Sunday, July 28, 2013

How'd you like to go to work here everyday?

Of the many movie lots I was fortunate to work at, 20th Century Fox was probably my favorite.

Especially during MASH.

Back then I drove into the studio past the New York street built for HELLO DOLLY. Today there are office buildings. Goodbye Dolly. I drove past the MASH stage (9) – actually I raced past the MASH stage so I wouldn’t be stopped by an actor who had a script question. My parking space was in the old western town square used for BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. I was mere steps from the whorehouse.

Our office was in “the Old Writers Building”. And that was before I was one. It was a two story Swiss chalet, featured in BABES IN TOYLAND and any other film that had elves. Supposedly, our office on the second floor once belonged to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Zelda’s empty gin bottles were still behind the couch so it must be true.

There was always filming going on. CHARLIE’S ANGELS were there every other week. I guess the angels broke up a lot Swiss drug rings. But I’d walk out of the building and there would be Jackie Smith in a tight jump suit pointing a gun at me. This is why I wanted to be a writer, by the way.

The Old Writers Building still exists but western town is a memory, replaced by trailers. Jackie Smith can still get into that jumpsuit so that’s pretty cool.

The commissary was in the PEYTON PLACE town square. Remember the white gazebo? That was still there. Not anymore. Replaced by a massive parking structure.

What is now Century City used to just be part of the 20th Century Fox lot. But they lost so much money on CLEOPATRA that they had to sell some of it off. But in the late 70s a good portion still remained. There was a private bridge over Olympic Blvd that led to a back lot where a ton of scenery was stored. My partner and I would walk to Century City for lunch past several of the original STAR WARS sets.

Today the bridge is gone as is the back lot. There is a large office building and a parking structure. (“Pave paradise, and put up a parking lot”) The STAR WAR sets are in the Smithsonian or some prop guy’s den. They would have been in my den if I were smart back then.

A trip to the prop building was like a day in the greatest Hollywood museum ever. Priceless props were just collecting dust. Yul Brynner’s belt buckle from THE KING AND I was even there! Why didn’t I steal that too?! I am such an idiot!

Every afternoon we could watch dailies. The screening room was right behind Commissioner Gordon’s office from the TV version of BATMAN. Remember how the Batmobile would park right in front of the building and Batman and Robin would bound up the stairs? On the other side of the fa├žade was probably the producers watching the Julie Newmar in her cat suit from the day before.

And all of this was before even going on our set and watching them film scenes that are still being shown today.

It was a golden time that I cherish now and happy to say, recognized and appreciated at the time. Dream factories were more dreams and less factories. When I have occasion to drive onto the lot today I usually pass by the former site of the old western town and think of that great exchange in BUTCH CASSIDY.

BUTCH: What happened to the old bank? It was beautiful.
GUARD: People kept robbing it.
BUTCH: Small price to pay for beauty.


VP81955 said...

I'm sure you had similar emotions in your years working at Paramount, thinking to yourself when stumped while writing, "What would Lubitsch (or Wilder) do?", and hoping that either one's spirit would subconsciously provide an answer. Not that the "Lubitsch touch" would have normally worked on "Cheers" (maybe "Frasier").

Jason Roberts said...

Love this post Ken!

Did you know that John Ritter had his offices in the Old Writers Building too. Interesting fact; The New Writers Building (which is old now too!) it's the one that has the fountain in front of it, had the original casting director Bonnie Pietila offices from "The Simpsons", when it was still the interstitial segue between sketches on the "The Tracey Ullman Show". Now it houses all the writers for the Simpsons. I spent a lot of time on that lot early in my career and you are right the film history is still around... You can read a ton about it in Jerry Ziesmer's autobiographical book, "Ready When You Are Mr. Coppola, Mr. Spielberg, Mr. Crowe". From his time working as an Assistant Director on "Hello Dolly".
Every lot has the same story though...
Although I don't remember Star Wars being filmed in the US, it was shot in Tunisia and at Elstree Studios in the UK. maybe tit was the VFX sets from ILM's Van Nuys warehouse....

Hamid said...

Slightly in relation to this, I saw a documentary years ago about James L Brooks in which he talked about his career. When it came to talking about working at Fox, he said there was a lady who manned the entrance to the lot who had, he said, one of the loveliest smiles anyone could have. No matter how much of a bad day he might be having, seeing her smile as he drove into the lot would cheer him up.

In the same interview, he mentioned his two favourite moments in Broadcast News. One was Albert Brooks brushing a bit of hair or dust off his shirt while typing. (James) Brooks said he loved it because it was just a small inconsequential moment where a character pauses to do something that is of no importance to the story. His other favourite was the exchange between an employee who's been fired and his boss, which is my personal favourite scene in the film. As the guy leaves, he says "Early retirement, that's such a great way of putting it". His boss: "That's beautiful. Now if there's anything I can do for you". "Well, I certainly hope you'll die soon".

Igor said...

I recall being on the Fox lot a few times in the late 80s, and at the commissary one day I saw Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner having lunch.

To this day, I wish my sense of decorum hadn't trumped my giddy feelings of fandom so I could have gone over to their table and said, "Uh..."

Igor said...

And a late entry for the 3s Category, Unintentional-Humor Division:

Per the foodie known as Gwyneth Paltrow - “When you go to Paris and your concierge sends you to some restaurant because they get a kickback, it’s like, ‘No. Where should I really be? Where is the great bar with organic wine? Where do I get a bikini wax?’"

FANINNYC said...

Hi Ken. A few days ago while channel surfing, I saw the ending of an old MASH called "Guerilla My Dreams". I remember watching it when I was in High School and the next day in school, my friends and I were talking about how perplexed we were by the episode. I don't think that you were involved with it, but perhaps you can have some insight on it. In the episode, the MASH gang try to help an enemy sniper escape. She tries to kill one of the wounded in post-op and at the end screams at them about what fools they are. We were wondering about the intent of the episode, as Hawkeye,... were clearly wrong in their actions, but never seemed to realize that they were being played. Was it to show that even our heroes made mistakes or was it simply a poorly conceived/executed episode? Thanks.

Mac said...

That's so cool. Talking of memorabilia, I watched Bob Weide's doc on Woody Allen last night, and he's still got the first typewriter he bought and used to write literally everything - every single film he's ever made. One day that typewriter will either be fetching crazy sums at auction or sitting behind a glass case in a museum.

Charles Jurries said...

What is one phrase/line/clam/sentence you cannot stand? For me it is "This is madness!" Most people do not say that, and in the heat of the moment would most likely say something that flows off the tongue a little more freely.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Sorry for this long post, but Ken you got me thinking…

I, too, am grateful for the memories and time I spent roaming every foot of the 20th Century Fox lot. I was a young, wacky guy when I landed my first job in the print shop: a room slightly bigger than a school bus, filled with eight other guys and printing machines the size of rhinoceroses. Fumes from drum-cleaning fluid (gasoline, I think) made my eight-hour shift somewhat giddy, but toxic nevertheless. It was unpleasant, miserable work, but I couldn’t possibly quit and give up show business.

I eventually made my way to the distinguished executive building on the opposite side of the lot. It was exciting to wander hallways that played host to some the most powerful, talented people Hollywood’s ever produced - including every Zanuck who ever ran the studio. My job was to pick up anything an executive or producer needed copied, copy it, and return it to their secretary. Many of the secretaries and some of the inter-office memos were of eye-popping quality.

Whether it was because of what I knew from the inter-office memos, or what I’d seen certain executives doing on the roof with certain starlets, or just because the secretaries liked me, I was hired as an entry-level casting director. I was a “suit” with my own parking place. My job was to cast extras (background artists) and speaking parts with five or under lines of dialogue. I now enjoyed lunch in the commissary (greatest cheeseburgers) with my fellow casting directors. Thrill of a lifetime: sat next to Cary Grant. He was one good-looking human.

Great moments: Cary Grant; lunch with Raquel Welch; 3 am at the studio to check in mostly drunk background apes for Planet of The Apes; surviving a plane hitting the executive building; mail boy John Landis and I running amuck in the hallways, doing outrageous things to make each other laugh; sticking my tongue out at Richard Zanuck and not getting fired; secretaries, secretaries, secretaries; wandering the stages, drinking in the sights and smells of iconic sets in iconic films; taking pictures of a very raunchy, hooker-ridden crowd that made up the parade scene in HELO DOLLY; taking great shots of Barabra Streisand; Farrah Fawcett walking by and smelling really good; the western street where Gary Cooper once galumphed; pulling rogue extras off the set of Room 222; and then that MASH show, nine-years with Private Igor and some of the most talented people in the business.

Great lot! Thanks for the memories.

Sparky said...

Hi Ken!

I have a Friday Question for you that's M*A*S*H related:

Which Klinger outfit and Section-8 stunt was your favorite?

Thanks a bunch, and I love your blog!! =)

Pat Reeder said...

To Charles Jurries,

As I noted here recently, the sitcom dialogue line that bugs me most (once they got past the vogue for "!")is "You are UN-be-LEAVE-able!" I keep wondering why the person can't believe it, since whatever prompted it is usually the same selfish, stupid behavior the other character displays in every episode.

Dbenson said...

Mr. Maxwell:
"Hooker-ridden crowd" in "Hello Dolly"?
"Rogue extras" in "Room 222"?
Please elucidate.

g said...

Off topic, but a couple of neat notes:

The "Simon and Marcie" episode of the Cartoon Network show "Adventure Time" features the "Cheers" theme sung by the evil Ice King.

The MAD magazine spoof of "M*A*S*H" has been reissued in a special treasury edition on sale at most stores, including Barnes and Noble.


chuckcd said...

I worked for a short while on the Paramount lot in what they used to call "Lucy's Bungalow".

Lucille Ball's old offices.

It's too bad all the cool old areas have been replaced with concrete.

Becca in Seattle said...

Ken, to my point the other day, this is a perfect example of why you don't "get" using KickStarter to make a movie. You've been there! We haven't.

I was able to (very cheaply!) purchase the opportunity to get an insiders view into film-making via regualr e-mail and video updates. It's eye-opening and fun and totally worth the few bucks I kicked the filmakers way and I never would have gotten this chance had he relied only on insider connections.

I think your perspective would be much differnt if you were not in the biz.

Jeff Maxwell said...

For Dbenson:

The HELLO DOLLY parade scene needed a big crowd.To fill the large order, Central Casting must have bussed in girls from Nevada. Between shots, hookers were working out of empty equipment crates the size of jail cells. Johns in the box? (sorry)

My boss went nutty crazy when we discovered two rogue, non-union extras wrangled their way onto the set and into a scene. Long story, but to prevent fines and stuff, I had to race to the stage and escort them away from the cozy ROOM 222.

Great lot.

Storm said...

I would've LIVED in the Costumes Dept. Wandering the costumes department of any major studio for a day is a very old dream of mine.

@Charles Jurries: Not to be contrary or anything, you can hate it if you like, but I swear to Bowie, I say "This is MADNESS!" every single day of my goofy life. But then, I live with an elderly Pug.

As an action fan, I'm pretty damn tired of "Whatever you're gonna do, do it fast!" Great line coming from Vasquez in "Aliens" 27 (Jeez, really? 27?) years ago, but now it's just super played-out.

Cheers, thanks a lot,


wv: 23 condomai; What fanboys who thought they'd get laid brought to Comic Con.