Remembrances of Par’s past

GOOD MORNING: And happy 90th anniversary to Paramount, where 90 of its galaxy of stars will gather Sunday night. The studio is also my alma mater. I got my first job after graduation from UCLA working in the studio’s mailroom in 1941. I can well remember going through the historic Paramount gates off Marathon Street for the first time to start working in that pair of small rooms where we’d sort mail to then deliver to the stars who had their permanent dressing rooms on the lot. Often, there were hundreds of extras waiting outside the gate for a possible call to work that day. A casting window handled the calls as well as the jobs for day players. You could often see male stars in the studio’s barber shop or at the bootblack’s stand … The men’s wardrobe department was alongside the mailroom, and it seemed like entire armies could have been uniformed there. And above, the famed women’s wardrobe department, headed by the incomparable Edith Head. Across the street, on the south side of Marathon, was the famed Oblath’s restaurant where those who took a break from the commissary could be waited upon by ladies who looked like they stepped out of a sitcom — only there weren’t any sitcoms then. The executives’ offices faced Marathon street to the south and the lot to the north. Studio head Y. Frank Freeman’s boxer pups played in a special pen enclosing the west end of the execs’ building. Paul Jones was one of Paramount’s stalwart producers — on the lot beginning in the 1920s — with credits including pix starring Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields, Bing and Bob and Jerry Lewis. He was kind enough to write a letter of recommendation that got me into the Navy’s midshipman program. Marathon Street was bought up by Paramount, enclosing the lot now to Melrose with a walkway extending within the lot from Gower Street to Van Ness.

IT WAS A THRILL THEN — and later as a reporter, first for the AP, then the Herald-Express and starting in 1953 as columnist for Daily Variety — to visit that lot and make my way up dressing room row where, between their takes, I could schmooze with Ray Milland, Alan Ladd, Dean Martin and/or Jerry Lewis, Paulette Goddard, Jimmy Stewart. Bill Holden had his own office and dressing room across the street. One of my favorite remembrances: Jimmy Stewart, in full clown makeup for “The Greatest Show on Earth,” was stopped by Bing on dressing room row. He checked Stewart’s amazing transformation and asked, “Working today, Jim?” … Cecil B. DeMille had his separate building, and I used to love visiting and getting a preview of his films in the exacting to-scale models. I innocently asked him, “Mr. DeMille, how do you know which movies to make that will make a million dollars?” He said, “If anyone knows which movies will make a million dollars, I’ll put him under salary to me for $1,000 a week!” … During my rounds with the mail — and later on my rounds seeking news — I’d love to stop at the music building. Over the years I’d get a first listen to songs and scores being readied for the great Paramount musicals by songwriters including multi-Oscar winners Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, Victor Young, Jimmy Van Heusen, Johnny Burke, Frank Loesser, Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne … Or I’d stop by the “dance bungalow,” where Betty Hutton might be working on a number … The tank was a favorite “stage” to visit where the many sea-set films, like “Reap the Wild Wind,” was filming with Ray Milland, John Wayne, Paulette Goddard, Raymond Massey, Robert Preston and Susan Hayward. Ah, they were stars … The first “movie star” I was to interview for my first post-war employer, the Associated Press, was Barbara Stanwyck. She was working then (1946) in “California” for director John Farrow, co-starring Milland and Anthony Quinn. She kept me waiting an interminable amount of time and I left. She apologized and we later became good friends — even though I had to report on her split with Robert Taylor … Paramount was the source of countless stories for me over the past 50 years — one of ’em was when I reported that an actor was to take over the production reins of the studio. He was (and is) Robert Evans … The only Paramount celebration I attended that tops the studio’s 90th — was the birthday party tendered Adolph Zukor — on his 100th. It was at the Beverly Hilton and among those toasting him was the studio’s one-time sex queen, Mae West. And now on to Paramount’s 100th.

ADD HOLLYWOOD HISTORY at Wednesday night’s L.A. preem of “Road to Perdition”: producer Dick Zanuck with producer-son Dean Z. Also there, Dean’s mother, Linda Harrison. The Zanucks’ other son, Harrison, is also producing with his father. “I am very proud of them,” Zanuck pere told me after the successful screening of his DreamWorks/20th film starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman and Jude Law. “I know what it’s like growing up in the shadow of a famous father. And they have a father and a grandfather (Darryl Z.) shadow in which to grow up.” Harrison joins Dick Z. and David Brown on their “Ninth Man” DreamWorks production. As for this week’s bow of “Road to Perdition” in (only) 1,800 houses, Richard Z. tells me, “We’re not trying to win a weekend, we’re in for the long haul.” … Lili Fini Zanuck, who produced “Reign of Fire” with her husband Dick Z., is off to Paris, where Dick will join her on vacation as both their films bow in the U.S. today. As always in Paris, they plan to visit with Roman Polanski, with whom Lili was to film “The Double” which had double troubles with its star, John Travolta.

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