The Concession Stand

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Star is Born! From the Magic Kingdom to the Silver Screen

DISNEYLAND was never just another theme park. Its proximity to Hollywood made it an ideal spot for up and coming stars to get a job that could help them make ends meet until their dreams came true. As a result, the park had more than its share of employees who became famous.

Years before becoming an Oscar nominated actress who charmed her way onto David Letterman's show, Teri Garr was entertaining tourists from around the world in DISNEYLAND's Show Me America. This lavish production premiered in 1970 on the Tomorrowland stage, which would later become part of the Space Mountain complex. Eventually the stage would be removed and become the Magic Eye Theater, home to Captain EO.

Before teaming up with his sister Karen to form the legendary music act The Carpenters, Richard Carpenter could be found plunking away on Main Street as the Coke Corner piano player. Richard and his sister would later film a music video in the Magic Kingdom singing their cover of Please Mr. Postman.

Many a magical night was spent at Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom watching the legendary Main Street Electrical Parade. Filled with dazzling lights and powered by DISNEYLAND magic, the parade capped off many memorable visits. It also featured more than one future Hollywood star- like Michelle Pfeiffer!

The young Ms. Pfeiffer, who would become a gorgeous movie superstar, appeared nightly in the parade as the beloved Disney character Alice from Alice in Wonderland. One of only two "speaking" roles in the parade, Michelle reigned from atop Alice's lighted mushroom, dazzling thousands of guests every night.

Known to millions of fans as "Mrs. Seaver" from the hit 1980's sitcom Growing Pains, Joanna Kerns also found herself making dreams come true in DISNEYLAND's Main Street Electrical Parade. Dressed as the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio, Ms. Kerns led off the nightly festivities from atop the shimmery, lighted parade unit that represented the Blue Fairy's gown. Who could have guessed that years later she'd be making millions of people laugh each week?

And finally, a homegrown DISNEYLANDer- Steve Martin! Mr. Martin grew up just down the street from the Magic Kingdom- literally! He was just a kid from Fullerton who was mesmerized by the DISNEYLAND grand opening special. Like the hundreds of millions of people who tuned in to see Walt Disney's greatest dream come true, he was instantly drawn to the park. Unlike most kids, however, he was actually close enough to act on his desire to be a part of DISNEYLAND. The very next day little Steve rode his bike down Harbor Blvd. and tried to apply for a job. He was too young for a "real" job, but he soon found work as a paperboy on Main Street, selling copies of the DISNEYLAND News, which was a newspaper published from a printing press on Main Street.

When he got old enough for a "real" job, Steve found himself at the Magic Shop, demonstrating the various magic tricks for sale and operating the cash register. On his breaks, Steve would march on over to the Golden Horseshoe, where he would marvel at the antics of the legendary Wally Boag, who took Steve under his wing, teaching him "old school" show biz tricks of the trade, sparking an interest that would lead Steve Martin to international fame.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Hooray For Hollywood! Clara Bow was (Literally) It!

One of Hollywood’s earliest and brightest stars was Clara Bow. Ms. Bow was one of the first actresses who caught the attention of moviegoers at a time when the studios tried to keep the names of their stars out of publicity materials to avoid having to pay them larger salaries. Audiences, however, insisted on knowing the names of the stars they adored and thus the first Hollywood A-Listers were born. One of the biggest A-Listers to spring out of this frenzy was Ms. Bow.

Clara knew from an early age that she wanted to be an actress. Her mother resisted, but her father gave her his full support. Ms. Bow won an acting contest at age 16 and soon found her way to Hollywood, starring in over 40 silent films, including 1927’s It. 

Ever wonder when the term “It Girl” became a thing? It was in 1927 and it was all because of this film. Clara Bow caught the world’s attention and became the very first “It Girl”. Ms. Bow would go on to make the transition from silent pictures to talkies, even starring in the very first best picture winner- Wings. Her fame would end in 1933 when Clara retired from acting, going out on top and settling down with her husband on a ranch in Nevada.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Modern Times: The Blockbusters!

Audiences today lament the seemingly endless blockbusters that seem to have taken over theaters these days. Isn’t there room for quiet films anymore?

To understand Hollywood’s current blockbuster situation, we  must go back to the 1950’s. Television landed like an atom bomb in American homes. How could Hollywood compete with this box that provided free, over the air programming to the masses? Hollywood quickly decided that the way to do this was to offer something that television could not- massive, awe inspiring visuals in mammoth productions. Cecil B. De Mille and other big name producers began mounting ever larger productions in CinemaScope, 3D and VistaVision. The smaller, talky dramas and screwball comedies fell by the wayside as ever bigger spectacles enchanted audiences.

This, however, would not prove to be sustainable. Twentieth Century Fox had to sell off most of its storied backlot in order to recover from its lavish misfire Cleopatra. Spiraling, out of control budgets threatened the solvency of many studios since many of them no longer balanced out the big films with smaller films since the smaller films were seen as being something that television could offer. How could Hollywood bring back the smaller, lower budgeted pictures that could counterbalance the lavish spectacles?

It would be the counter culture and the collapse of the studio system that would point the way forward. While television couldn’t duplicate the massive, lavish spectacles that were slowly bankrupting the studios, it also couldn’t show nudity, violence, sensuality or profanity. The strict, voluntary Hayes Code ensured that movies couldn’t include these things. The important word for Hollywood, however, was “voluntary”. The restrictions were put in place to circumvent outside legislation after early Hollywood scandals. Broadcast television, however, was regulated by the FCC. It couldn’t show more adult content if it wanted to. Thus, the MPAA and its rating system were born.

By telling audiences what they could expect beforehand, Hollywood could be more aggressive with content. Smaller films featuring profanity and nudity would usher in a new era of filmmaking- and help the studios balance the books again.

So what has changed things now? Peak TV. Unfettered by broadcast licenses and the FCC, cable networks and streaming providers are constantly pushing the envelope. USA Network regularly features the F word. Amazon Prime allows nudity. Filmmakers who would have made a film before can now tell possibly longer stories on television. So in order to stand out, motion pictures have to get bigger. Will there be something new to fill the void? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Forbidden Planet! Sci-Fi Slumming

Prior to the late 1960’s, science fiction films were seen as being beneath the big studios. While Universal Pictures had produced some classic monster films, it was never seen as being one of the major studios. While audiences had flocked to Dracula and Frankenstein, MGM, RKO and Warner Brothers were loathe to even consider making such films. As a result, most of those pictures were produced on Poverty Row, using special effects that make audiences cringe nowadays. After the collapse of the studio system, science fiction and horror films became the bread and butter of the lower tier studios.

Why would these lower tier studios attempt to make films that required special effects that would often be beyond their capabilities and budgets? Because most of the outlandish plot lines made for dazzling movie posters that roped in audiences. Additionally, the Hayes office, which was still certifying films in the 1950’s and early 1960’s would often be less strict when it came to supernatural plot lines. Monsters and ghouls could menace scantily clad women in ways that flesh and blood human men never could on screen. Beheadings were a no-no, but if it was the hallucination of an addled mind it could not only make it into the film but the poster as well.

The standard rule that any murder or crime would have to go punished by the final reel would also get thrown out more often with science fiction films as well; these films often ended with a supernatural comeuppance that didn’t result in an arrest like with other reality grounded films. Such loopholes were regularly taken advantage of by low budget productions that needed all the help they could get.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Star is Born! - Toto?

One of cinema’s most famous dogs is “Toto” from MGM’s Wizard of Oz. The famous dog was played by Terry, who was actually female. Terry was already a famous dog by the time she was cast in Wizard of Oz, having appeared in the Shirley Temple film Bright Eyes.

Despite the assertions of MGM’s publicity machine, Terry was not discovered in a pound; her owner- George Spitz- had specially trained and raised Terry to Star in films. Oddly enough, Terry actually made more money than most Americans at the time and was definitely higher paid than the dwarf actors playing the munchkins in the film.

Terry almost died during the filming of The Wizard of Oz, getting stepped on by one of the actors portraying a flying monkey. The dog recuperated at Judy Garland’s house and the actress had grown quite fond of it, begging George Spitz to sell it to her. He refused, continuing to make the dog available to perform in films. 

Eventually, Terry’s name was changed to Toto to take advantage of the dog’s most famous film role. Terry would die in 1945, eventually getting buried in the Hollywood Forever cemetery.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Hooray For Hollywood! Fort Lee?

In the early 1900’s, the invention of the movie camera was poised to change the world. Previously, great performances were only recorded in the memories of the people lucky enough to see them. Thomas Edison, who produced the first commercially available camera, was poised to take advantage of this new device’s potential.

The ability to record performances visually for later exhibition promised to be a gold mine for those lucky enough to get in on the ground floor. And many entertainment impresarioswho previously led a nomadic life, taking their acting troupes from city to city to put on their shows, saw the potential to finally lay down roots. Instead of sending their acting troupes out on tour, they could film the production then just send out the film reels. As its inventor was located in New Jersey, the early film industry setup there- in Fort Lee, to be specific.

Hooray for Fort Lee?

In 1909, after the successful production of Rescued From An Eagles was filmed there, movie studios started flooding into Fort Lee, setting up backlots and stages. Universal Pictures and Fox Films were among the bigger names that setup shop in Fort Lee. Its proximity to New York City and Broadway was seen as an asset; the new motion picture industry could grab the best and brightest actors who could easily get to Fort Lee in between curtain calls. It would be the city’s proximity to Thomas Edison, however, that would be its undoing.

Mr. Edison was not content to just make money selling his motion picture equipment; he wanted to make royalties from the use of the camera as well. For example, he might ask for ten percent of a picture’s gross receipts as an additional tax on top of the rental or sales fees he had already collected. This often meant that a film that would have been marginally profitable would instead incur a loss because of the exorbitant license fee.

This might seem like a reasonable licensing scheme, but imagine if Microsoft demanded a cut of anything produced on Windows or in Office. Even worse, Thomas Jefferson employed a team of what could only be described as thugs, who would harass producers using non-Edison cameras and invade theaters exhibiting non-Edison productions, menacing audiences who dared attend a theater not using Edison’s equipment.

Why no gang colors? Edison had the biggest gang of all.

To escape Edison’s wrath, studios began fleeing to the furthest place one could go in the continental United States to get away from New Jersey and Thomas Edison- Southern California. The new locale proved to be just what the studios needed- temperate weather which allowed year round outdoor shooting, a varied terrain which provided amazing backdrops for filming and distance from Edison’s goons. The film industry would set down roots in Southern California and remains there today. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

20th Century Fox Week: 20th Century

20th Century Pictures was founded in 1933 by Joseph Schenck and Darryl Zanuck. Mr. Schenck had previously worked for United Artists, but left to form his own studio with the blessing of his celebrity bosses, who promised to allow 20th Century Pictures to use their distribution system. Darryl Zanuck was leaving his previous employers- the Warner Brothers- due to a falling out with the temperamental brothers. 20th Century Pictures would also get a powerhouse partner in Louis B. Mayer, who invested in the company to get a job for his son in law, William Goetz. Louis B. Mayer offered the new enterprise MGM’s mighty stable of talent, who could be lent to 20th Century Pictures at a moment’s notice.

20th Century Pictures would start things off with a bang. Only one of the studio’s first year pictures would lose money- the rest were extremely profitable. Things quickly went south, however, as United Artists became stingy with allocating its resources and tried to shut out Mr. Schenck from any further investment in the studio. 20th Century Pictures needed to find a new distributor- and quickly.

Meanwhile, Fox Film Corporation had made a move to acquire Loews, Inc. the parent company of MGM. Sensing that such a merger would mean the end of his career, Louis B. Mayer fought back, successfully fighting the takeover. The collapse of that deal, coupled with a car accident and the Great Depression ruined William Fox.

Fox Pictures was bankrupt and had a distribution system. 20th Century Pictures was financially stable and needed a distributor. It was seemingly a match made in Heaven. 20th Century-Fox was born.

Monday, July 16, 2018

20th Century Fox Week: In the Beginning

While audiences today know the major studios as the behemoths they are, most all of them had humble beginnings. This week, we’ll take a look at Twentieth Century Fox, which is currently scheduled to be acquired by The Walt Disney Company.

Twentieth Century Fox is actually the result of a merger between two studios- Twentieth Century Pictures and Fox Film Corporation. The older of the two studios was Fox Film Corporation, which was founded by William Fox.

Unlike other film moguls, William Fox wasn’t a showman. His skills were more entrepreneurial. He could have entered any field, but he chose show business, buying a small theater and parlaying it into a theater chain. Eager to get more films to exhibit, he created his own studio- the Fox Film Corporation- in 1915.

The studio was founded in New Jersey, but it quickly moved out west, chased away by Thomas Edison’s overzealous patent enforcement. The temperate climate found in Southern California, while not the biggest reason for the studio exodus, was icing on the cake. William grew his studio out west, setting up newsreel operations and becoming one of the first picture companies to fully embrace sound. William Fox’s operation was seemingly unstoppable. Mr. Fox was even investing in other studios- he purchased a large stake in MGM, which angered studio boss Louis B. Mayer.

Unfortunately, the MGM stock purchase and two crashes would severely weaken William’s empire. He was involved in a horrific automobile accident which was his fault, then the stock market crashed, further weakening his finances. A chain of events that would lead to a shotgun marriage between two movie studios.