Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Radford Horse

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder.

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

, by William Shakespeare

Hollywood has a reputation as a festering pit of institutionalized immorality, a red light district of sorts where screen stars are free to indulge in whatever forms of excess lights their fire, releases their tension, or temporarily sates the gnawing hunger of their own personal demons. A high-octane cocktail of sex, drugs and booze is the traditional form of escape, but so long as these after-hours romps don’t include cannibalism, serial killings, or child molestation, they’re generally considered the perks of stardom. For some celebu-stars, hints of randy off-screen behavior can act as a dash of Habanero chile sauce to spice up the stew of an otherwise bland career, adding a frisson of dark intrigue to be lapped up by media hounds and fans alike. Those who are skilled at this dance can hone the jagged edge of their bad-boy/bad-girl reputations while having lots of crazy-fun at the same time -- but like that fiery Habanero concoction, a little goes a long way. There’s always someone who can’t handle the heat of the spotlight or learn when to ease off the throttle -- for them, it’s pedal to the metal all the way -- and these are the lost souls who eventually spiral out of control. As the tide of negative publicity rises, their public-relations damage control systems start to crumble, and eventually their “brand” suffers serious damage. Once the public becomes disgusted and turns on them -- thus undermining their ability to earn vast profits for their corporate overlords -- it’s all over but the whimpering. A very few (Robert Downy Jr. comes to mind) manage to summon the discipline to pull out of this death spiral, but by the time most of these falling stars come to their senses, it’s too late to salvage a career. From Fatty Arbuckle on up to Lindsay Lohan, Hollywood luminaries have paid the price for cavorting far beyond the boundaries that constrain the rest of us mere mortals, learning the hard way (which for them is the only way) that such boundaries are there for a reason.

That said, there’s a quieter but bizarrely prudish side to the Industry that if rare, is no less outlandish, and occasionally careens deep into the outback of Absurdistan. A few years ago, this jawdropper hit the papers when a writer’s assistant working on “Friends” sued her employers for sexual harassment due to the rough language she had to endure as part of her job. Apparently the young woman didn’t understand what the job of a writer’s assistant entailed, or the nature of working in the writer’s room on such a show, and decided to sue after she was fired. I'm not comfortable lining up against a lowly assistant battling a gang of incredibly wealthy writer/producers, but it seemed to me that this young woman wasn’t just barking up the wrong tree, she was in the wrong forest altogether. There was nothing good about the way this affair ended, with a young woman horrendously disillusioned after losing her job, and –- surprise -- a few highly paid lawyers getting even richer.

Then there’s the matter of the Radford Horse.

A few years ago, a life-sized sculpture of a horse was installed outside the parking structure on the CBS lot in Studio City. Known throughout the Industry as “Radford” (the main gate being on Radford Avenue), this was once the home of Mack Sennett and his Keystone Cops, and eventually morphed into Republic Pictures, where dozens of Westerns were filmed starring Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and John Wayne, among others. Later, some of television’s legendary Westerns were made on this lot, including “Gunsmoke,” “Rawhide,” and “Bonanza.” Given this history, it seemed fitting to put the sculpture of a big horse, rearing back on its hind legs, right out there where everybody could see it on their way to and from the day’s work. In a town where tradition and history are too often ignored, the Radford Horse represented a small step in the right direction.

The sculptor chose a stallion as the model, going to great lengths to create a very lifelike form – nothing rudely explicit, but realistic enough that anyone other than Stevie Wonder would recognize it as a male of the species. The statue was installed with its back to the parking facility, facing the rest of the studio. I liked it well enough – not that a statue would make my work days pass any quicker, nor lighten the cable I had to wrangle, but at least it added a touch of class to an otherwise utilitarian parking structure. After a little while, the horse became part of the scenery.

I came to work one Monday morning a few weeks later and saw something odd: the horse had turned around over the weekend, and now faced the parking structure rather than the studio, as though peering into the elevators carrying people to and from their cars. This was definitely strange, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. Then a few weeks later -- again, after a weekend -- the horse had turned about-face to resume its former position facing the studio.

Consumed by the long hours of work, I didn’t pay much attention to the horse and its mysterious movements. Then one day I happened to be walking past the parking structure with someone who’s been at the studio for a long time, and I mentioned the curiously flip-flopping horse. The person (who shall remain anonymous) stopped and raised one eyebrow.

“Take a good look at it,” the anonymous person said.

I did, but shook my head.

“What am I supposed to be looking for?”

“A little something that’s missing," came the reply. “Actually, a not-so-little something.”

Ah. There it was... or to be more accurate, wasn’t.

“An actress working on one of the shows objected to the realistic appearance of the statue,” the anonymous person explained, “so the studio accommodated her wishes.”

This once-proud stallion hadn’t just been gelded, he’d been subjected to the Full Monty nightmare of every man in the world – all the parts that made him a male had been surgically removed.

At first I wondered what modern-day actress would even have such clout, then my head began to spin pondering how any adult could be so royally fucked-up as to take serious offense at a statue of an animal, particularly a beast that played such a big role in the history of our collective Industry. In a business where the terms “horse cock” and “bull prick”* have echoed across sets for the past eighty years, it seemed inconceivable that here on a studio lot, some prim and proper bluenose could get her knickers in a knot over a goddamned statue.

But there it is, and the mind boggles.

“Who was it?” I asked, realizing as the words left my mouth that no good could come from such knowledge. I’m not in the dirt-dishing business, but more importantly, if I did know and let the name slip – particularly in print -- the result could be me standing at a freeway off-ramp holding a cardboard sign begging for money. Loose lips can still sink ships in this town. Sometimes it really is better not to know.

Besides, when I asked around, nobody – and I mean nobody – would admit to knowing the name.

Still, every time I walk by that horse, I can't help wondering who the actress was. Then I think about the conversations that must have taken place while the sculptor (or whoever did the quiet weekend surgery) was removing the offending naughty bits.

I wonder how those guys explained to their kids just why they had to work on the weekend?

* “Horse cock” is the thick, unwieldy cable juicers have been struggling with every since the advent of artificial lighting for movies. A “bull prick” is a three foot long metal spike that is typically driven into the ground with a sledgehammer, then used to secure ropes holding a tent, big silk or griflon, or anything else the wind threatens to blow away.


Nathan said...

The mind truly boggles.

And I really, really want to know who she is. (really)

D said...

Great post, Michael. Which brings me to a similar story which happened very recently on a job I was doing. We were doing night exteriors in a remote canyon. It was freezing and everyone had bundled up accordingly. Someone noticed that one of the dayplayers in another department had a strange beanie cap on that had the equivilant of "mentally challenged prostitute" embroidered on it. Offhandedly, someone asked the 1st AD why he would have such a thing written on his forehead. Was it a statement about himself? Or the viewer? She looked over, her eyes became wide and she immediately called the department head over, who was noticeably embarrassed and asked him to have it turned inside out.The kicker? We were shooting a full-on orgy scene.

The Grip Works said...

Wow D !!!! You get ALL the fun jobs :-)

Unknown said...

Never mind the depenistration - I love the image of the stallion in the 4x4 fenced enclosure. Hollywood's version of:


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