April 24, 2018 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | FILM, TRAVEL | 0 Comments |

"Open up, Jonesey!"

Paramount Studios, Melrose Avenue, Hollywood, April 2018 –

TVC decided on something ‘touristy’ – a Hollywood studio tour. Spurning the hordes of kiddies likely to be at Universal, looking at the mangy old “Jaws” shark or the “Psycho” house, we went to venerable, staid old Paramount (producer of the first ‘Best’ Picture under the Academy system, “Wings”), which now incorporates the adjacent old RKO / Desilu studios.

Unlike Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, you leave, rather than enter by the lucky Bronson Gate (not named after Charles Bronson – Bronson, aka Buchinsky, is named after the gate).

Built on lemon and orange groves where there was no urban development and water was scarce (we were shown the small doors situated on the back lot of RKO where Howard Hughes later illegally tapped into the city’s supply), the early studios had to create their own infrastructure.

You can see why Paramount produced that classic water-thieving movie, “Chinatown”

In the days before CGI, the dream factories had to go to more trouble (and as usual in artistic endeavour, with better outcomes). So this car park on the lot, at 48 hours’ notice, is filled with 1000s of gallons of water and some back lighting, and paint on the screen to the left of it, to turn it from this:

…to this:

“The Ten Commandments” (1956)

Instead of going to New York for location shots, you could simply go to a rendition of a NYC street or alley:

And rather than travel to South America to film an assignation in a hotel lobby, you can turn the foyer of Paramount Theatre, right on the lot…

into this;

Lobby meeting from “Clear and Present Danger”

The unreality of it all wrings a new respect for the film actor, who has to keep a straight face with all the technical shenanigans furiously going on around her or him, production carrying on like a duck sailing smoothly atop the water, paddling furiously out of sight below.

‘Ready when you are, Mr De Mille.’ (Note the brushes at the back of the truck to wipe away tyre tracks.)

The studio, rather sadly, isn’t making any films right now, apart from some post-production.  Most films use real locations these days and the studios are chock full of TV productions, from dramas like the infinite NCIS franchise, to sitcoms and panel shows like ‘Dr Phil.’

We walked the empty set and P, being an ignoramus, asked where Mrs Phil sits during the show, to be told he was sitting in the very chair.  (Should have known – it was the best seat in the house).  Our embarrassment forbad us from reaching under seats to find skin cream sampler bags or ask when Rochelle might return to the show…

Hollywood Sign (local celebrities ‘rent’ a letter) as seen from the Paramount lot

The various aspects of production were explored –  costumes, including the work of Edith Head, who seems to have dressed the stars for 100 years:

And props:

Captain Kirk’s original chair, not seen here, was moved upstairs after some Trekkie sat in and broke it.  Beam the dill up, Scotty:

TVC regarding Star Trek as akin to watching grass grow, only worse, we were more interested in some other props:

We hoped they cleaned the inside of the wizard’s mask after Chazz Michael Michaels finished with it.

Here is where Howard Hughes had his RKO office, where he sat in the bay window no doubt, thinking his mad thoughts…

Hughes was obviously certifiable.  He used much of the RKO lot to house his various planes; a somewhat uncommercial move. Although RKO had a respectable film history, including such classics as Citizen Kane, Cimarron (1931), King Kong (1933), Bringing Up Baby (1938), and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), it slipped down the rankings over the years. During World War II, some wag is said to have written on a studio wall, “In case of air raid, go directly to RKO – it hasn’t had a hit in years.”

Where they made “Citizen Kane”

When Lucille Ball hit the big time with “I Love Lucy,” she made enough money to buy the moribund RKO. She then moved into the grand old dressing room once occupied by the matriarch Katherine Hepburn, with whom she had not got along. Lucy then added a brick veneer in the style of her old home in New York –

…and in order to foster the illusion that she spent much time at her Hollywood palazzo with Desi, Lucie and Desi junior, she had a mock-up built on the lot (often used for films and TV shows)…

Just like home, only not

She must have been (though a genuine comedy genius) a real nice lady.

Of course, the script’s the thing, and it is nice to see the writers getting such sumptuous offices in which to attend to their creative labours:


You might recognise Paramount’s script department, from this:

And here’s Norma on her comeback…sorry, return, to Paramount:

[By the way, the Paramount logo originally showed the Matterhorn circled by 24, later 22, stars.  These represented the stable of contract players tied to the studio, hence the term “movie star.” Later, the US Supreme Court had something to say about the indentured servitude of long-standing studio contracts.]


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