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November 13, 2009 by in category Eye on Hollywood by Bobbie Cimo tagged as ,

Today, most of the original stages at CBS-TV City are either being used for game shows or soap operas. But back in the day, along with soap operas and game shows, they were also used for sitcoms and weekly variety shows. Television City was so busy, it was practically going 24/7. In order to be able to get ready for the next day’s tapings , we would have to schedule a “turn around crew” consisting of stagehands, to come in during the middle of the night, to strike one set and set up a new one.

Almost every job dealing with production is attached to a union, whether it be a make-up artist, hairdresser, lighting director, stagehand, cameraman, or truck driver–all the way up to the director, actor, and even to the actor’s stand-in. Without any of these people, production would come to a virtual standstill or at the very least, making it difficult to complete. And when there’s no production, there’s no revenue for anyone.

Negotiations of contracts usually start months in advance between union leaders and Management–both wanting to get the best and fairest deal for their side. But no matter how hard each team tries, sometimes a mutual agreement can’t be reached. When this happens, a strike is called and all union personnel are ordered to walk off their jobs immediately, which leaves only management as their replacements, until a settlement can be reached.

When I say “management”, that means all employees who aren’t part of a union. And just like the union members have to abide by their leaders who ask them to leave their jobs, management is expected to fill in for them. It’s called working strike duty. Training doesn’t usually start until we learn that negotiations are going poorly. And then we start cramming, like college students for a test. We’re taught either by professional strike training teams or management, who use to be union people themselves.

Have you ever heard someone say, anybody can write a book? Oh, yeah, just let them try it.

The first union job I trained for was as a boom operator. For all of you who aren’t familiar with the term, a boom operator is the person who follows the actors around the studio with a microphone on a pole high above the talent’s head. Today, outside of the soap operas, booms aren’t used very often. They’ve been replaced with microphones hidden in the actors’ clothes. Being a boom operator sounds easy, right? Wrong!

After hoisting yourself up on a three foot high platform, the first thing you’re taught is how to put the microphone together on a long rod, that is swung over the actor’s head. Putting the thing together isn’t all that easy, and neither is operating the boom itself. You can swing it in different directions and use a reel to move it in and out, sort of like an upside down fishing rod. Not only is it heavy, but it’s hard on your arms, shoulders and neck. Your main goal is to have the mic just the right place above the actor’s head to pick up his voice, but out of camera shot. This would be simple if the actors just stood in one spot. Unfortunately they don’t. One moment they can be sitting, the next they’re standing or walking around the set. My greatest fear was I was going to hit someone in the head. More than a few times, my greatest fear almost came true…especially when I would relax for a moment and the boom would come crashing forward.

Besides worrying about your mic not showing on camera–picking up a balanced sound and concentrating on not conking anyone on the head, you have to be careful not to cast any shadows that can be seen in the shot. While I’m doing my balancing act in the air, below me is someone pushing and pulling me around on my Ivory Tower, making sure I get to where I need to be. Can anyone say, Dramanine, please?

They once relieved me from my boom duties and gave me a shot at being a camera person. When they did, I thought I’d found my niche. But I was wrong.

During taping of a show, they used what was called the multi-camera technique (something that started as far back as the “I Love Lucy” days). This is when they have multi cameras on the floor and the director calls the shots from the booth into a little earpiece inside the cameraman‘s ear. “And close up from camera three”. We did have rehearsals, but besides practicing your moves, and learning how to operate the side handles for those zooming in and wide shots, you had to know how to run backwards and from side to side–all while pushing your camera around, and avoid colliding with someone else’s. This is all done while looking through a lens. The pressure was enormous and I was glad to give up my post. Actually, I don’t think they ever asked me to come back to it.

Usually, professional stand-ins were hired for us to practice our skills on, but then there were those few times when they would ask us to pick up a script and read the lines for our co-workers to practice on. I, personally couldn’t act my way out of paper bag, so I found the whole thing rather embarrassing. The good thing was no “Soap” actress ever felt threatened about losing her job because of newly discovered talent.

A few years later, once again, I was called in for training. This time, I was placed in the audio booth to do sound effects. I liked this job a lot better, and my timing for ringing the doorbell, slamming a door and tooting a car’s horn were ingenious. Unfortunately, there was more to the job than just doing live sound effects. They also wanted me to perform the sweetening, which is adding sounds after the show had been taped. The audio board had hundreds of gadgets on it…rotary knobs, faders, power mixers and switches. So it wasn’t just a matter of pushing levers or turning knobs. Once the sound effects were used the first time around, you had to learn to cue it up by looping it on the machine so it could be repeated again for the next time. Everything was in the timing. This is not a job for a technically challenged person as myself. But I did get good reviews. But personally I wasn’t comfortable in doing it and was thrilled when there was no strike called for that year, either.

Years later, when another threat of a strike came up, I was assigned as a video tape operator. This called for late night training. I think of all the jobs this was the easiest, but by far the most boring.

The tape went from camera into film can and then transferred onto a video tape machine, where it could be shown over the network and into the viewers’ homes. Threading a video machine is like threading a sewing machine. The most important part of the process is remembering which thingamajig the tape is suppose to go around. But once that’s completed, the rest is simple. You just have to babysit the tape machine to make sure everything runs smoothly–and make sure you don’t nod off while doing it. We were also given lessons on how to edit the tape, by cutting and splicing it together.

Because I’m a night person, I was excited to find out that my training would be starting at 11PM. But the novelty soon wore off after a few days. Working all day and then returning again at night was not my thing. I realized my best night work was at home working on my book and in pajamas.

As luck would have it, (as much for me, as for “Production”) I never had to work strike duty for real. And I never lost any of my union friends over it. They knew, like them, I was following orders.

And the next time you look at somebody’s job and think you can do it just as good as they can, I would say to you, “Not so fast, my “Cape Crusader” friend, it’s probably harder than you think it is….POW!, WHAM! & BLAM!

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September 13, 2009 by in category Archives tagged as ,

by Bobbie Cimo

While most of you got a visual of your heroes from books, I got mine, at an early age, through movies and TV. Perhaps that’s the reason I wanted to work for a studio in the first place. I wanted to meet my heroes in person or at least the actors who portrayed them, hoping I’d find a trace of the characters that they had played. Most of the time I wasn’t disappointed, if anything, it was just the opposite. There was always some special thing they would do or say to make our meeting memorable. Like the time I met Paul Newman and the only thing he had to say to me was, “Sorry, Ma’am, I don’t give out autographs.” Okay, that’s not the memorable thing I was hoping for–nor was I thrilled to be called “Ma’am”, when I was barely sixteen years old…but at least I got to look into those magnificent, electrifying blue eyes of his. Oh, y-e-a-h, they were something to behold.

There once was a mini series on television called “The Gangster Chronicles” which was based on real life gangsters of the thirties and forties. And just like they do with all shows, they embellished on both the storyline and characters. Playing the lead was actor Michael Nouri, who went on to play “Nick Hurley”, the hunky blue-collar boyfriend of Jennifer Beal in “Flashdance”.

In much the same way this year, as I was drawn to Johnny Depp’s characterization of “John Dillinger,”–back then, I was drawn to Michael Nouri’s depiction of “Lucky Luciano” in “The Gangster Chronicles”. Supposedly, Lucky didn’t believe in violence, disliked drug trafficking, was loyal to his friends and above all, respectful of women. Who couldn’t like a guy like this? Apparently I wasn’t alone in my feelings, because the network got tons of fan mail praising the likeability of Michael and his two co-stars ( Joe Penny and Brian Benben). Not exactly the reaction the studio was looking for, since they wanted to show the downside of crime and not the making of the next American idols.

After “Chronicles”, Michael went on to appear in numerous movies and TV shows. Eventually, he ended up landing himself another series called “Bay City Blues”. As luck would have it, the filming of the show was done at Studio Center, CBS’s sister studio, which was over the hill from where I worked at Television City.

When I walked on the set, I was hit with a double whammy. Not only had the shooting schedule been delayed by hours, but Michael’s call time had been pushed back until much later in the day. As much as I wanted to stay, it was impossible. I was needed back at my office. So reluctantly, I headed for the parking lot. The one pleasant thing about my visit was the warm welcome I got from all of the crew members. A few even asked me if I was going to the wrap party that night–okay, not even the best of crews are this friendly.

It wasn’t until I was stopped by the Stage Manager, did I realized why all the cheerful hellos. Looking over his schedule, he confessed to not knowing I’d had a call for that day. He became doubly embarrassed when he realized I wasn’t the person he thought I was. As it turns out, I bore a strong resemblance to the actress who occasionally played Michael Nouri’s ex-wife on the show. To this day I don’t know who the actress was, nor do I care to find out. I like to think she was some beautiful, thin and talented actress. And I’m sticking with that thought.

To say my visit was a disappointment would be putting it mildly. This was the final taping of the season and the ratings were low. Which could only add up to one thing. The show most likely would be canceled, which meant I’d never get another opportunity like this again. But just as I was about to cross the road for my car, a brand new shiny black Porsche passed in front of me. Sitting behind the wheel, wearing a pair of dark sunglasses and looking every bit the part of the proverbial hunk, was Michael Nouri.

As soon as he got out of his car, I greeted him with a handshake and introduced myself. I think what surprised him the most, wasn’t that he was being stopped by a fan, but that someone who was in the “business” was complimenting him on his work.

“I’m so flattered you came here to see me,” he said several times. But more than his words, it was the sincerity I saw on his face that made me believe he meant it. Alright, I was a little distracted by his big black olive eyes, and his full sensual lips…but I did believe him.

We talked about “The Gangster Chronicles”, his present show and then somehow he started to talk about his family and his grandfather. Being a fan, I whipped out my camera and asked if I could have a picture taken with him. Of course, wouldn’t you know it, there was no one around to be found. I can be at home in my pajamas and run five feet to the trash bin and twelve neighbors and their friends will come out of nowhere and spot me. But now when I was looking for someone to snap our picture, there was nobody.

At the end, I took a picture of him standing alone, next to his Porsche. As I was about to leave, I mumbled something about this being the best birthday treat I could have given myself. He asked when my birthday was and I told him that it was in a few days. And then he asked if he could give me a birthday kiss. Like I was going to say no? He pulled me near and gave me a full kiss on the lips. It’s hard to remember what I said after that…I vaguely remember trying to be coy and saying something like, “Oh, that was nice.” (Probably a line I remembered from some old movie).

After getting inside my car which was only steps away from his, I started the engine. He waited for me to drive away, and as I passed him, we waved good-bye to each other.

Outwardly I seemed to be cool and in control…inwardly I was falling apart. My heart was pounding and my legs were wobbly. Once I was out of sight , I parked my car in an isolated area on the studio lot. With no one around to see me, I punched the steering wheel with my fists, as I let out a loud girlie shrill. Which confirms what I have feared all along…deep down inside of me I’m a little bit of a groupie. Da ya think?

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Book’em Danno

June 13, 2009 by in category Archives, Eye on Hollywood by Bobbie Cimo tagged as ,

By Bobbie Cimo

My first job at CBS was working as an Assistant Manager in the credit union. My boss Sophia was not your typical boss. She would do things like buy me a blonde wig for my birthday, (when I was a brunette at the time). Or give me a day of beauty, including lunch with her and her friends at the Beverly Hills Hotel for no other reason than just to be nice.

Then there was the time her boyfriend, the Vice President of Sales, gave me the keys to his red Corvette (that was once owned by actor Michael Landon) and told me to drive it back from lunch to the office for him. For those few brief miles that I drove through West Hollywood, I felt like a jet setter. But to be truthful, I couldn’t wait to get the car back on the lot. Not only was I fearful that I might collide with someone, but it wasn‘t very comfortable to drive. It was like being inside a race car, I felt like I was lying down behind the wheel.

Then there was the time I was all in a flutter because my heartthrob (Engelbert Humperdinck…yes, Engelbert) was going to be at CBS for a week, appearing as a guest star on a variety show. Being generous, she gave me the day off so I could sit on stage and enjoy watching him for a full day of rehearsal. Her excuse was that I wouldn’t have been much use to her anyway, knowing he was there. Now, that was a good boss.

But I think the most fun thing she ever did for me was when she arranged for me to work with the staff of Hawaii Five-O, for a day, while I was on vacation in Hawaii. For those of you too young to remember the CBS-owned show, it was about a fictional state police force in Honolulu, called Hawaii Five-O, named for the state’s status being the 50th of the Union. Heading the force was Steve McGarrett (played by actor Jack Lord) and assisting him was the young officer, Danny Williams (played by James MacArthur).

On the air for twelve seasons, all of the episodes, except for a few, were shot entirely in Hawaii. And of course, at the end of each show the criminals were caught and arrested, whereas McGarrett would turn to his junior partner and say, “Book ’em Danno”, and thus the famed catch phrase was invented.

Anyone who was lucky enough to work the show not only got to live in Hawaii, but they were paid well for it. Besides earning a full salary, they were given a weekly per diem allowance which covered the cost of their food and lodging as long as they were on the remote site. Some eventually sold their homes on the mainland, and arranged for their entire paycheck to go into their savings. They then took up permanent residence in Oahu, living solely on their allowance (since most of them received more than what was actually needed). Many became wealthy over the situation and yet many ended up divorced because of the long separation between spouses. I do know that Jack Lord himself was very active in any kind of monies spent on the show. And our own accounting department, here in Hollywood, would dread when he would make a long distance call to them. It usually meant he found an accounting mistake. Even if it was just for a few pennies–he wanted to know where the money went to. Which makes me wonder if any of those rumors that were flying around about him being a silent partner to the show were true.

Most CBS employees would use the credit union as a way to force themselves to save (this was when you could save money) by having a fixed amount automatically deposited into their savings from their paycheck. It was also a great way to repay a loan…but like any financial establishment, it had it’s share of deadbeats. One guy, after receiving a car loan from the CU, decided to quit his job and move to Hawaii. My boss would have been happy to see any type of good faith payment coming in from the guy, but he offered none. My mission was to try to contact him while I was in Hawaii and let him know if he didn’t come up with something, the repo people would be paying him a visit.

Sophia, called Bernie Oseransky, the Production Manger of Hawaii Five-O, and made arrangements with him for me to have my own office space for a day, while I was in Hawaii.

After a few days on the beach in Waikiki, I was ready to report to work. In my rented car, I drove to Fort Ruger which is on the eastern side of Diamond Head and to the production site of Hawaii Five-O…only there were no offices, only production trailers. And I found that all the staff were dressed Hawaii appropriate. Which meant the women were in mumus and the men in shorts and it was flip-flops for everyone. The atmosphere was so casual that I was surprised that they all weren’t sipping tropical drinks with little umbrellas in them at their desk, or maybe they were, and they were hiding them from me. I was given a desk, a telephone, supplies and a telephone book. After making a few phone calls, including one to my boss, I gave up on trying to track down our elusive deadbeat. Besides, the main purpose of my visit was accomplished–I was on the lot of Hawaii Five-O.

James MacArthur, who played Officer Danny Williams, couldn’t have been more charming. He would occasionally pop into the trailer to see how I was doing. When I was taken around on the set, they introduced me as “Bobbie, from the mainland”, which might have been a secret code to let everyone know they should be hiding their Mai Tais.

Jack Lord was a little more reserved than the rest of the cast and crew were. I later found out he was a bit of a recluse even with the people he worked with. The familiar dark curl that hung over his forehead on screen was the same way in person. I couldn’t help but imagine a gigantic ocean wave following him around on the set., nor ignore the Hawaii Five-O theme, playing inside my head. He was after all Steve McGarrett.

At the end of the day, I thanked everyone for their gracious hospitality and said my alohas. It was too bad I never caught the guy who stiffed the credit union. Because if I had, you know what I would have said, “Book’em, Danno.”

To see episodes of Hawaii Five-O on line, go to www.cbs.com scroll down to the bottom where it has 30 days of classics.

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The Price is Right (I mean Write)

April 13, 2009 by in category Archives tagged as ,

by Bobbie Cimo

The other day I was on my way to my office when I saw a familiar looking person heading toward me with an entourage at his side. It was none other than Bob Barker, of the famed “Price Is Right”. He greeted me with a big “Hello”, to which I vigorous replied with a, “Hi, how ya doing?” We shared a smile and Bob continued walking toward his old stomping ground, Stage 33, where for the past thirty-five years he had hosted his daily TV show at CBS-Television City.

I wasn’t sure if this friendly exchange between us was because he remembered me from all those times we’ve said our hellos over the years, passing each other in the hallway, or because last year we spent some one-on-one time at a party hosted by his successor, Drew Carey–or simply because he was happy to be back in the building and was saying hello to everyone who passed him by.

When I asked someone why he was back in the building, they told me he was going to be a guest on the “Price Is Right” and was there to promote his new book, “Priceless Memories”.

Many of you who have either read, or at least seen my blog, “Eye on Hollywood”, in the Orange Blossom have probably asked yourself, what do my stories about Hollywood have to do with writing. Well truthfully, absolutely nothing.

I started to write these blogs on my Hollywood escapades after much prompting from my OCC sisters (who are too many to mention–but know who they are). They presented the idea to me at a time when my fictional creative juices just weren’t flowing, and it seemed like my writing muse had taken an extended vacation without me. Something that I thought never would happen, but did.

I think what might have contributed to my sudden creative failure was the loss of my most staunch supporter (my mother), a job change situation and a commute that sometimes had me spending more time behind the wheel of my car than between the sheets of my bed for sleep. But nevertheless, whatever the reason, my writing went on hold. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say there have been those times when I’ve worried about my ability to write again. Then I saw Bob Barker…an eighty-five year old man, who has more money than God, who certainly doesn’t need the fame, who’s won at least nineteen Emmys, has endless interests and leads, to this day, a full enriched life—but with all that going for him, he still had the desire to be called author. Because he obviously felt the need to tell his story and see his words in print.

So my blog to you this month isn’t about another star that I might have run into, or about the antics of what happens behind closed doors of a major TV studio, but to remind you that it’s never too late to keep plugging away at your writing. Just ask Bob Barker. And I’m sure he’ll agree that holding on to your dreams and keeping your goals alive can be priceless.

Oh, and I have one more message for you this month. Don’t forget to get your pet spayed or neutered…I‘m sure Bob would appreciate it.

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Holly Golightly, I’m not.

March 13, 2009 by in category Archives tagged as ,

By Bobbie Cimo

I have a feeling perhaps in my youth, I might have spent a tad too much time watching TV and movies.

I mean, do you think it’s normal to fling yourself over a surfboard in Hawaii–ask someone to snap a picture of you, even though you can’t swim, just so you can pretend you’re Gidget for a moment?

I once owned a beige plaid coat with large fur trim around it. I bought it because it reminded me of the coat worn by Doris Day in “Pillow Talk”. She had it on when she was riding in an open convertible, driving to a weekend getaway in Connecticut with Rock Hudson sitting behind the wheel. I loved that coat, and every time I wore it I felt like Doris Day. Years later I realized that the coat looked nothing like Doris’ and the fur around my neck looked like road kill.

Then there was the time I had the Farrah Fawcett hairdo. I drove myself crazy, trying to keep those feathered sides up, just like hers. It wasn’t until my hairdresser reminded me that for every five steps Farrah took, there was a hair stylist with comb in hand, making sure she remained perfect for every photo shoot and TV scene that she did.

During the eighties I was a big fan of the series “Dallas”. And my favorite character on the show was JR’s wife, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray). I particularly loved Sue Ellen’s wardrobe. Especially the tailor-cut suits she wore with a thin camisole underneath the jacket and accessorized by a fashionable wide belt. Not only were her outfits stylish, but they were considered sexy. Back in those days, CBS would host an annual “Affiliates” conference during the month of May. This is where we would wine and dine TV station owners all over the country, with the hope that they would purchase one of our shows for their local stations.

One particular year we did a “Dallas” theme, where we took over a hotel parking lot and made it look like Southfork (the name of the Dallas ranch). And of course I did wear, as I liked to call it, my Sue Ellen suit. Two eventful things happened that day. First, the director’s wife and I swiped a six pack of JR’s Beer (not yet available to the public) and hid it in the tank of a toilet–so we could sneak it out later to split and take home. When we finally confessed to her husband, he didn’t know if he should laugh or be mad. And the other memorable thing that happened was that I actually ran into Linda Gray, who stopped me to tell me she liked my outfit. You know that put me on cloud nine.. And to this day, one of my long time friends who used to work at CBS still affectionately refers to me as Sue Ellen whenever she writes me.

Also held as an annual event was the Ross Martin (Artemus Gordon in “The Wild, Wild West” TV series) Celebrity Tennis Tournament. This was a charity event held in La Costa, California where for the admission price of $10.00 you could spend all day with such celebrities as Lucille Ball, William Holden, Merv Griffin, Michael Landon, Eva Gabor and numerous others . You were never treated like a fan, but more like a guest.. You were free to walk the grounds and mingle with your favorite celebrity, take pictures with them if you liked, or simply sit in the bleachers eating a hot dog while enjoying a good tennis match alongside of them.

One year during my visit to La Costa I met George Peppard (as seen in the picture above). Most of you might remember him, not only from the “The A Team” on TV, but also as Audrey Hepburn’s love interest in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.

Ironically, many years later George’s son Brad ended up working at CBS, and when I was introduced to him, I wanted so much to shout, “I love your father”…. but I didn’t.

When my sister and I went on our first New York vacation, we made a list of things we each wanted to do: See a play, go shopping at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, take a carriage ride through Central Park, eat at Tavern on the Green and have breakfast at Tiffany’s. The breakfast one we couldn’t do, simply because there wasn’t a pastry place close enough. So we did the next best thing, we bought pretzels from a street vendor and brought them inside the store.

We might not have had breakfast at Tiffany’s, but we had our pretzels. It wasn’t long before an impeccably dressed salesman approached us to offer his assistance. Just as we took our first bite, without missing a beat, using the back of his hand in a butler-like manner he brushed away the salt that had fallen on top of his glass display counter.. Of course we apologized, but he never acted annoyed. At the end of our visit my sister did end up buying a small pair of turquoise earrings. And just like when Holly Golightly wanted to have her Cracker Jack ring engraved, Tiffany’s treated us as if we had just bought an exquisite pair of diamond earrings. Holly Golightly-ish? Well, maybe.

In closing, all I can say is it’s a good thing that “King Kong” wasn’t one of my favorite movies, or I might be writing about the time I went swinging from the top of the Empire State Building

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