The Fight to Preserve DeMille's 'Lost City'

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In 1983, filmmaker Peter Brosnan set out to unearth a city buried beneath the desert sands near Guadalupe, Calif. The treasures below included sphinxes, hieroglyphs and sections of a Pharaoh's city. Their provenance, however, was not an ancient civilization but 1920s Hollywood.

For his 1923 black-and-white epic The Ten Commandments, legendary auteur Cecil B. DeMille embarked on a production so mammoth and extravagant that the studio threatened to discontinue funding. At the conclusion of filming, DeMille ordered that the set be dismantled and secretly buried in the desert.


DeMille's legendary set for The Ten Commandments was more than 700 feet wide and 120 feet tall. Peter Brosnan hide caption

itoggle caption Peter Brosnan

DeMille went on to remake a longer film — same subject, same title, but in lurid color — in 1956. That's the version — starring Charlton Heston as Moses — that is familiar to most movie fans of today.

A clue in DeMille's autobiography led Brosnan to the site of the original epic, and he has been working since the 1980s with archaelogist John Parker on excavating and preserving the 1923 set's remains. The "Lost City" is closed to the public, but pieces of it are on display at the Dunes Center in Guadalupe, Calif. Brosnan talks about his project with host Scott Simon.

'Commandments' By the Numbers

• Actors on the site: 3,500

• Construction workers employed: 1,500

• Chariots built for the film: 300

• Animals on the site: 5,000

• Cost of the film: $1.4 million




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