» Marion Knott Bust

Marion Knott (1922–2014)

Communities reflect the people that made them, and it’s undeniable that one reason Southern California is recognized as a powerful center for the arts, education and big dreams is Marion Knott. 

Born to Cordelia and Walter Knott in 1922 on a farm in Buena Park, Marion came from humble beginnings. But her whole family shared an iron will that helped them see their land through the Depression to find it transforming into one of the region’s largest tourist attractions: Knott’s Berry Farm

Growing up, Marion, along with her siblings, held various roles to make sure ends were met. She sold berries at a roadside stand and helped out at the tea room her mother started. However, the farm became a point of interest for most locals as well as Angelenos when Marion’s mother began serving fried chicken in her tea room during the 1930s. Word of the family’s kindness and warmth spread fast. By 1941, the farm was serving 10,000 meals a week, and Walter recognized an opportunity. 

To keep those waiting for a meal entertained, Walter developed the farm’s Ghost Town, a collection of old Western buildings moved from abandoned sites. More than anything else, this development came from another common trait in the family: showmanship. 

Marion was particularly marked by this trait, which is why she became the director of design, planning and entertainment for the growing amusement park and installed another themed attraction site: Fiesta Village. She also supervised the design and construction of park areas devoted to the Roaring 20s and Camp Snoopy, featuring the characters of “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles M. Schulz.

Her role demanded innovation and creativity, and to spark new ideas, Marion traveled the world and rode prototypes. It was under her leadership that the park classic, Montezooma's Revenge, came to life and that Knott’s Berry Farm became an adored theme park, increasing tourism to Southern California, transforming the area’s image, and offering insights into the earlier half of the 20th century.

It’s important to note that the showmanship she and her father shared was not based on a desire to be at the center of attention. Just like with every other function of the farm, the goal was to serve the greater community, to provide entertainment, joy and opportunity.

It was through such a spirit that Marion supported many philanthropic organizations and often without much fanfare or fuss. The education sector was of particular importance to her, as she cared deeply for young people and recognized that their future opportunities were inextricably tied to receiving a good education. 

This drove her philanthropy, which extended past $9 million, toward Chapman University’s film and media arts programs in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Because of Marion, Chapman was able to develop one of the strongest film schools in the country, promising an unparalleled education, drawing in countless creatives to Orange County, and producing students that would transform the film industry.

While the 76,000-square-foot Marion Knott Studios, which was designed to replicate a working production studio, bears her name, it was not the naming opportunity that drove her giving. She gave because the school offered opportunities and carried itself with a similar strain of showmanship — one focused on others.

She also gave just because that was part of her nature. Though many will tie her to Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, she began serving Chapman’s Board of Trustees in 1982 and was giving on a consistent basis. Acknowledging the impact she had over the years, Dr. Doti, then-president of Chapman University, stated the following in a campus-wide letter following her death:

Marion’s wise counsel and common sense meant more to me than I can adequately express. I was truly fortunate to have had her friendship and support. But far more important is that the students of our university – past, present and future – are fortunate to have Marion Knott as their friend and angel. Marion’s greatest concern was always for our students. I will never forget how often she would ask students about their studies and projects as well as their career plans.

Marion Knott was a woman of incomparable creativity and resolve. Her spirit helped shaped Orange County into a home for creatives and an economic powerhouse. As a focal point of her philanthropy, it would be Chapman University’s honor to present a bust of her to encourage showmanship at its best.

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Marion Knott bust


Designation Name
The Marion Knott Studios

Campus Location
The Marion Knott Studios
Orange Campus