When a Hollywood Failure Spawns an Empire
There I was; it was about 1969. I straddled my bicycle, wedged up between two dirt mounds on an incline. I looked up and up and there before me were the beginnings of giant foundations, like the ghostly footprints of One World Trade Center. The area just west of my home town Beverly Hills was undergoing some secret transformation. Like the moon project which resulted in a human visitor, it happened during that most auspicious year. The year I became 13. The year I got Bar Mitzvah’d. Century City was growing up too.
Century City is anything but.
It’s not a city. It’s what they call “an industrial park”. Two years earlier, I won a dance contest at the nearby Century City mall when they were promoting the new Warren Beatty film Bonnie and Clyde. My prize (a record of 1920’s period jazz age) was handed to me literally by Buck Barrow himself, Gene Hackman. Movies and real estate have always enjoyed being willing bedfellows.
Hollywood, where the term “property” can also mean a screenplay.
In 1961, 8 years flashback from that little boy with the bike on the dirt, Spyros Skouras, the then president of 20th Century Fox looked at the balance sheet and his Greek blood ran colder than ouzo through his veins. Taking in a string of studio flops, the final one, Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Cleopatra was the highest-grossing film of 1963, earning box-office of $57.7 million in the United States, equivalent to $471 million in 2017 dollars. And, yet the film became Hollywood’s biggest loss, due to its production and marketing costs of $44 million, what would surmount to $400 million in today’s dollars. Cleopatra became the only film ever to be the highest-grossing film of the year, and yet to run at a loss.
Superman’s arch nemesis Lex Luthor famously said,”Stocks may rise and fall, utilities and transportation systems may collapse. People are no damn good, but they will always need land, and they will pay through the nose to get it.”
The Greek tycoon and the studio back-lot
Skouras sold off 180 acres of perhaps the most historical Hollywood studio to the Alcoa Aluminium Company who then developed Century City. An aluminium city born out of the failure of a movie. And, ironically, that’s where CAA, HBO, Comedy Central and other media influencers reside and dream. Never knowing that where they sit behind their expensive desks, stories and stories below, chase like ghosts in the night, Richard Burton as Mark Antony rides his chariot to the dangerous and fury of the win, all in effort to impress his queen, Elizabeth Taylor as Queen Cleopatra.