On the Town with Jason Downs

| Entertainment | February 20, 2020

By Jason Downs

Greetings fellow Santa Claritans and welcome to a column that’s all about having fun around town! We’re fortunate enough to live in one of the great entertainment meccas of the world. Join me as we celebrate all the area has to offer!

Here’s what I got up to this week: The Newhallywood Silent Film Fest at Hart Park and an afternoon with Douglas Fairbanks!

As you know, friends, I’m a sucker for history and nostalgia, especially as it pertains to my favorite of the arts — performance and filmmaking. These two crafts have collided right here in Newhall for a hundred years and to celebrate that fact the City of Santa Clarita, the William S. Hart Museum, and the SCV Historical Society put together a wonderful tribute this weekend.

Not only were silent films shown throughout (with live accompaniment), including Mary Pickford’s “Little Annie Rooney” and Douglas Fairbanks’ “The Mask of Zorro,” but costumes and artifacts from Pickford and Fairbanks films were on display, slapstick acting workshops were given, bus tours were offered, and even a special romantic Valentine’s Dinner with a screening of Fairbanks in “The Black Pirate.” (Incidentally, “The Black Pirate” one of the first films ever to appear in Technicolor, a company which Fairbanks is credited for saving by championing its technology.)


This was a wonderful event and I was thrilled to see so many folks enjoying the Newhallywood festival as much as I did. Attending a jam packed presentation about the life of Douglas Fairbanks led by Tracey Goessel, who recently released a highly researched and lovingly told biography on Fairbanks, was both enlightening and entertaining. It was a privilege to hear the author speak about ‘Doug’ and all she had learned writing her amazing account of the inimitable man’s life. By the end of her presentation the audience couldn’t help but join the Fairbanks fan club, myself included.

Her book is entitled “The First King of Hollywood” and I highly recommend it. I bought a copy and have been reading it all week. Mrs. Goessel’s prowess with a pen, engaging style and infectious admiration for her subject is perfectly suited for the spirit of Douglas Fairbanks who veritably leaps from her prolific pages with the boundless swashbuckling joy the man is so well known for.

This guy was amazing. He not only made some 200 films, but he also co-founded United Artists with wife, Mary Pickford (the biggest star on planet earth at the time), Charlie Chaplin, and D.W. Griffith, but also co-founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and served as its first president, which still brings us the Oscars every year to celebrate achievement in the film industry. Fairbanks served as the ceremony’s first host.

Interestingly, Fairbanks was the first celebrity to move to the wilds of Beverly Hills, at the time a barren wasteland. Soon, he and Mary Pickford’s home, affectionately known as Pickfair, became the hot spot for all of Hollywood royalty…and actual royalty from all over the world. And this was the magic of the silent film era; it truly was a universal language, and Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were the first king and queen to reign supreme the world over; internationally loved by everyone.

Understandable, watching Fairbanks bound about, doing incredible stunts with an infectious smile on his face. He was the original Superman, Spiderman, Robin Hood, Zorro, and Romeo all rolled into one, literally paving the way for all the action stars and superheroes to follow.

For anyone who hasn’t walked through William S. Hart’s incredible home, which has been maintained exactly as he left it when he died, you must make the trip. I see something new every time I go. At one point, I was standing in William S. Hart’s bedroom speaking with Mr. John Smith, docent and sage historian at the Hart Museum, and Tracey Goessel, the biographer I mentioned earlier, about the shared history of these two giants, Fairbanks and Hart, in the early industry. (William S. Hart was asked to be the fifth founder of United Artists but was given an offer by Paramount he couldn’t refuse.) The two were lamenting how a proper biography of Hart was yet to be written. My attempts to give birth to a partnership between Mr. Smith and Mrs. Goessel right then and there by saying, “Hey, you should team up and write it,” may or may not come to fruition but I do believe a proper biography on the original cowboy star will be the result of that meeting someday…from at least one of us!

Such a rich history in film here it makes me proud to live in Santa Clarita. And the Newhallywood Silent Film Festival only made me want to learn more. There’s still so much to explore. Case and point, I mentioned Charlie Chaplin earlier who was one of Douglas Fairbanks closest friends, well, both legendary artists saw the end of an era when Warner came out with “The Jazz Singer” and the advent of ‘talking pictures’ changed the industry (and the stars) forever. Santa Clarita was a part of that too. The last shot of the last successful silent film, “Modern Times,” which was produced, directed, written and starring Mr. Chaplin was filmed on Sierra Highway just outside of Newhall. Symbolic of all this area offered to the silent era and all it continues to offer in ‘modern times.’ I, for one, with the help of these great pioneers in film, will honor the passage of time and revel in the gift they’ve given us.

So, there it is for this week, friends. Always feel free to let me know what you like doing around town so I can check it out and write it up. (reachjasondowns@santaclaritagazette.com)

Until next time, bon voyage, break a leg, and bon appetit!

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