50th Anniversary of the USO

Time for some Patriotism

Working at a major movie studio, things happen around here, almost on a moment’s notice. Land, sea, or air-we here at Universal aim to please at the entertainment capital of the world…

In 1987, the Pope visited our lot. It was very memorable since I was a tram driver at that time and Pope John was going to tour Los Angeles, in a Glamour Tram.

His desire was simply to have Hollywood stop portraying evil in its films. The Pope visit climaxed at the Universal Amphitheater after mass at Dodger Stadium soon after, Universal released a feature titled The Last Temptation of Christ. The studio waited for the pontiff to go back home to Italy, while tuning out his heart felt message.

In 1991, we had another Royal Event. It involved Lou Wasserman and all his political clout. A few of his good friends, namely, U.S. Presidents, arrived for an event to honor the United States armed forces and fifty years of service by the USO.

The event was unfolding without a hitch. Every detail attended to except they forgot one important thing, air-conditioning.

This often taken for granted facet of Hollywood productions is just as necessary as any camera or lights would be at these red-carpet events. On shows, sets that are heavily lit with our large lighting packages need air conditioning to off-set the heat being created by all things taking place. Too much heat and the make-up will run on the face of the actors. every set, inside stages and on the backlot- gets some type of air unit for this reason alone.

We often get calls from shows who wait and see, then find out they want air. Problem with that is these take time to install and are twice as difficult when the event is already taking place. Normally, we pre- install AC units and temperature control is one of the very first items factored into a show budget. You might not want to have it, but you got to have it. Or you will melt.

This party overlooked this important detail.

America’s top brass along with a cavalcade of stars begin to sweat it out. The coordinators of this event were putting out the Bat Signal! One of Hollywood’s biggest events needs immediate electrical assistance. Who ya gonna call?

All hands-on deck

We need to fix this while the event is taking place –live! Installation requires a large power source, two air handlers and a chiller, with thick hoses attached. The air handlers will go inside the Big Top Tent that at first look appears like a Ringling Brothers Circus is taking place. But, inside this tent, aren’t clowns, but some of the World’s Most Powerful Men.

Our plan is simple, and we attack it from three directions. We drive up a Kenworth 12 speed tractor with a 1200-amp generator plant built into it, and park it just behind where all the Presidents are seated. Hoses get run underneath the skin of the tent along with power connections. All this is taking place while the panel of dignitaries looks on. We become the center of attention. This is quite the panel I’m working alongside: The Presidents, their entourage, Military families, celebrities from sports, movies, and television.  By all accounts, this would be considered a busy day- even at the White House.

Just keep cool

Our only delay was being searched by Marines and Federal Agents. They had me take apart the covers that are attached to these units, then after German Shepherd approval, we get the thumbs up.

With that, we simply do what we do, and we receive a round of applause and thanks from a history book of characters that helped change this country. All this while Apache helicopters sit locked and loaded, 100 yards away….

A WARM reception. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lew Wasserman and Nancy Reagan USO 50th Anniversary Salute April 5, 1991, Universal City, CA

Aw shucks, just doing my job. Some misspelled names, but a proud memento for me.
I’m melting… I’m melting… Unless you’re Rick Baker working on The Incredible Melting Man, you’ve got to factor air conditioning into any event.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the headliner here. Pictured with Colin Powell with jackets off. Most likely before we were called to bring in the air conditioning.
We never sweated like this at Warner Brothers!  
A worthwhile and noteworthy occasion.

Frank Sinatra would sing “What is America to Me?” a longtime favorite of USO audiences.
Bob Hope was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his USO work.
Two Apache helicopters were parked in what Universal calls (Z) lot. No tourists were allowed anywhere near this although – the tour must go on- and did. Just don’t park here.
Airwolf- Universal has its own helicopters…when needed!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

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