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  • Writer's pictureBriar Mitchell

Turn Left at Mars then Straight on Down the Milky Way

And then, one day, I headed over to Paramount Studios to meet a friend of mine who was working as a production assistant on a new show in development. The show was about a hard boiled detective, played by Glenn Frey (Eagles) who lived near the giant Marlboro Man billboard up on Sunset Blvd. next to the Hollywood Hills. The Marlboro Man billboard was one of those iconic images you could see like the Hollywood Sign. The thing stood 70 feet tall and was right next to another huge iconic structure on Sunset Blvd., the Chateau Marmont.

Glenn's character, the detective, had a seedy little office that looked out at the Marlboro Man, so, Paramount had recreated it as part of the sets for the show. My friend thought I might like to see it, and I certainly took her up on the invite to go check it out. The show was called South of Sunset, and, only aired one episode in '93. A few years later, the Marlboro Man was taken down forever as part of the campaign to remove cigarette ads from everywhere!

Off I went to Paramount on a sunny afternoon (yes, most days in LA are sunny, except when they are not). There was a pass waiting for me at one of the gates. From there I was directed into visitor parking, and, all of that is easy and straightforward until after you exit your car. Then, you are entering a weird land where trying navigate from one area to the next is a challenge.

I had been given instructions which I wrote down, and, headed off in what seemed like the right direction. Paramount is one of the oldest studios in LA and is actually in town, not out in the valley like Disneys or Warner Bros. Its right there in the middle of a huge residential area, and, has an air of mystery to it. Some truly iconic shows and movies were shot there.

The Desilu Studios were there first (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez) and shot several fun shows like I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show, The Untouchables, Star Trek and several more. It eventually became part of Paramount which produced not only good TV shows, but some terrific movies as well - Rear Window, Shane, Citizen Kane, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and on and on. Hundreds of films and TV shows. A legacy like this studio is awesome, the reality though, of being at a studio that has had so much production going on with sets and sound stages built, torn down, etc, is that, it is one of the most difficult places to find your way around.

So, back to my car and the start of my adventure. I left the relative safety and sanity of the parking lot and with the instructions from my friend clutched in my hand, off I went into the wilds of the Paramount back lots.

It is fun walking around in there. You pass by actors and extras in costume, sound stages with their huge doors open and well know shows in production and all of this whirling activity is normal everyday stuff in there.

Quietly, I made my way through the maze of all of this, trying to stay out of the way and not to get lost. At one point, I turned down a narrow pass between a couple of really large stages, and it got really quiet. I was away from much of the mainstream production going on so was walking along, looking down at the instructions in my hand and suddenly became aware that I had moved into a large area, but, something was really weird.

I stopped walking, and slowly looked up, where I found a dozen or more Coneheads gathered around me, staring intently. One of them waddled over and peeked at the instructions in my hand, then said, in a most perfect Conehead way of talking, "The earth woman, she is lost."

The group of Coneheads repeated the word "lost" then started laughing together, in that same, weird, stilted way.

Off to the left the doors were open to one of the bigger sound stages on the lot and that huge set built for the Conehead's home planet with the giant Conehead statue was there. Several more Conehead extras were wandering about, drinking coffee, eating donuts or checking messages. A typical set, except for the group of Coneheads who had glommed onto me. They continued to stare, tilting their enormous heads and giggling.

One of them said, "Earth woman. We can help you."

I just stared back, trying hard not to burst out laughing. The one who had just talked to me tugged the directions out of my hand, and the group of them closed ranks really tightly while they studied the notes I had written down. They were laughing, and looking back over their shoulders, and talking (like Coneheads) while they deciphered the directions.

After a few moments of this wonderful performance, they turned around, handed back the directions and a different one said, "We know the way. We can help you. You will follow."

The group repeated the word "follow" several times and started to waddle away, indicating with their hands that I should go with them.

We walked past the opened sound stage door where the enormous Conehead statue looked out at us, with a grim look on his face. My little group of guides turned down another narrow passage, and they continued waddling ahead of me, shuffling their feet quickly and making goofy Conehead noises.

After a few more minutes they all stopped and opened ranks, allowing me to walk between then. One of them pointed towards a building about 400 feet or so away, across an area where vehicles and storage containers were sitting.

"Oh, is that the South of Sunset building?" I asked.

They all started bobbing up and down, pointing with their cones, and saying "yes...yes...yes..."

I headed off in that direction and turned to thank them. Of course, one of them said, "You are welcome Earth Woman."

Then, they turned and waddled away.

Everyone should have a gaggle of Coneheads to help them find their way.

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