Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Memories, Light The Corners Of The Lot

Twenty years ago (how on earth can that be) I worked as the Costume Supervisor on the short-lived "Ben Stiller Show". 

Being a sketch comedy show, especially one fueled by the rapid-fire minds of Ben; Judd Apatow; Jeff Kahn; Janeane Garofalo; Bob Odenkirk; etc., my memory of it is one fast blur.  I don't think I sat down once during all the months of the job.

We shot on what is called, the Hollywood Center Studios.  It's a little, nondescript independent lot on Santa Monica Blvd. at Las Palmas Street.

As an indie lot, it may have had something of a scrappy, cheesy reputation.  And yes, during that hallowed, banner year of 1939 while the big guys were churning out history like Gone With The Wind and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington our little lot was creating the epic, Sunset Trail with Hopalong Cassidy and Gabby Hayes.  But Make No Mistake:  history - important history - happened there too.

In 1919, Jasper Johns, a former associate of Charlie Chaplin, built three production stages and several bungalows on a 16.5 acre site in Hollywood and named it Hollywood Studios Inc. The first stages resembled hot houses with steel frames, cloth walls, glass roofs and clerestory windows.  It also had one of the first 'sound' stages in town, built for the princely sum of half a million dollars in late '26.  Other studios would rent it for production while their own sound facilities were being built.

It was once the home of Monogram and of Educational for a few minutes until it settled into a long run under the name of General Service Studios (catchy name).

Funny business happened here in spades.  Silent comedy legends Charley Chase and Harold Lloyd made merriment here.  And during the sound era Mae West, Laurel & Hardy and The Marx Brothers made movies here.

It all wasn't just a barrel of laughs though, Howard Hughes film (first as a silent, then reshot with sound) Hell's Angeles was made here with baby Jean Harlow. As well as the Korda Brothers setting up camp for Larry and Viv in That Hamilton Woman.

The 70s saw the productions What's The Matter With Helen, Save The Tiger and Shampoo. In the early 80s the lot was the property of Coppola's Zoetrope.  The Outsiders and Rumblefish were produced here.

But it's real claim to fame is the Golden Age of Television!  Get a load of this list:

Perry Mason, Mr. Ed, The Addams Family, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, Ozzie & Harriet, Our Miss Brooks, and The Lone Ranger to name a few.

We shot on Stage 2, which is more commonly known as:

Yep. That's right, I got to breath that rarefied air that Lucy, Desi, Viv and Bill used for the first two seasons of the show.

In the picture below, we see the inside of Stage 2 and the blackened doorway on the left of the first floor build-out was my office. (it's still there!!) The door on the right next to it was used by the Art Department and if memory serves me, those upstairs rooms weren't built yet.

TV got it's start there from the jump when George Burns brought he and Gracie's show onto Stage 3 in 1948.

45 years after he first walked onto that lot, and at the tender age of 96, Mr. Burns still had an office in a courtyard on the lot that he would come to for about an hour or so every day.  I know this first hand because one day, in the middle of a typically hectic day, I found myself in here:

peeing next to George Burns!  And, all kidding and snarky-ness aside, it was one of the most amazing moments of my life.  "How ah ya taday kid?" he wanted to know.  We exchanged small talk and as I was leaving, I stuttered out, "Goodbye Mr. Burns, have a terrific day." to which he replied, "Kid, at this age, what else am I gonna do?  See ya."

I hadn't thought about this stuff in so long when right before Christmas, my dear friend and neighbor, Charlie, and I were running around one day.  Charlie now works on a show on that lot and he wanted to run by to pick up his paycheck.  We were walking around the place swapping stories about what it was like working there now, versus 20 years ago, and he said, "how long has it been since you visited the sidewalk in the courtyard?"

Well wouldn't you know it, he showed me something I'd never seen before.

Here, in the lovely courtyard of writers and producers offices (where I'm convinced the celestial light rays indicate that George is still here), scrawled into the sidewalk from the long ago afternoon of November 6th, 1954:

The signatures of Donald O'Connor and Mitzi Gaynor!
Wondrous wonders just never cease.