Haunted Hollywood

Frankenstein, the Wolfman and The Mummy may not be folks you think of as having any descendants, but the actor who played them, Lon Chaney Jr., does and the scariest part of all is – they have lawyers.  (Aiyeee!)

The Hollywood Reporter says the actor’s heirs have sued Universal Studios for $1 million for exploiting the dead star’s likeness.

Universal had deals with Chaney to exploit his name, voice, signature, silhouette (!) and other aspects of his persona. But an agreement whereby Chaney appointed Universal as the exclusive representative over likeness rights expired in 2008.

Chaney Entertainment says that despite the end of the term of that deal, Universal continues to negotiate licensing agreements that concern his rights with various manufacturers.

[Thanks to David Klaus for the story.]

LA Gets Its Own Wizarding World

Universal Studios Hollywood is replacing The Gibson Ampitheatre with a new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction.

This represents a phase in NBCUniversal’s $1.6 billion Evolution Plan, unanimously approved by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors on April 23. Universal sweetened its proposal by agreeing to contribute $13.5 million to help revitalize the L.A. River and improve its adjacent bike path.

That means work can begin this summer on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as well as upgraded TV production studios, office space and infrastructure on the Universal Studios lot. Besides the new attraction, NBCUniversal’s 25-year plan calls for upgrades throughout the 391-acre Universal City property, including new office, retail and studio space and post-production facilities.


King Kong, last seen heading for Universal Studios Hollywood, left a trail of giant footprints across the Dodger Stadium baseball diamond.The stunt publicizes Universal’s new King Kong attraction opening in July.

I thought it was amusing. It also reminded me of another local advertising stunt about a dozen years ago to promote either Deep Impact or Armageddon. Several sky-blue circles were fastened to the mirrored windows of an office beside the freeway in West LA to make it appear as if it had been struck by meteorites.

Universal Fire Follow-Up

Courthouse Square aerial view after fire

LA’s Universal Studios theme park reopened one day after a major fire destroyed several famous sets and a media storage facility. The Los Angeles Times, in an almost ghoulish touch of humor, ran a photo of a tourist tram passing the War of the Worlds set, a set untouched by the fire but consisting of the simulated wreckage of a passenger plane crash.

The Times also carried photos of the scorched ruins of Courthouse Square, seen in Back To The Future, and the burned-out media warehouse.

What archival film and music was lost along with the storage facility is a hot question among film and music buffs.

On June 2, Universal sent an e-mail to several dozen film exhibitors saying that the fire destroyed nearly 100% of the archive prints kept on the lot. According to Variety, those prints were housed in a vast vault containing up to 50,000 videos or film reels, as well as music recordings, and all were destroyed in the blaze. However, the studio is adamant that the vault contained only digital or film copies. All master negatives of classic films are kept elsewhere as part of the studio’s film preservation strategy.

Film aficianados posted online that often-rented titles are stored elsewhere, so what was on the lot were prints of new and old of features that were rarely requested. Even though the master negatives still exist elsewhere, the owners have little incentive to strike replacement prints, which are costly to make — around $5,000 apiece. The movies have not been lost to the culture, but for all practical purposes some are as good as lost to anyone who might have given them a theatrical showing.

The organizer of Cinecon, a classic film festival held Labor Day weekend at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater, called the fire “a catastrophe” because Universal was their main source, providing 40% of the prints on last year’s schedule.

As to the music archives, the Times added that “the fire also claimed about 5% of Universal Music Group’s recordings, primarily big band and jazz recordings on the Decca label, and video copies of Universal movies and television shows. Universal Music Group is no longer part of the NBC conglomerate but rents storage space from the studio.”

Another source reports Universal Music claims that in the past year it has moved master recordings of its “big name” musical artists to the giant Iron Mountain, Pennsylvania vault — the same one used by Bill Gates and Microsoft.

As to hopes expressed that backup copies exist of whatever master recordings were lost in the fire, “Will B.” cynically observed:

Whenever you hear about music box sets being created, the producers always talk about how they track down the original analogue tapes, then bake them in ovens to make them capable of being played, and then they copy them using the finest azimuth adjustment possible onto whatever is the latest digital technology. It takes a lot of money, time, and care. Sometimes they take weeks to find the same model recorder/playback device that the reels were originally laid down with. Yet now Universal says “we did all that”. Color me skeptical, because I’ve never read a story where the producer of a box set says “Yeah, it was easy to make this box set because Universal had already made digital backups. I just sat at my computer at home, and was done in a week.”