Monday, May 1, 2023

He was like, 'Hast thou led me to, like, Egypt, or whatever?'

The following quote from the autobiography of filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille resurfaced recently:
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.
1923 marks the centenary of DeMille's silent film, The Ten Commandments. The Biblical story is most likely known, aside from the fact this version did not include Charlton Heston or Yul Brynner. As usual, Wikipedia includes some of the filming history:
The Exodus scenes were filmed at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes in northern Santa Barbara County. The film location was originally chosen because its immense sand dunes provided a superficial resemblance to the Egyptian desert [1].
A 2013 article from KCET further noted how in May 1923 -  100 years ago this month - construction began on DeMille's City of the Pharaohs:
Roughly 1,500 workmen, most of them local, spent six weeks building an ancient Egyptian city designed by Paul Iribe, one of the founders of the Art Deco movement. Four 35-foot-tall statues of Ramses II guarded a 110-foot gate, while 21 sphinxes, each weighing five tons, lined the avenue leading up to the entrance [2].
Rumor had it that after the filming was complete, the massive sets were dynamited and buried. Instead, the weather wind, rain, and sand buried everything under the ever-shifting dunes. Filmmaker Peter Brosnan explained to KCET why he felt the set remaind:
Hauling away all that statuary would have been very I think he pulled a fast one and buried it. In addition, DeMille knew that if he left it standing...the very next day somebody would be there filming a quickie on his set and they'd be on the streets with it in a few weeks. He was protecting his patent by taking it down.
In 2017, archaeologists found an intact 300-pound sphinx head. Visitors can visit the Dunes Center in Guadalupe for exhibits featuring artifacts from the both the set and the people who worked on the production. Brosnan later put together a documentary, The Lost City of Cecil B. Demille, documenting the original film and the set recovery.

I chuckled at the timelines. When Alpheus Winterborn began his archaeological pursuits, the year was 1922 (The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, 10) (remember our comments on King Tut last year). While the book says Winterborn did indeed visit Egypt and the Holy Land, I laughed at all the confusion the book could have introduced if Winterborn had his wires crossed and instead dug in California instead.

How many of Winterborn's detractors would have said his little angel was nothing more than a leftover, badly-constructed prop?  Ha!


1 comment:

Jean said...

Ha! Well California would have been quite far away from Winterborn's hometown too. I grew up right next to Guadalupe and every so often I'll see a photo of somebody's grandparents posing on a set piece in the was the perfect spot for DeMille, close by and not very populated. Much cheaper than going anywhere else.