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August 29, 2006
Paramount's Stage M Closes
Recording stage was home to dozens of classic songs, scores by Jon Burlingame

Elmer Bernstein recording his score for

Elmer Bernstein recording his score for The Ten Commandments
on Paramount's Stage M.

On Friday, July 28, Paramount quietly shut down its music stage, where such songs as "Thanks for the Memory" and "Silver Bells" were recorded, along with the classic scores for The Ten Commandments, Psycho, Sunset Boulevard, Out of Africa and many others.

Stage M, located in the Bing Crosby Building at the corner of Avenue L and Eighth Street on the studio lot, was in almost continuous use since 1932. The music for virtually every Paramount film in the '30s, '40s and '50s was recorded there, and most of the films and TV shows from then on – including hundreds of hours of various Star Trek series and movies, some of them by the late Jerry Goldsmith.

"This room, this stage, has been a part of just about every feature we've made," veteran Paramount producer A.C. Lyles said that afternoon at the retirement party for longtime stage manager Stephanie Murray. "I remember Bing Crosby singing 'White Christmas' here. That alone makes this stage historic. Songs like 'Buttons and Bows' and 'Moon River' were recorded here, and all of Cecil B. DeMille's pictures."

A Paramount spokeswoman attributed the closing to part of the studio's ongoing efforts to "use the stage the best way we can, as we transform our business here on the lot." What will happen to the space is anybody's guess: "that has not yet been determined," said the spokeswoman.

The final score recorded on Stage M was Freedom Writers, by Mark Isham. "I'm disappointed that they're closing the stage," Isham said. "I found it a very comfortable place to work. The control room was a really good size and had a good-sounding board with plenty of inputs. The room sounded really nice for medium-sized or smaller groups, which for Nell and Quiz Show – two of my favorite scores – was perfect."

The 4,500-square-foot stage was especially good for 20–65 musicians, Isham said, "because you could have a sense of size and intimacy at the same time." Paramount recordist Paul Wertheimer added that he heard some composers describe the room as "warm and controllable," and that musicians liked the fact that, unlike larger scoring stages, "they could hear each other clearly so that they could play (more effectively) with each other."

Guitarist Bob Bain, who also attended the farewell event, recalled recording the song "Moon River" with Audrey Hepburn for Breakfast at Tiffany's on the stage in 1961. Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer won Oscars for that tune; Bain also remembered recording Mancini's Hatari! there, as well as many scores for Paramount workhorse Victor Young (Shane).

"The acoustics were very good, and they had a superb engineering staff," said 91-year-old songwriter Ray Evans, who with his partner Jay Livingston won Oscars for the tunes "Buttons and Bows," "Mona Lisa" and "Que Sera, Sera," all recorded on the Paramount music stage.

He laments the decision as "short-sighted. They may have a good business, economic or bottom-line reason for it," he said, "but it sure takes away a little of the history, the glamour and the glitter of Hollywood. This is another nail in the coffin."

©2006 Jon Burlingame

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