Hollywood's ties to Culver Academies
May 8, 2017

Historically, in the minds of many, Culver Academies may be associated most closely with many things military, or equestrian, or athletic — all accurate assessments, to be sure.

But from its inception, Culver has excelled not only academically, but in the area of the fine arts. And when it comes to the silver screen, a remarkable assortment of Culver graduates have gone on to pivotal roles both behind the scenes and in front of the camera. So on this, the 85th anniversary year of the release of the Hollywood treatment that put Culver in the marquee lights (Tom Brown of Culver, 1932), we take a look back at Culver’s love affair with Hollywood.

Culver’s Campus as the Star

One player on the big screen through the decades has been the Culver campus itself. As the school rose to national prominence, it became the setting of choice — whether by its actual name or as a fictionalized entity — for several movies, including:

  • The 1917 silent film adaptation of the best-selling novel of 1906, Meredith Nicholson’s The House of a Thousand Candles.
  • 1928’s Prep and Pep, another silent movie on the “lost” list.
  • Universal Studios’ first movie to feature Culver in the title itself. Tom Brown of Culver, shot mostly in 1931 on campus and released in 1932.
  • 1939’s The Spirit of Culver, which starred a young Jackie Cooper, and was shot in California.
  • Two more recent, smaller-budget features utilizing the Culver campus: 2016’s Little Savages and Rodeo Girl.

Hollywood ‘Shout Outs’ to Culver

The impact of Culver on the American culture is also reflected in various brief references in prominent movies, including:

  • The Ronald Reagan vehicle Brother Rat, from 1938, includes a Virginia Military Institute cadet quipping to a plebe, “Who do you think you are, Tom Brown of Culver?”
  • John Payne’s upstart Marine in the 1942 To the Shores of Tripoli makes regular references to being a captain at Culver.
  • In 1958, Frank Sinatra claims to have been kicked out of Culver in the war film Kings Go Forth.
  • A spy romantically wooing Doris Day for secret intel in Glass Bottom Boat declares, “I haven’t felt like this since Culver Military Academy!”

Culver Alums on the Big Screen

And as mentioned before, Culver alums have made their mark in Hollywood from the early years of cinema. Luminaries include:

  • Eugene Pallette ’07, who appeared in over 240 silent and sound movies between 1913 and 1946.
  • Academy Award-nominated Adolph Menjou ’12 starred in films by the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Stanley Cooper, and alongside luminaries like Kirk Douglas, Rudolph Valentino, and  Gary Cooper.
  • Ernest “Red” Nichols ’21 was best-known for his jazz musicianship, but appeared in movies and on television, and was portrayed by actor Danny Kaye in a Hollywood version of his life, The Five Pennies.
  • Ludlow Ogden Smith, a Culver summer trooper, would go on to marry Hollywood legend Katharane Hepburn, in 1928. Though the couple divorced in 1934, they remained friends and he a confidant of his ex-wife.
  • Joshua Logan ’27 earned acclaim as a writer and director on Broadway, Academy Award nominations and widespread accolades for his directorial work on films like Picnic, South Pacific, and Paint Your Wagon.
  • Edmund North ’28, an acclaimed screenwriter, including Patton, for which he won an Academy Award (that film featured  ’63 graduate Morgan Paull in front of the camera as well).
  • Ernest K. Gann ’30, was best known as a best-selling author of novels, primarily centering on aviation, but he also wrote a number of films, including The High and the Mighty and Fate is the Hunter, among many others, including television shows.
  • Tim Holt ’36, not only played a minor role in The Spirit of Culver, but became famous as a cowboy actor, though he also appeared alongside Humphry Bogart in the classic, The Tresure of the Sierra Madre.
  • Former Culver summer trooper, comedian Jonathan Winters attended during the summer of 1941.
  • Hal Holbrook ’42 earned fame worldwide on the stage and in television and movies, earning an Oscar nomination for his role in “Into the Wild,” and frequently credited Culver’s role in opening up the world of acting to him as well as in, as he put it, saving his life during a challenging adolescence.
  • Walter Burr ’42 was the voice a great many heard for over 50 years as he gave voice in more than 2,000 half-hours of animation centering on beloved characters like Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo, and the GI Joe.
  • Morgan Paull ’63 made his acting debut in the multiple Oscar-winning 1970 film Patton, and was featured in the legendary Blade Runner.
  • David Hayward ’63 was involved on and off camera in dozens of major films and television series.
  • Eugene Siskel ’63 made his mark as a household name alongside Roger Ebert as a television and print film critic.
  • Miguel Rodarte ’88 has starred in several prominent movies and numerous TV series.

Others from the first decades of the century include:

  • Vernon Smith ’09, a writer-producer-director.
  • Ashton Dearholt, a three-year Culver cadet in 1910 through 1912,  featured in mostly-silent movies, and as a director and producer.
  • Jerry Miley, Hollywood character actor and a Culver man in 1916 and `17.
  • Orlo Shedon, a three-year cadet who acted on Broadway and in a number of silent and sound films.
  • Marshall Ruth, who attended CMA in ’16 and `17, and the Naval School in ’18, in silent films.
  • Silent movie actior Jack Selwyn, who attended Culver from ’20 through `22 as Selvyn Levinson.
  • William Harrison Hays, a ’29 Woodcrafter and screenwriter and novelist.
  • Luther Davis, ’34, a writer for television, film, and theatre.
  • Budd Boetticher ’36 directed or wrote movies and shows and garnered an Oscar nomination in 1951.
  • Hal Roach Jr. ’37 in film and TV production.
  • Sam Cohn ’47 became one of the most powerful talent agents in Hollywood, representing the likes of Paul Newman,Meryl Streep, and Woody Allen.
  • William Perry ’47, an Emmy-winning composer for multiple TV shows.
  • Martin Tahse ’48, a Broadway and TV producer including ABC’s After School Specials.
  • Bruce Blythe ’52, writer and producer for national TV.
  • Bob Williams`58, an actor and producer of movies and TV shows.
  • “Cowboy” Bob Glaze ’60 spent decades as a beloved children’s TV personality.
  • Ted Field ’64, movie and music producer.
  • Bill Phillips ’64, TV producer and former vice president of production at NBC.
  • Culver roommates George Braunstein and Ron Hamaday, both ’65, Hollywood producers.
  • D. Scott Easton ’65 in acting, production, and direction of  movies and TV shows in the 1970s and `80s.
  • Michael Huffington ’65, producer and executive producer. Credits include Father and Son and After the Fire.
  • Brian J. Ellis, class of ’70, television production including the hit show Cheers.
  • James Riley ’71, directing, producing, and special effects for the likes of Disney and Sony.
  • Mark Simon ’75, cinematographer.
  • Don Woodard ’75, a comedian, actor, and writer on movies and TV shows including The Golden Girls and Newhart.
  • Lance August ’79, actor and producer in a variety of TV shows and movies.
  • Harry Box ’80, as a cameraman in television and film.
  • Brad Light ’81, television and film actor.
  • Miguel Rodarte ’88, comedian and actor in high-profile Hollywood films and Spanish-language TV.
  • Katherine Lingenfelter ’92, TV writing and production including HBO’s Westworld.
  • Shannon-Torry Mosley ’94, a model and TV and film actor.
  • Jon Dilley, a ’96 grad, as a casting director in film and TV.
  • Tom Bridegroom ’00, an actor and photographer until his untimely death on May 7, 2011.
  • Ben Curtis ’01, a Hollywood talent agent.
  • Marisha Mukerjee ’02, a television writer, producer, and director.
  • Brothers Adam Shippey ’08 and M. Parker Shippey ’10, in television and film both behind and in front of the camera.

And the list goes on…and will continue to, no doubt.

It’s no wonder that Tom Gorton, author of a feature story in the in June, 1988 Culver Alumi magazine, expressed amazement that one school — particularly a Midwestern boarding one — could produce so many show-business luminaries.
But then, Culver Academies has had plenty of practice.

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Posted in Alumni Fine Arts History
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