Thursday, October 30, 2008

History of The Studio Facility and Permanent Sets

Ok, now that you are spoiled by all the photos, here is a plain old boring text one!  I'm one of the few people who probably remembers the studio facility history.  The area of the studio is located in what was known as Fort Ruger.  It was an army military post (like Pearl Harbor still is for the US Navy).  Ft. Ruger was actually built before WWI and included Diamond Head and it's large interior crater.  Side note:  Diamond Head is not an extinct volcano but only "dormant."  Since it hasn't erupted in 10,000 years, I wouldn't worry about it!

Over the years after WWII, the State (only since 1959) of Hawaii acquired more and more of Ft. Ruger.  The need for a military base in the middle of Honolulu was a little extreme especially since this area had become the most expensive part of town.  A large portion became a cemetery, the military housing area became Kapiolani Community College, the old base theatre became Diamond Head Theatre (where I spent over 8 years designing), and so on.

"Hawaii 5-0" began filming in 1968 in a mosquito infested warehouse near Pearl Harbor.  It quickly became a hit show (for 12 years!) and was able to move to an unused Ft. Ruger portion on 21st Avenue on the back side of Diamond Head.  I believe the current studio site on 18th Ave. was being used by the National Guard.  For reasons unknown to me, the studio and the National Guard switched locations at the end of 5-0's 1976 season and moved into a new studio facility built by the State on 18th Avenue and Diamond Head Road.  There were small bungalows for offices (still there--barely), a large "Butler Building" sound stage on a concrete slab (now used for storage by "LOST"), and the paint, construction, and set dressing storage area located in a long, old, tin roofed structure (torn down and replaced with a new building).  There was also a large parking lot and huge back lot.  Thus began the Hawaii Film Studio facility.  You can google this location and see for yourself.

Hawaii 5-0 aired its last episode in 1980.  I actually had worked on the last episode of 5-o as a very low (and VERY young - lol) set dresser.  Jack Lord tried another series called "M-Station, Hawaii" about a submarine--both sank very quickly.  Glenn Larson pitched a story about a private-eye investigator.  Did you know that Tom Selleck was on the "Dating Game" TV show and was rejected BOTH times??!!  Shows you what a mustache and short shorts can do for your career!  Anyway, they did a pilot and waited to see if it was picked up.  The story goes that Tom painted his landlady's house since he was basically out of money.  As you all know, the show was picked up and off it went into television history.

The pilot was shot at different locations around Honolulu.  You usually don't build many sets for a pilot because you don't know if the studio (in this case Universal Studios) or network will get the go for a series.  One of the locations included a famous old estate called the Marx Estate which was owned by the State of Hawaii in Nuuanu Valley (which could be another blog in itself).  Higgin's den was filmed there in the pilot.  The Anderson house on Kalanianeole Highway (aka "Robin Master's Estate) was becoming off limits for interior filming because the Spanish tiles on the staircase had been damaged during 5-0.  Ironically the very last episode of 5-0 (the one I worked on) was filmed at the Anderson Estate--am I making TV trivia history or what??!!  So the influence and style of the sets that were ultimately used for the show were based on these 2 locations.  The Spanish Colonial style of architecture, rough plaster walls,dark trim and windows, all came from the Anderson Estate and the brick and French doors of Higgin's den came from the Marx Estate based on the look of the pilot.  In actuality, Tom's guest house entrance was actually the old boat house of the Anderson Estate which was pretty much in ruins.  It was very rare that you ever saw him enter his guest house from the outside--he usually just headed off in that direction and then they cut to him entering onstage.

  Anderson's also had a large servants quarters near her cheesy chain link fence so the show added the gates.  Eve was fond of animals and later it was not unusual to see calves, large dogs, and other animals inside her house. My crew and I were the only ones actually allowed inside her house so we could place plants and furniture on her upper lanai (balcony).  She inherited her house from her grandparents and it was truly a magnificent estate--and I do mean was.  She was paid extremely well for its use as a location whether we used it or not.  Later, it became a nightmare for her since people thought either Tom Selleck, Higgins or maybe even the illusive Robin Masters actually lived there.  She still has old shade cloth and other barriers to keep the view private.  I always thought that was strange since she would rent out the grounds for parties and weddings and certainly could have made a lot more money letting people on the grounds like the "real" Southfork Ranch did on the TV show "Dallas" after the show ended.  

As you must know, all permanent interior sets (Higgins's den, entry hall, living room, Tom's guest house, bedroom, Rick's interior office, and even the interior of the helicopter) were all filmed inside on the 18th Avenue soundstage.  Ironically it's been named the "Five-O Stage" even though 5-0  only filmed there 3 years and Magnum did all 8 there.  More trivia!

Ok, I'm having way too much fun with this.  As your reward for reading all of entry, I'll have some photos of a very rare set (that almost killed my crew--literally) coming up soon--Robin Master's Library.   Aloha


Judy said...

Hi again!
Could you share what the inspiration was behind the floor plan of the guesthouse set? Any reason why the main floor was a full flight of stairs down rather than on the same level as the porch? I always found it odd that in reality the boathouse had no windows looking out onto the porch and the view.
I see from ther tax assessors webpage that the boat house is taxed as a building with one bedroom and one bathroom??
Looking forwar to those pictures you promised! :)

Magnum Decorator said...

Hi Judy,
I wasn't there when they designed the original sets so there may be some reasons I don't know about. I do know that many permanent sets in the 70's and 80's had a raised entrance area. Just think about it--MTM Show, Odd Couple, Bob Newhart, I'm sure there are others. It gave focus to the entrance and character to the set so that not everything was on the same level. When you have a set that has windows, you need to see something out those windows. That means a greens person has to be on hand to place plants outside the set--union rules. I know one time we had to fix up the front of the actual boathouse and I saw inside and it was in rough shape. It would be unlikely that there would be a lower level that close to the ocean. Well, another good question, but my answer was more just speculation on my part. Aloha, Rick

Judy said...

I loved the original MTM set! and the one from Welcome Back Kotter..I used to watch many shows just because I loved the set. Movies too, I watched Foul Play many times just to see the houseboat.
Can you describe what you saw upstairs in the boathouse? Were you able to go inside? I caught sight of a plain white wall right inside the door in a couple of episodes when Magnum would enter from the porch. Once I saw what appeared to be a thin metal stair rail, I guess to simulate the inside balcony rail, but you had to pause the video to see it!
So what I suppose I am saying is someone had to go in to set up the props that prevented the camera from picking up the real interior.
Thanks again for this Blog!! Do you have any pictures of the guesthouse set?

SelleckLover said...

I knew Tom was on the Dating Game. There is a clip of him on the show in his A&E Biography. There's also several clips of commercials that he did including one for, I think, soap or deodorant with a young Penny Marshall and Teri Garr in it!! (They comment on how fresh and clean he smells!) LOL

Magnum Decorator said...

As to having pictures of the permanent sets......I probably don't. I tended to only take pictures of the sets that I had done for my portfolio. I did get to do the living room set so I'm sure I must have some of those. It wasn't used all that often but it was the largest. We often built other sets inside of the living room because it was so large. Set dressing is often used to cover up and hide things (drapes, piles of crates, screens, etc.) Keep in mind that ultimately it is only what the camera "sees" so there are a lot of tricks that are just off camera to make the scene (or set) work. I don't think I have any photos of the boathouse. I know this may sound shocking, but at the time, it was just a job--not creating TV history so it is only now that I am raiding my remaining photo collection and memory cells!

Judy said...

Well, I'll keep my fingers crossed on photos, and if not a verbal description of inside the boathouse will do!
In the Hotel Dick episode, the set of his hotel room/office seems to be Magnum's bedroom only "redecorated" Is that true?
Also in Mad Buck Gibson there is a scene filmed from the bathroom, was that a separate set or was it actually built onto the bedroom set? And speaking of the bedroom set, was it built onto the living room set? Was the guesthouse all one entity?
I noticed in the earlier episodes you could not see the sink from the view into the bath from the bedroom but in later episodes a sink showed up!
I'd love to see the living room set photo. I have been so obsessed with the guesthouse set I haven't complimented you on the other info you shared. It is all fascinating!
I do recall seeing some thumbnails on Marco's old site before it got banned. They were very hard to make out because they were so tiny and you could not click to enlarge. There were 2 or 3 that looked like pictures of the guesthouse set from the vantage point of the wall opposite the kitchen. Maybe Marco can somehow work out a way to "share" here?
Thank you again so much for all of your great stories and descriptions!!

Marco said...

Can't await to see the set pictures of Robins' library! I liked this set very much and also the story line about how Higgins archived the books in it (some special way again ... as usual :-))

James J. Walters said...

Rick, I find it very interesting that, for the Pilot Movie, Higgins' den was filmed at the Marks Estate. Wasn't all the other indoor scenes for the main house at Robin's Nest filmed at the Anderson Estate (for the Pilot Movie only)? If so, why was the Marks Estate used for that one brief scene? The Anderson Estate didn't have a room that could have been used for the den?

Magnum Decorator said...

You know, I didn't work on too many episodes in the first 3 seasons. I was the designer up the hill at a theatre and would sometimes get a call to help on an episode when they needed extra guys. So what I know about the pilot were things I remember said about it later. I know Eve was not happy about letting anyone inside her house by the time I got there. Outside yes, inside no. Her exterior "front door" actually opened into a hall that lead to the open lanai / courtyard. So we did sometimes show a knock with her door opening, but then the "inside" was on the sound stage. The Mark's estate had so many different looks and huge rooms that other things might have been filmed there. Higgin's den was a sort of inside porch/ lanai that was dressed as his den. I did other sets in that same room over the years. Very interesting story behind how the State wound up with that estate (originally a Cooke house) but that's too long for here.

Swiss Watches For Sale said...

Great stuff, and I thought it was all filmed in a house. Very inresting behind the scenes, keep it up.

Swiss Watches For Sale said...

Oh as a side note, I was asked way back when to do a Magnum look alike series, but the pilot bombed.
I had that Magmum look (see my picture)

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick,

Just came across your site and thriving on it! Love the photos and naturally if there are others my peepers will be all over them.

I was once near the sound stage in 1985 but never got to see inside of the thing. Been wondering what the floor layout of the various sets was like ever since. Can you pencil out something for us or walk us through the front stage door with a blow-by-blow description?

Thanks, Joe A.

Mike Koskie said...

Was able to visit the Anderson Estate back in 2005. Was impressed as much in person as on the TV screen. Wish I could have met the set decorator as my former work in a local PBS studio was similiar as a set decorator and set painter. Mike Koskie, Jackson, Mississippi