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Madrid: Little Hollywood

Madrid: Little Hollywood

In the “Mad about Hollywood” exhibition, we take a look back at the impact Hollywood made on Madrid and the surrounding area during the 1950s and 1960s.
Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Wilding in Madrid © Fondo Gerardo Contreras

In a historic case of the U.S. Supreme Court, the 1948 Paramount decree put an end to the virtual monopoly that the five major Hollywood studios held over the American film industry. Each studio had exclusive contracts with actors and directors, owned the movie theaters where their films were shown, and worked with each other to control how the films were shown. Exhibition curator Esperanza García Claver said that “this decree allowed actors and actresses, producers, directors and screenwriters to finally enjoy greater freedom of movement” – a movement, which, among other things, led them to Spain. 

Orson Welles with his wife Paola Mori © Galerie Lumière des roses

In the traveling exhibition “Mad about Hollywood” presented at the Cervantes Institute in Toulouse, García Claver “sought to find and identify the imprint left on Madrid and its region, during the 1950s and 1960s, by the presence of Hollywood actors and actresses who came to work and live there.” Through two sections, “Off the set” and “On the set”, we get a glimpse, on the one hand, of the daily life of actors and actresses, in particular that of Ava Gardner, who lived in Madrid between 1954 and 1968; and on the other hand, we get a look the film industry that developed in the Madrid area. “The variety of locations and natural landscapes, the low technical costs and pay (for extras), the simplicity of obtaining filming permits, and, lastly, the city itself, were all very seductive to actors and their agents.”

Marlene Dietrich getting out of her plane in Madrid © Fonds Gerardo Contreras
Charlton Heston and Anthony Mann visit El Real Apple Castle while filming El Cid circa 1961 © Samuel Bronston Productions Archive

Samuel Bronston (birth name Shmuel Bronstein), who was none other than Leon Trotsky‘s nephew, created a real empire there, “the Bronston Empire”. He moved to Madrid in 1957 as a producer after failing to find his place in the 1940s Los Angeles and working in Rome for a few years, at a film distribution company specializing in religious feature films–a context in which this Jew from Bessarabia passed himself off as a Catholic. The man who would stop at nothing to find funding and who took little interest in the brutality of Franco’s dictatorship, went on to produce iconic films with enormous budgets. Among others, he gave us King of Kings by Nicholas Ray, El Cid by Anthony Mann, and Circus World by Henry Hathaway. Bronston (who would end up penniless) created a healthy competition in Spain. 

Shooting still from the film Le Cid © Samuel Bronston Productions Archive

A who’s who of the entire Hollywood star system at the time passed through Madrid in the 50s and 60s at one point or another. From Frank Sinatra to Orson Wells, from Grace Kelly to Ingrid Bergman and from Charlton Heston to Sophia Loren, they came to shoot and be seen in the streets of the Spanish capital and other places in the Madrid region. And they appear in this exhibition “in spontaneous, natural shots taken from everyday life, halfway between the friendly paparazzo and photojournalism.” Barajas Airport began to look like a permanent red-carpet parade, blending glamour and business, swarming with journalists, photographers and fans ecstatic at the thought of approaching their favorite celebrities, as Madrid gradually become a “Little Hollywood”.

By Sabyl Ghoussoub

Mad about Hollywood,” through October 2021, Institut Cervantes, 31, rue des Chalets, Toulouse, France.

Luis Miguel Dominguín with Ava Gardner © Fondo Martín Santos Yubero

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