By Frank Barron
Years ago as editor of The Hollywood Reporter, I met with the heads of all the movie studios to do stories. They were the legendary men who ran the industry, guys like Walt Disney, who I remember knew everybody’s name on the Disney lot and always asked about their families. I also knew the powerful Lew Wasserman at Universal Studios, Jack Warner at Warner Bros., Dick Zanuck at 20th Century Fox, Howard Koch at Paramount Studios, and Sam Goldwyn of Metro Goldwyn Mayer fame.
They all had lots of stories about the entertainment industry, but none of them ever had as many great stories about the movie business as Ewing “Lucky” Brown. Who?
Brown is the president of the new Movie Tech Studios, which just opened its doors in Van Nuys. Lucky and his stories are legendary, ask his wife Jeanne DeVivier Brown or anyone who knows the director-writer-producer-editor-actor. It seems I’ve heard hundreds of funny, shocking, tragic, and simply fascinating tales from Lucky. All true and part of Hollywood history, just like the man himself. A knowledgeable film historian, Brown is often used as a “talking head” in documentaries about early Hollywood.
Now 80-something, Lucky started as a child actor working with Mack Sennett. In the Our Gang Comedies he played Algernon, the rotten little rich kid. Later, because he could ride a horse and handle a gun, he became a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy in countless Westerns. His most famous role was playing Charlie Ryker, the bad guy who beat up Alan Ladd in the classic Shane. Oh, his stories about making that picture could fill a book. Veteran press agent Harry Flynn told me he has been trying to get Lucky to finally put all his stories in a book. “I’m too busy living my life,” Lucky says.
The walls of his studio have many 8X10 pictures of all the famous performers and filmmakers he has worked with, many being good friends. A Whale of A Tale is one of the movies Lucky produced and directed. It seems he has done almost every job on a movie set, and has a great story about learning how to do lighting from director Josef von Sternberg.
This is not Lucky’s first rodeo as a studio chief. For decades in Hollywood, he had another Movie Tech studio, which was a location for the acclaimed cop show Hill Street Blues and medical series St. Elsewhere. The Seward Street facility in Hollywood was also busy with commercials.
Now the new Movie Tech Studios has come to the Valley. The convenient facility created by the award-winning filmmaker Brown has a small new sound stage, editing rooms, along with makeup and wardrobe rooms, plus offices and other amenities, ideal for independent productions.
The new site has already seen the filming of Old West saloon scenes, and the set was left standing to be enjoyed by the crowd that gathered to celebrate the opening of Movie Tech. A bunch of his cowboy-stuntman buddies came by and fit right in on the Western set. Members of the “Reel Cowboys,” Lee Diebold and Tom Davison were there to throw a few fake punches to liven things up in the saloon.
Brown had a hard time with years of hassling with official forms, permits, licenses, political obstacles and red tape that almost prevented the studio from opening. But they don’t call him Lucky for nothing. And now he just has more stories to tell.