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Filmmaking in Astoria
Hollywood may be the king of moviemaking now, but in the early days of sound, Queens was where it was at. In the 1920s such stars as Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, and Claudette Colbert all acted in one of the more than 100 films made at Astoria Studios. Opened in 1920 by the film company that would become Paramount, "the Big House" was the largest and most important filmmaking studio in the country.
Though Astoria's ideal location provided easy access to Broadway and vaudeville stars, Hollywood's weather soon lured away most studios. Astoria was able to hold its own for a while longer, creating such films as the Marx Brothers classics The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers. But in 1942 the studio was sold to the U.S. Army. It became the Signal Corps Photographic Center, producing training films and documentaries, including Frank's Capra's classic seven-film series Why We Fight. The army retained the studio until 1970.
In 1980 the city leased the studio to real-estate developer George S. Kaufman, in partnership with Alan King and Johnny Carson. Kaufman-Astoria Studios, with six stages, is a thriving operation once again, used for television series (Sesame Street, Law & Order) as well as movies (The Wiz, Hair, and The Pink Panther). Although the studio is not open to the public, movie buffs can hope to spot stars at the Studio Café and learn more about the craft next door at the fantastic Museum of the Moving Image.
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