Santa Cruz County History - Films

Full Text Newspaper ArticleSanta Cruz Evening News. June 6, 1923. p. 3


by Preston Sawyer

Some very interesting sidelights on the intricacies of movie making--from an angle that is seldom considered by the fan public, were given me by Rudolph, better known as "Rudie," Bylek, technical director with the Famous Players-Lasky Company. We talked on several occasions, while work was going forward on the production of "Salomy Jane" in the Boulder Creek country, recently.

With the story at present in process of completion in the laboratories and cutting rooms of the Company's studio in Hollywood, I am now at liberty to release many interesting facts as divulged to me.

To just what ends technical men must go in their quest for correct atmosphere, natural surroundings and fidelity to detail were graphically told by "Rudie," who is a most interesting speaker. Following is an account of how Madison Clay's (Charles Ogle's) cabin was conceived on the Longley Ranch beyond Boulder Creek on the Big Basin Road. To use his own words:

"From Poverty Flat Mr. Melford (the director) and I drove up about three miles on the Basin Road, crossing several bridges. After much bumping around we arrived outside a broken down fence, thickly overgrown with underbrush, in which we found a hole just big enough to let a man go through. After some struggle crossing a washout about fifty feet wide, full of bottomless mud, with a mountain brook bubbling through, we gained admission to a clearing of most striking beauty. All around were clusters of beautiful redwoods backed up by the bluish gray hills of the canyons. We found three old shacks, left overs of a lumber camp built about thirty years ago but now so shaky that the next good storm would surely have broken them down. This location was picked for Madison Clay's and Salomy Jane's farm.

"The same afternoon, I brought out our company electrician (because much work on this set was to be taken at night), and then the trouble started. He claimed that if he left his power wagons outside on the road, he would lose too much juice or voltage owing to the distance it would have to be carried. So my problem was first of all to provide for a way for the power wagons to come closer to the scene of action where they were needed. Fourteen tons was heaviest and eight tons the lightest truck, besides all the heavy ten-ton trucks for equipment and lights. Here is where my long experience in Switzerland as an assistant engineer came in handy; for all claimed it was impossible to get them inside. However, in two days a bridge was finished, made out of fourteen-inch logs, old planks, and filling in. One team of horses and six men were all I could spare for this job, but we did it.

"Next we had to plough and use the Fresno for another half day to cut down the elevation from the bridge to the road after clearing out the omnipresent underbrush and corduroying the whole road with split saplings so the heavy traffic would not sink into the soft ground.

"During the same time I was building the bridge I staked out the farm location, had the old lumber shacks torn down, and when the first load of logs arrived we set to work using them up as fast as fresh loads were brought in. My little crew of ten studio carpenters was an eager band, in developing the picturesque log cabin.

"In just a week we were shooting scenes on this location, with three heavy power wagons, all the trucks and passengers [...illegible...] on the ground working--and complimenting me on what we had accomplished in so short a time.

"An old-timer in the neighborhood expressed himself, 'By gad, last week I was chasing a cow over that there pasture and today I would swear that this here farm has been here since my grandfather's days!'

"I invited him for a closer inspection, thinking he might give me some valuable suggestions, but all he did was rave about the completeness of the place. He wanted to buy it with all four cows, three calves, two heavy team horses, two saddle horses, two pigs, a black cat and a little yellow dog. Even the old wood pile, and trash pile, the old open barn for hay and horses, built also of redwood logs, a typical ancient heavy farm wagon and old-fashioned buggy, as well as a '49 specimen bull wagon. Then next to the historical grindstone a trusty axe was left nosing in a log beside the sawhorse, as if it had just been used that morning by old man Clay himself.

"A picturesque rail fence of redwood saplings keeping the stock together in the backyard, was connected up with the fence that surrounded the front garden in which were carefully arranged beds of flowers, not to mention vegetables. Rustic benches were on the front porch, cowhides nailed up to dry on the log walls of the cabin. The massive cobblestone chimney expelled clouds of smoke to order--just as if busy hands inside were preparing a tempting meal for hungry farmers. A worn-out road led by the house through the barnyard to another bridge that we built over a small ravine where a mountain stream cascaded down to meet Boulder Creek.

"This is Madison Clay's farm as I visualized it when I read Bret Harte's 'Salomy Jane,' and as I painted it out of real materials, to be reproduced on the silver screen, historically correct, for the edification of audiences all over the country. I can see them sit back in comfort and enjoy and criticise our efforts, little realizing the tremendous task a technical director faces when he is sent out by his company to get IT ready in five days so I can shoot it tomorrow--."

Copyrighted by the Santa Cruz County Sentinel. Reproduced by permission.