Spooky Happenings

There are celebrities who have passed away and seem to have chosen not to leave their studios. After all if you were a well-paid actor or actress and enjoyed your work there would be no reason to stop doing so even if you have left this world.

The Haunting of Universal Studios

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Universal Studios 1940

Working during the night at some of Hollywood’s older movie studios has proven to be a rather interesting experience for some security guards and technicians. One such longtime employee said, “I’ve seen some things here that I wouldn’t want to try and explain to anyone!” One such haunted studio is Universal Studios which in the 1930s made films such as “Dracula”, “Frankenstein” and “The Mummy”. In turn, these films made stars of men like Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney, who began acting in Universal’s heyday in the 1920s in films like “The Phantom of the Opera”.

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Chaney as the Phantom

Released in 1925 this film became Chaney’s masterpiece and a special stage was constructed, Stage 28 for the filming of this movie.  The massive sets of the opera house were so huge that construction on Stage 28 began in 1923 and it has become a permanent fixture on the Universal lot. There are those who say that Lon Chaney has also become a permanent fixture at the studio.

There are visitors and employees to Stage 28, who say that it is haunted. A man wearing a cape was reported . Those who have gotten a closer look say that the cloaked man is Lon Chaney himself.

Ghosts at Culver Studios

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Culver Studios was started by pioneer filmmaker Thomas Ince, who is considered to be the “Father of the Western”. Ince, however, is remembered more for his scandalous death than for his contribution to the art of filmmaking. Ince died in November of 1924 while celebrating his birthday aboard a yacht owned by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.

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Hearst was romantically involved with actress Marion Davies. He created Cosmopolitan Productions as a company specifically for Marion. Parties thrown at her beach house were the most extravagant in town. Another popular party spot was Hearst’s 280 ft. yacht called the Oneida. Hollywood’s top celebrities received invitations for the occasion of Thomas Ince’s 43rd birthday on November 15, 1924, which was to be held on the Oneida. Among the guests was the British author Elinor Glyn, actor Charlie Chaplin and gossip columnist Louella Parsons.

The guest of honor Ince missed the boat when it sailed from San Pedro because he had had to attend the premiere of “The Miracle” his latest film. He took a train to San Diego and there he met the Oneida. No one knows for sure what happened later but the version printed in Hearst newspapers was that after eating and drinking too much Ince died of acute indigestion. It stated that he was taken from the yacht and rushed home, where he died later.

Unfortunately for Hearst, there were witnesses on board the yacht, like Charlie Chaplin’s secretary, who saw the bullet hole in Ince’s head as he was being carried off the Oneida. This then brings us to the real reason for the party. Hearst had reason to suspect that Chaplin and Marion were secretly seeing each other. Being a jealous man he invited the actor to his yacht so that he could observe him together with Marion. Further, it is believed that Heart saw Marion and Chaplin slip off together during the party and discovered them together on the lower deck. In the ensuing confusion that followed Ince not Chaplin ended up with a bullet in his head. This, unfortunately, is the irony of life when we make mistakes we make huge ones.

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Ince’s funeral was held on November 21. It was attended by his family, Marion Davis, Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Harold Lloyd. Hearst was noticeably absent. Afterward, the body was cremated and no official inquest was ever held. However persistent rumors linked Hearst to Ince’s death.

Finally, these rumors prompted San Diego District Attorney Chester Kemply to call for an investigation. And once again things came to an abrupt stop when the ship’s doctor testified about Ince’s “poor health”. The probe was called off. It was interesting as well that Louella Parsons was awarded a lifetime contract with Hearst soon after the incident. In the years that followed Hearst provided a trust fund for Ince’s widow, Nell, which later was wiped out by the Depression and Nell became a taxi dancer (in those days there were taxi dance halls where women got paid for dancing with male patrons). As for Hearst the entire incident eventually became a sardonic joke in Hollywood and the Oneida became known as “William Randolph’s Hearse”.

There began sightings of Thomas Ince and rumors that Culver Studios was haunted. Ince built the studios in 1918 and it changed hands several times after his death. Cecil B. DeMille, Howard Hughes, David Selznick, Desi Arnaz, and Lucille Ball made significant contributions to film and television history on this lot. Classics like “Gone With the Wind”, “King Kong”, “The Untouchables”, “Lassie”, “Batman” and “Citizen Kane” were among the many filmed here.

As for the haunting employees have reported ghostly figures roaming the lot at night while others have been frightened by the apparition of a woman who appears on the third floor from time to time. She always disappears quickly, leaving a cold spot of a chilling wind behind. The most famous sightings are those of Thomas Ince. Witnesses have reported seeing the entity of a man climbing the stairs in the main administration building, heading for the executive screening room. During his time at the studio this had been Ince’s private projection room.

When renovations to the studio were done n 1988 it upset Ince’s ghost quite a lot. He would often appear to workmen and once turned and said, “I don’t like what you’re doing to my studio” and then vanished into the wall. Today Culver Studios remains one of the busiest lots in town.



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    • I hear you, Andria. I once wrote about a spooky Broadway theater when I live in NYC the ghosts heard me and I wound up watching a Broadway show with the main spook of the theater sitting next to me I kid you not. I must dig that story up and refresh my memory.

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