Digital Archive > Story Bank > Miscellaneous > Movie Set Totally...
From the Visiting Fireman News, Vol. 1, No. 11, pp. 1, 7, June 5, 1967.

William F. Lawler, the editor of The Record, got a hot reception in Los Angeles.

It turned out to be much hotter than he bargained for when he witnessed the dramatic $1 million wind-whipped blaze that swept across the back lot of Universal Studios. The fire gutted the sets for the television series of "Laramie" and "The Virginian" plus an old European set, which dated back to "All Quiet On The Western Front," filmed in 1930.

Lawler's "hot" story began on the morning of May 15: "I knew the day was going to be a scorcher when I stepped out the entrance of my hotel at 8:15 that morning - already I could tell that San Francisco-weight suit was a bad choice," said Lawler. He and Bill Bennett, Los Angeles engineering manager, left for Universal Studios.

"The Universal location would be our first stop during a full week in Los Angeles. I would follow Bill and his fellow-engineer, Sam Monson, around the back lot, the sound stages and the "mill" (where they build all those special sets)," he remembered. He was photographing them in the course of his job, doing a nation-wide story on Fireman's Fund American safety engineers for the Summer issue of The Record.


"It was hot tramping around the Universal lot that morning. My two cameras and bag seemed twice as heavy," he said

The temperature kept rising. By noon it was well into the mid-'90s, and the air was dry. "We were with Mike Taylor, assistant insurance manager for MCA, Inc. parent company of Universal, Decca Records and other firms, who invited us to lunch in the Studio Commissary. It was cool inside – that was the best part.

"After lunch I was busy taking some extra notes, learning that we insure MCA for workmen's compensation, comprehensive public liability, fleet coverage, and inland marine on mobile equipment, but luckily, not fire insurance," commented Lawler.


Then it happened – the word sparked from table-to-table across the commissary: "There's a fire on the back lot!"

They raced out the door to see what was happening. "Fortunately, I had reloaded both my cameras (one color, one black and white) while we were sitting at lunch," he added.

"What an afternoon! It was hot before, but nothing like this. Dense smoke rose hundreds of feet into the air above the very area I had been photographing that morning. Flames crackled through the famed old "European" set and others close to it burning them to the ground."


More than 30 fire units from the city and county of Los Angeles fought the wind-whipped blaze for several hours directed by County Fire Chief Keith Klinger who was circling the area in a helicopter. The fire spread over 12 acres of valuable sets before finally being brought under control. Damage was estimated at well over a million dollars.

[Fireman's Fund Archives: 4-1-3-5-28; 1334.]

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