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KIM KAUFMAN, SECRETARY TO THE FAME PRODUCERS, TELLS US WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO BE A GUEST AT THIS VERY SPECIAL OCCASION.
A lot of activity was taking place on one of the sets at the MGM Television Studios in Culver City. As the construction crew was busy hammering together a platform for a band to perform on, and the set decorators were finishing their work, a group of caterers began bringing in the refreshments - hot dogs, hamburgers and a rather dated looking soda fountain. It was obvious that some sort of party was about to take place, but it certainly wasn't the usual kind of buffet and bar arrangement; this one had a strangely old-fashioned feel to it.
All was revealed by a glance at the invitation. "The School of the Arts invites you and your date to our Semester Break High School Dance" it read. "Please wear our school colours of red, black and white. Be there or be square!' The cast and crew of Fame were having their end-of-shooting party, known in the movie and TV world as a 'wrap' party, and the theme was a typical American, Fifties-style end-of-term dance.
These would traditionally be held in the school gymnasium. The pupils would decorate the room with crepe paper streamers and paper flowers, and everyone would have to remove their shoes and dance in their socks, so as not to ruin the wooden floor! People always had great fun at these dances, and everyone from Fame was hoping that their party would be equally enjoyable and recreate the identical light-hearted high-spirited atmosphere.
The last-minute preparations were being made as quickly as possible, as everyone was full of anticipation for the great evening ahead and could hardly wait to get started! The first guests began to arrive at about seven o'clock in the evening. Security guards checked their names off at the main door and they then made their way to Stage 26. The reason for such strict security wasn't purely to protect the cast; the parties held by the Fame folk have got such a reputation for being utterly fantastic that all kinds of people try to gatecrash them, so this is why the invitations were being so carefully scrutinised.
As the guests entered Stage 26, they walked down a red carpet and into the School of the Arts. A huge bar had been set up in the lobby area, which completely covered the entrance steps, the door of the teachers' lounge and the door of the school office. You can see this same bar in the episode entitled "Relationships, " where it was installed in the Country & Western bar called Kickers. Small tables covered with red and black tablecloths and red candles were scattered throughout the lobby, dance classroom and cafeteria. Everywhere you looked, there were bunches of red, white and black balloons and crepe paper streamers. The set looked so like a real high school that it was easy to forget where you really were, until you glanced upwards and saw all the catwalks with the lighting equipment hanging from them.
The School of the Arts soon began to fill up and the air was full of the happy cries of guests, cast and crew members greeting each other like long-lost friends although it had only been three days since they had last seen one another! Almost everyone had obeyed the instructions on the invitation to come in the "school colours". Debbie Alien showed up in an extremely short white sweatshirt dress and bright pink ankle boots. Valerie Landsburg, who brought her boyfriend Jimmy and her sister Shana with her, was wearing a super black lacy dress and a bright red scarf around her hair.
Albert Hague came along with his wife, Renee Orin, who co-wrote the episode called "Sunshine Again", and Albert was wearing a red sweater of such a vivid hue that it quite dazzled the eyes! Barry Fasman, Fame's conductor and musical director, was there with his wife Autumn, who looked smashing in her high school cheer leading outfit. Fortunately, her old school colours were red and white. Morgan Stevens looked extremely sexy in black and white, with a black fedora hat, and he and his date danced with just about everybody there during the course of the evening.
The caterers got busy feeding the partygoers with hot dogs and all the trimmings, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, salads and potato crisps, and people took their seats at the long tables in the cafeteria, to eat and talk. Then Carol Mayo Jenkins arrived in a beautiful white, lacy, floor-length gown, and told me that she was very proud of the fact that she could still fit into her highschool prom dress. She had phoned her mother in Tennessee and she'd sent the dress just in time for the party.
Most of the Fame dancers showed up, including Leanne Gerrish, with her boyfriend Carlo Imperato in tow! Lee Curreri was wandering around with his favourite piano scarf around his neck. As soon as the greetings were over and everyone started to quieten down a bit, the band began to play. As you can probably guess, with a name like Captain Cardiac and the Coronaries, they were completely crazy! They opened their first set with some old rock and roll tunes and, not surprisingly, Debbie Allen and Gene Anthony Ray were the first two up on the dance floor. You've never seen dancing until you've seen Debbie and Gene pull out all the stops and try to top each other with wilder and wilder dance steps! They had the floor completely to themselves for almost the whole of the band's first set, because no-one felt like competing with those two!
While this was all going on in the dance classroom, the caterers were getting the soda fountain ready and, all of a sudden, people started appearing with ice cream sundaes and sodas, chocolate, vanilla or strawberry ice cream with fresh strawberries or hot fudge for the topping. It tasted as good as it sounds! The band finished playing and announced that everyone should go back into the cafeteria as Donna Lee, the Producer's Co-ordinator on Fame, had a special presentation to make, so we all grabbed a chair or a place on the floor. Donna presented Bill Blinn, the Executive Producer, and Mel Swope, the Producer, with two of the medals which were used in the episode entitled "Not In Kansas Any More." This was greeted with a huge round of applause and calls for a speech. Both Bill and Mel said what a great show Fame was to work on and how magical and special the whole experience had been. They thanked the crew, cast, dancers and staff for all their hard work during the last two years and said it was an experience they would never forget.
Then the lights in the room went down and everyone started to cheer. It was time for the "gag reel"! For anyone who doesn't know what a gag reel is, it's a collection of all the mistakes people have made, and things which have gone wrong, during the filming. The audience wouldn't normally get to see them, because, if an actor forgets his lines, a dancer falls over, or a prop refuses to work, the director would instantly call for another take and only the perfect one would appear in the final version of the film.
But the editors on a show will always keep these bits of film and compile the funniest sequences into a "gag reel" which will then be shown to the cast and the crew at the wrap party. Occasionally these find their way onto television - you may have seen the ones from the Morecambe and Wise, Dick Emery and Kenny Everett shows which have been on British television, or the hilarious one featuring Peter Sellers during the making of one of the Pink Panther films. Everyone at the party was falling on the floor with laughter as the reel was shown. The editors, along with Valerie Landsburg, who worked as an apprentice editor several years ago, had done a fantastic job.
After this, the band started up again and, by this time, everyone was ready to dance. You'd think that, after dancing for a living five days a week, the Fame cast would he tired of it, yet they were all out there on the dance floor having the time of their lives! Eartha Robinson was boogying with Michael Rooney, Adrian was dancing slow with Debbie, Albert Hague was dancing with Renee, then everyone changed over and Renee took the floor with Morgan, Michael partnered Erica, and at one point Valerie was dancing with both her sister and Jimmy! Nobody wanted to stop. The group ran through all the great early rock and roll numbers, then started on Sixties music. How could anyone keep still when numbers like "Rock Around The Clock," or "Surfin' U.S.A." were being played?
At around 11 p.m., the party started to thin out. Guests were saying their goodbyes and a lot of hugging and kissing was going on. Many people were close to tears because, at this time,- nobody knew if Fame was going to be renewed by NBC or not, so they didn't know if they'd ever get another chance to see the people they'd been working with for two whole years.
A lot of people took down the red, white and black balloons and carried them home as souvenirs and there was a lot of picture taking and autograph signing amongst the cast. Even though you may work with someone, there's still something very special about getting a signed picture or autograph from an actor you really admire and like and may never see in person again.
The band played their last tune and started to pack up their gear. The caterers were already taking their equipment out to their van. Tomorrow, the set decorators would come in and take down the remaining decorations and clean up. By Tuesday afternoon, the School of the Arts sets would be ready to shoot on again. Hollywood is all fantasy and illusion but, for this one night, the fictional school had a fantastic Semester Break High School Dance and a wonderful time was had by all!
This interview was provided to me by Stuart Farrell.
The article above is from the Official Fame Magazines from 1983. The OFFICIAL FAME MAGAZINE was published by Beat Publications Ltd. and the interviews are copyright MGM/UA Entertainment Co.