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Lots of Dreams: Warner Brothers

LETTER FROM L.A.: Lots of Dreams - Warner Brothers

copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier

There was a time you could simply walk on to the Warner Brothers' lot. I'm not sure this was absolutely permitted, but an actor with a headshot in an envelope found it easy enough to get by the guards and into the famous Building 140, where rows of offices hold more casting directors a few feet apart than are generally found in a day of driving about. Then Ted Turner came into the picture, and security suddenly got tight. No more just waving to the guards and wandering in.

                This seemed about as bad as it could get for those with no official reason to be on the premises. Still, there were studio tours and other less official reasons to be there.

                Then came September 11th.

                Are the studios likely targets? Well, they represent both the Western media and a particular cultural influence that religious fundamentalists - not all Muslim - resent. For someone opposed to Western frivolity, watching Bugs Bunny go boom might be especially satisfying. Not to mention Porky Pig.

                So it's not so surprising that cars were suddenly searched thoroughly after last September. Or that access in general became strictly limited at all the studios. Which makes me glad that I spent quite a bit of time on the Warner Brothers' lot just before that.

                I still get dreamy thinking of walking through a typical small town square, bedecked with sparkling foil stars for an episode of  “Gilmore Girls”, between the country church and the gazebo.

                It's easy to enter into a second childhood wandering through a Western town or under a bit of the Chicago subway, running by the entrance to "ER"'s emergency room. A large concrete pool in the midst of a miniature jungle long lay empty, then one day suddenly was filled and became a scary swamp, complete with some really lifelike crocodiles. Bits of New York are scattered about, including something much like the Stock Exchange (right beside a stretch of Paris), but there's one separate section that was like being on the Lower East Side (minus the smells.) My friend Carolyn Hennesy, whose TV work includes a long stretch as Mrs. Valentine on "Dawson's Creek", one day told me to check out Hennessy Street in that section - named for her father, a set designer.

                Almost as magic is the reality of a studio so big, it’s a city in itself. Aside from the general store, several eateries, a sports club and a post office, there are those cute little WB fire engines. Public transport takes the form of the RoadRunner, a pretty efficient jitney that goes all around the lot. Handy for those who aren’t authorized to use one of the ubiquitous golf carts.

                Among my cinephile friends, there are those who would trade a kidney for a week in WB's private museum. You can imagine the treasures there if I tell you that it includes one of the two ORIGINAL Maltese Falcons , along with the piano and an ornate hanging lamp from "Casablanca" (as well as some costumes). Studio notes on Al Jolson's "Jazz Singer"., the first "talkie". Bette Davis' red dress from "Jezebel", along with irritable notes from the Eyes herself, complaining of how much work she was getting (all together fellow actors: Awwwwww.....). A genial note from John Wayne, claiming he still preferred the silents. James Dean's Triumph 500 motorcycle… And on the list goes.

Later items include the 'extras' from "Gremlins" - creatures perched on helmets worn by the humans who walked them about and all manner of Batman memorabilia, including a note from Batman’s creator, saying that he'd like to see the Joker's dark side (lost in the comics) restored, and suggesting that Jack Nicholson would be the ideal actor for the part (!). All the different costumes, not only for Bats, but for his various colorful villains as well, are on exhibit. Which, among other things, allows you to compare the actual heights of various name actors.

                There’s a few Oscars around too, including those for “Casablanca” and “My Fair Lady”.

                Put it all together, sets and museum, and you get a good dose of Hollywood history. Which, it seems,.is open once again to the public (though only with a pricey tour.)

But the way the world is now, who knows for how long?