As has been stated here before, what much of the world considers "Hollywood" isn't in the Hollywood district at all. Many parts of it aren't even in the city of Los Angeles. Culver City was arguably the prime example of that in the 1920s and '30s, serving as home base for MGM, Selznick International and other studios.
Another city, Burbank, became prominent; in fact, it advertises itself as the "Media Capital of the World." (By the way, contrary to popular belief, Burbank is not named for famed horticulturist Luther Burbank, but for Dr. David Burbank, a dentist and entrepreneur who bought 9,100 acres of property in 1867, initially made it a sheep ranch, and subsequently capitalized on the 1880s southern California land boom. And yet, one of the city's middle schools is named for Luther Burbank. Go fig.)
Well, it was announced Thursday that one prime reason for that name is leaving the city of 105,000 just north of Los Angeles. NBC Universal said it intends to sell much of its 34-acre site and move operations to Universal City, a few miles away. The move is scheduled to be completed by 2011. Some NBC offices will remain in Burbank, but almost all production will head to Universal.
NBC has owned the site since 1951, and opened a TV studio there in 1955. "The Tonight Show" has been there since 1972 -- from "beautiful downtown Burbank," as the late Johnny Carson used to say. You may know that the phrase was originally coined by Gary Owens...but it didn't begin on "Rowan And Martin's Laugh-In," which was also taped on the lot. Instead, Owens, a Los Angeles radio legend, started using it all the way back in 1961 when giving weather reports at KFWB, L.A.'s first Top 40 powerhouse.
Many series used the Burbank lot over the years; it was especially conducive to game shows such as the original "Hollywood Squares" and variety shows such as Dean Martin's:
Specials from Burbank included "An Evening With Fred Astaire" in 1958, "Frank Sinatra: A Man And His Music" in 1965 and Elvis Presley's "comeback" special in 1968.
This isn't the first time NBC has pulled up stakes in southern California. Its original home, when it was strictly a radio network, was at Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street, opening in 1938; the following year, Carole Lombard worked there on the short-lived series "The Circle." After the network moved most of its West Coast operations to Burbank, the building was razed in the early sixties.
NBC's departure won't leave Burbank completely bereft of entertainment. The Walt Disney Company (now owners of ABC) has been headquartered in town since 1939, and Warner Brothers has been a presence in Burbank since its acquisition of First National in the late twenties. And Carole Lombard's lone feature shot in Burbank was on the Warners lot -- but it was unfortunately one of the low points of her career. Perhaps she and co-star Fernand Gravet are reminding people not to tell anyone they made a clunker:
Lombard always called "The Gay Bride" her worst picture, perhaps out of frustration that MGM didn't lend its customary sheen to the production. Then again, it was made in 1934, when she hadn't quite ascended to top-star status, and in 1938 chances are that MGM would have pulled out all the stops for her. However, that year she instead took an assignment at Warners, a studio ill-suited for smart romantic comedy, and the result was the lackluster, poorly received "Fools For Scandal," a film that not only derailed her career momentum, but temporarily changed her direction to drama and heavier fare. Here's a scene from the film during production in Burbank:
Finally, here's what "beautiful downtown Burbank" looked like in 1927, specifically the corner of San Fernando Boulevard and Olive Avenue:
More coming soon on Universal City, NBC's future home, and its ties to Lombard.