Friday, May 22, 2015

"Studio Daze"

A photographic Art Fair returned me – along with my family – to the venerable Paramount Studios (established in 1912) where I had once worked – although not quite that far back – and on whose premises the photographic exhibit was currently being presented.  (The numerous soundstages were available to serve as galleries, because the productions that were filmed on them were on seasonal hiatus.)

How did it feel going back to a glamorous venue where had I once had an office and a parking space and I was greeted cheerfully by the Security Guard as I drove unimpeded through the studio’s hallowed front gate, and I was no longer doing any of that anymore?

I believe there are indictors to my reaction in the previous sentence.

But I went anyway.  Because we were invited – due to the beneficence of good friends, there were free entry passes involved – and because my family wanted to see the photographs.

As we – “we” being myself, Dr. M, my daughter Anna and her husband Colby – stepped onto the first “Studio Street”, I immediately initiated my personal newsreel:

“On the right is where the Taxi and Best of the West offices were.  They shot Taxi on (nearby) Stage 23, and Best of the West on Stage 24.  (Though in truth, it might easily have been the other way around.) 

You see that grassy area over there?  That’s where I used to play catch with (the late) Gary Goldberg (the genial mastermind behind Family Ties.)  And once, when I was just throwing the ball up in the air and catching it, (former Rams defensive end) Fred Dryer came down (POINTING THEM OUT) those stairs, after auditioning for the lead role in Cheers – whose original incarnation featured a bar-owning ex-football player – he said, ‘Toss me the ball’ and I played catch for a couple minutes with him.  I asked him, ‘How do you think you did?’  He said, ‘I don’t think I got it.’

Right there is where the studio barbershop used to be.  And over there, where there’s that lower-level parking area?  That was big water tank where, before CGI, they would fill it up with water and float miniature models on top of it, to use in “battle scenes” for TV miniseries (The Winds of War) and in movies.  

(POINTING) That’s where they stationed the live bear we used on an episode of Best of the West.  When the word got out that there was a bear on the lot, normally blasé studio employees raced out of their offices to see him.”

At that point, we had been there less than five minutes. 

(Note:  Earlier this morning, I asked Anna to assess my demeanor being back there again.  “You looked proud”, she reported.  It’s important to check out these things, because, although it might appear likely to be otherwise, you are not always the most accurate evaluator of your behavior.  In this case, for example, I myself was considerably “off.”)

After viewing various photographic exhibits – my favorite being the magnificent selection of Edward Curtis early 1900’s pictures of Indians – Anna insisted that we make a pilgrimage to my old office.  (At Paramount, the studio office structures are named after iconic actors and actresses.  My office was located in the {silent movie favorite} “Clara Bow Building.”)

The direction I led us in was accurate.   However, I actually passed our destination before Anna, reading a sign on the wall, shouted, “This is it!”  No excuses.  Though it had been more than a decade since I had been there, they had not, in the interim, moved any of the buildings.  I’ll give myself part marks, for getting close.

We climbed the steep staircase to the offices located on the Second Floor of the two-story structure.  The stairs’ carpeting, disreputable when I was there, looked like exactly the same carpeting.  It was like the studio president had debated, “Carpeting, or more money for me?” and had decided, “More money for me”, and they just left the old carpeting.

After several missteps on my part, Anna helped me identify the right office. Unfortunately, it was locked up, so we were unable go in.  We noted a makeshift sign taped to the door saying, “Clear”, meaning that my old office was unoccupied.  I momentarily wondered if, after I had left, they had shuttered it permanently as a personal tribute, the way they retire certain superstar ballplayers’ uniform numbers.  That was probably not the case.   

As we headed for the exit, we passed an office whose door was wide open.  We stopped to say hello to a young writer (who could easily have been me, forty years ago), his feet resting comfortably on his desk, an identifiable signal of a more relaxed, pre-production hiatus schedule.

I expressed sympathy for his having to work on a Saturday, keeping my pangs of visceral envy under control.  I wished the young writer good luck, and we exited the building. 

And then it was over.

Any residual emotions after I got home?  Surprisingly few, the passing years mitigating the loss.  I once worked at that studio.  But those times are long over.

Still, if the Photographic Art Fair becomes an annual tradition?

I would not mind if they put it in an alternate location.


Ansel said...

What, no pictures?!!?

JED said...

I like this story. It seems to fit in with what you've let us see about your personality. The fact that it comes after your story about going back to see your classmates in Canada makes it especially interesting. I like how you let us see your obvious excitement at revisiting where you once worked and where you had great success but you tempered it with the sadness of realizing those days are gone. We can all relate to that. This time of year, especially, as we celebrate other people's graduations, it's easy to have a mix of emotions remembering the good times but realizing that those days are gone.

I'm sorry to gush but I love the honesty of your writing. I love how it makes me think. This blog is a treasured collection of short stories. And that, unlike your time on the Paramount lot, will continue for a long, long time.

Canda said...

If you're not familiar with, and I'd be surprised if you weren't, the song from the musical SUNSET BOULEVARD, called "As If We Never Said Goodbye", it's worth a listen.

The lead, Norma Desmond, retired many years from silent films,returns to Paramount, because she's been summoned by Cecil B. DeMille. Unfortunately, DeMille only wants to use her vintage car in a movie, not her.

But when she enters the sound stage, several old crew members remember her, and she sings about feeling like she's never left.

It has some of the same poignancy as your blog entry.