In the 1910s, the block now occupied by the (Columbia) Sunset-Gower
studio was populated by fledgling production companies whose lack of
capital lead to the area being dubbed "Poverty Row."
Amid this hotbed of low-budget hustle, Harry Cohn opened the West Coast
production arm of his New York film distribution company, Cohn-Brandt-Cohn,
or CBC Pictures. The company's reputation was so low that some joked
that "CBC" stood for "Corned Beef and Cabbage."
1920, Harry Cohn leased a tiny studio on Sunset Boulevard between Gower
Street and Beachwood Drive.
In the 1920s, the area had so many movie extras dressed in
cowboy costumes seeking film work that it was nicknamed "Gower
the "Gower Gulch" strip mall of stores and restaurants with
its Old West design stands across from the studio as a tribute to its
In 1924, brothers Harry and Jack Cohn bought
out partner Joe Brandt and CBC Pictures was renamed Columbia Pictures
with the new studio logo becoming a female personification of the USA,
"Columbia" holding a torch.
17-acre Gower lot would become the new home to Columbia Pictures and
under Harry Cohn's autocratic rule saw many tempestuous times with feuds
between Cohn and his top stars and directors, including the studio's
principal assets, Frank Capra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak.
Columbia Pictures was unique in that Harry Cohn, in charge of production,
was also president of the company; his was the only studio that did
not have to look to corporate overseers in the east for budgeting or
Under studio moguls like Harry Cohn, actors and actresses were contract
players bound up in seven-year contracts to a single studio, and the
studio generally held all the options. Stars could be loaned out to
other production companies at any time (sometimes as punishment). Studios
could also force bad roles on actors, and control the minutiae of stars'
images with their mammoth in-house publicity departments.
From its modest "poverty row" beginnings - Columbia Pictures
became a major player in Hollywood's Golden Age and produced such classic
films as It Happened One Night (1934), Mr.
Smith Goes to Washington (1939), His Girl
Friday (1940), Gilda (1946),
Born Yesterday (1950), From Here to Eternity
(1953), On The Waterfront (1954),
The Caine Mutiny (1954), Picnic
(1955), Bell, Book & Candle (1958),
Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Bye Bye Birdie
(1963), Dr. Strangelove (1964),
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), Oliver!
(1968), and Funny Girl (1968).
In 1948, Columbia Pictures established its Screen Gems television subsidiary,
creating new programs and syndicating Columbia's theatrical library
to television, including the wildly popular 2-reel short films from
The Three Stooges, who made more than 180 shorts for Columbia
between 1934 and 1958.
1958 through 1972, under the command of Vice President of Production,
Harry Ackerman, Screen Gems delivered the classic sitcoms: Father
Knows Best, Dennis the Menace, The Donna Reed Show,
Hazel, Gidget, Bewitched, I Dream of
Jeannie, The Flying Nun, The Monkees, and The
was business as usual for many years at Screen Gems, until Spring 1970,
when soundstage # 4 caught fire and some Bewitched sets were
damaged (especially the kitchen).
Not wasting any time, the show shot scenes for The Salem Saga
episodes while the kitchen set was repaired and redesigned.
1972, the nearly bankrupt Columbia Pictures sold its Hollywood location
at Sunset and Gower and moved over the hill to Burbank in the San Fernando
Valley, where they shared space on the Warner Brothers lot (renamed
for a while as "The Burbank Studios").
Over the years, Columbia Pictures sold off much of its 80-acre Burbank
ranch to developers. Columbia's ranch had acted as the studio's backlot
since 1935, with its scenery of grassy park and fountain, Old West street
(destroyed by fire in 1970), and facades of city buildings, townhouses
and suburban homes (including the Bewitched house).
By 1971, Columbia still owned 38 acres. In 1974, six acres
were sold for a shopping center, and the remaining 32-acre ranch property
is now owned by Warner Brothers.
In 1982, Coca-Cola Corp. purchased Columbia Pictures. Expanding its
television franchise, Coke's Columbia Pictures acquired Norman Lear's
Embassy Pictures (for its library of highly successful television series)
and bought Merv Griffin's game-show empire (including the rights to
Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy).
In 1989, Sony executives agreed to buy Columbia Pictures from Coca-Cola
for $3.4 billion, reportedly to honor the wishes of Sony co-founder
Akio Morita, who always wanted to own a movie studio.
Meanwhile back on Gower Street --
The old Columbia Pictures lot was in severe disrepair when developers
Saul Pick and Nick Vanoff purchased it for $6.2 million in 1976. Pick
and Vanoff got what the industry considered a white elephant that had
been so thoroughly looted that it was missing office doors, carpeting
and toilet seats. Many of the soundstages had been converted to indoor
and Vanoff renovated the studio, and by 1981 the renamed "Sunset-Gower
studio" had again become a bustling lot, with ABC-TV renting a
third of its then 12 stages.
In recent years, the TV series Barney Miller, Married with
Children, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Moesha, The
Parkers, American Dreams, and Six Feet Under
have filmed or taped shows at the Sunset-Gower studio.
In December of 2004, it was announced that the Sunset-Gower studio had
been purchased by the private equity firm GI Partners (which manages
an investment pension fund) for a price of $110 million. Fortunately,
there are no plans to tear down the historic lot, and as of now, production
Sony: the Private Life ~ by John Nathan