The SoCal Trip 1975

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Have you ever flown on an airplane with a head cold? With your sinuses full up and all you can do is sit there with your eyes clamped shut and teeth gritted? The take-off had been no problem, so there had been no “theatrical trailer” heralding the excruciating experience waiting in the wings.

The landing was the horse of a different color. It felt like an invisible fiend was exploring the inside of my head with the point of an icepick. I chalk it up to the change of air pressure that occurred as we descended. It was with great relief that we finally touched down, and the experience was soon relegated to a distant memory, (with a note to self – never to fly with a head cold again). Our vacation could finally begin in earnest.

This was our first ever vacation to Southern California, and to some of its choice attractions – Disneyland and “Hollywood” to be precise. I do not remember the exact details as to arrangments but we had passes (open sesames) to each stop. It was through favor of the branch managers that my Dad knew (and I would later know myself when working at Saffle’s).

Our first day in SoCal was spent in the Magic Kingdom – Disneyland, courtesy of the BV branch manager in Seattle, Homer Schmidt. It was my second visit, and I think it was perhaps the second time for my wife. The park was prepping for the big bicentennial for the United States the following year, and had already added pertinent events – like America on Parade –  a bicentennial version of the Main Street Electrical Parade.

From here on out, “Gone with the Wind” seemed to be the theme for the rest of the vacation. For, the next day we had an appointment to take a tour of the MGM studio in Culver City, courtesy of the MGM branch manager Connie Carpou. We were driving up Washington Blvd in that fair city, when my wife’s eye caught a curious sight. It appeared to be the mansion from her all-time favorite film – “Gone with the Wind.” Or to be more precise the mansion on the beginning clip that announced it was a David O. Selznick production. There it was in all its glory. And what did we do? We turned the car around and drove back to get a closer look.

We found a side street and parked the car. Nearby we found the studio gate and its guard. As I remember it now, it was a bit of a tunnel, overhung like a garden arbor. So we questioned him about the lot and the mansion out front, and he confirmed our guess that it was indeed what we had seen in the movies. They did not allow visitors at this studio, and since we had our appointment at MGM to get to, we left.

MGM was only a short distance away. We checked in at the Thalberg building to begin our tour of the lot. We were taken through the east gate and down the main street (I think there was advertising for the upcoming release of The Sunshine Boys). First stop was the MGM Scoring Stage. Here we learned that the music soundtracks for the “Wizard of Oz,” “Ben Hur,” and, of course, “Gone with the Wind” were scored. (And to my amazement, one of my all-time favorites “Lawrence of Arabia”).

Our guide pointed out to us the water tank beside the main street, and informed us that it had been built for and used by the swimming film star, Esther Williams. We next got a peek inside an empty sound stage. It was just that, empty, and big.

The rest of the tour at MGM is hazy in my memory. I thought we went briefly into the back lot, where the exterior sets stand – like the New York set; the Carvel town set (Andy Hardy’s hometown), etc. But since “That’s Entertainment” had come out just the year before, I more than likely conflate my memories of its sequences that were shot on this same backlot with those of our tour. I recall mention of certain restrictions that were in place due to insurance concerns.

The last stop on our vacation was a tour of Universal Studios, courtesy of Russell Brown the Seattle branch manager for Universal. It was not at all like the amusement park venue that it is now. We actually got to get out and walk around in certain areas. I remember walking through covered areas where props and greens were set out in the open. We attended a demonstration of movie make up in which members of the audience were “made up” as the Frankenstein monster. (I did not volunteer). But the most memorable item (especially for my wife) was an exhibit that contained a Techincolor camera – one of the cameras that had been used when shooting “Gone with the Wind.”

Our trip back was via an Amtrak train on an over night schedule to Seattle. It had been planned that way from the beginning, not because of my recent experience on the plane. In the main it was memorable because we were sidetracked some time in the night due to heavy snow. We awoke to find that the tracks had just been cleared.

We enjoyed ourselves very much. So much so, that we have been back a number of times, the next one being the very next year.

A future post or posts on that experience to come.

universal-studios-makeup-demo-1975

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

Having been awed by Bogart in Casablanca I was eager to see him in other films. So when The Maltese Falcon popped up on the schedule for the Harvard Exit, my girl friend and I made a date to see it. Ahead of time, I didn’t know what to expect, not having read any Dashiel Hammett stories or novels. In fact, I had not heard of Film Noir or even the phrase “hard-boiled.” (I did take a class on film at Seattle U, but it was more of film appreciation type class. It would touch a bit on the how tos so that you knew what you were looking at. Really it was a film critique class. And it talked about genres – westerns, sci-fi, comedy, etc.Film Noir included – but this must have been later).

Come time for the show, we were settled in our seats, the lights went down, and the Warner Bros. Logo and a fanfare announced the film. And the music score (Adolph Deutsch) ushered us into the mystery heralded in glorious black and white (and charcoal and pearly grays).

So we were thrown into the mystery of the Black Bird, all wrapped up in the events surrounding the murder of Sam Spade’s partner Miles Archer. We were confused along with our hero as odd characters, one by one came on the scene, all trying to enlist the detective’s help and thwart the others in the quest for the fabled bird. Would Sam figure out what was going on? Would we? Would his feelings for Brigid O’Shaughnessy find fulfillment? We cared. And we were surprised.

Some years afterwards I read one of the bios about the director of the film, John Huston. Huston himself wrote the screenplay. He said that he simply took the story that Hammett had written and translated it page for page to the screen. And in my reading and viewing of the two I can concur. It is unusual for a film taken from another source to end up reflecting it in all its little perfections. The norm for this situation eventuates in two artistic expressions with the same title, but with little similarity thereafter. As the expression goes, Huston nailed it.

The Maltese Falcon would join Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia as seeds sewn in my psyche. Or in another analogy – they were germs that gave me Hollywood Fever.

I Join the Army and Assault a House

I Join the Army and Assault a House

First day as a freshman at Seattle U was spent in one building, going from table to table, signing up for classes. But the image that sticks in my mind was a lot of waiting around in stairwells, which must have been the in between times. It was on this day that I met Dave who became a fast friend, throughout my college years and afterwards.

Dave had and has a scientific view on everything. His declared major was chemistry. I chose to study languages, majoring in French and minoring in Spanish. Thus we never had any classes together but one. That first quarter we were both in Army ROTC. The class was held first thing in the morning, it seems well before anyone was awake on campus. My Roadrunner and I would leave my house at an ungodly time of the morning, cross Renton and swing by his house on the way to downtown Seattle via I-5.

At first the class covered mundane things. Mundane Army things that is – care and wearing of uniforms, polishing boots and brass belt buckles, group organizations, saluting, manual of arms, etc.  The manual of arms led to being a part of the drill team, which meant more early mornings, including some weekends when we marched in local parades.

Eventually we settled into more ordinary classroom type activities – reading books and writing reports. I reaquainted myself with Lawrence of Arabia, reading his Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and writing about his guerilla tactics.

Then there was a weekend we spent at Fort Lewis. We had already learned to disassemble and reassemble an M-14 in class, and were promised we would soon be doing the same just by touch in a bag. Out at Fort Lewis we actually got to fire it on the range. It was just like in the war movies I’d seen, hold it in close to your shoulder (a hinged support on the butt of the weapon lent stablity, especially in the prone position), squeeze the trigger and watch the kick. There was a selection switch for single shot or fully automatic. Our instructor had us keep it on single shot, for when fully automatic, it was harder to control – the muzzle tending to climb with each shot.

The highlight of the “maneuveurs” was the tactical portion in which we assaulted a house-like structure. We were shown the structure, but not shown how to carry out the assault. I guess they just wanted to see what we would come up with on our own. Officers are supposed to come up with solutions to problems as they confront them. The structure had no roof on it, so we decided to come down through the “ceiling.” I don’t remember what they thought of our solution. And I would prefer getting instruction, and perhaps that would have come later.  But it was not to be.

When I received my grades for the first quarter, I was shocked. I am usually a straight A student, and although in this instance I did have two “A”s, there was also one B. And that B was in my major – French.

Dave had some trouble too. So we both went to the ROTC commandant and resigned.

Me and LoA – a Second Time Around

Years later when I was working at a theater booking service in Seattle I had another encounter with Lawrence of Arabia.  A client of the service wanted us to book a summer retrospective series of 70mm films at one of his theaters in downtown Renton Washington.
For the first of the series we played “Ben Hur.”
The print was gorgeous.  I remember sitting in one of the performances and marveling over the detail on display in the courtyard scene. It was winter and dead leaves were strewn everywhere. One felt all you needed to do was stretch your hand out and touch them.
When LoA, the second film in the series arrived, however, I received a panic call from the owner. After a test run with the print of LoA, they discovered that almost all of it had faded, the color was drained to such an extent that little was viewable other than the bright light from the projector.
I hung up and called the distributor to ask if another print were available. There wasn’t. I was starting to panic myself. Someone there suggested that I call the MPAA, who in turn gave me the number for the cinematographer’s guild.
I had in mind that there might be some filter to place over the projector portal that would give some definition to the people and objects in the frame. The person from the guild thought about it a minute and came up with filter with a green tint.
It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it did give a modicum of definition, so that you could actually make out something in all that whiteness.
Sometime after this event I heard that a major push was undertaken to rescue films like LoA that were in danger of disappearing forever.
And I often wondered after that, if I had had some small part in it.
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