Copyright © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
Have you ever been to Burbank? Yikes! I spent some quality time there, back in ye olden days before it was a place where anyone actually wanted to live.
Remember The Burbank Studios, the place owned by Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros.? Lotta big TV shows and movies shot there. Once upon a time you could just walk in there armed with nothing but attitude. I did, repeatedly. There’s no better entertainment for free.
Security was indifferent and that place was porn to me. Stars everywhere! I even talked to some without them running away.
One time I went to The Burbank Studios with my friend Wendy when she visited me in L.A. Neither of us had any money and we were looking for some cheap fun, so we drove straight to The Burbank Studios.
We parked on the street and headed for the gate. Wendy, never the brightest bulb on the tree, was skeptical that two derps like us could just, you know, walk into a place like that. She was from East Saint Louis, where the only hot stuff was burning tenements. “Just act like you own the place,” I told her.
As if on cue, Buddy Hackett walked past us and we coolly annexed the ass end of his entourage. The guards looked up long enough to be unimpressed before going back to their crossword puzzles.
We were in! We wandered over to the Western town, rubbernecking and smacking into things all the way. A TV show was shooting on Laramie Street.
We stood on the wooden porch of a fake building, watching Blythe Danner pretend to have a Wild West snitty fit.
Danner was so adorable, the director felt bad about telling her she wasn’t acting petulant enough. There was laughter while they redid the scene a few times. When she finally got it right, the crew applauded. Where do I get a job like that?
So Wendy and I were intently watching this drama-within-a-drama when some guy sidled up to us on our fake porch and hit on us. Actually, he was pretty cute and very nice. He was actually Richard Thomas. Turns out the shoot we were watching was “The Waltons.”
Thomas tried really hard to befriend us. We kind of just went “uh huh, uh huh” and ignored him, being fixated on the bullshit happening across the fake street. I felt guilty about it later. But he made our trip. Thank you, John-Boy.
The Girl From S.T.U.P.I.D.
Norm Alden was a prolific character actor in Hollywood. You’ve seen him a million times. He was in everything. Back to the Future, K-Pax, Ed Wood, They Live, Semi-Tough, Tora! Tora! Tora!, “Mod Squad,” “My Three Sons,” “Falcon Crest,” “Mary Hartman,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” even “Gunsmoke” and “Lassie” for chrissakes.
I was lucky that he was a family friend. He and my dad were old pals. They once trespassed on Rudy Vallee’s estate to pilfer grapefruits.
Norm was a sweetie pie who overpaid me to babysit his smart, well-behaved kids in the Beverly Hills house exquisitely decorated by his hot wife, Sharon. How does this even happen?
For some reason Norm liked taking me with him to The Burbank Studios to shmooze peeps for work when he was between jobs. He knew everyone. We always cruised right through the front gate without stopping.
One of the times we went there, Norm and I invaded the commissary. It was jam packed with celebrities. Norm saw someone he wanted to remind that he was alive, so he parked me with a friend while he waded into the abyss to do what he had to do. I was drinking age by then, almost, and really didn’t need protecting, but Norm figured my dad would blow a gasket if I was kidnapped on his watch by B-movie Martians or whatever.
Anyway, this fellow Norm left me with was just another one of his showbiz buds. No big deal. To Norm. But when he introduced me to Fred Koenekamp, my jaw fell on the ground and stayed there.
Fred Koenekamp is a god! He was the director of cinematography for “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” my favorite TV show (also the cinematographer for Patton, Papillon, Billy Jack, and The Amityville Horror). Me, I was his biggest fan.
He obviously didn’t think of himself as a superstar with fans. He spent our whole time together looking around uncomfortably, and I blew my once-in-a-lifetime opp by saying… absolutely nothing. I couldn’t even manage “U.N.C.L.E.’s my favorite show! I love your work!” As I said: Jaw. Floor. Fred was awfully happy when Norm returned to relieve him from guard duty.
Fried Grasshopper to Go
Another time Norm took me to The Burbank Studios with my sister. She was a huge fan of the TV show “Kung Fu.” Norm knew all those guys, too. Next thing we know, we’re piling into a car with Norm and a show exec and David Carradine, the star.
Let me just clarify here that my sister would’ve cleaned Carradine’s shoes with her tongue. Also, it never occurred to her that Carradine (who tried to kill Gene Clark at Clark’s funeral) might in reality not be the uber-spiritual Kwai Chang Caine, he just played one on TV.
Okay. So we’re slaloming through legendary Hollywood backlots in a fancy car with my sister’s all-time number-one idol, David Fucking Carradine. While the adults sat in the front seat talking business, Carradine twisted all the way around to look at me and my sister in the back. By which I mean he nailed us with a horrifying, drug-fueled, crazyass bug-eyed stare that terrified my sister to her core. She never spoke of him again.
What’s in the Box of Sorrows, Jay?
Long ago, in a millennium far, far away, I was on the TV show “Let’s Make a Deal.” This happened because my broke friends and I imagined we could make money on game shows. Sure.
My chums Nancy and Don went with me to the NBC Burbank Studios (different facility from WB’s, same town), where we waited to be inspected on an endless line of idiots in dumb costumes. Of course ours were the best. I think Nancy was a clown and Don’s rig involved an appliance box. I did a Pippi Longstocking thing with my braids and a coat hanger.
Presently a guy walks up, points at me, and barks “You!” The security rope lifted and I ran gleefully down the long sidewalk to the studio door, thinking my friends were right behind me. They weren’t. Nancy and Don were still back behind the rope, making sad faces. I asked someone to let them in with me. He said, “No. Just you.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It was a live taping. I wasn’t chosen for The Big Deal but did score a Quickie Deal. In the last minutes Monty Hall walked straight up to me in the cheap seats. He was orange, which I won’t lie to you was scary. He asked me for my address book. (In ye olden days, people kept addies in little bound books. Everybody had one.) I won something like $5 for every entry in the “S” section. Monty handed me a huge wad of cash. I was thrilled!
As soon as he left, someone ran up and snatched the cash from my hand. “We’ll mail it to you,” he said and scrammed.
I was utterly deflated. And broke again. And now Nancy and Don were REALLY mad.
Eventually the show did mail me a check (it was maybe $60, but $60 bought a month’s groceries back then). Nancy and Don forgave me. And I saw myself on TV. And all I could think was “Ugh! I look like that?”
🐀 Norm Alden did get a part in “Kung Fu,” as Sheriff Crossman in the episode “The Praying Mantis Kills.”
🐀 A millennium later I tried to friend Fred Koenekamp on Facebook. He blew me off. In his defense, he’s about 120 years old.
🐀 Sadly, Laramie Street was razed in 1993 to build offices and a parking lot. “There’s really a squeeze on parking,” explained the supervisor of Warner’s studio tour.
🐀 David Carradine was arrested for assaulting a police officer in the 1950s, for shoplifting and pot possession in the 1960s, for burglary in the 1970s, and for pot possession and DUI in the 1980s. At Gene Clark’s funeral in 1991, Carradine drunkenly attacked Clark’s corpse and screamed at it before being dragged out. In 1994 he was arrested in Toronto for kicking down a door at a Rolling Stones concert. A woman he assaulted in 1974 while high on peyote sued him for $1.1 million. He died in 2009 from autoerotic asphyxiation.
Text and images not otherwise credited: Copyright © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
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