Battle of Los Angeles

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The Battle of Los Angeles was an attempted military coup launched by an alliance of several major film studios against the city of Los Angeles in 1935. Although the coup was ultimately unsuccessful it still forced concessions from the U.S. government which worked to change the social and political landscape of the region, including ceding the entire city of Los Angeles to Hollywood control. It is considered one of the formative moments in Hollywood history.


As early as 1922, it was clear that the nature of Hollywood was volatile, and the U.S. government of the time began to take steps to limit the potential damage. The Hays Code (1930), the Cartoon Violence Act (1932), and the Motion Picture Decency Act (1933) had all contributed to restricting Hollywood's capability for outrageous content. Though supported in full by the U.S. government, these restrictions were seen within Hollywood as stifling and unbearable. Numerous productions were being forced to make cuts and edits due to the demands of the now-rigorously enforced Hays Code, with any pushback being met by heavy fines and sometimes even arrests.

On May 18, 1934, three film studio heads met to discuss possible countermeasures: Jack Thorn from Empire Studios, Octavius Banks from Sovereign Pictures, and Sylvester Bernard from Bernard Bros.. Over a night of expensive alcohol and debauchery, the trio's ideas became more and more outlandish, until finally a military coup was suggested by an unknown party.

Using the same cover story, that a war movie was in production, each studio sunk a combined budget of ten million dollars into hiring and outfitting private mercenary companies, bribing certain public officials, and otherwise laying the groundwork for their daring plan.


On the morning of February 23, 1935, the three studio heads gathered on the outskirts of Studio City for the planned assault. With a full third of their forces arriving dressed as vikings, a prolonged two-hour argument about what constitutes a "war movie" delayed matters, with Sylvester Bernard eventually being overruled by the other two and forced to give his men actual firearms. With the element of surprise waning, the coup forces moved on their key target of city hall as fast as possible, with the intent of securing it and issuing demands with the city's major infrastructure under their control.

City hall was taken with surprising ease, due in part to the bribes made beforehand and the presence of cameras making most people dismiss the armed occupation as filming underway. Thorn, Banks, and Bernard established their new base camp in city hall and began to direct their troops to secondary locations, positive that their actions were already being reported to Washington. It would in fact be another two days before anyone noticed that this was actually a coup, at which point the studios heads would be too entrenched in an argument about flag designs to notice that fighting had broken out in several areas of the city.

Throughout February 25 the coup forces were skirmishing with the U.S. military, who had been alerted to the issue, as well as elements of the local police forces, who were always on the lookout for an excuse to open fire on anyone, and a group of toons who didn't understand that this wasn't one big comedy routine. Losses were light due to confusion on all sides about who was fighting whom, and for what purpose. The Bernard Bros. division was able to persuade an entire unit of the 37th Infantry that they were actually having a very vivid dream, a ploy assisted by the Bernard Bros. soldiers still being dressed as vikings, allowing them to circumvent the U.S. military line. This would have given the coup forces a serious tactical advantage had it been properly exploited, but the Bernard Bros. division used the opportunity to loot a nearby liquor store instead.


Despite tempers rising in city hall, and Sylvester Bernard almost coming to blows with Jack Thorn over a dispute regarding a proposed new territory called "Bernardville" that would include several of Thorn's favorite clubs, the coup managed to retain enough momentum and coherence to stay in control of slightly over half the city even after having met with the U.S. military response. With civilians at risk and, more importantly, the local economy grinding to a halt, the U.S. government sent in mediators to negotiate a ceasefire. The mediators arrived at city hall early in the morning on February 26, with talks beginning around five hours later once everyone's hangovers had abated.

Thrilled to have such a strong bargaining position against the U.S. government, the studio heads still somehow managed to squander most of their leverage. The resulting compromise saw the formal dissolution of Los Angeles, with all territories being folded into the new city of Hollywood. The five largest studios (henceforth to be referred to as the "Big Five") would have a say in the city's business and operation, on the condition that "you bozos never pull a bone-headed stunt like this again."

The resulting agreement was signed by Thorn and Banks immediately, with Bernard to follow some hours later after being promised fifty dollars if he would just shut up and sign.