Universal Studios Hollywood suffered a bit of a loss over this past weekend. Once again, a major portion of the back lot burned down. (The same exact section of the lot burned in 1990.) I was on the road last Sunday, driving from Los Angeles to Dallas, Texas, when I got the call from a family member (who happens to live a couple hundred yards from where the massive conflagration raged). All I could think was, “Not again!” Then I got to thinking about the four years I spent working security on that back lot. I worked the graveyard shift and spent many a night patrolling those dark, lonely streets. I must say, of all the jobs I’ve had, that was certainly the most enjoyable. For a movie guy like me, and a guy who has no problem being all alone for hours on end, I was like a kid in a candy shop. I spent countless nights on the historical New York Street, Brownstone Street, and Courthouse Square. Yup, lots of fond memories.
Here’s a comical memory:
I was out on New York Street one Thanksgiving, desperately trying to eat my boxed holiday meal as a chilly wind buffeted me. I was really struggling to eat my meal. It was pretty pathetic. I got to laughing so hard, I nearly choked on my sliced turkey!
Here’s a weird memory:
One evening I watched an odd bluish-white light swirl in a high window in one of the upper floor façade windows. The light wasn’t coming from outside the building and I don’t see how it could’ve been coming from inside the building since there was nobody up there. So I called dispatch and requested a supervisor to come check it out. He arrived quickly and did a thorough search. He found nothing.
Here’s another weird memory:
One November night, about 2:00 in the morning, I confronted a dark human-shaped figure standing stone-still mere yards from me. I quickly got on my radio and called for back-up. When I looked back a moment later, whoever it was—or whatever it was—had vanished. My supervisor and a couple other officers did a thorough search of the immediate area, but found nobody. Kinda creepy.
Here’s a geeky memory:
There was the time when my security buddy and I reenacted the famous “Did he fire six shots or only five?” speech from the classic flick Dirty Harry. We performed the scene in the precise spot where it was shot for the movie. I played Harry and my buddy was the wounded bank robber. “Well do ya, punk?” Pretty geeky, sure, but fun for a movie guy like me.
Here’s a fun memory:
On more than one occasion, my pals and I would chase each other around the New York and Brownstone streets in our security vehicles. Sure, not exactly the smartest thing to do (something that could easily get a person fired), but hey, you gotta break the inevitable monotony of patrol once in a while.
Here’s another fun memory:
There were nights/early mornings when I’d put a little excitement into the lives of new recruits and pretend to be a trespasser. I’d remove my badge, or turn my jacket inside out, and wander around at the far end of the street. They had no idea who I was and would try to stop me...and that’s when I’d take off running. They’d chased me all over the place, screaming into their radios, “602 on New York Street!” (FYI: I told the gal who worked dispatch to ignore imminent calls about trespassers. Also, "602" is code for "trespasser.") I finally allowed the guards catch me. They sure had a good laugh when they discovered I was one of their own. Welcome to the team, boys!
Yet another fun memory:
One night I freaked out a new hire who kept hearing strange noises in one of the facades. I kept telling him the noises were just animals roaming around. He insisted they were not animals. I wanted to teach him a lesson, so I asked my supervisor to go hide in the façade and rustle around. When the new guy called in to report the noises, I responded. I had the new guy follow me into the eerily dark, eerily quiet façade. At just the right moment, as my flashlight beam searched high and low, my supervisor leaped out, screaming like a banshee. Man, that poor guy must’ve jumped about ten feet in the air. After he finally calmed down, he shook my hand and congratulated me on a good scare. He quit the following day. What a wimp.
Here’s a potentially malodorous memory:
One night I was posted on Courthouse Square (which is where the clock tower from Back to the Future is...um, was). I was sitting alone on a stage. I looked down between my knees and discovered a skunk directly beneath me. You can pretty much find every variety of animal life on that back lot—skunks, deer, snakes, raccoons, rabbits, opossums, and coyotes. Luckily, I was pretty used to being in close proximity of the lots’ skunk population, so I didn’t make any sudden moves. If I had, I’d probably still be trying to get the stink off me!
Here’s a cooooold memory:
There were all those nights, in the dead of winter, standing alone for an entire shift in 40 degree weather. (I know, all you folks in colder climates are saying, “A 40 degree winter? You call that cold?!” But still, pacing back and forth in 40 degree weather for 8 or 12 hours ain’t exactly a picnic in the park.) If I was lucky, there’d be a work lamp out on the street and I could warm my hands over it. Every so often I’d make a quick trip to the restroom on Brownstone Street and put my cold hands under hot running water. Ahhhh, it felt sooooo gooooood.
I got back to L.A. on Tuesday and picked up my car from my brother’s house—as I mentioned, he lives extremely close to where the fire occurred—and my poor car looked like it gone through a war, covered in ash and burned bits of plastic. Scary.
I had four fun years on that studio lot and I’m sure sorry to see a big piece of it go up in flames like that. But fret not, friends, if the powers that be at Universal decide to rebuild New York Street, Brownstone Street, and Courthouse Square, they’ll have it completed in about three months. Trust me, those Hollywood guys in can do anything.
To view video footage of the Universal Studios fire, click here.
To see some fun pics from my Universal Studios security days, visit the photo section of my MySpace page: myspace.com/theworkingscreenwriter