With a career spanning over 25 years, Jerry Green has had many roles with Universal Studios Hollywood. Starting out as a tour guide in the early 70s, Jerry served as an attraction host, wardrobe manager and entertainment manager – eventually moving to Planning and Development (now known as Universal Creative) in the 1980s. We spoke with Jerry in a conversation that spans the infancy of the Studio Tour and the theme park to the development of Universal Studios Florida.
Here’s part two of that interview.
» Inside Universal: While you were at Universal Studios Hollywood, you ended up working with a great team of men and women. You all became very close. It seems that your group worked together for quite a few years. When did that start and who were some of those people?
Jerry Green: For me it started in 1971. The other guys started a year earlier. Our team consisted of Larry Curran, whom I already mentioned. He was one of the original hosts of Airport – he and another fellow named Ken Smedley. There was Don Martin and Bob Formica. Then I joined the gang. We were all saddened when Bob passed away earlier this year and Larry died several years ago.
Ken and Don started a company that shot a film presentation of our show and sold it as souvenirs to guests participating as actors. Ken quit the show to oversee that company, but Don stayed on as technical director. After a couple of years Joe Turpel joined us. He was a back-up host and cameraman and then became full time.
» Back then, I would imagine that internal politics played a major role between management and your department. Did they give you the freedom to do your own thing? What about a script?
Oh no, management pretty much kept hands off and let us develop our own show. They told us what the premise would be, i.e. Adam 12, Emergency, etc., but we did everything else. And we made it up as we went.
I remember our first day on the Emergency Show stage (Star Trek theater). It was media day. The audience was packed. News cameras everywhere; and we hadn’t rehearsed the show even once. We had a massive water tank on stage that was an important part of the show and we hadn’t tested it at all. It was a huge, holding 6,500 gallons of water. It had 3 inch thick plexi-glass on two sides so the audience could see into the tank. As I said, we hadn’t tested it. We didn’t know if it would shoot whoever was in it out the top or batter them against the walls. When filled, the water was about 7 feet deep. Remember, we were forcing 6,500 gallons of water into that confined space in three seconds. It was impressive. And we were about to put guests from the audience into that set.
It was getting on in the day – probably 1:00 PM. Terry Winnick, the show’s producer, said to me, “we have to do a show. The audience is full of the media.” You have to remember, we had no script, hadn’t had time to rehearse scenes or camera shots, but 2,000 people were getting anxious for a show. We had advertised the show for months so there wasn’t an option. I picked up the microphone and we started the show. It took us two hours to do our first show, ad-libbing all the way. The goal was for a thirty to forty minute show. Eventually, after a couple of weeks, we were able to get it down to forty minutes, including casting.
That’s how we did it; we made it up as we went along. No one ever said to me, you can’t say that. We were responsible, management trusted us and knew we weren’t going to say anything we shouldn’t…although…I did. (chuckle) When you’re doing a show that for the most part is ad-lib, once in a while things come out that shouldn’t. I remember we were doing Adam 12. From time-to-time we would grab the microphone and go out before the show and just talk to the audience and do a Q & A. We did that especially if the show was going to be delayed. The audience really liked that. They could ask us all sorts of questions about show biz. I remember once, it was the last show of the night and the audience was really into it. You can always tell when you’re connecting with audience. They were asking all sorts of questions, ribbing me and carrying on. A lady in the back of the theater was kidding with me and said something. I jokingly shot back at her, “Oh, yeah, I remember you. Didn’t I see you on the street the other night saying, “Hey sailor, new in town?” It was a Don Rickles moment.
(laughs) – Oh wow, you couldn’t get away with that today, could you?
Probably not. But it was like a big family back then. The audience laughed, she laughed. We were never rude or unkind to the guests. We were responsible; we loved our job and respected the guests and the studio. We liked all the managers. It was truly a great place to work.
However I will say not all audiences were as connected. I remember once when I was a guide, we were going through the sound stage and I was giving the audience my best material. There was no response. I mean nothing! I paused and said, “Gee, I’ve never seen dead people sit up.” There were a few chuckles but pretty much the same response.
Everything is so scripted and rigid. Every show is the exactly same.
Some of the shows were like that. Well, the stunt show was, and Lance (Rimmer) ran it with an iron fist. And Lance, to his credit, probably knows more about staging than anybody I’ve ever known. He insisted that the guys do it the right way, every time. No variation. There were times when the guys would want to milk a funny line way too long, but Lance would cut it off. He was right. If you let a laugh go on too long it kills the pacing of the show. Ray Berwick told me that early on in my career. If you stop the laughter or applause just after its peak, the audience still feels like they still owe you something.
That’s fascinating! Going back to the show with the water tank – The Great Chase – having a water tank with that much water at such a quick speed. Did you ever have any mishaps or malfunctions?
Oh yeah. Actually the funniest moment was during the Airport ‘77 show. We had a console on stage with about 50 buttons that I controlled while hosting the show. The console controlled the special effects on stage. Backstage was an elevated tank, about thirty feet high that held 6,500 gallons of water. When I pushed the console button the doors of the tank backstage would open and the water would come rushing in through the grate in the floor of the tank. The onstage tank would fill in three seconds. It was so fast it always shocked the people in the tank. And remember, these were people from the audience.
I could push another button and water would drain from the tank just as fast as it filled. One day we were doing “Airport ‘77”. It was a summer day, a packed house. We had a man and woman in the tank. I hit the button and the water came rushing in. No surprise…the man was startled and gasped with his mouth wide open. I hit the button and the water drained. The audience started applauding. At this point one of the stage hands would always come to assist the guests out of the tank. But these two people weren’t leaving. This fellow had his back to the audience, slightly bent at the waist and wandering around. And the lady, who he did not know prior to the show, was doing the same. Whatever he was doing, she was helping.
I waited for a few seconds and when they didn’t exit I asked, “Sir are you okay? Did you lose something?” He nodded “yes”. I asked him “What did you lose?” He turned around and with a big toothless smile said, “I lost my teeth”. The audience went crazy. It’s the longest laugh I’ve ever heard.
He opened his mouth as the water rushed in and his false teeth floated out. Of course no one could see that except him. Before he could grab his teeth I hit the button to drain the water and his teeth disappeared through the grate in the floor. It was probably five minutes or so before the audience calmed down and I could get the show going again. This poor guy had no teeth and he thought it was hysterical…in front of 2,000 people.
We did his teeth back for him.
I’ve heard another story too, about that tank flooding the park right before the park opened for the day. Is that true?
Oh yes, that one was on me. It was a morning before our first show so the theater was empty and not many people in the park yet. One of our stagehands was leaving. It was his last day and we were going to throw him in the tank, clothes and all. A couple of guys were going to carry him up the steps and throw him.
I went to console to push the button. Rather than carry him up the stairs someone decide to open the emergency hatch door on the side of the tank and put him. I hit the button just as they opened the door. Once the button was pushed there is no stopping it. The water is coming. They opened the door and here came the water. They tried to close it but that wasn’t happening. There was no way they were going to stop 6,500 gallons of water from coming out. The door flies open, they’re all four men were swept off their feet and washed down the stairs. The water just kept on coming. It’s amazing how much there was. Confined in the tank it looks less impressive but when it was pouring out the door, across the stage and into the park, it was pretty spectacular. And of course who would be walking through the park at the very moment but Ron Benson, the General Manager. He walked over and said “Sometimes, you just can’t get away with anything can you”. Bummer. But as I said earlier, everybody was great back then. We got a call from Mike Hoffer, the entertainment manager. All he asked was, “What were you guys doing?” He and Ron were both okay with it. It was just really fun and crazy back then.
Wow. Today, if something like that occurred, everyone would lose their jobs.
That’s how it was back then, very different, very laid back. Of course I remember when Ron was the operations manager he took the company car up this giant hill/reservoir (this was located where WaterWorld is currently sitting); you could probably fit fifty cars in this reservoir, that’s how big it was. It was pretty high and there was a road that led to the top on the back side of the hill. He went up and got too close to the edge and the car slid right down into the reservoir. I think they had to get a crane to get the car out. We all had our moments.
It really seems that way. It would have been a great time to work there.
It was great! You never knew what was going to happen. That was particularly true of our show. We took thirty people from the audience every show, and sometimes we would do twelve or fourteen shows a day, forty minutes each. With that many shows and different people, something was always bound to happen.
» Now at one point Universal used to have a traveling road show; a traveling stunt show that would tour the country. Can you tell us more about that?
It wasn’t just a stunt show. It was also an animal show and make-up show, three different acts. Each act was around ten minutes. So it was a thirty minute show. We would travel around the country, and Canada, primarily doing shopping malls and conventions.
Were you a stunt man for these shows?
My primary job was to host. I did the intros, but there were a few times I did the stunt show as well. There were three stunt guys from the park. We also took Fred the Cockatoo, the bird from the “Baretta” T.V. series, and Benji (a dog from the movie Benji). Then for the make-up show our artist would take a lady from the audience and turn her into the Bride of Frankenstein.
It was great PR for the studio. We would go to a mall to perform and thousands would show up. People would pack the malls to see this stuff. If it was a two story mall, it was packed all the way to the rafters. Just as many people as you can imagine. Stunt men flying all over the stage; fist fights, bull whips, gun fights. The audience loved it.
We had a saloon set as a backdrop for the show. The first few times we put the set together it took us hours. But by the time we hit the road for our first show we had it down to a few minutes. It was great!
When was this?
In the 70s. I did a lot of PR stuff for the park. I remember the birth of baby Frankenstein, a new character we were introducing at the studio. I also did the promo for the new King Kong attraction in the 80s.
What was the promo for the King Kong attraction?
I don’t know if it was that impressive. It took place on the back lot. I dressed up in a safari jacket like the Charles Grodin character from “King Kong Lives”. We had a helicopter fly in and with a crate that was probably 25 or 30 feet high and set it down. The payoff of the event was a gigantic gorilla fist bursting out from the inside the crate. That was the end. Promo over.
» When did you become Director of Entertainment for the park?
When I was there it was called Entertainment Manager. I started that job in 83’. Before I became the manager, I went and worked at the San Diego Zoo for a summer. Terry Winnick had left the studio by then and was GM at the Zoo. He called and asked me to come down and do a show for him. I worked at the Zoo three days a week and at the Studio three days a week. Jay Stein allowed me to split my time between the two places for the summer. I hosted a show with Joan Embree. That was a great time also. Three shows a day all summer long.
What was your responsibility as Entertainment Manager?
I was in-charge of all of the shows. Everything entertainment except the guided tour – the Operations Department was in charge of that. The tour should have been in my department also. But Operations didn’t want to let go of it.
» What shows were there at that time?
The Western Stunt Show, Screen Test Show, Animal Show, Conan, A-Team.
Speaking of A-Team, I have heard a story about Jay Stein and the A-Team stunt show. Could you tell us about that?
Jay Stein was President of the Recreation division (theme park). He came to watch the show…it was the first performances of the day, and sometimes when you‘re doing a show and there are fifty people in an audience which normally seats 3,000, your energy just isn’t there. These guys were some of the best bikers in the world. They would do these ramp jumps forty feet across and 20 feet in the air. Their performance was okay but it wasn’t 100%. Jay left for his office which was in the black MCA tower on the lower lot. About an hour after he left I got a call from Ron Benson who was the GM at the time. He said Jay wanted to see us in his office. So Ron and I we went to Jay’s office. To say he wasn’t happy about the A-Team performance would be an understatement.
He told me “I want you to go fire every one of them!” So I let him get it all out and then I said, “Okay Jay, I will go fire them, but I want you to know that I will be firing some of the best bikers in the world. They just had a bad show. We all want our performers to give a hundred percent all the time. But that isn’t reality.” He paused for minute, and then I saw a marked change in him, he said “I don’t want to you fire them, I am just so frustrated with that (expletive) show”. The A-Team stunt show was not a very good show. Great performers, but poor script. On paper it probably looked good. It was a lot like the Star Trek Show. It looked great on paper, the sets look great, but the show wasn’t.
So you didn’t fire them, right?
Correct. We would not have been able to find anybody better. They were the best.
» After being Entertainment Manger, were you ever a part of Planning and Development (Universal Creative as it is now known)?
Yes, well, I quit in ’85 which was a big mistake. After a year or so, I came back and hosted The Star Trek Adventure. We had been doing that for a couple of years, it wasn’t my favorite show. It was more scripted. The bigger something gets, the more control management wants to have over it. And I understand that, when you have a little family group there and you know them personally, you know what you can expect from them. You give them free reign. When you have hundreds of employees you can’t always do that.
Back to Planning and Development. Terry Winnick left the Zoo in San Diego and was now back at Uni. He was working on the Back to the Future Ride and several other projects. He called me one day and asked if I would come work at Planning and Development (In case you didn’t notice, Terry was a very good friend of mine). So I transitioned from performing in shows to working on the Florida project. Each ride and show had its own producer. It was a huge project, and had to be completed in a relatively short period of time.
When you moved over to Planning and Development, you were focused on the Florida park?
Completely. I wrote the guided tour for them. The guided tour took guests through the Nickelodeon Stages. I also produced a Screen Test show that was a condensed version of what we had in Hollywood.
The Screen Test attraction was located to the left of Kongfratation. This is now the extension of the Mummy Ride queue.
I think so. I did a little bit on the Lagoon Show. I also worked on a film we made for one of the shows that was hosted by Robert Wagner. I spent a lot of time with him, nice guy.
» Did you have anything to do with the E.T. Ride?
Yes, I did the pre-show, we developed a Q & A and video for the queue line.
Did you work with Spielberg on the making of the ride?
No, I did do a PR event in New York for the Florida Park with him. We really didn’t interact much.
Cool, so you had the opportunity to hang with him.
Well, not really, we just happened to be on stage at the same time…it’s not like we were buddies picking out furniture.
» Well, we have time for only a couple of more questions. When it became time to get advertisers for the park, you were in-charge of selling the Jaws Ride.
That was the original intent, but it never happened. The goal was to describe this terrifying attack by the shark. He was to appear in one place and then disappear, and then attack the boat and bite a chuck out of it. The boat would then take refuge in a giant, dark warehouse. After a few seconds the shark would start banging against walls trying to get in. Of course there was a narrow escape.
It sounds much more frightening than how the original ride turned out.
Jaws sounded very frightening, but it never really lived up to its expectations.
That was a costly mistake.
Well, when you are building something of that magnitude, it’s a lot like a movie script. It may look great on paper, but when you see it on the screen it just doesn’t make it. But we got most things right. It was and is a great park.
Jay Stein was overseeing the parks on both coasts. Originally we were going to charge quite a bit less for admission than the Disney parks. Then Jay had an epiphany. We were building a world class studio and theme park. We shouldn’t charge anything less than Disney. So the next day it changed. By that one decision he increased the revenue by a third; in one night.
» Just one last question. When did you leave Universal for good?
I left in 94’.
» Well, you have a great story and we would like to thank you for taking time and giving us a look into Universal Studios Hollywood through the years.
You’re welcome. It was my pleasure.
Jonathan Green is a contributing editor for Inside Universal.
Jonathan has been going to Universal for over 25 years and has developed a deep passion for the theme park and its historic films. He gained his desire and passion from his dad and sister – his father having worked for Universal for over 25 years and helped oversee some projects that were created for Universal Studios Florida. He hopes to one day follow in his father and sister’s footsteps and continue the family tradition.