July 17, 2017

A Lifetime Spent Wandering Through Celluloid History

via NY Times

“It was like a scene out of ‘The Shining,’” said Pete Romano, recalling the way he used to zoom on his bicycle through the hallways at Kaufman Astoria Studios, a benefit of having an uncle on the facilities staff.

Now Mr. Romano walks those hallways with his dog, Blue, trotting alongside and helping him check on things.

Mr. Romano, the youngest of five siblings, grew up in Astoria, Queens, one block from the studio. By 14, he had been hired to tidy up outside, and then he joined the maintenance crew. He became a foreman and then a stage manager.

“I’ve been drawing a check here since I’m 14,” he said. “I grew up watching how this place worked. My father taught me, ‘Don’t say it’s not your job or it never will be.’”

The studio, which opened in 1920, was the original home of Paramount Pictures, a place where stars like Clara Bow, Gary Cooper, Gloria Swanson, the Gish sisters and Tallulah Bankhead once roamed.

The Army later took over the filmmaking studio, but Kaufman rebounded under different ownership in the 1980s, and since then, Mr. Romano — whether pulling weeds or negotiating contracts — has enjoyed a front-row seat on celluloid history.

While he is no film student, he can tell you, for instance, how extras were recruited for the nightclub scenes in the 1993 film “Carlito’s Way.”

“They’d send white vans out to clubs in Manhattan at 4 in the morning and bring people back to the set at Kaufman,” he recalled, adding that today, television series are often shot on the studio’s spacious stages.

The mammoth E stage has 26,000 square feet and dates back to 1921, he said. The Marx Brothers and W. C. Fields once worked there, Mr. Romano said, walking past carpenters as they built a wooden cellblock for “Orange Is the New Black.”

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