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Updated: Mar 22, 2021

by Shannon Wray


Pioneers of Mill Creek Canyon

Mill Creek Canyon in the San Bernardino Mountains was a movie-making location almost from the inception of Hollywood film-making. The Count of Monte Cristo, begun in Chicago in 1908, was the first narrative film completed in Southern California and the birth of the brand-new industry. D.W. Griffith's 17-minute In Old California made in 1910 was the first movie made entirely in the Golden State, and the first studio was Nestor Films, which opened in 1911. Tinseltown was just getting a foothold when a film production crew came to set up camp in the canyon for the first time.

The 1917 Movie Poster for The Eyes of the World.

The Story

The film was The Eyes of the World and the year was 1916. The story was based on the novel by author Harold Bell Wright who had come to Redlands, California, in 1907. The San Bernardino Mountains called to Wright, and he spent much time camping in Mill Creek Canyon during the year that he and his family lived in the area.

The Eyes of the World was Wright’s fifth novel, a morality play that he set in Redlands and Mill Creek Canyon at the turn of the 20th century. The narrator of the story is Conrad LaGrange, a jaded novelist who only finds peace in the natural world. LaGrange befriends a young painter, Aaron King, Jr. who has come to make his fortune painting portraits and gaining wealthy patrons in “Fairlands,” among the elite Eastern millionaires who winter there. After renting a house in the orange groves together, LaGrange tries to guide King away from the social excesses of the wealthy Taine family and their friends to paint only for art’s sake.

Sybil Andres, an innocent, orphaned girl raised in “Clear Creek Canyon” in the

The 1914 Book Cover of the Novel

nearby mountains, lives on the other side of their garden with a reclusive, disfigured woman. Sybil possesses a rare gift as a violinist and compelling beauty that captivates Aaron King. After LaGrange and King introduce Sybil to the fashionable, wealthy people whose portraits King paints, James Rutlidge, one of the wealthy men known for his sensual appetites, becomes obsessed with her. He kidnaps Sybil and hides her in “Clear Creek Canyon.” She is guarded there by an escaped convict that Rutlidge is blackmailing. With the help of ranger Brian Oakley, King must save her from “a fate worse than death.”

During an era when a notable author could reasonably expect book sales in the range of 15,000 copies, and a bestselling author might sell 60,000 copies, Harold Bell Wright sold 8 million copies of his first eight novels. The Eyes of the World, alone, sold nearly 2 million copies, and its readership was estimated to have been 5 million. In fact, he was America’s first millionaire author and the first American writer to sell more than 1 million copies of his books. Wright’s fame attracted the attention of two men who were pioneering big narrative films based on literature, William H. Clune and Donald Crisp.

The Clune Film Producing Company Studios at Melrose Avenue and Bronson Street in Hollywood.

The Clune Film Producing Company

William H. “Billy” Clune came west with the railroad then hit it big in real estate in Southern California. Having made his fortune, Clune invested in Vaudeville and the brand-new motion picture industry. In 1907, he created a film exchange that distributed the earliest moving pictures from Edison and Biograph, among other companies. Soon, Clune began to build movie palaces throughout Southern California to exhibit moving pictures. In 1915, he became serious about producing movies when he purchased Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks’ Famous Players studio at Melrose and Bronson in Hollywood from Adolph Zukor for $250,000. He called his new studio, the Clune Film Producing Company.

William H. "Billy" Clune

Clune also invested in D.W. Griffith’s epic The Birth of a Nation. The amount of his investment isn’t widely known, but the film’s $100,000 budget brought in an estimated $18 million at the box office. The Birth of a Nation also yielded an enduring partnership with actor/director/producer Donald Crisp. Crisp had played Ulysses S. Grant in Griffith's landmark production and impressed Clune with his ideas about direction during the filming.

Donald Crisp was born George William Crisp into a working-class family of eight in London, but he attended Eton and Oxford, earning a degree in literature. After serving in the Boer War and being wounded, he crossed the Atlantic to New York in 1906, where he found work as a singer with the Grand Opera. During that period, he changed his name to Donald. George M. Cohan hired him as his stage manager, and he played leading roles in theater as well as in Biograph and Famous Players Lasky's pictures filmed in New York.

Right: Donald Crisp, 1916

Below: Scene from Ramona

In 1915, Billy Clune hired Crisp to direct Ramona, the first of his motion pictures. Based on Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel about the travails of a half-Irish and half Native American girl, Ramona was also the inspiration for Hemet, California’s annual Ramona pageants. Clune and Crisp’s collaboration was a tremendous success. It played for ten weeks to more than 200,000 moviegoers just in Los Angeles and sold out houses in New York, Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco.


On December 7, 1915, Lloyd Brown, manager of the Clune Film Producing Company, and two other men were in Redlands, California, scouting locations for the film adaptation of The Eyes of the World. Their presence generated considerable excitement, and the Colton Daily Courier reported, “As the scene of ‘The Eyes of the World’ is supposed to be about Redlands and Mill Creek Canyon, the appearance of the completed film will no doubt attract much interest in the vicinity.” Meanwhile, Clune and Crisp visited Harold Bell Wright, where he was camping and writing near Tucson, Arizona. In an unprecedented move, Clune hired Wright to adapt his novel as a screenplay. The canny producer also secured the film rights to all of Harold Bell Wright's books.

Clune noted his exacting care with pre-production, “Months are spent in the preparation of scenario and the planning of sets and properties, and other months are devoted to the actual work of production.” It was an era when most studios churned out features in a matter of days or weeks, but Clune had different ideas about making a quality film. "Most companies," said Mr. Clune, "were dividing their energies among a number of different subjects. We decided that concentration, constant study, attention to the smallest details, and teamwork were necessary to a finished product. We also believed that the stock company [a group of resident actors who played in multiple pictures] idea was all wrong for large features, and decided to pick our actors for each subject that we undertook from the entire national field, in order to secure perfect types and the highest acting ability for each part. Experience with this system has confirmed us in our views. “

The Cast:

The cast was a mix of seasoned theater actors and newcomers. Despite Clune's comments about not using stock players, several cast members appeared in Ramona before working on The Eyes of the World.

Monroe Salisbury – As Conrad LaGrange, the jaded novelist and mentor to the young lovers.

Salisbury's given name was Orange Salisbury Cash, but he changed it to Monroe when he began acting on the stage in 1898 as a romantic leading man. At the height of his theater career, he starred in five Broadway plays. He went to Hollywood in 1914 to play in Cecil B. DeMille's The Squaw Man and quickly won further roles with the director, such as the The Virginian. The following year, he worked with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. in The Lamb and Double Trouble. But it was Clune's Ramona that made him a star.

Jack Livingston – As Aaron King, Junior the young artist who shares a house with LaGrange, falls in love with Sybil Andres, and must fight to the death to save her.

Livingston was a busy working actor, a stock player at Triangle Pictures. He frequently played romantic leads or intellectuals but made his name later as a Western star in action roles. The same year that The Eyes of the World premiered, he starred in at least six other films and frequently worked with Jane Novak.

Jane Novak – As Sybil Andres, the beautiful young violinist and love interest.

Miss Novak's aunt, Anne Schaefer, was a popular actress in the new moving picture industry. In 1913, Miss Schaefer invited Jane, her 17-year-old niece, to Hollywood where she acted in a movie on her first day in Los Angeles. Jane possessed the old-fashioned girl appeal that was right for innocent ingenue roles like that of Sybil Andres. Far from being just a pretty face, Miss Novak was the first actor besides Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks to earn $1,500 per week, and she oversaw her own production company. Briefly, she was engaged to Western star William S. Hart and played opposite leading men like Wallace Beery, Tom Mix, and Alan Hale.

Kathleen Kirkham – As Mrs. Taine, a scheming socialite who wants to make Aaron King, the young artist, her new darling and discovery in exchange for wealth and fame.

Miss Kirkham was a stage actress who began her life in the theater as a child. Before The Eyes of the World, she'd worked with Monroe Salisbury and Cecil B. DeMille in The Squaw Man and The Virginian. Considered to be the best-dressed actress in Hollywood for many years, she was perfect for the society dame roles she frequently played. The Eyes of the World gave her star power and helped her launch her own production company.

Jack McDonald – As Edward Taine, the wealthy, debauched invalid husband of the scheming socialite.

McDonald was a native Californian from San Francisco whose first film role was in 1912 at the very beginning of Southern California film production. As a character actor, he had an enduring career. He acted in the original versions of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, The Last of the Mohicans, and Jerome Kern’s Show Boat, among many other movies.

Beatrice Burnham – As Louise Taine, the daughter who must marry well and attempts to attach herself to James Rutlidge.

Miss Burnham’s first film role was a small part in Clune’s Ramona. Her career lasted only a few years, and her best-known film was in 1925, The Riders of the Purple Sage. It was also her last.

Edward Peil – As James Rutlidge, Jr., the wealthy sensualist social climber who kidnaps Sybil.

Peil studied drama at Notre Dame University and first acted in legitimate theater before working in his first film, Charley's Aunt, in 1906. He started his motion picture career playing leading roles or antagonists, but had a very long life in cinema as a character actor, making 370 movies. Peil played the lead in the first five-reel moving picture, acted in the first film to use artificial light at night on location with arcs operated by the flywheel on an automobile, the first three-reel color film and one of the first Technicolor™ films, The Black Pirate starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

Arthur Tavares – As John Willard, the escaped convict who holds Sybil Andres hostage for Rutlidge.

Tavares' swarthy looks earned him a handful of roles that involved dastardly daring in the 1910s, including Clune's first two epics. When "Talkies" happened, he overdubbed Spanish dialog in American exports then turned to film editing, working on 1931's Dracula and 1935's Charing Cross Road, among many others.

Lurline Lyons – As Myra Willard, the disfigured woman who lives with Sybil Andres.

Miss Lyons only acted in five films, two of which were Ramona and The Eyes of the World. She was a cousin of author Jack London's wife, Charmian Kittredge, and was very close to the London’s, spending considerable time at their ranch home and sharing their travels.

Fred Burns – As Brian Oakley, the forest ranger in Clear Creek Canyon.

Burns was the classic tall, rugged outdoors-man, and he came by it honestly. Born in Montana, he was the foreman of Buffalo Bill Cody's ranch in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and broke mustangs for Cody's Wild West Show. In 1912, he came to Hollywood to work in movies and before The Eyes of the World had appeared in 46 films, mostly shorts.

Mill Creek Ranger Jack Allen and his horse Sallie T.

During the year that Harold Bell Wright lived in Redlands and spent time in Mill Creek Canyon, he befriended Mill Creek forest ranger Jack Allen. Many said that Wright based his character Brian Oakley, the character Fred Burns played, on Allen. Somewhat comically, however, Fred Burns and Jack Allen couldn’t have been more opposite physical types. Allen was a short, slight Englishman. Wright also supposedly modeled Brian Oakley's extremely smart horse on Sallie T, Jack Allen's beloved saddle mare.

Ah Wing – As Yee Kee, LaGrange and King’s Chinese cook.

Ah Wing appeared in eight films, and The Eyes of the World was his first. Born in China in 1851, his roles reflected the somewhat stereotypical notions of the time, although Wright wrote a fulsome part for the Yee Kee character that had excellent grace notes of comic relief.

Ah Wing seated left front in a later film entitled, A Tale of Two Worlds with Wallace Beery, center.

The Eyes of the World cast and crew arriving in Redlands, California, 1916


By February 1916, a buzz about filming The Eyes of the World in Redlands and Mill Creek Canyon had already begun in Redlands and the surrounding towns. Wright was deep into adapting his novel for the screen while Donald Crisp and Billy Clune were feverishly finishing the post-production work on Ramona and preparing for its premiere in May.

The beginning of production took place at the Clune Studios on Melrose, shooting interiors in June and July after Ramona had been launched. During the first week of August, the cast and crew set off to shoot exteriors on location. The Moving Picture World, 1916 reported, "Here the final scenes of the story will be taken on locations far from the traveled highways and reached only by stage and mule back. Truckloads of camp equipment and foodstuffs made up a part of the caravan, for the company expects to be gone three weeks or more. Negative reels taken on these locations are being sent daily on burro back to a waiting automobile at the nearest point on the road and whisked to the studio in this city [Los Angeles] for development. On the following day, these films are shown to the company in an improvised projection-room in the camp and discussed and studied by all hands. Every member of the Clune forces – and this extends even to workers who are not actually cast – is expected to be familiar with the last details of the work in hand. 'The Eyes of the World' is in about 75 percent stage of completion. After the filming, extreme care will be devoted to the cutting, upon which factor Lloyd Brown general manager of productions for Clune and Donald Crisp, the director, lay great stress.” Harold Bell Wright spent time with the cast and crew in Mill Creek Canyon, overseeing the script.

D. Rhea Igo, who had just built a general store at the crossr