Seeing Stars: The Movie Studios


100 Universal City Plaza (at Lankershim)
Universal City, CA./ (818) 508-9600 or (818) 508-5444


Even though Universal Studios Hollywood is probably best known today as a theme park (rivaling Disneyland in popularity with tourists), Universal Pictures is actually the largest film and television studio in the world, with 9,000 employees and a long and proud history of film-making. In fact, Universal Studios produced the two of the highest-grossing movies of all time, "E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial" and "Jurassic Park."

Founded in 1912 by German immigrant Carl Laemmle, Universal Pictures built their giant hilltop studio in 1915, on the site of a chicken farm. To make a little extra money, they used to charge tourists 25 cents to watch the actual filming of silent movies, with stars such as Lon Chaney and Rudolph Valentino on the sets. But the carnival barker-style of the tour guides proved too much of a distraction to the film-makers, and the tours were discontinued. Five decades later, though, the idea was resurrected with a vengeance.

Universal was the Hollywood studio responsible for the creation of most of our favorite old-time movie monsters, releasing such original classic horror films as "Frankenstein" (1931) with Boris Karloff, "Dracula" (1931) with Bela Lugosi, & "The Wolf Man" (1941) with Lon Chaney, Jr.

The studio gave us W.C. Field's comedies such as "The Bank Dick" (1940) & "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break" (1941), and the rural humor of "The Egg & I" (1947) with Fred MacMurray & Claudette Colbert (plus its "Ma & Pa Kettle" spinoffs with Majorie Main). They gave us the terror of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" (1963), the drama of "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962), and musicals such as "Sweet Charity" (1969) with Shirley MacLaine. They pioneered the disaster film with the "Airport" series (1970-1977), and introduced us to Scott Joplin ragtime in "The Sting" (1973) with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Universal was the home to the films of Abbott & Costello, Sabu, Deanna Durbin and Doris Day. Jimmy Stewart made "Harvey" here.

Still, in the Golden Age, Universal never got the same respect as other major studios; it saw a number of major stars walk away to join other studios after getting their start at Universal (including Valentino, Bette Davis, Busby Berkeley, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean).

But all of that changed in 1969, when Universal signed up a talented youngster named Steven Spielberg. Beginning with a made-for-TV movie called "Duel," Spielberg turned out an incredible series of blockbusters that began in 1975 with "Jaws" and lasted through "Schindler's List." (Steven Spielberg's production offices are still located on the Universal lot, even though he left Universal to form his own studio, "DreamWorks." And several of his major films, "Jurassic Park", "ET". "Back to the Future", "Jaws" and "War of the Worlds" have been featured attractions at the Universal Studios theme park & tour.)

Other Universal hits have included: "American Graffiti" (1973), "Earthquake" (1974), "Smokey & The Bandit" (1977), "The Deer Hunter" (1978), "The Blues Brothers" (1980), "On Golden Pond" (1981), "Out of Africa" (1985), "Field of Dreams" (1989), the trilogy of "Back to the Future" adventures (1985-1990), and "Backdraft" (1991).

Universal released the dinosaur blockbuster "Jurassic Park" in 1993, which surpassed Universal's own "ET" as the most successful movie rental of all time. That same year, they gave us the dramatic "Schindler's List," which won the Best Picture Oscar. In 1997, they topped themselves again with "The Lost World."

And sure enough, the Universal theme park has turned most of those films into rides for their giant amusement park.

They also came out with a number of movies based on TV cartoons, including "Rocky & Bullwinkle," "Dudley Do-Right" and "The Flintstones in Rock Vegas" (none of which set the world on fire).

In recent years, Universal has released "Identity Thief", "Les Misérables", "Ted", "Moonrise Kingdom", "ParaNorman", "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World", "Little Fockers", "Despicable Me", "The Kids Are All Right", "Drag Me To Hell", the "Fast & Furious" franchise, "Inglourious Basterds", "Hellboy 2", "Forgetting Sarah Marshall", "Mamma Mia!", "The Bourne Ultimatum", "Charlie Wilson's War," "Knocked Up," "Evan Almighty", "The Break-Up", "Munich," "The Producers", "King Kong", "War of the Worlds," "The 40 Year Old Virgin","The Good German," "Garfield," "Van Helsing," "Dawn of the Dead," "Along Came Polly," "Peter Pan", "Seabiscuit", "The Cat in the Hat", "American Wedding," "Bruce Almighty," "Meet the Parents," "The Incredible Hulk", "The Grinch," "The Fast & the Furious," "Red Dragon," "The Scorpion King," "The Bourne Identity," "The Mummy Returns," "Hannibal," "Jurassic Park 3," "U-571,"  "Man on the Moon," "For Love of the Game," "Patch Adams," "Babe: Pig in the City," the remake of "Psycho," "Meet Joe Black," "Bride of Chucky," "Out of Sight," "Primary Colors," "Blues Brothers 2000," "Mercury Rising," "Liar Liar," "Dante's Peak," "Twister," "The Nutty Professor," "Dragonheart," "Waterworld," "12  Monkeys," "Casino," "Casper," "Babe" and "Apollo 13".

Recent Universal films have featured stars such as
Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Tobey Maguire, Dustin Hoffman, Jennifer Aniston, The Rock, Adam Sandler, Brendan Fraser, George Clooney, John Travolta, Brad Pitt, Helen Hunt, Eddie Murphy, Will Smith, Jim Carrey, Steve Martin, Bruce Willis, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams and Kevin Costner.

Besides paying to visit the theme park/studio tour, you can sometimes get into part of the studio as a member of the studio audience to see sitcoms being taped at Universal.

TV shows taped at Universal have included "Parenthood", "Desperate Housewives", "Crossing Jordan", "Ghost Whisperer," "Scrubs", "Beverly Hills 90210" and "The Simple Life."

Call Audiences Unlimited to see if there's anything taping right now; if so (and if they need an audience for the show), you can get free tickets to watch the live tapings.

In June of 2000, Universal was purchased by France's Vivendi. Four years later (in 2004), General Electric/NBC bought out 80% of Universal, and the company was then referred to as "NBC Universal". Seven years after that, in 2011, NBC-Universal was purchased by the cable giant, Comcast.

(For information about the studio tram tour and Hollywood theme park, see the separate page about tours. - Also see the page about the Universal CityWalk.)

 Getting there: From Hollywood, take the Hollywood (101) Freeway north to the Lankershim Boulevard offramp. Go east (right) on Lankershim Boulevard one block to the Universal entrance; turn right (south) and follow the signs up the hill to the parking lot.



[For more information on this subject, you can access Universal's official website at: http://www.UniversalStudiosHollywood.com.]





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Copyright  2014-Gary Wayne
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