A Visit to Warner Brothers Studios by Tony Piazza
I was in Hollywood on April 22nd 2010. I hadn’t planned the trip, and the reason for being there was not a happy one. A dear family member passed away and was buried at the Forest Lawn Cemetery (Glendale) the previous day. She had a beautiful ceremony in the same chapel that Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman was married during the 1940’s… in LA everything seems to be connected with Hollywood.
Jane Wyman and Ronald Reagan
Famous Warner Brothers water tower
In any case, we decided to spend an extra day there before traveling back home… and ended up at Warner Brothers Studios. I had been there back in the late 1960s long before the studio was opened to the public (this tour, I believe is something recent). We knew the head of transportation and my family was taken on a private limousine tour of the studio soundstages and back lot. The lot was more complete then. They still had the Western set… although they had just torn down the fort from F Troop. One particular soundstage we visited that day was used in Camelot and the Errol Flynn pirate films…it was very large (one of the largest in Hollywood at the time), and the floor could be turned into a tank and filled with water to contain a large pirate ship mock up. We also watched them film The F.B.I. television show…the director of that episode was a man I would work with a few years later on The Streets of San Francisco, Virgil Vogel (I have mentioned him in an earlier story). I also remember seeing Kim Novak stick her head out of her trailer dressing room to see who we were… I still find that funny.
I was curious how the studio might have changed from the time I had seen it, and so we decided to take the new tour so I could make a comparison. The main thing I noted was that its’ activities seemed to be more focused on television than film production. The Ellen show seemed to be the big item. Feature film work seemed nonexistent.
On another note: It was strange to see Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” outfit in the museum… I remember him wearing that wardrobe when I worked with him back in 1973. Also, another soundstage that we stopped to visit on the tour listed on a bronze plaque (under television productions shot there): The Streets of San Francisco… well, that was not entirely true. The police headquarters interior (and only that set) was there for the pilot and first season; after that, even it was constructed in San Francisco in a converted warehouse on Kearny Street. I felt that the plaque gave the impression that the entire show was filmed there. Most of the soundstages we saw were empty, and the ones that were occupied were set up for sitcoms and live audiences.
Eastwood on location for Magnum Force.
Bronze plaque outside soundstage 1.
They say you can never go back, and I have to admit that I found it kind of sad that most of the Warner’s magic had disappeared with the passage of time. Location work has stolen away a larger portion of the mystique that the movie studio once held for movie going outsiders. Where once great ships sat in studio tanks and mighty palaces adorn soundstages, now the lots are taken up by administration buildings and (in the case of Universal) Theme Park rides. To a lover of classic Hollywood history the time spent at Forest Lawn seemed a prelude for what came later.
City Street on back lot
Tony Piazza is author of the 1930s Hollywood murder mystery novel, “Anything Short of Murder,” which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His next novel, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” was released early 2012 and is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. He was an actor/extra during the 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden. His non-fiction e-book “Bullitt Points” is an in depth look at the making of “Bullitt” from a person who was there. Look for it where fine books are sold, or at the link posted below. All profits go to the Boys Republic charity: www.bullittpoints.com.