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Queens Chronicle

Astoria Studios, home to ’20s stars

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Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2013 10:30 am

In May 1919 ground was broken for a $2 million project on five acres for a movie studio that could make 20 productions simultaneously with its own laboratories, carpenter shops and projection rooms. The Famous Players-Lasky Corp. was the brainstorm of Jesse L. Lasky (1880-1958). The company officially changed the name to Paramount Studios in 1927.

It was here that Lasky established the movie industry’s first acting school. The Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Clara Bow, Gloria Swanson, Lillian and Dorothy Gish are only a few of the many stars who made films on these stages. In 1927 Paramount moved most of its major productions to a larger West Coast studio.

Astoria Studios continued doing Paramount Newsreels, short features and unit rehearsal shows. The famous WPA play “One Third of a Nation” was turned into a movie here with Sylvia Sidney and Sidney Lumet as late as 1938.

In 1942, the studio was sold to the U.S. War Department as it was then called. From then until 1970, the Army Signal Corps made 300 training films a year there. Some notables who made films for the Army at Astoria were Stanley Kramer, Frank Capra, Charlton Heston, Lee Marvin and George Maharis. Maharis was born and raised in Astoria himself.

Declaring the studio surplus in 1970, the federal government deeded the property to The City University of New York. Originally in 1972 it restricted its use to educational purposes only. After making several WNET/13 television programs the stages went dark.

In 1976, the movie industry, the City of New York and the federal government reached new agreements to reactivate the stages for commercial purposes.

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