Seminar on Sun Haven Studios

Sorry about the hiatus, my computer was in the shop. Stupid fan. At least it was cheap to fix.

This morning I went to a seminar (given by Lisa K. Bradberry) on the Sun Haven movie studio that briefly resided on part of the Weedon Island preserve near St. Petersburg. The studio was only in business for part of 1933, and in that time they shot three movies. The cast and crew of these films were the dregs of Hollywood, mostly people who didn't make the transition to sound well. The only big name even vaguely associated with the studio was Bester Keaton, who for a few weeks planned to shoot his comeback films there, though the deal fell apart.

With so little actual history, the centerpiece of the seminar was an exhibition of clips from two of the films shot at Sun Haven. The third film (but apparently the first released), Playthings of Desire (1933), appears to be lost.

Chloe, Love is Calling You (1934), was the first movie filmed. Chloe is a mulatto living on a turpentine farm. The white forman of the farm sees her and immediately falls in love. The next day he asks her to marry him. The racial barrier is too much, however, and it looks like (the entire movie was compressed to ten minutes, so there are plot points I'm a little fuzzy on) Chloe sees no option but to accept the romantic interest of another black (or maybe mulatto) farm hand. Then comes the twist; Chloe, though raised by the black woman Mandy as her daughter, is in fact the daughter of the farm owner, and completely white. Yeah, I guess love isn't actually blind. It brings white people together even when they don't know they're white. It's kind of like Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson, but it destroys your faith in the universe. Then comes the part that really pushes this movie over the top. Mandy is so upset about this turn of events that she tries to sacrifice Chloe in a full-on voodoo ceremony! Chloe is rescued by the foreman, and the black farm hand who dared to express romantic feelings for a white woman even though no one knew she was white ends up getting shot by some swarthy hispanic guy who I think was defending the voodoo ceremony. So you see everything turned out okay in the end, at least from an alarmingly racist point of view.

By now you're probably wondering, did the third film from Sun Haven also have a smutty title? You betcha. Hired Wife (1934) was the last movie filmed at the studio, and the one that used the most locations around St. Pete. It starred Greta Nissen (primarily famous for almost landing the role that made Jean Harlow's career) as a woman who marries a man she secretly loves because he needs a sham marriage to get an inheritance. This movie looked pretty boring, though airplanes figure heavily in the narrative, adding a little bit of color. And smut. The married woman takes an airplane ride with another man, and afterwards he tells her that he hopes that someday he'll be able to "give her the control stick."

Posted: Sat - May 22, 2004 at