Editor’s Note: Jerry Green served as Universal Studios Hollywood’s Entertainment Director in the 1980s. His new memoir – 25 Years Inside Universal Studios: From Tour Guide to Entertainment Director – serves as a fascinating look inside the company during its early years. His book is available now on Amazon.com!
Today, we’ll be looking at the life of an early Studio Tour guide, and how someone eventually got their start in what would be one of the largest entertainment powerhouses in the world. Be sure to read Jerry Green’s book to learn more about this and other stories from the park!
To quote part of the opening line from A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times…it was the epoch of belief…” That aptly describes my twenty–five years at Universal Studios. What began in 1964 as a desire by studio executives to increase revenue at the studio commissary, evolved into one of two dominate forces in the world of theme park entertainment. To be part of that evolution was indeed thrilling and exciting. It was history making and reshaped the industry.
I started working at Universal in 1968, four years after the doors opened … back in the day when it was called Universal Studios Tour. Since then the name has also evolved, and is now … Universal Studios Hollywood. But even the name change was appropriate, because in the early years the guided tour was the focus. Now it’s just one part of the overall grand experience.
In the early years the tour guide was the tour. It was a ninety-minute presentation that we guides did, on occasion, as many as four times a day. There was only one special effect which opened in 1968 – the Flash Flood. Back then there was no video assist on the tram (thankfully).
But for ‘a small town boy from the sticks’ the adventure of working at the biggest and busiest studio in the world was overwhelming! The closest I’d ever come to show biz was the local movie theater in Panama City, Florida. My mom remarried when I was thirteen and she and her new husband moved to Phoenix. But I found them. Then after six years in Arizona, I came to California on vacation. On my second trip to visit Disneyland and Universal I was told that the studio was accepting applications for tour guides. So I applied and, much to my surprise, was hired on the spot…not because of my effervescent personality (which I didn’t possess), but more likely because they needed guides.
In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s we were a small cadre of guides. But the truth was, in the beginning I felt out of my league. The guide pool included sons, daughters, nieces and nephews of Hollywood movers-and-shakers. My dad raised hogs in North Florida. I was trying to learn words other than “ya’ll,” and to eat food that didn’t include grits. Small-town to Hollywood was culture shock! But new friendships were formed. We gave tours together, hung out together and partied together. Although ‘partied together’ has a completely different meaning today than back then. But we refined, then re-refined the tour.
The world at large was fascinated with show business. People from all walks of life wanted a behind-the-scenes look at movie and television production. Until Universal opened its’ doors, everything on the other side the guards’ booth at the front-gate, was a mystery. And I got to be part of the guests’ experience. I loved everything studio related.
After serving as a tour guide for several months I was given the job as show announcer; introducing shows such as The Wild West Stunt Show, the Animals Actors Show, the Marionette Show, and the Pantomime Show. On occasion I even performed in the Stunt Show and Marionette Show as a last minute fill-in when performers didn’t show up. But after watching the shows hundreds of times, I knew them so well it was easy to step into the role.
Then KFI Radio came to Universal. Most folks don’t associate radio with Universal, but KFI decided to do three of their daily shows in front of live audiences, and Universal had ready-made audiences everyday. So an arrangement was made to produce three variety shows from the tour center five days a week. I was asked to serve as coordinator. It was a great experience, and one where I met countless celebrities. It was a fun job with only minor challenges. It was during that time that I came nose-to-nose with one of the KFI’s ‘stars,’ and on the brink of an all-out brawl, literally. But in the end he and I worked out our differences and I was even invited to his exclusive Christmas party filled with Hollywood celebs.
After KFI pulled the plug on the radio shows, I spent three months working in the wardrobe department. No, not sewing clothes, but handing out costumes to Frankenstein, Woody Woodpecker, Phantom of the Opera, tour guides, stuntmen, etc.
Then one day my world changed. The operations manager came to wardrobe and told me I was being moved back to performing. I was going to host a live stage show. That moment would come to define my life at Universal. I was moving to Stage 70.
Stage 70, later renamed The Screen Test Comedy Theater, became my home for many, many years, and where I hosted over 32,000 live shows. Our show involved taking thirty guests from the audience and making a movie with them as the actors. It provided some wild moments. We did shows that required guest actors to jump into tanks of water, or having buckets of water thrown on them, or hit in the face with whipped cream pies. And it wasn’t just kids who wanted to participate, it was grown ups, men and women from every walk of life – corporate presidents, brick layers, teachers, grocery clerks … we even had a visit from the Queen. Yes, that Queen. And no, Secret Service wouldn’t let us hit her in the face with a pie. Party killers!
Then, in the mid-eighties I was offered the position of Entertainment Director. That too was a great job, overseeing all shows in the Park and 350 employees during peak seasons. It was a wild ride!
The stories I could tell. Oh wait! I did, in my new book out now called 25 Years Inside Universal Studios.