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Cohn brothers’ stomping grounds dissed in early days

Sunset Gower Studio @ 100

Early Variety references to the studios now known as Sunset Gower weren’t always flattering.

The lot, home to Columbia Pictures for decades, was part of a filmmaking district commonly referred to as Poverty Row.

Brothers Jack and Harry Cohn had been greenlighting production under their “CBC” banner as early as 1921, when on Feb. 25 Variety announced Harry was “contracted to deliver 26 ‘Hall Room Boys’ comedies at the rate of 2 a month,” referring to adaptations of a popular comic strip about bums trying to crash high society.

The Cohns were themselves attempting to crash the Hollywood majors. So when CBC became known around town as “Corned Beef & Cabbage,” boss Harry’s ambition and vanity demanded a classier moniker, and Columbia Pictures was dubbed in 1924.

Two years later, expansions of $250,000 (reported in Variety on April 14, 1926) and $60,000 (May 20) signaled a bold bid for A-list status, though the studio’s eminence had to await the 1927 arrival of Sicilian-born helmer Frank Capra and his string of classic smashes, including “It Happened One Night” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

The main board room at Sunset Gower today was Harry Cohn’s office, which remains essentially as he left it. One can view the commode, shower and secret back stairs that could be used — probably in that order — by the aspiring starlets who, legend tells us, would pop in for an afternoon tryst right under the eyes of Mrs. C.

From that office Cohn would roar whenever the typewriters stopped clicking next door, a sign his scribes were goofing off. Today’s board room is also the place where, according to “King Cohn” biographer Bob Thomas, Capra first established the dynamic of power between himself and his new boss.

“I ordered 15 extras, and I got four,” Capra shouted while barging in. “Now just tell me what the hell do I have to do — order 50 in order to get 15?”

Hours later, 10 more extras appeared on the set of “That Certain Thing,” and Capra’s autonomy — unique among everyone who worked at Sunset Gower in the Columbia years – was thereafter assured.

Sunset Gower Studio @ 100
Prelude to plentiful present | Cohn brothers’ stomping grounds dissed in early days | Chamber an echo of Barton’s studio job>

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