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 DW Griffith and images from his two Ft Lauderdale movies.
The Idol Dancer and The Love Flower - Two films made by DW Griffith in Fort Lauderdale.

Lights, Camera, Action:
the Film Industry in Broward County

by Susan Gillis 

Few modern residents of Broward County can imagine the pristine beauty of the verdant wilderness that formed much of this region almost 100 years ago. It was the tropical settings of New River and Fort Lauderdale’s beaches that attracted an unusual new industry to the area in the early 20th century: movie making. Today, under the jurisdiction of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), the Broward Film Commission partners naturally with tourism and entertainment for the region.

As early as 1917, Alice Guy Blache brought her Pathe film crew to Fort Lauderdale’s swampy environs to film Spring of the Year. The pioneering film director D.W. Griffith, creator of Birth of a Nation, brought his troupe of 50 actors to make several films in 1919. The Idol Dancer and The Love Flower used the beach and river in place of a South Seas setting. Many local residents, including Seminole Indians, served as extras.

At the end of filming, Griffith thanked the locals with a Thanksgiving Day dance at the new Broward Hotel, located at Las Olas and Andrews Avenue. Locals had the chance to associate with glamorous stars like Richard Barthelmess, Carol Dempster and Clarine Seymour.

Griffith returned in 1923 to film the White Rose - using the Stranahan House as a backdrop. But the newly constructed seawalls along the river - a sure sign of "civilization" - ruined the natural look so needed for his films and he did not return.

Soon after, the rise of the "talkies" ensured the end of films made on location - for a few decades at least. In the late 1950s, movie makers returned to the area. Former set designer Luke Moberly opened Empire Studio on his property off Griffin Road in Davie in the mid-1960s. A recreated western town movie set provided the backdrop for a number of low budget films and also served as a tourist attraction and dining venue in between filming.

Moberly’s best remembered flick was Little Laura and Big John, the saga of the real life South Florida desperados, the Ashley Gang, who struck fear in the heart of law abiding citizens from 1914 until their dramatic demise in 1924. The film featured pop singer Fabian Forte as John Ashley and rising star Kare

 
Where The Boys Are

Where The Boys Are - Publicity stills and posterIn 1960, MGM brought a group of then-lesser known actors to Fort Lauderdale to make a beach movie documenting the growing Spring Break phenomenon. Based on a 1960 book by Glendon Swarthout, it was titled Where the Boys Are.

The film would become the highest grossing "low budget" film in MGM history. It starred Delores Hart, George Hamilton, Jim Hutton, Paula Prentiss, Yvette Mimieux, Chill Wills and pop singer Connie Francis singing the hit title song.

Local youngsters were recruited to play extras in the scenes shot in town. Filming took place at the Marlin Beach Hotel, the Pape Estate and, of course, the world famous Elbo Room at Las Olas and A1A. Arguably Fort Lauderdale itself was the star of the show.

The movie premiered at Fort Lauderdale’s Gateway Theatre on Sunrise Boulevard on Dec. 21 of that year. A few months later, instead of the usual 10,000 college students arriving for Easter vacation, 50,000 showed up (in a town of 83,000). The influx continued unabated until the 1980s.

 

n Black as his girlfriend Laura Upthegrove. Filmed in 1969, it was finally released in 1973.

The 1980s and ’90s saw an explosion of films of all budgets, qualities and audiences filmed throughout Broward County. Dramas like Body Heat (1981) and Cape Fear (1991) used Hollywood as a backdrop and the locals are still talking about the classic 1980 comedy Caddyshack, filmed at the-then Rolling Hills Golf Course and other venues.

What is today Fort Lauderdale’s Las Olas Riverfront, then filled with the deserted historic structures of the town’s original main street, played a starring role in Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise, which was filmed in 1986. The 1996 film Striptease was shot at the aging Middle River Trailer Park in Wilton Manors.

And who can forget the infamous 1982 sex comedy Porky’s? Filmed in Hollywood and Miami-Dade County, the inspiration for the film was the notorious (real-life) Oakland Park 1950s bar "Porky’s Hideaway."

Today locals are no longer surprised to see their neighborhood or favorite beach spot blocked off for a film crew. Endless commercials, films and now television series have found a home here. Remember how Fox network’s Cops made the Broward Sheriff’s Office famous in 1989? A&E’s The Glades (2010-2013) had a four-season run from its production headquarters in the tiny municipality of Pembroke Park.

Filmed throughout the County, it proved a boon to local cultural facilities such as the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood and the Fort Lauderdale History Center with the fees paid for use of those venues as settings for the show.

And we all know that when we see a modern television show or movie that supposedly features "Miami Beach" - who are they kidding? We all recognize the curving walls of Fort Lauderdale’s beautiful beachfront! CQ



         

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