Over sixty years ago,
during the heyday of Hollywood, a young Hollywood movie Producer/Director
named Stanley Kramer felt stifled by studio bosses. He wanted
to make his "own" movies. He needed sound stages -
and a financial backer.
A young Hollywood Art
Director/Set Designer offered a possible partial solution. Bruce
Ariss did not know much about money. Indeed, in much later years
on the Monterey Peninsula, he sometimes referred to himself as
"a local treasure with no treasure." However, he did
know about Monterey. He knew that the local economy was beginning
to collapse. And, he knew why! He also told Stanley Kramer
what was happening.
The sardines had vanished from the Sardine Capitol of the
World. Huge, once bustling, cannery buildings were becoming
Kramer decided to pay a visit
to this Ocean View Avenue area of Monterey's coastline
that John Steinbeck had dubbed Cannery Row. At the urging
of Ariss, he came to look at buildings on "The Row"
as potential sound stages. Several local people heard about this
"Out of Town Jasper" and decided to keep him out of
town. They got together and start buying those buildings
The modern day Cannery
Row Tourist Industry began as the answer to the ensuing dilemma:
"...what do we do with these old Cannery buildings now that
we own them?" Someone with some genuine fishing "artifacts"
suggested a shop. Others had other stuff - and started other
shops. A wife had some recipes for delicious dishes. A little
restaurant sounded nice. Other wives and families thought so
too. Soon, a new economic base was begun: tourism -
which would soon dwarf the sardine industry which it replaced.
Ironically, the "locals"
who bought the Cannery Row buildings, to keep Kramer out, were
unaware that the young movie maker had already decided NOT to
buy them. He would need to see daily results of filming. The
Hollywood film labs were far away; and air transportation from
Monterey was unreliable. Cannery Row would not work!
Now, everyone agreed
that motion pictures were a lousy investment. So, when this young
director came calling - Church thought it sounded like a terrific
idea. Here was a sure fire way to lose a lot of money real fast.
Besides, his accountant had already told him of additional tax
breaks for losing the money in things like movies.
Stanley Kramer was, however,
far from finished with his fishing around the Monterey Bay. He
had not found the sound stages he wanted; but, he did find the
thing he needed even more - The Money! Yes, it was here
that the man who was to make some of the greatest movies of all
time, found his first financial backer.
A few miles inland - Bruce Church had a serious problem. He needed
to lose a lot of money! Taxes!! You may have heard of
the Bruce Church Company. It was a giant agricultural conglomerate
based in Salinas. Church pioneered the modern lettuce industry
in 1926. And, at this time it seems his primary problem was -
too much money! The Movie Maker showed up with a solution
to Churches "problems."
And so, with visions of
majestic money losses in mind, Church and Kramer found a young
actor named Kirk Douglas and they made a movie. It was called
"The Champion." However, it failed to perform according
to the game plan. Instead of losing, it made a whole Lot of Money!
Undaunted, they made another
movie - to lose money, of course! It featured this new fellow
named "Brando" in his first starring role. Bruce Church's
daughter, Joanne, even got to write part of "The Men."
It, unfortunately, made a bunch of Money too! Oh well!
Then, they made "Cyrano
de Bergerac" starring Jose Ferrer - which won a ton of awards.
And, of course - it made A Lot of Money!!
It was at about this time that Bruce Church went to Stanley Kramer
and said - "This just isn't working out!" Church told
Kramer, "I'm going to have to get out of the movie business!"
But he relented & decided to give it one more try.
This movie, it was agreed,
just was a simple story, down and dirty, black and white "B"
Grade Western "quickie." It was called "High Noon."
(You know, the one that got Gary Cooper the Academy Award, won
Best Picture, Best Director....) That was also the last
movie backed by Bruce Church.
But that's not all. The "reluctant success" then ventured
into the young TV industry of the 1950's - to lose money, of
course. One thing led to another. A popular Hollywood couple
also got involved. You may have heard of them: Lucille Ball &
Desi Arnaz. That Bruce Church venture became known as
"Desilu." Guess you could say - he couldn't lose for
As for the Main business
of Agriculture - Bruce Church Company heirs continue to influence
the nation and the world; and remain a major factor in John Steinbeck's
Valley of the World.
Just as Bruce Church was a pioneer in creating the modern lettuce
business, his children and grand children were pioneers in the
pre-packaged salad industry, creating a company called Fresh
Express which led the way for what is now a staple item in
the stores. It's former CEO (Bruce Church's grandson, Steve Taylor)
once graced the cover of Fortune Magazine.
Several years ago, Fresh Express was sold - for hundreds
of millions of dollars. But the extended family remains very
much involved as leaders in the $3 + Billion Salinas Valley agriculture
industry. The family also donates countless leadership hours
and millions of dollars to community causes and activities. And,
regarding involvement with motion pictures: They find that seeing
just movies in the theater works out fine.
© Copyright 1997 Roger Powers. All Rights
Post Script: This story was told to me, in parts, by two fine
men who are no longer with us. Andy Church who was raised by
his uncle Bruce; and my friend Bruce Ariss who was a member of
the now famous "Lab Group" with Steinbeck and Ricketts
on Cannery Row. Both Andy and Bruce are missed in their communities
- and by me!