Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Universal Centennial

I was reminded that earlier this week was the 100th anniversary of the founding of Universal Pictures.  I make note of it because, ever since I was a child, Universal has always been my favorite of the major Hollywood studios.  My interest in Universal started because of the fact that the Universal Studios Tour was an attraction that always held a great mystique for me.  Everytime we went on the studio tour, I had a wonderful time, imagining all of the movies and TV shows that were shot there.  But it wasn't just that alone.  It had to do with the fact that Universal made most of my favorite movies and TV shows throughout the years.  I could sit here and recite the 1930s and 1940 horror classics that I used to record on our family VCR from KTLA Channel 5's "Movies 'til Dawn" during Junior High School.  I could discuss how much I enjoyed the Deanna Durbin musicals that I discovered on KDOC Channel 56.  I could describe how much I enjoyed the "Airport" disaster movies of the 1970s.  Or I could discuss how "Dragnet" and "Adam-12" reruns made my hometown of Los Angeles seem like it was the most exciting city in the world.

I grew to love Universal movies and shows so much that I can immediately recognize the sets and building facades on sight.  I can also recognize a particular staircase that appeared in countless productions.  I think it was called the "Notre Dame" staircase and was originally constructed for their silent production of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."  I saw it used often in many Universal horror films, including "The Wolf Man" (1941) and "Night Monster" (1942) and saw it as recently as the 1980s in a "Murder, She Wrote" episode.  It would be repainted or redressed for each production it appeared in, but I always knew it was the same staircase.

Sometimes Universal's detractors criticize the studio for how it became mostly a television studio by the 1960s through the 1980s and that the quality of its feature films during that time often looked like it was made-for-television.  I won't dispute that argument because I often felt it myself.  It may not have been a studio that promoted individuality in terms of its directors during that time, but I would argue that it had an identifiable branding as a studio so that a Universal Picture couldn't be mistaken for a movie from any other studio.

In college, I had a summer internship at Universal and I truly enjoyed being there everyday.  I had chills going down my spine in realizing that I was standing where many of my favorite movies and shows were made.  Whenever I visit Universal Studios Tour, I still get that feeling.  It is nice how some things that were a big deal since childhood still have an effect on you when you are an adult.

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