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Cornelia Runyon

Cornelia Runyon was an artist by temperament, and later in life, an artist for real. Besides that she was a wife, mother and a social center. Ned Scott went to her home in Brentwood, California some four months after returning from the Mexican film project with Paul Strand. That evening, he met Gwladys von Ettinghausen, a screen writer with MGM, the woman who eight months later would become his wife. But it was the other people at the gathering that night who were to be key components to his future as a still cameraman in Hollywood.

Agnes De Mille has written that the majority of Cornelia's acquaintances in those years were members of the "moving-picture" colony. It was these personages that Ned Scott encountered as he visited Cornelia's Brentwood home in the years of 1935 and 1936, along with, one must presume, the other "Zopilotes" (his transplanted Mexican crew of Henwar Rodakiewicz, Fred Zinnemann and Gunther von Fritsch). He made important contacts. Prints which he brought with him to these gatherings were passed around. See Clara B. de Mille letter. Discussion took place. He must have made a very favorable impression on this Western crowd, this man from New York, because he was given a very important assignment very early in his career. That assignment was the still work for "The Good Earth". He was equipped and ready to go on the job, but for one thing. He discovered on the eve of filming that without a union card, he could not perform his task. A bitter lesson learned, and as he secured his membership in the union (I.A.T.S.E.), he discovered that he was one of the last to do so before that door mysteriously closed to new members.

That Cornelia was a huge boost in those years is undeniable. She remained a close friend through the '50's, often inviting the Scott family to her spectacular new house overlooking the palisade cliffs just north of Malibu. Built and finished just before Pearl Harbor Day, 1941, this house became the locus of her art career as a sculptor. She worked in natural stone, gathered there just below her house on the rambling and wild beaches of the region or on trips to the desert areas nearby. She had her first curated one man exhibit at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1961.

I remember those visits to Cornelia's house in the late '40's and '50's.  As a young boy in love with the ocean, I spent hours and hours on the beach below her house, exploring.  To get there, I had to climb down a wooden staircase which clung to the cliff face.  There was an outdoor sink half way down which I used to clean out my treasures I found and to wash my bathing suit in fresh water.  This was the same sink which Cornelia would used to wash and inspect her stone pieces which she would collect along the beach and tidal zones.  I remember she had a rubber boat which she would take out just beyond the breakers to search for likely stone candidates. Her studio was an outdoor studio, no more than 30 feet from the cliff edge, and I can still remember watching her work her stones as she sat there in the bright Malibu sunlight.

Ned Scott would occasionally bring Hollywood star personalities to Cornelia's house as part of his assignments as a still photographer. A few of the images from these photo sessions crop up on the web, and i make note of them, or purchase them when I can.  Among those stars he photographed at Cornelia's were Adele Jergens and Ann Miller, both Columbia Pictures personalities at the time.


Cornelia Runyon Cornelia Runyon Cornelia Runyon Cornelia Runyon at her Malibu home, 1942