Our time in Acton continued with an eye and ear on the wildfire news as we made several more trips into Los Angeles.
Bill turns 65 on Thanksgiving Day and for his birthday gift he chose to take a VIP Tour of Paramount Pictures Studios in Hollywood. The only problem was the tour began at 9:30 AM which meant we would be making the drive from Acton into Los Angeles during rush hour traffic. Well, nothing we could do about that and the traffic was just as bad as you may have heard. It took us over two hours to go the forty miles, not to mention the wear and tear on my nerves!
The VIP tour included exclusive access to private areas of Paramount Studios including Special Effects, the Sign Shop, Prop Warehouse, the Film Archives facilities and a tour of a sound stage. A gourmet lunch on the studio lot was also provided.
Our tour began with some history of the studio including Adolph Zukor, the founding father of Paramount Pictures. Zukor was an orphan who immigrated in 1899 from Hungary. He came alone with a small amount of cash sewn in his pocket. Zukor noted the success of Cecil B. DeMille’s movie, “The Squaw Man” in 1913, the first film shot in Hollywood. In 1916 Zukor contracted 22 actors and actresses, including Mary Pickford. At a time when most actors made seven thousand dollars a year, her record breaking contract was for $10,000 per week or $520,000 per year! Zukor became known as “The Architect of Hollywood “ and his “Studio System” business design, which kept the production, distribution and exhibition within one company, became a model for other studios. He was the chairman of Paramount for 47 years.
Over the years Paramount Studios grew, including the 1967 purchase of Desilu Productions from Lucille Ball, which was the biggest independent studio in Hollywood. Today the Studio sits on a 65 acre lot at 5555 Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Desilu pioneered television syndication which today is a multi billion dollar industry. Desilu Studios, under Lucy and Desi, produced “Star Trek”, “Hogan’s Heroes”, “The Untouchables”, “The Andy Griffith Show”, “The Lucy Show” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show “.
Our tour guide said when Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz divorced, she got Desilu Productions and Desi got all the royalties from “I Love Lucy”. They both did well but I think Desi made the better deal!
Our tour guide said Lucy received criticism from the media for leaving her children too much, so she had an exact replica of her house built on the Studio lot. The press never knew if she and her children were on the set or at home.
Paramount Pictures won the very first Academy Award in 1929 for the Best Picture of 1927-1928, “Wings”. From the 1930’s until 1967, a short cartoon was shown before each movie Bimbo Dog and Betty Boop, Superman, Popeye the Sailor and Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Cecil B. DeMille was considered one of Paramount’s founding fathers with his epic films such as “The Ten Commandments” and “Cleopatra”. In 1934, Mae West became America’s first sex symbol. Her famous innuendos caught the attention of The Production Code Administration who began to enforce censorship. This evolved into the rating system today such as G, PG, PG-13, and R. West became the second wealthiest person in America by 1934, which I guess proves the saying “sex sells”!
From 1920 to 1960 Alfred Hitchcock, the “Master of Suspense”, worked on the Paramount lot. He built an authentic city on Paramount’s Stage 18 for his masterpiece “Rear Window”. Our guide told us Hitchcock was always going over budget and the Studio was always trying to reign him in.
From 1949 to 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were big hits for Paramount.
Lyle Waggoner (Carol Burnett Show) loved his trailer on the studio lot. His trailer business of over 800 trailers are built to accommodate makeup, wardrobe, etc for filming locations. As we passed by on our golf cart tour we could often peak in the open doors to see makeup tables, chairs and mirrors waiting for the stars.
There are two gates into Paramount Studios. The Bronson Gate is from 1928 and the Melrose Gate is newer. Our tour guide told us the story of how when Charles Dennis Buchinsky came to try out for an acting role he quickly decided he needed a last name that didn’t sound Eastern European and possibly Communist. He looked out the window and saw the Bronson gate. From that point on he became known as Charles Bronson!
Next up: One more blog about our Los Angeles adventures