I’m fascinated by the inner workings of live shows at theme parks, especially ones before the arrival of Broadway-style productions. Operators had limited budgets and tried inventive ways to keep guests returning each year. You couldn’t rely on a gigantic E-ticket ride or immersive land to draw millions of guests from across the country. Travel also wasn’t so easy, which made even a place like Universal Studios in Hollywood more of a regional spot. Jerry Green worked in entertainment at Universal during this time, and he has plenty of fun stories to tell us.
Green recounts his extensive time at Universal in his book 25 Years Inside Universal Studios: From Tour Guide to Entertainment Director. Released in March through Theme Park Press, Green’s story should interest readers curious about Universal’s early days. Long before Harry Potter arrived, the Hollywood location mostly just housed various TV and movie productions. The Studio Tour included limited effects scenes along with the soundstages. Getting the chance to glimpse a star or see an actual movie shoot excited guests the most.
The book is separated by decades, with chapters beginning in the 1960s and going through Green’s work in Orlando in the ‘90s. I would have enjoyed an easier way to break up the extended sections; some are longer than 50 pages. Even so, I can understand why Green took the direct chronological approach. His stories also don’t fall easily into specific themes within the chapters. The book is more of a collection of anecdotes than a typical biography. Green is a natural story teller, so this format plays to his strengths and gives his tales room to breathe.
Green was born in a small town near Panama City, Florida that was a long way from Hollywood. He arrived in California as a young man at a perfect time for the industry, particularly at Universal. The tour had been open for just four years when Green joined as a guide. His enthusiasm for the job stands out while he describes the training. It’s basically a close look at learning how to work on the front line. The tour was definitely not firing on all cylinders, so guides had to be flexible and react on the fly.
Along with the stories from the tour, Green recounts meetings with quite a few celebrities, including Neal Diamond, Art Linkletter, Edith Head, and many more. It’s amazing to think of how many different shows played at Universal over the years. I knew about some like the epic Conan show (which I saw as a kid in 1985!), but others were a surprise. Somehow I missed learning about the Star Trek one until now; Green’s story about the opening is a great tale. The Airport special effects show also sounds like an inventive gem with its intricate mechanical tools to sell the effects.
A key point to make with 25 Years Inside Universal Studios is the focus on the entertainment side of the parks. Green worked for many years as an entertainment director, so he knows that world very well. This isn’t a close look inside the rides or at the creative choices at Universal. Green describes his contact with key figures like Jay Stein, but that isn’t the focus here. Sam Gennawey’s book JayBangs does a great job in covering that side of Universal’s history. Green’s story provides a fun companion piece that reveals a different side of the equation.
It’s refreshing to hear Green discuss his regrets, especially the initial choice to leave Universal. Even in the best situation, it’s easy to wonder about life outside of a long-term job. Green recounts a new situation of auditioning for jobs at Universal from the outside. It’s not all bad, however. The final sections include stories of Green’s involvement in the early days of Universal Orlando. I can’t learn enough about that time surrounding the resort’s opening. This book contains insider tales across four decades that should interest fans of Universal and theme parks in general.
More Fun Details
Here are some other interesting tidbits in this book that deserve a mention:
- It’s hard to picture the low-key atmosphere at Universal in the ’60s given how the parks function today. Green describes chatting with stars like Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood on a regular basis. Popular actors strolling around the grounds is a charming thought.
- I have clear memories of seeing the Wild West Stunt Show as a kid, though I don’t remember if it happened in Hollywood or Florida. Green spends a lot of time discussing that show and its changes over the years. Talented stunt men like Lance Rimmer mixed comedy and action into an entertaining combo.
- Green explains the lack of precision in the famous Rock Slide, which sometimes brought the foam “rocks” into contact with the guests. I can’t imagine getting smacked in the head by a fake rock at a theme park, though it’s a funny idea.
- The Show Biz Quiz from the ’80s might seem quaint in our Internet world, but it also sounds like great fun. Green hosted in a country-western shirt, and let’s just say the prize was hardly a huge reward.
Learn more about 25 Years Inside Universal Studios at the Theme Park Press site.
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