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Possible historic horror: A 'Phantom' stage could be razed

carole lombard my man godfrey 022c

Carole Lombard made two films at Universal, both in 1936: "Love Before Breakfast" and the screwball par excellence "My Man Godfrey" (she's shown above with fellow cast members Alice Brady, Mischa Auer and William Powell as well as director Gregory La Cava). I have no idea what soundstage either movie was shot on; I suppose a call to Universal's archives might produce an answer. All I know is that "Godfrey's" place on the lot wasn't mentioned when I took the Universal studio tour in March 2000 -- no big shock since Universal's tour traditionally has been far more of a theme park compared to the more genuine working tours presented by Paramount and Warners. (Columbia offers a tour at its Culver City lot that once was home to MGM, but since I've never taken it, I can't comment on its tone.)

We bring this up because the future of one of Universal's most historic soundstages apparently is threatened. Specifically, it's Soundstage 28:

universal soundstage 28a
universal soundstage 28b

From the outside, it looks rather anonymous...but go inside, and you can imagine the stories it could tell.

Built in 1925 and measuring some 14,000 square feet, the stage gained cinematic immortality that same year when the Lon Chaney horror classic "The Phantom Of The Opera" was filmed there, and the set pieces representing the boxes for the Paris opera house remain.

universal soundstage 28c

However, soundstage 28 has been used for many other movies, including the horror and suspense classics Universal long has been renowned for such as "Dracula," "The Bride Of Frankenstein" and "Psycho." More recent productions have been filmed there, including this year's "Muppets Most Wanted."

28 is the oldest stage on the Universal lot...and unfortunately, it happens to be located close to the profitable theme park section of Universal's lot. So according to the site "Inside Universal" (http://insideuniversal.net/2014/08/historic-stage-28-set-to-close/), the company probably wants to use the area to expand the theme park. The "Phantom" set pieces would be preserved and moved elsewhere, but the stage itself would be torn down. (Soundstage 28 isn't included in the regular Universal tour, but is part of a special VIP tour when the stage or set is available.)

As you might guess, news of this has raised a furor among both classic Hollywood fans and preservationists. One person commented, "Stage 28 should be declared an historical landmark and preserved. Amusement parks are a dime a dozen. This stage is an extremely rare jewel of American cinema/Hollywood history. Once it is gone, it can never be replaced." There's also a petition to make the stage a national historic landmark (https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/save-phantom-opera-stage-28-destruction-and-make-it-national-historic-landmark/cpb54DWS). And all this is coming a year before the centennial of Universal City.

Let us hope 28 is preserved in some form -- someone suggested that Universal's special effects department could create a Phantom figure to wander along the catwalk and opera boxes. (For decades, studio lore has stated the stage is haunted.) Otherwise, Universal officials more concerned with minions...



...might find themselves challenged by Chaney:

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