Sometimes compared to a Bauhaus in Southern California, the social club known as The UpLifters in the early 20th century indulged in hijinks and projects that helped spark careers, and forged an image for Hollywood and its environs that has lasted to the present day.
One of the most successful social associations in the history of Southern California quietly observed its 100th anniversary. Even though it no longer exists, several movie studios have not forgotten the principals who made up the group in its heyday and have continued to promote their work as part of the centenary.
Known in the first part of the 20th Century as The UpLifters, the group included such luminaries as Will Rogers, Walt Disney, Frank Baum, Clark Gable, and its founder Harry Haldeman, the erstwhile plumbing magnate who helped assemble a group of men and a few women who would define Southern California as a place to live well and enable other people to dream.
The group was culled from the upper echelons of Hollywood and Los Angeles society, yet the price of admission to their conventions or meetings was always either money or talent. Subsequently, when the group started to roam as far as San Diego and Del Mar to hold its conventions in 1914 and 1915, Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, found himself contributing a play to the group every year.
Influence beyond their lifespan
Though Walt Disney may perhaps be the best-known American over the course the group’s 100-year history, the release of Return to Oz, the movie starring Michelle Williams and James Franco, managed to put Baum back into the spotlight again during the 75th anniversary of the making of the movie of The Wizard of Oz as well as the 100th anniversary of founding of The Uplifters.
Another man who continues to influence politicians long after his membership with the group was cut short is Will Rogers. His statue faces Congress in Washington D.C. in order to ”keep an eye on them” and is used as a good-luck token by many presidents before they step into Congress to give the State of the Union address each year.
Coming from a time before Americans could even have imagined inexpensive smartphones available everywhere, many of the values they shared back then were picked up by Hollywood and propagated across the globe. That’s been one of the feel-good stories of the past century.
From polo to plays, the launch of the institution
Although Hollywood and greater Los Angeles area were growing fast, The UpLifters soon outgrew the weeklong conventions that had them take over the Hotel Del Coronado and the Del Mar race track. So they purchased a ranch in Santa Monica and created a showplace that enabled them to host some of the largest play extravaganzas that have ever been produced.
In one performance, 300 extras were cast in just one small scene of the show. Today, that ranch has been turned over to the public for use as a park. For most of the year, it can be visited by those interested in learning more about The UpLifters.