|The studio entrance in the 1940s|
|The west entrance of Stage 7 today|
|View of Stage 7 from the adjacent parking structure|
|Jim Backus, Joan Gardner, Jule Styne, Laura Olsher, Royal Dano, Paul Frees and Walter Scharf|
By 1972, the scoring stage had fallen into disuse and served as studio storage. In 1974, a fire on the Sigmund sound stage destroyed that stage as well as several others. While some of the stages were rebuilt, others were not and the decision was made to convert the former scoring stage into a shooting stage, ripping out the hardwood flooring. Today, the stage is home to one of the largest cycloramas in Hollywood. A ‘cyc’, as it’s known in industry jargon, is used primarily for special effects shots in order to avoid the joint where the walls meet the floor and provides a sense of infinity with a concave curve joining the horizontal and vertical planes.
I asked the singer for Young Scrooge, Marie Matthews (pictured above), to reminisce at the facility where she recorded her songs 50 years ago. We were granted permission to visit the lot and sound stage by studio manager, Dusty Barbee and were guided by Security head, Dave Del Prete, who is also the lot’s unofficial historian. Much has changed on that stage in 50 years and the presence of the huge white cyclorama which spans the entire length and almost the entire width of the room is overwhelming. In the shot above, Marie is standing just a few feet in front of where Sinatra is pictured below.
With the aid of photos taken during Sinatra’s recording session for The Concert Sinatra album, Marie was able to remember that the songs were recorded in the center rear corner of the above photo, where most of the musicians are sitting. However, due to the position of the cyclorama, we were unable to visit that portion of the stage. She also recalled that Jim Backus, suffering from a bad back, would close the lid of the grand piano between takes and lie down on it for relief. As photos from the song session attest, the space didn’t seem nearly as large as it does in the photo above but the stage was neither as brightly nor as fully lit as in this shot, making it seem less imposing. Recording configurations that no longer exist and the use of sound dampening isolation booths around each of the singers would have also further constricted the space.
Marie had not been on the lot since she recorded the songs in 1962 and was delighted to revisit the stage and the facilities. For me, standing in the room where two of Elmer Bernstein’s most iconic scores were recorded was inspiring but being there with Marie Matthews and knowing that the songs and score for Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol made the moment truly special. Those songs and score made their debut fifty years ago tonight. Be sure to catch NBC’s airing of the special on Saturday, December 22nd at 8 PM.
|Darrell Van Citters and Marie Matthews outside Stage 7|
Special thanks to Dave Del Prete for taking time out of his busy day to show Marie, her daughter Melinda and me around the stage and lot, Dusty Barbee for allowing us access to the facility and to Heidi Ewart for making the arrangements.