(Image Courtesy of Orange County Archives)
Many local history buffs recognize Glenn Martin as the pioneering pilot who made aviation history in 1912, when he set the world record for the longest over-water flight to date from Balboa to Catalina Island. Martin’s fame brought the attention of Hollywood, who soon came south to film the young aviator in action.
Excerpts from “Great Movies Shot in Orange County: That Will Live Forever (or at least until 1934)” by Jim Sleeper
The earliest known documentary in the county was taken at Balboa on May 17, 1912, when a movie captured the flight of a “hydro-aeroplane” built and flown by Glenn L. Martin. Seven days earlier, the dapper Santa Ana aviator had attracted the nation’s attention by setting the world’s record for the longest over-water flight yet – a 33 mile arc from Newport Bay to Avalon, at Catalina. Returning from the island in his “flying pontoon,” Martin was in the air for a breathless 42 minutes.
The feat evoked the admiration of the country, and brought a host of newsmen and “a local motion picture concern” to Balboa the following Sunday for a special press conference. No piker when it came to publicity, as an added inducement, Martin booked “a royal Italian princess” to go up with him for a spin over Newport. Unfortunately, her highness failed to show, so the aviator filled the gap by suggesting to Floyd K. Humphries, “Let’s try taking motion pictures from the machine.” Nervous but game, the cameraman agreed.
At an altitude of 100 feet, after the operator had recovered his breath, he commenced to turn the crank of the motion picture machine. For 17 minutes the two remained in the air at distances ranging from 25 to 400 feet. Several times they circled over Balboa Island and made two trips to Newport Beach. Down the harbor they dashed, going over a mile a minute….
..So enthused did operator Humphries become over his accomplishment that he lost the cap covering the lens while making a sudden dip near the Balboa Pavilion….
…”Gee – but that was the ride of my life,” he said after recovering his equilibrium when the machine was beached. “I turned 500 feet of film through the machine. I am the first operator to try the stunt on the Pacific Coast!”
Ten days later at Balboa, Martin broke the altitude mark for seaplanes by climbing a giddy 4,400 feet. A Nestor cameraman was on hand to record the event.
In November of 1912, Martin figured even more footage when his flimsy craft lofted with musical comedy star Valeska Surratt in the passenger seat.
The actress was currently appearing at the Opera House in Santa Ana in The Kiss Waltz. At the conclusion of the flight, with cameras chattering, Martin, who was prim almost to the point of being prissy, suddenly turned beet red when the flouncy Miss Suratt showed her appreciation by planting a big smacker on his cheek.
“Everyone else shrieked with laughter.”
In 1915, Martin made a cameo appearance in the silent film “A Girl from Yesterday” featuring screen star Mary Pickford.
Thankfully for Martin, no kissing was required.