Nell's Bedroom

jpgNellbdrm2Nell and her husband Ernie used the room next to Barry's as their bedroom; today it is a display room. The claw-foot bathtub was original to the house; thus it was in the house when the Shipmans lived here. Ernest helped Nell make the transition from stage to film. They had met in Seattle, when Ernest was a theatrical producer/manager and hired Nell as the lead in "The Barrier." Within a year they married; Nell was 18. Ten years later (1920) they divorced. The Los Angeles Evening Herald carried a front-page, banner-headline story, reporting that Ernie had deserted Nell a year earlier, taking her salary with him.

After leaving Southern California, Nell eventually (1921) took her company and zoo to Priest Lake, Idaho. She and her crew built their own cabins and shelters for the animals, chopped their own wood, poached their own fish and game. Why did she choose such a difficult place for her studio? She explains, "I want exteriors to match the true locale of the story I am filming, and to me Priest Lake is the loveliest, wildest, most perfect spot of all" ("Incredible Idaho," 1977). Living and working under primitive conditions, Shipman wrote, starred in and produced "artistically and technically excellent films" (Naked Eye Productions, 1992).

secondonlake2

Filming The Grubstake on Priest Lake (1922); left to right, Bert Van Tuyle (production manager), Nell Shipman, Bobby Newhard (second cameraman), Joseph Walker in black coat, Cliff Maupin (assistant). Marjorie Walker, The Glendale Historical Society.

By 1925, however, the major studios had created a monopoly and controlled all aspects of the film business, from financing to exhibition. Nell Shipman Production followed nearly every other independent company into bankruptcy. She remained creatively active all her life, writing novels, short stories, plays, magazine articles and film scripts, one of which was produced in 1935, starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy (Wings in the Dark). In Spain she married artist Charles Ayres; their twins and Barry returned to Glendale in 1929, living at 1573 Chevy Chase Drive, which, according to Barry, was on a 40-acre piece of wilderness. Barry and Nell saw their first "talkie" at Glendale's 1925 landmark Alex Theatre, which has been restored, opened as a performing arts center and placed on the National Register of Historic Places (1996).

Nell Shipman died in Cabazon, California, in 1970, but interest in her work and life is still very much alive. On television's "Entertainment Tonight" Leonard Maltin highlighted Shipman's achievements. In that segment Tom Trusky, whose research lead to the establishment of Boise State University's Nell Shipman Archives, said, "[Shipman made] fabulous films, and they're so relevant to today. They deal with the humane treatment of animals and the role of women--Nell is of course the hero and saves the day. She even has films that are concerned about the environment ... So she seems terribly contemporary and that is what has interested people all around the world in her films."

This concludes our online tour; thank you for participating. Your comments and questions are welcome and can be made by contacting Terry Richman. Please visit Glendale's Brand Park to see the Doctors House and learn more about its history and the restoration. The Nell Shipman exhibit is one of several recurring displays. For information on current exhibits contact The Glendale Historical Society at (818) 242-7447.

Other web sites of interest:

  • Hemingway Western Studies Center has complete holdings of Nell Shipman films, as well as her autobiography, photos and videos of her films for sale.
  • Nell Shipman Web Site provides information including biography, articles, filmography on Shipman and links on film industry in general.

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