early-1900s. Gaston Méliès was the brother of famed French film director Georges Méliès (“A Trip to the Moon”, “The Impossible Voyage”). Gaston formed the American branch of the Star Film Company in New York in 1902, and after a brief stint in San Antonio, Texas, he moved the studio to Santa Paula in 1911. 

The studio had actors Edith Storey, Francis Ford, and William Clifford under contract, but used many locals to give the films a more genuine feel. Gaston made at least 13 one-reelers and two-reelers in the Santa Pula-area, put his trademark on them, and send them off to his son in New York to peddle them to the nickelodeons. The one-reelers ran about 15 minutes each and most of them would have played in the local movie houses. The first two films shot at Sulphur Mountain were “The Great Heart of the West” and “The Gringo Strikes.” The company only stayed in Santa Paula for about a year, but soon other producers moved into town.

When Warner Bros. decided to get into film production, they chose Santa Paula to be the site of their first movie, which was called “Passions Inherited” (1916). Santa Paula later became the location for such films as Howard Hughes’ “Hells Angels” (1930) and “It’s A Small World” (1950). The prom queen scene in “Carrie” (1976) was shot at the Santa Paula High School gymnasium.

Present day, the Gatson Méliès Movie Studio is now the Santa Paula Theater Company.

Identifier: gp209. Unknown, “Gaston Melies Movie Studio,” Research Library at The Museum of Ventura County.

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