Long Beach, the OTHER Hollywood
As fall days grow shorter, folks will likely find themselves inside in front of TV and movie screens witnessing one of show business’ most successful marriages: the one between Long Beach and Hollywood. It’s a match made more than 100 years ago, one that’s produced countless scenes in countless films, TV shows and commercials, featuring actors and sets dressed with items from Long Beach, as well as scenes shot at locations all over the city. The list of productions is virtually endless, everything from “Titanic” to “Stranger Things” to silent movie shorts, countless commercials and so much more, because production remains constant to this day.
Long Beach and Hollywood studios have an ongoing partnership stretching back more than 100 years. Showbiz website IMDB lists 2,386 film and TV titles shot in Long Beach – which actually sounds a little light – including such classics as “Titanic,” “Clueless,” “Lethal Weapon,” “Airplane!” and “Ferris Bueller's Day Off.”
Filming in Long Beach is commonplace to this day. Take it from Kathleen Schaaf, whose Meow vintage store in Long Beach’s popular Retro Row district has been providing period wardrobe for Hollywood productions since the late 1980s, back to a time when it provided the ‘40s and ‘50s era clothes that defined the “hipster dufus” sensibility of Cosmo Kramer on “Seinfeld.”
And, more recently, she's been sourcing 1980's-wear for Netflix's massive hit, "Stranger Things." Schaaf says she is beyond busy these days, calling the past few months “dizzying.”
“Production has really ramped up since we’ve come out of the pandemic,” she said. “The need for new content and the vast streaming platforms have kept us so busy that, at one point, I was pulling clothes for six period shows at once.”
Long Beach's varied settings has helped maintain its popularity with Hollywood cinematographers. You see, on one side, the city boasts many one-of-a-kind features, such as a five-mile coastline, suspension bridge, a historic ocean liner, and even an Art Deco airport listed as one of the world’s most beautiful.
The historic gem that is Long Beach Airport has its own long list of productions shot there, including “Rush Hour" (1998), “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946), and “The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer" (1947).
But there’s another side to Long Beach, one capable of standing in for virtually any neighborhood or region of the world – the city is home to some of the first tract housing in America. John Robinson, whose Long Beach Locations has been instrumental in bringing production crews to the city for decades, said that not every outfit wants the spectacular or unique.
“The reality is the location has to fit all aspects of the character and story, fit the demographics and the socio-economics of the production,” he said. “Sometimes that means a typical looking location.”
Robinson points out a home located in North Long Beach that he refers to as 4219 – its address number, he does not mention the street – which has been used in countless car commercials and, recently, hosted Flo of Progressive Insurance fame. “There’s nothing remarkable about [the house] except that it looks like Anywhere, USA,” Robinson said.
Of course, when it comes to filming cars, nothing compares with Long Beach’s Queensway Bridge, which connects Downtown to the Port of Long Beach and Queen Mary. It has been in numerous TV shows and movies – it was on the Queensway that Jack Black (in)famously “punted” Ron Burgundy’s dog, Baxter, in “Anchorman.”Countless car ads have been shot on the Queensway Bridge – ads that invariably show some spiffy-looking auto moving swiftly across the bridge, a skyline of port cranes in the background, lending the shot, Robinson said, the industrial vibe that works well with autos.
The ease and convenience Long Beach affords productions has been a draw since the beginning of the city’s film history. Balboa Studios was a silent film studio that produced more than 1,000 films – starring the likes of Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle – between 1913 and 1918. Robinson said the reason for the studio being built in Long Beach, at the site that is now the Museum of Latin American Art, was simply because many of the people who worked there – stars and crew members alike – lived in Long Beach.
“It was just easier,” he said.
Indeed, Long Beach has long exerted a pull on Hollywood, even when work was not involved. Perhaps most famously, The Breakers Hotel, opened in 1926, offered all manner of luxury features, distractions and amenities that attracted such Hollywood royalty as Cary Grant, Clark Gable and Elizabeth Taylor.
“The Breakers was somewhere stars could go and be seen a little less. A place they could relax and still enjoy the best of everything,” said architectural historian John Thomas, who is working as a historic preservation consultant for a group that purchased the Breakers building in 2017 and set about to restore the property to its former, star-studded glory in 2023.
“The Breakers was a way for them to escape.”When it was announced that Fairmont Hotels and Resorts would run the reimagined Breakers when it reopened in 2023, Accor COO Heather McCrory, called The Breakers a “landmark property” and said they were excited to return the property to being “the standard for luxury hospitality.”
Could that lead to a new pipeline of Hollywood personalities making their way to the International City? Well, it’s happened before. Actually, it’s likely happening as you’re reading this.
Still, Kathleen Schaaf says, as old and as consistent as the relationship between the industry and city are, it never gets old.
“It’s alway a treat to see your stuff on the principal actors or even background players in movies and TV,” she said. “Sometimes the look even makes it to an ad campaign. Doesn’t matter. My customers and staff always love to see our stuff on the screen.”