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Mark Allen(s) on tour

Losing It at Universal Studios {format} {format} 5:00 Mark Allen

Temporarily insanity during a tour of Universal Studios.

Broadcast: Aug 9 2003 on NPR All Things Considered Subjects: Entertainment, Travel

Commentary: Being overwhelmed by a tour of Universal Studios

July 9, 2003 from All Things Considered

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: We've all seen the news footage: A glamorous movie star arrives at a premiere or exits a nightclub and waiting fans go into a frenzy, shrieking, waving, even fainting. Well, here is a story now from Mark Allen, who fell under the spell of a different kind of Hollywood legend.


As I climbed into the Universal Studios Hollywood tram at the beginning of the tour, our guide, Tammy(ph), had a special announcement. `On the way to see the Bates Motel from "Psycho," we will be making a special side journey through one of the massive warehouses that stores every prop ever used in any Universal production.'

We entered an airline hangarlike building. I saw shelves that could have been a mile high lined with every category of everything imaginable: stuffed dogs; suits of armor that were really plastic; lawn mowers with mouths and eyes; UFOs big and small; fake masterpiece paintings; a whole aisle of magic wands and scepters; a row of sticks of dynamite with wires and a clock attached to each one; horse saddles; octopus arms; giant calculators; rolls of carpet; bows and arrows; rayguns; couches; car doors; coconut trees; wheelchairs with rocket engines--all tagged with a number and organized by genre or size or time period.

As we kept passing shelf after shelf, I started to feel strange. My eyes darted back and forth from object to object: rubber cash register; witch's pot; plastic dolphin; operating table; fake boobs; space helmet; totem pole; giant eyeball; miniature city. Something was starting to come over me that felt like crossed wires or a short circuit in my brain. I began to break into a sweat. I felt like I was having a panic attack. And just when I started to feel overwhelmed--Whoosh!--suddenly, we were out of the warehouse into the open air again, where I found I could breathe normally.

The tram took a side turn down what looked like a parody of a typical American suburban street. Tammy announced that many of the houses on the street had been used in dozens of television productions: the house from "Bewitched"; the Partridges' house; Beaver's house and many more. They were all right here; all on the same street. It was too much to take in all at once. I started to get dizzy again. I started to feel a little nauseous.

As the tram moved, all the sounds around me were kind of far away; things seemed to be moving in fast and slow motion simultaneously. The tram turned and we approached a Western village set used in probably hundreds, maybe thousands of movies. I put my head down in my shaking heads and covered my eyes as we drove through it. Every time I peeked out through my fingers, I saw something familiar and wonderful: the corner of a saloon door from the "Wild, Wild West"; the head of a cigar store Indian from "Creepshow 2"; a pile of tumbleweeds I remember Electra Woman and Dyna Girl bursting out of.

We rounded another corner and we came upon a round tunnel, a kind of motorized tube with a bridge that went through the center of it. When you're in, it gave you the illusion that you were spinning with the bridge and the tunnel was motionless. Of course, I recognized it immediately. Before Tammy could finish her speech, `This motorized tunnel was first used in "The Six Million Dollar Man," starring '70s heartthrob Lee Majors'--I exploded up from my seat and shrieked, `Oh, my God! It's the tunnel from "The Six Million Dollar Man," the Bigfoot episode! I remember it!'

Tammy, suddenly smileless, stopped and stared at me hard for about five seconds, as did the rest of the people on the tram. Oh, my God, indeed. I slowly sat back down, took a few deep, calming breaths and wiped the sweat from my face. I couldn't believe I was behaving this way. I was on the verge of tears; I was a time bomb waiting to go off once again. All it was going to take was one more thing to push me over the edge.

Then, we turned the corner and there it was: a giant, grass-covered town square, complete with benches and sidewalks and a statue in the middle. It was surrounded by a five-and-dime, a barber shop, a gas station, apartments, City Hall, all fake. I don't really remember how it happened; it was like I was under a spell. I simply jumped off the moving tram and I ran towards the grassy center of the square. I faintly heard Tammy scream, `Sir! Sir, stay in the tram!' from her megaphone. I heard the tourists' cameras clicking on the tram behind me as if I was somehow part of the show. I knelt down and placed my cheek on the white concrete of the square which was sparkling in the sun. I rolled into the grass and ripped two handfuls from the ground. And I said to the heavens, `Don Knotts walked on this grass in "The Reluctant Astronaut"!'

Then I laid face down in the grass; calm, peaceful, transcendent. I was still smiling when the two security guards grabbed from behind and took me away.

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SIEGEL: Mark Allen is a writer in New York.

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MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.