In the 1950s each major studio had its own ambiance. Passing through the gates of the studio was akin to Alice In Wonderland falling into the rabbit hole. Each a town with its own police force, fire department, commissary, first aid station, and lavish back lot parks and city walks with locales from all over the world. The immense sound stages a testament to the ingenuity of the 1950s technology.
20th Century Fox was another of my favorite studios. How do you explain the ambience of the studio city? Perhaps the combination of the stars that shared the commissary with the grips, carpenters, bit players and extras along with the alignment of the narrow alleys between sound stages; or the back lot with a studios particular set of world city representations.
At 20th Century Fox I was often booked to work on some Western which was filmed on the huge backlot that is now known as Century City.
Because we extras worked with so many stars of the 50s, we became somewhat inured to their presence. Now as I see these wonderful movies replayed on various TV stations, I am transported back to my time on the sound stages. Some stars were so talented and huge in their presence that I do remember many moments I was a contributor, however small, to the success of their films. Naturally Fred Astaire ranks in the hallowed halls of the true super star. So participating in Daddy Long Legs was a special time for me.
When you are booked on this kind of musical, you are first sent to a fitting for the costume for the story. It’s like going to a very fancy tailor, the measurements and customized fitting to your particular frame are minutely perfect (as you can see in the clip). In this kind of major movie, we are sent to a studio barbershop to make sure our hair styles are in keeping with the movies intent. During the days that we filmed this sequence, an army of wardrobe and makeup personnel are constantly circulating through our ranks, brushing our jackets for the slightest signs of dirt or makeup, while the makeup folks remove the sweat from our brows and apply touch-up makeup. In the 50s we always wore makeup to get that nice fresh look on films. On one part of the stage several expert tailors stand by with sewing machines; should one of our costumes tear or look slightly out of shape, they instantly correct the offending cloth. For this scene we have to look immaculate every second we are on camera.
Of course it must be obvious all the dancers are professionals (no I’m not one of them 🙂 ). In the 50s they also worked under an SEG contract. However they had their own higher pay scales. Since SEG was dissolved, in the 1990s, and we all work under SAG jurisdiction now, the dancers have their own category and are paid mostly as day players; a much much higher pay rate. 🙂
Please enjoy this clip from the high school dance sequence as I enjoyed working with and watching Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron in a masterful performance:
I did work with Leslie Caron on several other movies which I will blog soon. Terry Moore still attends the Hollywood Show occasionally.