Catalina Island Visitor Information
Catalina and the Film Industry
As the bird flies, Catalina Island is less than an hour from Hollywood. Although the Catalina Island Conservancy no longer permits commercial films to be made on the island, there was a time when Hollywood found Catalina's wild, uninhabited hills, valleys and shorelines the perfect setting for feature film.
The Silent Era
In his day, Buster Keaton was a comic character actor as well-known and as beloved as Jim Carey is today. In 1924, Keaton chose Santa Catalina Island as the location for The Navigator, a film which he himself directed in addition to appearing in the title role.
That same year, a herd of buffalo was brought to the island to appear in an early Western titled The Vanishing American. 200 descendants of this herd still live on the island, although most of original bison interbred with domestic cattle run by early ranchers.
The Start of Notable Film Careers
At the age of 25, a young Ronald Reagan - then a radio announcer - broke into the film business as the result of a screen test he took while working in Avalon in 1936. One of the silver screen's legends, Marilyn Monroe, lived on the island briefly during the Second World War when her first husband was stationed at the naval base on Catalina. Noted English actor David Niven and Australian Errol Flynn were reportedly vacationing in Catalina one 3 September 1939 when they heard the news that the British Empire was at war with Germany. Actor Gregory Harrison, a popular TV actor during the 1980s, was actually born on Catalina, and was the second generation of his family native to the island.
The 60s and 70s
At least three major motion pictures were filmed on Catalina after 1960; the first of these was The Glass Bottom Boat, a romantic comedy from 1966 that starred Doris Day and Rod Taylor. A forgettable teen-flick called Catalina Caper was filmed there the following year. The most famous movie filmed on Catalina was the gritty latter-day film noir masterpiece Chinatown, which featured a very young Jack Nicholson playing opposite Fay Dunaway.