What do the water tower on the Burbank Studios lot and the Statue of Liberty have in common?
When the water tower's newly painted Warner Bros. logo is unveiled Saturday evening--during an extravagant and nostalgic celebration re-christening the movie lot below as Warner Bros. Studios--it will be set alight with the same button that was used to illuminate the refurbished Statue of Liberty in 1986. And though Ronald Reagan will not repeat his then-presidential button-pushing duties as he did at those Liberty Weekend festivities, he will be in attendance--as the person who has appeared in more Warner Bros. films than any other living actor.
The connection between the two events is hardly surprising. For the man in charge of both is David L. Wolper, who also brought the world the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics and such Emmy-winning miniseries as "Roots" and "The Thorn Birds."
Wolper was asked to stage the re-dedication by Warner chairman and CEO Robert A. Daly, after Warner Bros. reclaimed the Burbank lot for its own last November--as a condition of contractually releasing producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters to Sony Corp., which had acquired Columbia Pictures. Warner Bros. and Columbia had jointly owned and operated the lot, known as the Burbank Studios, since 1972.
Saturday's black-tie re-dedication, called a "Celebration of Tradition," is characterized by Wolper as a "private party" for the extended Warner Bros. family, which was sired by four real-life siblings: Albert, Harry, Jack and Sam. The four Warner brothers began in the nickelodeon business, opened their first movie theater in 1903, established a studio on Sunset Boulevard in 1922 and seven years later bought First National Pictures' Burbank-based studio with the idea of making it the business' finest such facility.
This being Hollywood, however, a private party should not be confused with an intimate one: This party's entertainers, who will occupy two studio sound stages and much of the backlot, equal the invitees--and there are 1,000 on the guest list. Not to mention the fact that Wolper's fellow party planners happen to be producers Jack Haley Jr. and Steven Spielberg.
"I'm stuck with an image of how this event is supposed to be," Wolper, 62, explained at his Warner Bros. office, referring to the magnitude of his previous live presentations. "I can't just have three singers doing 'Hooray for Hollywood.' So when I went to Jack and Steven, I said, 'The one thing it has to be is big.' The audience will get the great feeling of spectacle--they'll walk out saying this is something they've never seen before."
"There will be a thousand people! A thousand!" he crowed, imitating the cry of a carnival barker. "There will be nostalgia, singers, stars, comedy, tributes, salutes."
The spectacle will begin almost immediately after the guests' arrival via studio-provided limousines. They will board trams and head for the backlot's New York Street, to be greeted by 20 singing Al Jolson look-alikes and 100 dancers, in honor of the first all-sound motion picture, the studio's 1927 release, "The Jazz Singer." A courtyard will host the requisite "Hooray for Hollywood" offering from Warner's 1937 "Hollywood Hotel," while Brownstone Street serves up a "Yankee Doodle Dandy" production number inspired by the studio's 1942 film.
Next up: A cocktail party on Sound Stage 17, where mammoth wall projections will surround guests with settings from 14 Warner films, among them "My Fair Lady," (1964), "Camelot" (1967) and "The Mission" (1986), accompanied by the sound tracks.
Most of the evening will be spent on the combined sound stages 12 and 18, where, coincidentally, Wolper's "The Thorn Birds" was filmed. Dinner will be served on a set re-creating Rick's Cafe, from the 1942 Warner classic "Casablanca," and a lavish show will take place on what Wolper believes may be the largest stage ever built for such a presentation.
The creators are trying to pack a lot into what they hope will be a less-than-two-hour show, which is being co-produced by Michael B. Seligman, written by Buz Kohan and Stanley Ralph Ross, staged and choreographed by Walter Painter and designed by Bob Keene.
Musical numbers include a medley of Warner Bros. movie themes conducted by Quincy Jones, songs by Liza Minnelli, a performance by studio employees and salutes to composer Harry Warren and director/choreographer Busby Berkeley, including a re-staging of the latter's "By a Waterfall" ("Footlight Parade," 1933), with swimmers and divers.
A segment on film comedies will be introduced by Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short and John Candy. Film clips pay tribute to the studio's silent era, character actors and departed stars, and the finale features 100 stars through the years, from Huntz Hall to Jack Nicholson.
One of the highlights promises to be the screening of "bloopers" filmed from 1936 to 1948, unearthed in Jack Warner's private vault. Said Haley, who is in charge of selecting the show's film clips: "In those days, when studios owned movie theaters, Warner Bros. would fly out its theater executives, wine and dine them at the Cocoanut Grove on Sunday nights, and show them these bloopers. They've never been seen anywhere since.
"We'll see venerable stars screwing up--Humphrey Bogart falling out of a chair and Errol Flynn off of a horse, Bette Davis unable to remember her lines, others pounding furniture or banging their heads. We don't know if this show is going to air on TV, but you couldn't do the bloopers unless you 'bleeped' out all the swear words!"
The only downside to the evening is the inability to accommodate everyone who would like to attend, Daly noted, and to that end, the studio is hosting a barbecue on Friday afternoon for 2,500 past and present employees. "That's the day our guards will get their new uniforms and we'll convert over," he said, referring to the name change.
"In these days, when companies are being sold," Daly said, "ours is known for its continuity of management for 23 years. And in an industry known for its tremendous turnover, most people in key positions have been here more than 10 years. We're very proud to have our studio back and we wanted to share that."
And who will push the button to light the newly painted water tower? Three Warner executives have that honor: co-chairman and co-CEO Steven J. Ross, of parent Time Warner Inc.; Daly; and Warner Bros. president and chief operating officer Terry Semel.