All the major studios offer tours: Sony (formerly MGM), Warner Brothers, Universal, Paramount. We of course knew we wanted to do MGM (blog post forthcoming), since that was home to Clark and so many other of the “brightest stars”. We wanted to do one other one and it was a toss-up between Warner Brothers and Paramount. We ultimately picked Warner Brothers because it was the highest rated studio tour.
We weren’t disappointed. It is a tram tour, but our guide was very knowledgable and I felt he mixed the old with the new quite well. We saw the set of Friends’ Central Perk, the outside set of ER, and heard a lot about Harry Potter.
But we also heard about Bette Davis, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and the history of Warner Brothers.
Before Clark signed his contract with MGM that lasted over 20 years, he had small roles in two Warner Brothers films: Night Nurse and The Finger Points. Later he was loaned here for Cain and Mabel. After he left MGM, he filmed some scenes for Band of Angels on a soundstage here as well. Carole Lombard made Fools for Scandal (1938) here.
One tram stop was to the studio museum, which was two levels, one for the Harry Potter films and one for everything else. We have never seen nor read Harry Potter (sorry) so we stayed downstairs. They had several interesting items–pieces from Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford and more; my favorite being this dress that Bette Davis wore in her Oscar-nominated turn in Dark Victory (1939), complete with the tiny cap she wore to conceal her character’s recent brain surgery.
I had always wondered what color this dress was and so I was thrilled to see it in person. The top was multicolored intricate embroidery, all brightly shaded, and the skirt and cap were a vivid ruby red. I wish I could have taken a picture but they made us lock them up in the tram beforehand.
Being the Clark fan I am, the thing I wanted to see the most on the Warner Brothers lot was the former Stage 7 (now 16). When Clark was loaned to Warner Brothers in 1935 to make the mediocre romantic comedy Cain and Mabel with Marion Davies, this studio was where it was filmed.
What makes it so special is that Marion Davies, the mistress of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, demanded that the studio roof be ripped off and the studio be extended by over 30 feet to accomodate the large dance numbers planned for the film. WB head honcho Jack Warner refused to do it, saying it was too expensive, but Hearst, wanting to make his lady happy, footed the bill. It was deemed too pricey to rip the roof off and build up, so in an extremely difficult process, the studio was actually lifted off the ground and the new addition was built underneath it.
See the studio under construction with Clark and Marion looking on in this behind the scenes video/trailer for the film: Cain and Mabel
At the time, it was the tallest soundstage in the world and is still the tallest on the Warner Brothers lot; you can see it everywhere you go on the tour. Including the two million gallon water tank installed under its floors, the studio is 94 feet tall.
Outside each of the studios is a list of the “memorable” films filmed in that particular studio, which I thought was a nice nostalgic touch. Here is Studio 16, although you may notice that Cain and Mabel is not listed, because, frankly, although the studio owes its mammoth size to the film, it was a flop. Inside Studio 16, Dark Victory, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Big Sleep, My Fair Lady, Ghostbusters and Jurassic Park were filmed, among many others.
It was a great tour and very informative. As a classic film fan, I liked that Warner Brothers is moving forward into the future but still acknowleding and appreciating its past.