Introduction

Do you realize that every time you read a book without pictures you become a production designer, casting director, and costume designer? Hell, you can be a director if you want to. Whether you know it or not, when you read a book without pictures, your brain fills in the blank spots. You can see the people, how they are dressed, which way they are moving, and what it looks like around them. Neat, huh?... (read more: click \'Introduction\' on menu above)

Archive for July, 2009

Under the Rainbow

Posted by admin On July - 28 - 2009

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The little people did leave me with many memories. To put it mildly, I ain’t a big guy, but they made me feel like one. One morning we were preparing to shoot. It was very foggy, and the little people had on their Munchkin costumes. All those bright colors and ruffles, and those high voices made them seem like a garden of human flowers. There I was, standing in the middle of them. They were moving about and talking, and I was towering over them. I really did feel like John Wayne in a garden.

The Day After

Posted by admin On July - 28 - 2009

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Late one sunny Kansas morning I was standing in a field of wildflowers in an area down by the Kansas River the runs through Lawrence. A great arched bridge was in the top of my frame, and I was sketching a set I was planning to put there. It was listed in the script as a tent city, but my sketch was turning into much more. Before my eyes a field of wildflowers was becoming a smoke-and-debris-choked gathering place for a number of victims who were unlucky enough not to have been blown to bits in the blasts. Dying people with haunted eyes were burying the dead with vacant eyes in a common grave. A mother sat under a tin roofed lean-to holding her dead baby. In that field of wildflowers there was no green, the dirt was black, and every natural or man-made thing on the dirt was black. I finished the sketch and walked off the field. I was afraid to turn around for fear the wildflowers would be gone….

…That set got built just as my sketch showed. The day we began shooting the scene, I walked up onto the bridge to get a bird’s-eye view. There was an ancient Asian lady standing there quietly. As I walked up to the rail next to her I noticed that she was crying. She felt my gaze and looked over to me. All she said was, “I was there.” It was a strange compliment, but I will always think of it that way.

Daisy

Posted by admin On July - 28 - 2009

On July fifteenth, 1934 she turned seventeen. She was four months pregnant and in love. On a warm March evening earlier that year, I was conceived in the rumble seat of a 1932 model-A Ford.

         In a parking lot.

         Of a nightclub.

         In Pennsylvania.

    I never knew the story of why they, both underage, were in a nightclub in Pennsylvania. Unless, of course, they were simply availing themselves of the parking lot. You know, the sort of place where no one would notice them during the… conceiving activity. Needless to say, there was a hasty wedding planned and executed, because that’s what you did then. 

The following December, I entered the world. Healthy, fat, and happy, I came into being with a smile on my face.

    Daisy- that is what I came to call my mother-welcomed me with as much enthusiasm as a seventeen year old could muster. She loved me dearly, but all her dreams went south with the birds. And, perhaps the saddest thing of all was that she didn’t ever tell anyone exactly what those dreams were. They were, you know, in… here.

    With that old “Midwestern pluck”, Daisy put her dreams away and went about being a punching bag for my father. My father- they called him “Mutt”- was a smart, popular, and artistic guy who it was said didn’t belong in that little town on the Ohio River. He should GO somewhere, BE someone. He didn’t, and, instead became a drunk and went nowhere.

    My first memory was standing in my crib, looking through the bars, and crying as I looked down the narrow stairs to the kitchen where Mutt was drunk and having a wonderful time pounding on Daisy. We lived on Center Alley in a converted garage. The living room and bedroom were where the cars were intended, and because it was on a hill, the kitchen and bathroom were down stairs. I remember my frustration at seeing Daisy cry.  The rest of the evening was, for me, a series of movie cuts: Daisy, carrying me in a warm bundle down Center Alley to the taxi stand… Warm taxi ride up Bradshaw Avenue… Warm meeting with Gram….

My calculations put that night to be in March. I still don’t know why it seems so warm in my memory. Perhaps I was just being reborn. My “life” started that night at Gram’s. I like to think that that is what I was grinning about during my first birth.

Mutt? Well he just sort of went away, as everyone predicted he would. Twenty some years later, he ended it all sitting in the back seat of a closed car in a garage with a hose running from the exhaust through the window. Maybe my birth and his death are the reasons for my ambivalence with cars.

Gram’s house was at 1042 Bradshaw Avenue, and it became my permanent place of residence. Daisy threw me happily into a ready-made family. In order of age, there was my uncle Dick, Daisy, uncle Bob, uncle George, aunt Katheryn, and, finally, aunt Mary Lee. Mary Lee was only four years older than I and aunt Katheryn was only eight years older, so all the aunts and uncles, and Daisy became my brothers and sisters. I was the baby and the star of the show as far as I was concerned.

With my ailing grandfather and Gram and six kids- Dick had married and moved out- Bradshaw Avenue became a noisy, singing boogie-woogieing house. We were stuffed into three bedrooms and shared one bathroom, somehow. World War II had gathered up Bob and George. Daisy worked at People’s Drugstore. Katheryn, Mary Lee and I went to McKinley School around the corner until it was time for high school. World War II never returned Bob, but we got George back, and hung a gold star in the window. Granpa didn’t last long after Bob was killed in Holland.

When I was about nine or ten, some days Daisy would lay out my “good clothes” in the morning before she went to work. I would dutifully put them on and go downtown to People’s Drugstore and meet Daisy for lunch. We would walk over to Jay’s Grill and sit in the dark wooden booths. I would light her cigarettes for her, order my own lunch and pay the check when we left. Daisy was always so proud of me for allowing her to show me off, and “acting like a gentleman”.

Residential propinquity played a large part in our lives from about my fifth grade on. Next-door from 1042 Bradshaw Avenue lived a family who also had a son in the war. He was  a lieutenant in the Navy. He came home on leave wearing his Naval officer’s “whites”, and Daisy took a nosedive. He- his name was Marvin- had just graduated from some navy school, and he was best friends with Dennis Day, from the Jack Benny radio program. Dennis Day, for cryin’ out loud, he was a big star. That, and the fact that Marvin made little All-American as a tackle on his college’s football team before enlisting, rang a million celestial bells in Daisy’s heart. She could be the wife of a star, or, at least, a somebody.

So Daisy completed the nosedive with a marriage license. She never got to meet Dennis Day, and their marriage began its own nosedive that lasted for twenty-five years. Marvin, you see, just couldn’t develop an adequate amount of get-up-and-go to become someone who would fit into Daisy’s dreams. The most Marvin could aspire to be was assistant city engineer in that little town on the Ohio River. He rose to the rank of lieutenant commander in the Navy during the war. When war’s end came, he mustered out without giving a second thought to becoming a career officer. Instead, he came home to nothing except a young wife and- oh, boy-  a stepson. Marvin and I were not your “magazine cover” father and son, much to Daisy’s dismay. He was a big, physical guy, and I was, well, five feet, four inches. I always felt like he treated me like a trained monkey. Maybe some of it was my fault, maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe I was too young to realize he was miserable for booting his life away, and not able to send ladies into nosedives anymore without his navy “whites”. I often wonder what Marvin would have been like had he stayed in the navy.

In my senior year in high school, they presented me with a half-sister, Marvann.  Later, that same year, I left town, and never really went home again. Oh, I came home to visit Daisy, and, in time, to celebrate all my diminishing relatives high points. Births, deaths, class and family reunions always found my smiling face. I just didn’t want to be there in that little town when there was a world out there waiting for me to enter it.

However, Daisy couldn’t leave that little town. Whenever she left town, she got sick. Marvin got a job in Houston, Texas after the war, and we all moved down there. It couldn’t last. After a few weeks, Daisy got us back in the car, and we came home. I would bring her “on location” with me, and in a short time she would get sick and go home. I have always believed that she was comfortable only where she was known and recognized. She wanted fame, but was afraid to leave town to grab it

Marvin died an unspectacular death at about the same time the divorce papers were signed. Daisy’s dreams still had not been realized. Before they were separated, however, they bought a small house on a quiet street, and Daisy then had it all alone. She felt that to be the happiest time of her life.

Oh, sure, she took a short spin with the mayor. Knowing he was a drunk, Daisy married him anyway. Go figure. I guess she could, at least, feel like the first lady of that little town on the Ohio River. I don’t remember exactly how long that union lasted, but it wasn’t long, and he died not long after that. I think they buried him in a Four Roses bottle.

Daisy was not what anyone would describe as a quiet and refined type. She could swear and drink with the best of them. One of her best lines was, “I married three drunks, and buried every one of the sons a bitches.” Sadly, she never stopped working until her heart beat her to it. She worked every day of her life, and I’m sure hated every minute of it. Dreams die hard.

 Residential Propinquity was still going strong back then. I married the pretty blonde girl who’s father owned the grocery store across the street from McKinley School. That was fifty-three years ago, and I’m still thanking Linda for the towering five-cent ice cream cones.

Our daughter, Stephanie, bought Daisy’s house. She bought it while  Daisy was in it so Daisy wouldn’t have to fuss around with all that. Stephanie had spent many summers in that little house, and didn’t want to see it leave the family the way 1042 Bradshaw Avenue  eventually did. Mary Lee was the last one at Bradshaw. She sold it when she couldn’t maintain it anymore.

 While Daisy was involved with all that marrying tomfoolery being played out on the Ohio River, I was enjoying forty years as a production designer in the motion picture industry. I have written a book about my experiences in the “movies”, and with that came a modicum of celebrity. More like a modicum of a modicum. Production designers are not high up on the celebrity scale of Hollywood. Our job is a good and important one; we’re responsible for the “look” of a picture, and our credit is “up front” with the big guys.. The book? Well, the book is a view of Hollywood from the perspective of someone-not-so-famous, and isn’t required reading on the celebrity circuit. There is not a bookstore in that town on the river, much to Daisy’s regret.

Daisy, however, had other ideas. Coming from a small town, and breaking into “show business”, as I had done, was just what she needed in order to take a different position on the imaginary social scale of the town. Daisy took on the role with true gusto. Everything I did in Hollywood she duly reported to the local newspaper. “Local Man Designs Hit Movie”, “Local Man Honored.” The newspaper always included, “…son of….” in the article, and I’m sure that was under threat of bodily harm. Hell, the whole thing was embarrassing, but, by then, I had pretty much figured out her dream. How could I deny her  getting a little stardust on herself? I have always loved what I do, but I just never “celebrated” it. It made her happy to feel like someone else for a change.

Daisy’s strut got a little more pronounced. She still wore high heals and sorta’ short skirts. She had great legs, and knew it. She dressed a little “hipper” than the town was used to, and she was a  quicker with her quips. When I went to visit, she always managed to get me “downtown” where we would walk a few blocks and she could “show off”. Jay’s Grill had long since shut its doors. I was never comfortable, but I could not deny her the fun. Hell, I started to celebrate it.

One afternoon, we were walking down Fifth Street.  Suddenly she grabbed my arm and pushed me across the street making that “Oo, oo” sound you make when you want to share something. An old man with a cane was walking along, and Daisy’s voice stopped him in his tracks. They exchanged greetings, then Daisy turned to me and  said, “This is the gentleman who drove the taxi to Bradshaw Avenue the night we left Mutt.”

All I could say was, “Thanks for the ride.”

Daisy has been gone for about five years. I like to think that I made her dreams come just a little true. Boy, she could strut her stuff!

She was proud of her “little boy”, and her little boy was proud of her…. I guess I just understood her.

At Daisy’s funeral, during her eulogy, I said that she was probably pissed-off because the flags in town were not at half-mast.

Before she died, she made arrangements with the funeral home, her hair dresser,  and my sister about what she would wear as she lay in state. She chose a lively colored blue dress and was holding a livelier multi-colored purse.  When I came into the funeral parlor with my sister, and approached the casket I asked why she had a purse.

My sister rolled her eyes and said, “It matches her friggen shoes.” 

Written by Peter Wooley
August 7, 2009

Sunset Gower Studios Plate

Posted by admin On July - 28 - 2009

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Blazing Saddles

Posted by admin On July - 28 - 2009

You know, it’s a strange thing about Blazing Saddles: It is so brilliantly written that hardly a day goes by that I don’t use at least one line from it. “Somebody go back and get a shit-load of dimes.” “Are you out of your mind, can’t you see that this man is a…?” “Never mind that shit, here comes Mongo.” “Hi, I’m parked over by the commissary.” “Do do that voodoo that you do so well.” “Shit, Bart they said you was hung….” “And they was right.” “This friggin thing is warped.” “Oh what a nice guy.” And the best musical line ever written, “They quote you Byron and Shelly and jump on your belly and bust your balloon. “ Well, you get the message. Rent the damn thing. Look at it and try to get through the next day without using at least one line. “More beans, Mr. Taggert?”

What! And Give Up Show Business

Posted by admin On July - 28 - 2009

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From Library Journal

“As I look back on all of this, it comes to me that this story is really what Hollywood is all about. Or at least what it’s supposed to be about,” says Wooley as he describes an antic casting session with Mel Brooks before they gallop off to shoot Blazing Saddles. Wooley’s autobiography is a fast-paced, humorous memoir of scouting and creating sets for numerous feature films and TV movies. Designing often translates into transporting or re-making, as when he dismantled and moved a derelict, vermin-infested house for Sounder and re-created Dom DeLuise’s childhood kitchen for Fatso. Frequently, location scouting comes to nought and the film is aborted. See, for instance, Wooley’s adventures in Nigeria or in Cleveland, where almost-famous boxing impresario and executive producer Don King introduces him to physicians financing his film Blood, Black and White, “so that the doctors could see that we were, indeed, legitimate Hollywood types.” Wooley’s behind-the-scenes cohorts are as interesting as the notables he encounters, which include Robert Mitchum, James Cagney, Anne Bancroft, and Katharine Hepburn. A welcome antidote to star and director bios. Kim Holston, American Inst. for Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters, Malvern, PA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review
Fraught with insight and mirth, just like Peter Wooley, himself. — Mel Brooks

Product Description
The reminiscences of Hollywood’s top production designer, who recalls * Robert Mitchum falling off a barstool * Brian Keith’s creative, incessant swearing * the fate of the fake bird droppings on the set of Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety. From Katharine Hepburn to Robert Redford — Wooley’s met them all and watched them all and tells all. And his memories are not just about stars, but also about the scores of creative, clever, zany, egotistical characters he’s worked with in his demanding and creative profession. Full of fun and gossip and yarns, it’s for everyone who wants to know what really goes on behind the scenes.

About the Author
Peter Wooley has been a production designer in the motion picture and television industries for over 30 years; his work includes Going Home, Sounder, Cleopatra Jones, Blazing Saddles, and High Anxiety. He won an Emmy nomination for the T.V. movie, The Day After.

Carrie Fisher

Posted by admin On July - 28 - 2009

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Coming Soon

Porky’s Revenge

Posted by admin On July - 28 - 2009

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Needless to say, “Porky’s” is not my finest hour. The production manager who was an old friend called me. He said, “I’m working on a picture called ‘Porkys Three’ – don’t say a word, it’s work. The writers changed the ending of the picture, and now they need a full fledged production designer instead of the local hire they have now.”

He offered me an obscene amount of money to fly to Miami, design and build a full-sized river boat that runs, has shootable interiors, and gets destroyed going under a drawbridge. I couldn’t resist. Would you?

The river boat being destroyed by the bridge can be seen here, about the 7 minute mark:

Mongo

Posted by admin On July - 28 - 2009

Mongo

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Gene Wilder

Posted by admin On July - 28 - 2009

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Coming Soon