CULLEY, RAY (12 Oct. 1904 - 18 Sep. 1983) and BETTY (BUEHNER) CULLEY (16 May 1914 – 4 June 2016) are the founders of Cleveland-based CINECRAFT PRODUCTIONS. The SPONSORED FILM studio specialized in industrial films; commercial productions for business, industry, trade organizations, and, in some cases, government agencies and social service organizations.
Cinecraft was the largest of over a dozen sponsored film studios in Cleveland during the middle decades of the 20th century, and it remains the largest one today. While ownership has changed several times since its founding, Cinecraft is still in business and rightfully claims itself the “country's longest standing corporate film & video production house.” The company's historic collection of films, scripts and other records, which reside at Hagley Library, is among the most comprehensive collection from an industrial film company in the country.
Ray was born in Norwalk, Ohio, fifty miles west of Cleveland. When he was in the 8th grade, Ray worked nights and weekends as an apprentice watchmaker. He liked the work more than he liked school, and, in 1919, when he was 14, Ray went into the jewelry business full-time. Although trained as a watchmaker and gemstone setter, he soon moved up to managing jewelry stores in Norwalk and Columbus, Ohio, and Charleston and Huntington, West Virginia.
The jewelry business unraveled in the Great Depression and in 1930, when Ray was 26 years old, he quit his jewelry job and headed for Hollywood. He started as an actor in B-movies but soon moved from in front of the camera to behind it - first as a production manager, then assistant director, and eventually, a director.
Ray was an expert at directing “chases” – filming good guys chasing bad guys and cowboys chasing Indians. The Internet Movie Database lists him as a production manager, assistant director, or second unit director for 23 movies in the 1930-1937 period.
Betty (Elizabeth Buehner) Culley was born on 16 May 1914, in Schweinfurt on Main, Bavaria, Germany. She was the only child of Franziska Voll, age 19, and Albin Buehner, age 24. Her father served in the army during WWI, and Betty said she saw him for the first time after the war ended when she was five years old.
In 1923, when Betty was nine years old, she left Germany with her mother. Her father had come to the United States a year earlier to join his brother, Ludwig, in building the TERMINAL TOWER in Cleveland - one of the tallest buildings in the United States at that time.
When Betty was 14 years old, her mother died. Her father couldn’t take care of Betty by himself, so she was sent to be a nanny in LAKEWOOD. After graduating from Lakewood High School, Betty took a job as a film "cutter" at Tri-State Motion Pictures. Cutters (film editors) were one of the few film production jobs open to women at the time.
In 1937, Betty met Ray, the Hollywood-trained director at Tri-State. Shortly after, Betty took a film "cutting" job in New York, where she gained experience working with a new film format - 16mm film. Betty was behind Cinecraft’s early adoption of the new film format and other innovations that allowed Cinecraft to successfully compete with hundreds of other sponsored films across the country.
Betty and Ray married on May 13, 1939 and started Cinecraft Productions out of their apartment on Lake Shore Drive in Lakewood, Ohio. At the end of 1939, Betty and Ray moved the studio to rental space in the Card Building at 118 St Clair Ave. in Cleveland.
Ray served as president of the studio and producer for hundreds of Cinecraft films and TV series and TV commercials. In 1970 Betty and Ray sold Cinecraft to Ray’s younger brother, Paul Culley (1924-2016) and his wife Christine (Hofstetter) Culley (1921-2016).
As of 2021, Cinecraft is still operating out of the building at 2515 Franklin Boulevard in Ohio City that Ray and Betty Culley purchased in 1947.
Betty and Ray had three children. They are buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in BROOK PARK, Ohio.
Jim Culley, “Betty Buehner: A Life Fulfilled,” Confluence, 2018.