DeMille's Lost City
November 18, 2015 9:37 AM   Subscribe

“You have lost your mind,” telegraphed Adolph Zukor, founder of Paramount Pictures. “Stop filming and return to Los Angeles at once.” DeMille refused. “I cannot and will not make pictures with a yardstick,” he wired back to the studio. “What do they want me to do?” he was rumored to have said, according to Higashi. “Stop now and release it as The Five Commandments?” Excavating the "City of the Pharoah," the biggest set ever built for a Hollywood film in the 1920s.

NPR: "For his 1923 black-and-white epic The Ten Commandments, legendary auteur Cecil B. DeMille embarked on a production so mammoth and extravagant that the studio threatened to discontinue funding. At the conclusion of filming, DeMille ordered that the set be dismantled and secretly buried in the desert.

DeMille went on to remake a longer film — same subject, same title, but in lurid color — in 1956. That's the version — starring Charlton Heston as Moses — that is familiar to most movie fans of today."

"If 1,000 years from now, archaeologists happen to dig beneath the sands of Guadalupe, I hope they will not rush into print with the amazing news that Egyptian civilization, far from being confined to the valley of the Nile, extended all the way to the Pacific coast of North America." -- "The Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille," 1959

* IBT: Californian Archaeologists Excavate Long-Lost Egyptian Ten Commandments Movie Set From 1923
"In 1999, a non-profit educational and preservation centre was set up by concerned Californian citizens called the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center with the mission of preserving the coastal dune ecosystem.

Since 2012, archaeologists have been excavating the area to try to recover artefacts from [The Ten Commandments] set for the Dunes Center as a crucial part of modern American history, particularly the large sphinxes, which each weighed 5 tonnes.

In 2012 they managed to rescue and preserve the head of a giant sphinx, and now they are trying to salvage the rest of the body, which is in many pieces and has started to crumble, as well as a much smaller sphinx that is almost completely intact.

* Previously on Mefi, from 2002: The Lost Egyptian City of DeMille
* Raiders of the Lost Set: Excavating DeMille's City of the Pharoahs 1923-2014. (Pictures at this link may be NSFW)
* YouTube: Unearthing the Sphinx
* KCET: Excavating the 'Ten Commandments' in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes
* YouTube: Brand Rackley: Film History Archeologist - The Lost City Of Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments
* YouTube: Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic - Parts 1 and 2.

Set Statistics
Height - 120 feet
Width - 720 feet
Statuary - 1,000,000 pounds
Number of construction workers employed - 1,500
Lumber in the set - 500,000 feet
Amount of nails - 25,000 pounds
Amount of reinforcing cables - 75 miles
Number of actors on the site - 3,500
Number of cooks - 125
Number of sandwiches per day - 7,500
Number of oranges per day - 2,500
Number of apples per day - 2,500
Number of chariots built for the film - 300
Number of animals on the site - 5,000
Number of pounds of hay per day - 20,000
Number of pounds of manure per day - Plenty
posted by zarq (10 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Fantastic (and stylish) post, thank you zarq!

Others who enjoy it might also like Hollywood Pharaohs by Andrew Mayne, a very entertaining mystery novel that owes some inspiration to this slice of history.
posted by daisyk at 10:28 AM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's really too bad that the archaeologists who found the set were out there looking for it as opposed to some other piece of Californian history. I'm sure their confusion at discovering Egyptian ruins would have lasted maybe five minutes, but it would have been an amazing five minutes.
posted by Ian A.T. at 11:38 AM on November 18, 2015 [7 favorites]

The lengths some hollywood types will go to not use CGI. GOSH.
posted by clvrmnky at 11:42 AM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Missed opportunity, not booby-trapping the site against treasure-seekers.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:56 AM on November 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

An extra, killed in an accident and hastily wrapped in rags and buried on set, his grave disturbed, haunts the archeologists.
posted by bleep at 12:06 PM on November 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

There's a shopping center at Hollywood and Highland in Los Angeles with elephants in tribute to the massive Babylonian-style set of D.W. Griffith's 1916 film Intolerance.
posted by larrybob at 12:12 PM on November 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

The lengths some hollywood types will go to not use CGI

In the 1920s, CGI was called sets!
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 12:28 PM on November 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

and violins were synthesized orchestras

that's 1920s hollywood for you - the golden age of sets and violins
posted by pyramid termite at 12:32 PM on November 18, 2015 [13 favorites]

Re-reading this post, I realized that I've buried the link to the full 1923 movie in the second paragraph. The biblical story only takes up about the first third of the film. After that, "the story changes to a modern setting involving living by the lessons of the commandments."
posted by zarq at 1:17 PM on November 18, 2015

I've buried the link

How appropriate!
posted by otherchaz at 3:59 PM on November 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

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