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Fire in Tinseltown – No Day of the Locust

I woke up early this morning to the eerie sound of helicopters. I wanted to go back to sleep-it was Sunday-but there was an acrid smell in the air. Where I live-the Hollywood Hills-it could only mean one thing.


We take that very seriously.

I stumbled out of bed and onto my terrace. Was my canyon going up? A whirlybird flew overhead, but I couldn’t see any flames. Still, the smell was unmistakable.

I raced over to the computer and fired her up (excuse the expression). Up popped the news. Universal Studios, only a couple of miles from my house, was in flames.

Universal Studios where I had worked for five or six years of my life (1978-1983), where the first two movies I wrote – The Big Fix and Bustin’ Loose – were filmed. My old office in one of the back lot bungalows seemed to be going up. That was part of Richard Pryor’s bungalow and was right next to Cheech and Chong’s- no wonder everything was going up in flames!

Was I responsible? Ironically, this very week I had completed my memoir Blacklisting Myself, which will be published next year. Many scenes in the book took place in the buildings that seemed to be burning down. Talk about burying your tracks. Was this a new version of the Nathaniel West classic The Day of the Locust about the burning of Hollywood in 1939. Was it poetic justice? Were we being punished for Susan Sarandon’s recent warning that she would leave the country if John McCain were elected? What had caused this fire?

Stories of those bungalows started flooding back. Here’s one that won’t be in the memoir (maybe I should add it). The previous occupants of the bungalow I wrote in were John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd. I therefore had the same secretary. Talent came and went. Secretaries at Universal were lifers-they had all the stories. This one told me the real cause of Belushi’s death. It wasn’t the drugs. It was the cheeseburgers. Four times a day she was sent off the lot to a fast food stand to buy doubles with all the fixings for the comic. I wonder if that stand is going up too.

Apparently, a props buildings has gone up and perhaps the New York Street. This was where I procrastinated, wandering among the faux brownstones, searching for some evidence of the glory days of Hollywood, Charles Foster Kane’s “Rosebud” perhaps or Charlie Chaplin’s chapeau. It was never there. Not the real-fake one anyway.

Now the news comes that it’s not so bad. The actual fire is only on one sound stage. Even the rides at Universal City Walk will be open today. It’s not Armageddon or Day of the Locust. Still, it’s Hollywood and therefore on the top of the news, bouncing Hillary and Barack for a few hours, even if the entertainment industry is barely the ghost of its former self.

The emergency seems to be over, although the helicopters still ring in my ears.

My daughter Madeleine just woke up. I told her what happened. Her reaction: “Oh my God, the Simpson’s ride just came out. We’ll never go on it!” All politics is local.

I reassured her. It’s not that bad. And this might not be a bad day for the Simpson’s ride. Traffic will be down.

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