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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.
Jack Nicholson Chinatown
Jack Nicholson in 'Chinatown'

At around the same time, on the same lot, they were also shooting "Chinatown." One evening, my cinephile PA colleague Phil and myself were walking to the set when we saw Roman Polanski gesturing animatedly with his hands in what seemed like a heated argument with his editors just outside the editing rooms.

Brimming with excitement upon seeing his idol, Phil could not contain himself and ran toward Polanski, breathlessly bowing to him: "Excuse me for interrupting, Mr. Polanski...but you are my favorite director, the greatest, really are a genius of cinema!" "Thank you," said Roman, pointing toward his editors. "Do you mind telling those fuckers this?"

Another movie shooting on the lot was John Schlesinger's "The Day of the Locust" with its massive cast of extras portraying Hollywood in the 30s.

All of these pictures were period films. Everywhere you looked on the lot, from the stages to the commissary, were thousands of actors and extras in period costumes and makeup. It felt like we were transported to the glory days of the studios of the 30s and 40s, humming with activity and creativity. I was fresh enough and romantic enough to think that it would always be like this.

Within a few years, the first wave of women broke through to become studio executives (Marcia Nasatir, Nessa Hyams, Sherry Lansing). And not long after, some women did become producers, often with a male partner (Julia and Michael Phillips), and then on their own (Tamara Asseyev and Alexandra Rose). Eventually, many other women followed, myself included.

We all sat now in big offices selling each other movies, talent and ideas in a way that I imagined executives in other businesses sold their wares: "I have a fabulous dress for you with a zipper in the front…No? We can put the zipper in the back, no problem."

It was largely great fun for many years. But my fondest memories go back to my magical introduction to Hollywood on the 1973 Paramount lot. It was the Golden Age of Cinema indeed.

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

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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.