2005-12-14 / Front Page

Astoria Studios Going Global?

by john toscano


Gazette Photo
Gazette Photo A major movie studio in Hollywood is holding discussions with Kaufman Astoria Studios in Astoria that could lead to the local production house becoming part of a global movie-making network.

Although Kaufman Astoria President Hal Rosenbluth told the New York Times that there was “nothing definitive” in the works, Ron Lynch, president of Culver Studios of California stated in the Times story: “What I can say is that Culver Studios is actively pursuing an opportunity to assemble a global network... We would love to have New York as part of our network.” Incidentally, Lynch, 49, has a connection to Long Island City: he was formerly program director at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, 22-25 Jackson Ave.

What sort of an arrangement might develop from the discussions was not clear, but one anonymous source said it might be a partnership rather than an acquisition of one studio by the other.

Whatever corporate arrangement might develop from the ongoing discussions, the Bloomberg mayoral administration is encouraging the talks.

The story quoted Janel Patterson, a spokesman for the city Economic Development Corporation (EDC): “The city is supportive of Culver City partnering with Kaufman Astoria, as we think they would bring additional resources to an already successful studio.

At this writing, no one from Kaufman Astoria had responded to our telephone calls seeking comment.

An executive at Silvercup Studios in Long Island City who refused to identify himself, when asked if Culver Studio might have reached out to Silvercup, answered, “I have no information on that.”

Steiner Studios in Brooklyn did not respond to calls.

It would appear that with recent measures adopted by the Bloomberg administration to bring more film production into New York City, such as 15 percent city and state tax credits for films that complete 75 percent of their work here, that there would be greater interest in studios outside the city getting involved here.

It would also seem that with a new firm, Steiner Studios, doing well in Brooklyn, and Silvercup Studios in Long Island City flourishing, that Kaufman Astoria might be amenable to utilizing its facilities to a greater extent.

The remake of “The Producers” was recently shot at the $118 million Steiner facility in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Silvercup Studios, which came on line in 1980, has developed slowly and is still reaping lots of publicity for being the locale where “The Sopranos” is made.

Thus a merger with Culver Studios, a historic production house where “Gone With The Wind” and “Citizen Kane” were filmed, would open up Kaufman Astoria to more activity from Hollywood and the television networks and bring more film and television production to this studio-friendly city. The industry already brings in $5 billion a year and 100,000 jobs to the New York City economy.

Kaufman Astoria Studios opened in 1982 as a partnership between George S. Kaufman, a real estate developer, and entertainers Alan King and Johnny Carson, both now deceased.

There have been previous discussions between Kaufman Studios and other Hollywood groups, but nothing ever came of them.

Neither Culver nor Kaufman Astoria Studios produces film today. They just provide huge sound stages and equipment for film and TV productions.

Kaufman Astoria Studios at 36th Street and 35th Avenue consists of six mammoth stages and is the longtime home of “Sesame Street,” the much-honored children’s show. The studio was also used for the shooting of television’s “Law and Order: Trial By Jury.”

The roster of movies made there includes the recent remake of “The Stepford Wives”, “The Manchurian Candidate”, “The Wrong Man”, a version of “The Wizard of Oz” and the HBO production of the prize winning “Angels In America.”

The original studios that occupied the area Kaufman Astoria now occupies opened in 1920 during the silent film era as Paramount Studios. Such legendary actors as Rudolph Valentino and W.C. Fields plied their trade there.

When the “talkies” started in 1927 and Hollywood began to develop as the world center of the movie industry, the Astoria facilities gradually went out of business.

During World War II, the Army Pictorial Center was established at the site to make training and other films for the military. When the war ended in 1945, the Pictorial Center was disbanded, the vacated abandoned buildings fell into disrepair and the site took on the trappings of a ghost town.

The federally owned property was eventually turned over to New York City and it provided the setting that eventually became the Kaufman Astoria Studios.

Culver Studios dates back as far as the original Astoria Studios, but has a more colorful history than the local film landmark. Its owners have included Howard Hughes, Joseph P. Kennedy, David O. Selznick and Cecil B. DeMille.

DeMille filmed the legendary “King of Kings” at Culver Studios in 1927 and “King Kong” followed about six years later. A series of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance epics were also shot there as was Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca.” Among its later owners were Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz when they headed Desilu Productions.

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