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Hollywood Memoir: A Young Woman's Intro to Filmmaking in The Golden Age

Thompson on Hollywood By Tova Laiter | Thompson on Hollywood July 3, 2014 at 3:13PM

It was 1973 when I arrived in Hollywood with all the usual hopes, dreams, and expectations...A few weeks later, I was sent to the production offices of "The Godfather: Part II," which filmed on the Paramount lot for a month before moving on to the Dominican Republic for the Cuba sequences.
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The Godfather: Part II
'The Godfather: Part II'
Tova Laiter
Tova Laiter

It was 1973 when I arrived in Hollywood with all the usual hopes, dreams, and expectations.


I was producing TV commercials and taking Film Production classes at NYU Extension at night. I just assumed that I would come to LA and jump directly into producing feature films at the studios.

As soon as I arrived, though, it became clear that women did NOT produce films nor did they hold any executive positions in the business. Secretaries, Script Supervisors, Associate Producers, low to mid-range talent or literary agents, yes, but as the French say, c'est tout!

What was a young girl to do? I applied to the secretarial pool at Paramount studios even though I had not the slightest clue how to type. And shockingly enough, a few weeks later, I was sent to the production offices of "The Godfather: Part II," which filmed on the Melrose lot for a month before moving on to the Dominican Republic for the Cuba sequences.

I did somehow get the gig. But soon it became apparent that I was useless as a typist but reasonably skilled for phone and people duties. And so I became a ‘"liaison" (okay, runner) between the production office and set.

What a tough job! Get up in the morning, go to a real studio lot, check into the bustling production office, go to the set and interact with the likes of Francis Coppola, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall. And on a lucky day, witness Pacino transform from a young, bouncy, floppy-hat wearing New Yorker to Michael Corleone-- once he put on his costume and make-up. Beguiling.

I noticed how calm Francis was in the midst of the chaos of a big set prepping for a shot and somehow, in between, still being able to interact with his three female employees named Mona (yes!). I recall the early Friday evening when Pacino, tired after a grueling day of takes and re-takes in the stuffy Senate-hearing set, walked outside the stage door and exclaimed: "I can no longer function without liquor"(a declaration I've since adapted verbatim for similar circumstances).

I realized for the first time the price of artistry--the hard work behind the glamour.

But my favorite moments were reserved for when Pacino and De Niro sat around between takes amusing themselves and us with improvisational conversations in jibberish, fake Italian.

Oh the fun...

This article is related to: Studios, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Roman Polanski, Hollywood, Women in Film


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.