After all the hooting and hollering ended at this stage, Universal knew it had money in the bank on this feature. How could it not, Burt Reynolds was our Box Office King! Our Bandit traded in his Trans Am and ponied up with Dolly Parton to make a rip roaring, sometimes lewd, musical. Colin Higgins was signed on to direct what would be his final film. The budget was healthy enough at over 20 million dollars, of which Burt was paid $3.5 million. Dolly took second fiddle at $ 1.5. The filmed grossed over $ 90 million dollars. Dolly beat out stars such as Dyan Cannon and Shirley MacLaine for this role.
Mr Higgins prepared by watching old George Cukor MGM Musicals. The standard for musicals comes from MGM. Interestingly, another MGM icon was to be cast in this film, Mickey Rooney.But Burt suggested Charles Durning. “Everyone knows Mickey’s talents, but you will get credit for finding this star who can dance and sing” said Burt to his director.
The title created difficulties, in 1982- the word Whorehouse was obscene.so in several areas in this country the title changed to “Best Little Cathouse.” Whatever the title, opening weekend grossed just under $12 million. Burt had yet another smash hit. The studio, expecting sensational results, decided to keep this set that can be used inside and out. To promote the film further, it would get moved at an opportune time.
Universal was expanding on all fronts, the backlot was being redesigned. Not only houses, but streets became…on the move. Entire streets were relocated, including the Psycho House. It ended up by the ice tunnel as the last set on the Glamour Tram Tour. What replaced the Hitchcock set was this Chicken Ranch. Out with the old, in with the new. This house sits perched overlooking Jaws Lake, the same hill top that the Psycho House peered down from.
The Chicken Ranch would be our first backlot set that allowed interior filming as well as exterior. Being enclosed, it would maintain itself well over the decades to come. Every tram tour must pass this set do to the fact it’s the only road going up trams can use to complete the tour. So during filming, tram back ups can stretch a long ways. That creates a silent zone for guides as scenes and audio take place close by. Even the Shark at Jaws is silenced, when filming is close by. We still have trams go through it, and it still tries to bite ya, just silently. If you’ve been on the tour, you pass this house.
When not in production, this extra large driveway serves as a basecamp for shows filming on Elm street below and Colonial Street above. In summer, tents provide escape from the heat. This house had very limited power so generators are needed for extreme power demands. Air conditioning can be added for a costly installation fee. Those were the situations I dealt with everyday. This ranch kept me very busy, in needed attention almost daily.
1982 was truly a transition period on this backlot. I saw it with my own eyes, as a trespasser. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I didn’t begin my career until 1984 and most the changes were completed as far as relocation. I knew I had to work here as pretended to be the engineer on the famous Run Away Train. This lot was my new utopia, Culver City sold all it’s backlots. I trespassed all the valley studios heavy from 1981-to being hired in 1984.
My fondest memories almost always date back to trespasses. MGM prepared me well for these extremely busy backlots. In the mid- seventies, I had every backlot at my disposal, I captured every flag possible. As the pre- recorded audio from the Run Away train shouts to visitors aboard trams “I can’t stop,”lets just say that could by my calling card.