When this feature was made back in 1981, I was aggressively applying to film companies and distributors of such around town. I was working for a company called Gilboy. We had movies that we shipped all over the U.S. usually six reels is the average length of a feature and they ship in metal cans. Our top movie was Star Wars. We couldn’t ship it fast enough, that’s when we all discovered for eternity Ms. Carrie Fisher.
She became bigger than life from that role of Princess Leia and most likely, bigger than Debbie Reynolds, the MGM matriarch. Once you’re a goddess from another Universe, you have reached your peak. So, this fun romp was just a throwback to a time when Culver City was overrun by dwarfs and little people. Debbie would eventually grace MGM in the fifties the way Carrie graced the Universe in the seventies onwards.
This story of the Munchkins arriving to make The Wizard of Oz had to touch a sentimental nerve in both Carrie and Debbie. Debbie would have worked with people involved with the making of the original Wizard of Oz. Carrie and Todd Fisher would grow up on these studio backlots that ringed the city.
What’s neat was all things existed in 1981 as they did in the years 37/38. Other than the backlots, which were all scorched earth by the time this recreation was made. Many of our our city landmarks still remained. The Culver Hotel being most centerpiece. A gate was built on the street named Van Buren for this film. It has Culver City Studios attached to it. The studio should be Selznick Studios and Gone With the Wind was taking up much of the studio located on Ince Blvd. The studio was Culver City Studios-in 1981, now Amazon Studios occupies this landmark.
The hotel that was described as Culver’s skyscraper looks down on all of this. It’s as rich in history as our studios themselves. They are directly tied together in fact. Previous owners besides the founder Harry Culver would include Charlie Chaplin and John Wayne. Legend has it Chaplin lost the hotel in a card game.
The Hotel opened September 4,1924, two months before the owner of the studio across the street-ThomasInce mysteriously passed on- aboard the Hearst yacht. Way back when Hollywoodland sign glowed proudly, looking down upon its aspiring film making entrepreneurs.
Let’s just say- The party was just getting started as this corner was being developed 1918-1924. After Ince’s death, RKO and Joseph Kennedy took over and the studio took on a rogue toughness. The backlot was a wild ranch, not lined with structured game plans like were being designed by MGM. One studio had a master plan while the other – shot from the hip. Even though highly competitive, the hotel and this entire downtown was a place for studio execs to compare notes on who gets what perks and where this film business is headed.
This area came together during silent film days- The Golden Age of Hollywood.
From 1924 until the time Under the Rainbow came here in 1981, the history on this corner is second to none in all of Hollywood. 20th Century Fox, Universal, Warner Brothers are not built in a way that intersects so intimately with its potential audience. Many of our residents work on these films and movie stars are just par for the course. Paramount is centered in a way much like our Culver Studios.
A who’s who of guests have included Clark Gable, Mickey Rooney, Greta Garbo, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Red Skelton, Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks, Frank Sinatra, and Ronald Reagan. Dwight D. Eisenhower even had a campaign office inside in his run for office in 1952. Casts from Gone With the Wind and the Wizard of Oz both staying here including over a hundred Munchkins were lodged here. But entertainment was across the street, at Big Ed’s Bar
It’s famous for the likes of Desi Arnaz, Leonard Nimoy, Batman, and every studio mogul and actor in need of a stiff drink. A tunnel existed from this Culver Hotel to the bar across the street. This was a speak- easy during prohibition. Drinking never stopped around here and drastically increased during this original production. The bar had an escape route back to your hotel. From all accounts, this corner was wilder than this film portrays it.
Drinks were on hand during this remake, Chevy Chase parked his black 911 Turbo Porsche right outside its saloon doors. My dad has many stories inside Big Ed’s. The Bar is featured in the film Barfly. My dad became a member of SAG after some shrewd negotiations by me and the producer in front of this bar. I became an agent, I got my dad a trailer and healthy residuals, a huge upgrade from a box lunch and all the booze you can drink. Ohh the memories…
This corner is as iconic as any in Hollywood. Robert Stack and his Untouchables was never really able to clean up this section, since Studio execs need it to freshen up at lunch time. More than one episode has Tommy Gun’s a-blazing right across the street from this watering hole. I can only imagine Robert Stack coming in to order a drink… “No, no no alcohol here sir!”
It wouldn’t shock me to hear a booze tunnel extended into the studio administration building, but I digress.