The 1977 California Trip: Paramount Guns, Grease, and Little House

Paramount Guns Grease and Little House

And not necessarily in that order.

Our itinerary for this trip started with a visit to Disneyland. (I was a little nervous after locking the car and leaving it in the Donald Duck section of the parking lot, having it fresh in mind what had happened to us in San Francisco. No one bothered it. Passersby evidently had more things on their minds than our little Plymouth Arrow).

While Disneyland is always a highlight, I found my excitement building at the prospect of our pending tours of Paramount and 20th Century Fox.

Our destination the next day was Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. This was the era of Barry Diller, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg at Paramount. I was not acquainted with any of them (and they sure didn’t know me). Our entree into the studio was courtesy of Joe Vigil, recently promoted from booker to branch manager of the Seattle/Portland exchange, working out of Paramount’s San Francisco office. (I mentioned Joe in my Zefferelli post).

After passing the gate we were remanded into the care of an ancient security guard. (He reminded me of a skinny old codger from Central Casting. You know, the one you see in all those old westerns). We three made up our own little tour group.

Our route mimicked a big square, circling the inside perimeter in a clock-wise manner. First stop was a small set in its own little building. It was a western jail. And since it’s use was ubiquitous it may have been a permanent structure. The guard had us walk before him, and straight through the iron doors into the jail cell. With a chuckle he slammed the door behind us and locked it. While thus incarcerated he reminisced about other past denizens of the premises. He assured us emphatically that John Wayne himself had spent time on this set.

We journeyed over into the western end of the lot that had one time belonged to another film studio – RKO Radio Pictures. A whirl of activity had its epicenter in one of the sound stages along its main street. The stage was given over to a small film project just getting its start, Allan Carr’s production of “Grease,” being directed by Randall Kleiser. Judging by the size of the group crammed onto its floor, some kind of tryout or rehearsal was taking place.

At the end of this street an open sound stage door greeted us. Inside all was quiet and deserted. And cool, for not a single light was on. Farm tackle and wagon wheels were the order of the day. This sound stage was dedicated for interior work on the TV series “Little House on the Prairie.” Filming for the fourth season was then underway, but more than likely all the action was transpiring somewhere off on one of the movie ranches for exterior work.

Our guide walked us through the “New York streets.” Nothing was shooting. So we got a good view of the various locations each street represented – SoHo, Greenwich Village, Brooklyn, Upper and lower East Sides, etc.

Next he led us through an alley alive with flying sparks and the sounds of hammers on metal. I could call it “gasoline alley,” for several cars were being restored and fitted for use in the Grease production. Tail fins flashed their stuff.

Last stop – or the last thing I remember at Paramount – was a small building stuffed to the rafters with guns. Gatling guns galore hung from the ceiling; hand guns, rifles and machineguns were arrayed about the walls, (with firing pins removed, if recollection serves). On a return trip to the lot at a later date, I learned that this armory was no longer there, but had been moved off site in 1979.

We did not run into any “stars” on our journey, but we were nonetheless satisfied at our look behind the scenes.

Our aforementioned return to the Paramount took place in the fall of 2006, and I will cover that trip at its appropriate time, sometime in the future, so stay tuned, and Watch This Space.

The 1977 California Trip: We left a few things in San Francisco

The 1977 California Trip: We left a few things in San Francisco

Not our hearts.

It was the summer of 1977 and we had plans. Plans to hit the road again for a vacation down California way.

Instead of flying this time we took our orange Arrow. With me driving of course.

We made the trip in stages, stopping the first night at the Mallory Hotel in Portland OR. We didn’t see much of the city. It was dark out, and on our quest to find a place to eat, we settled on a familiar name – Benihana’s Japanese restaurant. So that section of Portland and whatever was viewable from the off ramp to the hotel and the streets to get back onto I-5 were all we saw of the city.

We made good time from Portland through the rest of Oregon and into Northern California. We reached Vacaville in time for lunch at a restaurant in an olive orchard. My wife remembered this particular restaurant/tourist spot from a family vacation when she was growing up. She carries with her the memory of her dad grimacing when sampling a rather green olive. This time around she was the one grimacing – over my choice from the menu – gazpacho. I guess the thought of cold tomato soup put her teeth on edge. I thought it wonderful (the soup, not the fact that it made her grimace).

From Vacaville we made our way down to San Pablo Bay, skirted around towards San Rafael, and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to our next destination – San Francisco. We checked into a motel somewhere along route 1, unloaded our luggage (except a couple of items) and went in search of dinner.

The Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero Center was only four years old at the time, and a prime night spot. It had a revolving restaurant, the Equinox, on the top of its tower. We parked the Arrow a few blocks away up on Market Street, and were mesmerized by the impressive lobby of the hotel (like being in the interior of a pyramid) which we passed through on the way to the restaurant. [My wife is a great disaster movie fan, and shots of this particular lobby were recognizable, as it had been used in The Towering Inferno, three years before.]

We had a enjoyable meal. I can tell you that much, but don’t ask what it was, for what happened next completely overshadowed all else.

We each had had an adult beveridge with our meal, so we were a little fuzzy as we walked up Market to our parked car. We were puzzled by the sight of a loaf of bread sitting on the sidewalk beside the Arrow. My wife wondered out loud why our groceries were outside the car. We didn’t notice the broken glass under the bread, and were slow to realize that our car had been broken into and robbed.

We found a phone and called the cops. After giving them the rundown on our plight, they informed us that they could not come out to the scene of the crime, but if we wanted to come in to fill out a report we were welcome to.

We followed their directions to a small precinct house further uptown and made our report. Besides our groceries we were missing a couple other items: an 8mm Bell & Howell movie camera and dirty laundry in a paper sack. Sometime in the midst of this ordeal I asked urgently if they had a restroom. This sent me on another surreal sidetrack, as they had no public facility and referred me next door to a seedy bar/nightclub. I felt I was sleep walking through the rest of our time there. It was real “trippy.”

The next day was a Sunday and the memory of what transpired is all a hazy black cloud. Reality was settling in. Was our vacation over before it had begun? We needed a replacement for that backseat side window and where would we find one?

We had to wait until Monday. That’s when we raised a Chrysler dealorship, but they did not have that part in stock. Nor did any of the auto glass companies. Hope was offered, in that they could order it in – but it would take a couple of days. Desperate to save our vacation, I asked if there was something we could substitute, say something plastic. That set a light bulb off in the imagination of the auto glass specialist, and he referred us to a shop that dealt in plexiglass. On parting he suggested that we tell them to use the other window as a template to cut a replacement.

Which is exactly what we were able to do. And we were on the road again before lunch. With only an occasional whistling noise from our replacement “window.”