Movies Way Back When: Noted Female Director in Montecito

By Betsy J. Green

On April 3, 1916, the silent film “The Dumb Girl of Portici” was released. The title sounds insulting to modern audiences, although a century ago, “dumb” simply meant “mute” or unable to speak.

In the opera, which is the source, the mute girl dances and pantomimes, so it’s not much of a stretch to have a prima ballerina – Anna Pavlova – play this part. Pavlova plays the sister of a humble fisherman. She spends much of her time dancing on the beach, instead of doing something useful like cleaning and gutting fish.

Lois Weber directed this eight-reel movie, and some scenes were filmed at one of the million-dollar mansions in Montecito called “El Furedîs.”

Good news! This film survives and can be seen on Youtube.

Betsy’s Way Back When book — 1919 — is now available in local bookstores and at This is the sixth book in her series of the history of Santa Barbara, one year at a time. Learn more at​.


Written by bjgreen

Betsy J. Green is a Santa Barbara historian and author. Her books are available in local bookstores, and at (Shop local if you can.) Learn more at

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