GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Monday, May 30, 2011

Paramount Studios

I spent a fair amount of time on the lot at Paramount Studios. Family friend and mentor Paul Stanley offered a standing invitation to visit whenever he was directing and he did a considerable number of Mission: Impossible episodes which filmed at Paramount next to the stage where Star Trek was shot.

Of all the studio lots I frequented, Paramount was my favorite and seemed to me the most symbolic of the Hollywood Studio era--a perception no doubt reinforced by scenes from Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard in which the studio played a featured part.

One indelible memory was of Robert Evans, then head of the studio owned by Gulf-Western at the time, walking the lot impeccably dressed and showing just the right amount of cuff plus ten percent being followed by a photographer who seemed to be covering the movie mogul’s life moment by moment. A lifetime later when viewing The Kid Stays in the Picture, I realized that the constant photographer had made this fascinating documentary and Hollywood artifact possible. The amazing quantity of photographs gave the impression of watching film rather than photos. Robert was tan and handsome and should have been an actor but his inclination took him famously elsewhere.

I would sometimes have lunch in the commissary with Paul and discuss the day’s filming or cars—I had a Ferrari Berlinetta Lusso then and he drove a pristine 1959 fuel-injected Corvette—and it was fun watching famous faces at nearby tables. When I was working on the lot rather than visiting Paul, I usually ate lunch at Oblath’s just outside the main gate where Norma Desmond made a grand entrance in her Hispano-Suiza. The restaurant, long-since replaced by a parking lot, served great enchiladas and I was frequently joined by a certain Joe Gray who was a good friend and cohort of Henry Miller. Joe worked in films and had been a boxer. He was many years older than I and I cannot for the life of me recall how we met though it might have been via the Sinatra connection. What I do recall was his helpfulness with regard to the business and his very amusing anecdotes about the great writer of Tropic of Cancer.

One day, as I was returning to the sound stage after lunch, I saw a very interesting car approaching along the studio alleyway. It was chocolate brown and had the throaty rumble of a tuned, six cylinder. It sounded like a Jaguar but looked decidedly Italian. The carosserie badge announced Ghia. As the car went slowly past, I recognized the driver as Ricardo Montalban. Later, I would discover that it was indeed a 1955 Jaguar XK140MC with a one-off body. Recently I saw the car in a Hemmings edition, the chocolate brown paint replaced by resale red as seen here in the photo.

I remember asking Paul for his advice on becoming a director. We were sitting in our director’s chairs chatting as the Mission: Impossible crew was setting up for the next shot. After a moment’s reflection, Paul said, “Live a full life.” I know now better than I knew then what excellent advice that was.


Anonymous said...

Joe Gray! My uncle, still find anecdotes about him online these many years later.

Stephen Mitchell said...

Feel free to contact me at