The following was written by John Gregory, Special to The Outlook
Imagine owning a huge yard with landscape and construction specialists who can create a bridge on which lovers dance and sing, an oak forest for vehicles to crash into, space for a huge Easter egg roll, a couple hundred children painting and sketching, and enough room to roam for ostriches, a zebra, a giraffe and baby elephants.
These are examples what the 200 acres of the Huntington Library have done for 64 motion pictures and 28 television series since it began catering to film shoots 42 years ago. The Huntington has become the most active film location in the San Gabriel Valley, surpassing the Los Angeles County Arboretum, Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge and the now-defunct Busch Gardens in Pasadena.
Combine the Huntington’s Hollywood output with other locations in San Marino and this city of only 13,000 residents can lay claim to 81 celluloid shoots dating back to 1911, when pioneer Director D.W. Griffith filmed the western “Madame Rex” in its entirety at the Old Mill. Florence La Badie starred and Mary Pickford wrote the screenplay.
Twenty years passed before film crews graced San Marino again. Mary Astor starred in the 1931 black-and-white romantic comedy “Smart Woman.” Astor’s character discovers that her husband has a mistress and she figures two can play at that game. Eight years later, Cary Grant, Carole Lombard and Charles Coburn filmed “In Name Only,” in which a loveless marriage sends a wealthy man into the arms of a young widow.
“Smart Woman” and “In Name Only” are among nine motion pictures in which the specific locations of their San Marino scenes were not recorded in the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), the most comprehensive source for movie productions in the United States. Film producers do not always specify where scenes were filmed.
Scenes from the acclaimed “Watch on the Rhine” (1943) were shot somewhere in San Marino. Nominated for an Academy Award as best picture, it starred Bette Davis and Paul Lukas, who won an Oscar for his performance. Screenwriter Dashiell Hammett also took home an Oscar.
Four San Marino homes have hosted motion picture shoots. Scenes were filmed in 1968 at 1155 Oak Grove Ave. for the musical “Funny Girl,” nominated for best film; Barbra Streisand won a best-actress Oscar. At 1125 Oak Ave., Meryl Streep and Bruce Willis shot scenes for “Death Becomes Her” in 1992. “The Holiday” (2006), with Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, spent time at 1883 Orlando Road. At 2250 Montecito Drive, scenes were shot for “Into the Night” (1985) with Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Lacy Park has attracted three motion pictures: “One Hour Photo” (2002), with Robin Williams; “Monster-in-Law,” starring Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda (2005); and “Nothing in Los Angeles,” with Alexander Tovar (2013).
At Southwestern Academy, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton sat on a veranda for “The Sandpiper,” a 1965 film remembered for its award-winning theme song, “The Shadow of Your Smile.”
The Huntington has shouldered the remainder of San Marino’s film shooting load.
Eight of the 28 television series at the Huntington aired last century: two Star Trek series (“Deep Space Nine” and “Next Generation”), two daytime soaps (“Days of our Lives” and “General Hospital”), a western (“Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman”), “Fantasy Island” and two murder-oriented series (“Murder, She Wrote” and “Matlock”).
Two TV series spanned the 20th and 21st centuries: the courtroom-based “JAG” and “24” with Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer. In one of two “24” episodes, a Huntington building served as the back entrance to the U.S. Capitol for a presidential swearing-in ceremony.
This century, the Huntington has been used for scenes in “NCIS,” “Criminal Minds,” “Mad Men,” “Parks and Recreation,” the three “CSI” series (Las Vegas, New York and Miami), “Good Girls Revolt” and “Scandal.” For “NCIS,” the Huntington was turned into two East Coast scenes: a U.S. president’s reception and, in a later episode, the Virginia backwoods where Gibbs and company conduct a murder investigation. For “Parks and Recreation,” we see Segways speeding downhill from the Huntington’s North Vista and, in another episode, horseback riders passing by the Conservatory.
The producers of “Parks and Rec” have filmed several scenes this year for a new TV comedy series, “The Good News Place,” starring Ted Danson and Kristen Bell, the voice of Anna in “Frozen.” It debuts this fall.
There have been 64 motion pictures shot at the Huntington, including “Indecent Proposal” (1993), “Charlie’s Angels” (2000), “The Wedding Planner” (2001), “Memoirs of a Geisha” (2005), “Bridesmaids” (2011) and “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011).
But let’s focus on several scenes in other films that show the breadth and uniqueness of what can be recorded here, as described by Dinah LeHoven, who oversees filming on the property:
1974: “Mame,” a musical whose lead stars, Lucille Ball and Robert “The Music Man” Preston, dance and sing their way over the bridge in the Japanese Garden. This was the first film shot at the Huntington.
1979: “Scavenger Hunt,” Richard Benjamin and Cloris Leachman. Cars screech through Euston Gate and up Library Road, while a taxi crashes into a fake oak tree in the Huntington’s forest. The cast chases an ostrich through the gardens.
1988: “Coming to America,” Eddie Murphy and James Earl Jones. While the two sit and argue, we see a live giraffe, zebra and baby elephants lingering behind them in the Palm Garden.
2003: “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde,” Reese Witherspoon. The Huntington’s Mausoleum became a dog park. For Witherspoon’s wedding at the Rose Garden, the crew built scaffolding stretching the length of the nearby Herb Garden, where cannons shot biodegradable, freeze-dried silk flowers during the ceremony.
2003: “Anger Management,” Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson. It took three weeks to build the set of a Buddhist monastery on a mound in the lily pond.
2004: “The Girl Next Door,” Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert. The crew built a Cambodian village near the lily ponds and populated it with chickens and goats. The Huntington’s main gate was dressed up as the entrance to Georgetown University.
2006: “The Good German,” George Clooney and Beau Bridges. Among the World War II vintage scenes was an officers’ party held inside the Art Gallery. The gallery is normally off-limits for film shoots, though it was under re-construction at that time and closed to the public.
2007: “National Treasure 2,” Nicholas Cage and Diane Kruger. A large group of kids scrambled to win an Easter egg roll on the lawn in front of “the White House,” the image of which was superimposed on an enormous cloth screen.
2010: “Little Fockers” with Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Robert De Niro. The cast spent 2½ months at the Rose Garden — building, filming and dismantling a dream sequence for Wilson’s character. Nearly 200 children became background-painting artists, half of whom required tents for school lessons they otherwise would have missed. Cars carrying all crew members were parked each day at Santa Anita Race Track’s parking lot.
Fortunately for visitors, the Huntington is large enough that they can stroll elsewhere on the property during a complex film shoot.
John Gregory curated an exhibit titled “Hollywood Comes to Pasadena” at the Pasadena Museum of History. He is past president of the Pasadena City College Foundation.