Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The 20th Century lot... back in the 20th Century

One of the many perks of writing MASH in the late ‘70s was going to work every day at the 20th Century Fox lot. At that time it was Disneyland for TV geeks.

We worked in the Old Writers Building, which was a Swiss chalet. I was told our office was once F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s. There were some empty gin bottles behind the couch so that's probably true.

We parked in the western town used in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. We drove onto the lot past the New York street from HELLO DOLLY. Near the commissary was the famous gazebo from TV’s PEYTON PLACE (okay, you have to be a certain age to give a shit about that one.).

There was still a foot bridge over Olympic Blvd. and a backlot. David and I would walk through the backlot on the way to lunch at Century City. There we’d see STAR WARS sets just collecting dust.

We used to watch dailies in a screening room that was behind the facade for the Gotham police department from the TV BATMAN.

Mel Brooks made his movies at 20th which usually meant extras walking around in Nazi uniforms.

CHARLIE’S ANGELS was filmed on the lot and you’d bump into one of those girls at least once a week. Even more if you hung around their trailers.

For some reason Evil Knieval, the daredevil who would try to ride motorcycles over the Grand Canyon and spent most of his life in hospitals, had a production deal and was always around.

But the best other show that filmed on the lot was THE LOVE BOAT. First off, there were always gorgeous 6’ 9’’ showgirls wandering all over the lot. But that was nothing.

Every sitcom star and second banana from that era and prior eras guested on THE LOVE BOAT. And we would see them all the time at the commissary. It was liking going to the world’s greatest nostalgia show every day except the celebrities still looked recognizable and you weren’t charged $20 to get in.

Among the “stars” I got to see up close and personal were: Carol Channing (Hello Dolly), Connie Stevens (Hello Cricket), Erin Moran (Hello Joanie), Charo (although I saw her just two weeks ago on the Paramount lot), Arte Johnson, Ethel Merman, Dick Van Patton, Ted Knight, Betty White (she’s been in everything), Nancy Kulp, Florence Henderson & Robert Reed (Tom isn't the only Brady), Alexis Smith, Don Adams, Elaine Joyce (pre J.D. Salinger and Neil Simon), Phyllis Diller, Lyle Waggoner, Cesar Romero, and if you can believe it – Jimmy Osmond. And that’s just scratching the guest star surface. For me it was awesome – my childhood flashing before my eyes, all these icons of my youth eating Chinese chicken salads.

And then there are the ghosts of years gone by that you know walked the same streets, although when I saw Ethel Merman I wasn’t sure if she was real or one of those ghosts.

Being on a major Hollywood studio lot was a real privilege in those days. Today, to save money, lots of shows are filmed in rented warehouses in Valencia or the City of Industry. Gone is the mystique when you have to drive halfway to Bakersfield to get to your soundstage.

Hollywood really was a magic town at one time. But that was when filmmakers and showmen were in charge, not CEO’s and mega-conglomerates. There won’t be many ghosts in Valencia (especially in the summer when it get sooooo damn hot).

32 comments:

Bill Avena said...

I hated The Love Boat when it was on and even then I thought it was the saddest elephant grave yard for Hollywood talent. Lyle Waggoner, Artie Johnson, Sasha...wait, WHAT??

Graeme said...

Not quite sure what building backed onto the screening room, but Gotham City Police Headquarters isn't on the Fox backlot. It's on the Warner Brothers lot (Fox had to send its productions to other lots back in the '60s) where it's still there (as a "City Hall" building).

Toledo said...

And, Mel Brooks' most famous production, Blazing Saddles, was filmed at WB (then called the Burbank Studios since it was shared with Columbia) and featured the entire cast spilling out onto Olive Avenue where Hedley Lamar caught a cab to get off the picutre.

Rashad Khan said...

Who is Sasha Grey in that "Love Boat" photo and why is there a ball gag in her mouth?

Martin said...

I would like to know that information about Sasha Grey as well!

Ted Kilvington said...

According to IMDB, Sasha Grey wasn't even born when Love Boat went off the air! Maybe she was on "Lust Boat: The Next Generation"....

Karl said...

I think Sasha appeared on 'The Love Bone.'

Ken Levine said...

Graeme,

With all due respect, the Gotham HQ was on the Fox lot.

Astroboy said...

Of all the 'olden stars' to appear on The Love Boat, to me the most incongruous would have to have been Luise Rainer.

Tudor Queen said...

I guess I must be old, Ken, because when you mentioned the "Peyton Place" gazebo I perked right up.

"Love Boat" was so cheesy it was fun in a completely guilty pleasure way - but then once a season or so, it would actually touch me, so there you have it.

Rashad Khan said...

I know that one episode with Sasha Grey really touched me!

Bob Perlow said...

That one was so great i printed it out Ken. I felt the same way when I started on Laverne and Shirley at Paramount in 1976!!!

I t was the best of times and and THE BEST OF TIMES!!!!

estiv said...

The fact that Andy Warhol was on an episode of The Love Boat always made me happy, and that his actual performance was nothing special was somehow appropriate. The point wasn't that he did anything, the point was just that he was there (after all, he was Andy Warhol, so actually doing something would have been superfluous). As a TV show The Love Boat was pretty bad; as a cultural nexus it was pretty good.

Donald Benson said...

Star Wars sets? I thought most or all was shot in England aside from desert exteriors. Nerdboy demands descriptions!

Steve Pepoon said...

I worked on the Fox lot for about a year. I was told my office had been Alan Alda's during MASH (maybe you can confirm that for me, Ken - it was the building next to the stage with your interior exterior, which had six offices, three on each side, mine being the middle one facing the stage). I was always amazed how NYPD Blue had maybe a block of exterior facades to use for the show (excluding some stock shots from New York the the occasional shoot in downtown LA). They would dress and redress those buildings and usually shoot close so you didn't realize you were seeing the same facades over and over.

Peter said...

Sadly time has not been kind to Erin Moran.

Anonymous said...

Peter:As someone who is two months older than Erin Moran, Time has not been good to me either!Time and Tide wait for no man (or woman). You'll see. Janice B.

MikeK.Pa. said...

I remember seeing Elaine Joyce all the time with her husband Bobby Van - they made a cute couple - on "Tattle Tales," hosted by Bert Convy. Van and Convy both died at fairly young ages (50, 57) from brain cancer/tumor respectively.

Cap'n Bob said...

Evel.

Paul Downey said...

It was the Snake River Canyon

Howard Hoffman said...

And his last name is Leibowitz.

VP81955 said...

And the lady in my avatar spent some time at Fox before it merged with Darryl F. Zanuck's Twentieth Century Pictures (and no, Carole's breakthrough film, "Twentieth Century," had nothing to do with his studio -- it was adapted from a Broadway play and made at Columbia). Anyway, Carole's first leading lady role came at Fox in 1925, at age 16(!), when she starred with Edmund Lowe in "Marriage in Transit"; Lombard later admitted she wasn't very good in it, which probably is why Fox soon relegated her to western programmers with Buck Jones. Fox didn't pick up her contract later in 1925, about the time she had an automobile accident that caused a major scar on her face and nearly spelled the end of her career. (Alas, all her films made before the accident were destroyed in a fire in 1937 and feared lost.)

Carole later returned to Fox in late 1929 or early '30, following her dismissal from Pathe (the story goes that Constance Bennett, who had just signed with the studio, told its bosses she wanted no blonde competition on the lot) for a supporting role (as a villainness!) in the Warner Baxter vehicle "The Arizona Kid." Fox, this time with some new folk in charge, mulled bringing her back, but she already has signed with Paramount, a much stronger studio...although it really didn't know what to do with her until Ernst Lubitsch briefly became head of production in 1935 (the only time a noted director ever held that post with a major studio).

To see a pic of the teenage Carole in a bridal pose from "Marriage in Transit," as well as possibly the oldest surviving example of a Lombard autograph, go to http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/416723.html.

Anonymous said...

I've only heard of half the names you mentioned. Age 40.

Cynthia Johnson said...

The Love Boat was indeed a bit of a shipyard for ageing stars, but the networks still dominated then so they could get away with a little schmaltz and in the process gave those wonderful character actors and some pretty big stars from a bygone time a little bit of work that they hardly got at all by then. It was a corny show that doesn't hold up but still it was nice to see those folks get on the tube and it probably meant a lot to them at the time. Seeing them(and them being seen) must have been a kick.

Jeff Maxwell said...

For me, too, the Fox lot was magical. The historical buildings that housed incredible talents, including Ken Levine and David Isaacs. One of them was the Darryl Zanuck Building. It had the remnants of a private switchboard available only to Mr. Zanuck. The commissary with its wonderful mural featuring everybody you've ever seen in the movies. The infamous Peyton Place set directly across the street from the commissary where I watched Cary Grant levitate out of a Rolls Royce white cloud. It was the most beautiful car I had ever seen, and he was the most beautiful man I've ever seen. The Hello Dolly sets that lined the entrance to the studio and covered the "executive building" where the giants of the movie business roamed. I bumped into Omar Sharif staring at a poster on the wall. Little known rooftop hideaways that served as meeting places for executives and their secret liaisons. The Western street where I think they filmed part of High Noon. One of the western store fronts actually housed a watchmaker who'd been there serving movie moguls forever. Weird little guy.

I was a mail boy for a while and got to know every nook, cranny and set on the lot. Everyday I walked or drove on that lot was an adventure and pure heaven.

Las Vegas resident said...

There won’t be many ghosts in Valencia (especially in the summer when it get sooooo damn hot).

He thinks it gets hot in Valencia. That's so cute.

Daniel said...

The biggest part of the original Fox lot no longer exists. The studio lot -- some 260 acres -- was sold to Alcoa in 1960. About 80 acres was leased back to Fox, and they continue film production there to this day. The remaining 180 acres was cleared and is now the site of the neighborhood known as Century City.

Andy Rose said...

On the positive side, the Warner and Paramount lots are still basically in their classic Hollywood formation (if you ignore the fact that Warner is in Burbank).

Klee said...

Nothing from the Irwin Allen days? I remember seeing a giant telephone used in Land of Giants in the Universal lot once though. Even though his shows were filmed in the Fox old lot.

Dixon Steele said...

I moved to LA in the early 80s and had a job interview on the Fox lot. While walking around, killing time, I saw a few of the stars of THE LOVE BOAT sitting around an outdoor table in a meeting. Bernie Kopell, Ted Lange, Fred Grandy and Lauren Tewes. Yes, I watched the show sometimes and might've had a little crush on Ms. Tewes.

Shortly, she started ranting and raving about something, with steam practically coming out of ears! The others listened intently as she went on and on. Clearly she was unhappy and I wasn't surprised when she left the show.




John Pearley Huffman said...

Um, though the 1966 Batman series was a Fox production, I believe the Gotham police headquarters used in the show is at Warners in Burbank.
http://powsley.blogspot.com/2008/12/gotham-city-police-hq-1966-batman-tv.html?m=1

Garrett said...

I took the Paramount tour back in 2007. I remember the guide giving some very erroneous information. He told our group that because so many sitcoms switched to videotape in the '70's that many episodes have been lost to deterioration. He said that an entire season of Happy Days is lost. I just stood there dumbfounded as the other people on the tour lapped it up. I assume the same people are voting for Trump.