My connection to 20th Century Fox Studios…

20thLogoMarch 2, 2014 – When I moved to Los Angeles in 1986, you’d have been hard pressed to find a bigger, more starstruck rube in all of Southern California. As a kid growing up in Tucker, Georgia, I had fallen in love with all things Hollywood thanks mostly to NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, where I first saw films like To Kill a Mockingbird, Titanic (1953), The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (hey, I was a child), The Last Voyage, and many, many more. So when I arrived in the actual Dream Factory of my own dreams, I was wide-eyed and pathologically idiotic. Hell, I was even impressed whenever I’d drive by the 20th Century Fox Studios Lot on Pico (or any lot, for that matter) and see cars idling in the turn lane, signal lights pulsing, waiting to actually drive through the gate. I wondered (and fantasized) about who might be in those cars, what their place in Tinseltown might be, and whether or not I’d ever get to pull into that turn lane. My chance came pretty early on when I was sent to fill a temp assignment in the Legal Department there, working for a lawyer named Clifford Werber, who would be the project attorney on such films as The Abyss, Die Hard, and Alien Nation. That first day, I was practically shaking as I waited for the light to change so I could turn onto the lot, show my ID to the guard, and then set foot on the same ground once trod by Billy Wilder, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, and Cary Grant, to name just a few. Sure, I had been to Universal as a tourist in 1978, but here I was, an actual employee with legitimate reason to be there. I’m embarrassed (and a bit charmed) to admit I asked one of my co-workers if I would be permitted to eat in the commissary. Walking there, I passed many sound stages, some with their massive doors yawning open, and I couldn’t resist peeking inside to see the real behind-the-scenes. I’m pretty sure it was that day when I saw Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft lunching in the sit-down executive dining room next to the more casual take-out side. Honestly, I wanted that day to last forever. I had loved the 20th Century Fox logo even as a child―that magnificent deco masterpiece with its sweeping spotlights and thundering fanfare, trumpeting the start of something magical. Working on  that lot cemented my love for that studio, and certainly influenced its selection for inclusion in my debut novel. And even though I was just there to answer phones, distribute legal documents, and type, I actually felt a part of that world. My one week job became permanent, and I remained there for three-and-a-half years, ultimately landing the plum position of legal clearance reader―meaning I got to read episodes of LA LawThe Tracey Ullman Show, Mr. Belvedere, and several others, flagging any potential legal issues and firing off  memos asking the producers to correct them, just like Darryl F. Zanuck or so I told myself. This upward move also meant I got my own windowless, walk-in closet sized office―in the still under construction Fox Plaza building, perhaps more infamously known as Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard. That film was being shot when we moved into our new offices there, and throughout the day we’d hear machine gun fire echoing through the elevator shafts. One night, as I was walking out to go home, I was amazed to discover the entire exterior plaza had been “demolished” for the final cataclysmic scene. I was grinning like a dead pig in the sunshine as I walked toward the parking structure. One of the best parts of that gig, though, was that my office came complete with a computer and, even more importantly, a door. In between writing memos, I had plenty of time to work on my own material―most notably, a spec for The Wonder Years that would ultimately start my career. I didn’t know it at the time, but in another four years or so, I’d be returning to the Fox lot. This time as a bona fide writer-producer on the Emmy-winning series Picket Fences. Stay tuned…

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