From the get-go — for Universal Pictures that would be 1909 — film industry pioneer “Uncle” Carl Laemmle, a keen entrepreneur, allowed visitors on film sets. In the early days of Los Angeles filmmaking, shooting took place in plein air. Indoor production came later.
To accommodate curiosity seekers, Laemmle erected a special grandstand. From this vantage point, spectators experienced the disappointingly tedious process of making a movie. Fortunately the twenty-five-cent admission charge included a boxed lunch.
Universal’s tradition eventually led to the lucrative “studio tour,” aka “theme park” now on offer in the Cahuenga Pass.
Quoting from a Universal publicity department missive, circa the 1960s: “From having initially looked down on picture people in their midsts, Los Angeleans soon were as converted to movies and their magic as the rest of the country and began to clog locations where films were being shot.”
“Universal Studios, located in a city unto itself and bearing its name, invited tourists to come and watch how pictures were made.”
“This scene is at Universal City, 1916, when ‘rubberneck wagons’ made regular trips from Los Angeles to Carl Laemmle’s studio. By 1918 the studio discontinued this policy having found the nuisance factor outweighing the financial and social gains.
“In the late 50′s when movies were in a serious slump and film companies were in danger of going under, UNIVERSAL revived this practice, charging admission and reaping a fortune as new generations proved just as fascinated by ‘how movies were made’ as their forbears.”