'The real damage was to nostalgia . . .'

By VERNON SCOTT, UPI Hollywood Reporter

HOLLYWOOD -- A huge fire roared through a Paramount Studio backlot, destroying a historic set that took moviegoers to the streets of New York for 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' and 'Godfather' and briefly threatening to ground a galactic search in Star Trek III.

Fire officials estimated damages ran into the millions of dollars, but studio officials downplayed Thursday's fire, saying damage was 'very minor' and shooting schedules for various film projects would not be affected.


Fire officials also reported 'a few spot fires' at the adjacent Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, where several movie stars are buried - including Rudolph Valentino.

The only injuries were minor ones sustained by two firemen who touched live electrical wires, officials said.

'You could liken it to a nice large beach party bonfire. It went up just as quick,' fire inspector Ed Reed said.

Actor William Shatner, who is starring in 'Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,' being made at Paramount, said he helped studio employees battle the blaze before firefighters arrived.

'I went into our magnificent set and a group of people - carpenters, stagehands, actors -- had a hose on the stage that was starting to burn,' Shatner said. 'If it had burned, our whole set would have gone.'


The blaze, which broke out behind a tattoo shop facade on a collection of intertwining external set roadways known as 'New York Street,' gutted the historic 'street' and destroyed about 350,000 square feet of outdoor sets.

''The New York Street' was built in 1927,' Paramount President Mike Eisner said in an interview at his studio office. 'The real damage was to nostalgia, because New York doesn't look like our New York street anymore...The historical irreplacable.'

The sprawling set was used for dozens of movies with stars like Jerry Lewis, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, including 'Going My Way,' 'The Bells of St. Mary,' 'Breakfast at Tiffanys' and both 'Godfather' films, which won Academy Awards for best picture in 1972 and 1974.

While a professional actor, President Reagan made three movies on the Paramount lot -- 'The Last Outpost,' 'Hong Kong' and 'Tropic Zone' -- but it was not immediately determined if the burned sets were used in those films.

The cause of the fire, which was reported about 4 p.m. PDT, was not immediately known. Arson was not suspected.

Thirty-four fire companies, with nearly 200 firefighters fought the blaze, which shot flames and reddish black smoke high over the Hollywood area. The last flames were extinguished by 6:30 p.m. PDT.


'Due to the age and composition of the sets, which are mostly wood and 50 years old, the fire burned very quickly,' said fire inspector Ed Reed.

The three sound stages damaged by the fire were used in the filming of such movies as 'Catch-22,' 'Chinatown' and 'Marathon Man.'

The flames caused minor damage to sets already in place for 'Star Trek III,' but will not delay the scheduled start of interior shooting next week.

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