Monday, June 4, 2018

25 YEARS INSIDE UNIVERSAL STUDIOS: Special Interview with Entertainment Director Jerry Green

Jerry's Big Adventure

Jerry Green was a kid from the sticks of Panama City, Florida, who dreamed of going to Hollywood and becoming an actor. He made it to Hollywood, but instead of acting, his rural-to-riches story put him at the epicenter of a theme park revolution—the one without the mouse.
Like a lot of kids in southern California, Jerry was a regular at Disneyland. But it was the nascent Universal Studios Tour that captured his imagination, and soon after college he became one of the tour guides, Universal's tram-bound counterparts to Disney's Jungle Cruise skippers.
Jerry had a knack for connecting with his audience. Before long, he was hosting Universal's popular audience participation shows, and then he ascended to the upper echelon of Universal management, becoming the studio's entertainment director. From there, he was sent to Orlando to assist in the development of Universal Studios Florida, where he worked on rides and shows that wowed the crowds on opening day, and sent Mickey-down-the-road into an existential crisis.
Full of humor, celebrity encounters, stories of Universal's cast and culture you've never heard before, and healthy doses of "jerryosophy", Jerry Green's memoir of his 25 years with Universal Studios is that rarest of business books: a truly fun read, loaded with laughs and appropriate for theme park fans of all ages.

How many of you have visited Universal Studios? While I haven't yet had the pleasure of traveling to the Orlando location, I have gone to Universal Studios Hollywood. It was so much fun! Since I've been there, they have opened The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a Fast and Furious attraction, and a Walking Dead Walk-Through attraction. Universal is the competitor to Southern California's Disneyland and Florida's Disney World. Like any theme park, Universal is fun for the whole family. 

I'm so excited to feature Jerry Green on Writing Belle today. His memoir, 25 Years Inside Universal Studios, is the perfect read for anyone who loves and is fascinated by theme parks. Jerry began as a tour guide on a tram and eventually worked his way up to become the entertainment director.  Over the course of his career, he has hosted more than 32,000 live shows - how amazing is that?! He even wrote and directed shows for the Florida park's debut. With such an incredible and fun career, I was thrilled to be able to interview Jerry and ask him about his life experiences at Universal. I hope you enjoy this interview. Remember to check out his book on Kindle and paperback

Interview with Jerry Green 

Thanks so much for being here! Can you give us a little background on yourself? Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
Thank you for a wonderful opportunity to talk about writing, something I’ve come to love.

I was born in Panama City, a small town of 50,000 located on the panhandle of north Florida.  For many years our beaches were considered the most beautiful in the world.  Also it was the busiest Spring Break destination in the world for many years … that is until the city council banned liquor on the beach during Spring Break.

I left there at the age of fourteen when my mom remarried and moved to Phoenix.

How did you find your way from Florida to the bright lights of Hollywood and Universal Studios?
Honestly, growing up in a poor family I never envisioned getting out of Florida, but my mom moving to Phoenix was all part of a providential design.  I lived in Phoenix for six years, married at the age of 19 (I know, way too young), and for our honeymoon we drove west to visit the tourist hot spots … Disneyland and Universal Studios.  Once I saw Universal I was hooked.  Interesting side note: when I was in the 7th grade in Panama City I took an aptitude test and scored highest in show biz related vocations.  Who knew?!

On our first anniversary my wife and I returned to California and Universal.  I discovered they were taking applications for tour guides the following week. We couldn’t remain in Hollywood and wait for the interview, so we went home and a week later I flew from Phoenix back to Burbank (my first time in an airplane) and interviewed for the job.  Much to my surprise I was told, “You’re hired.  Training starts Monday.”  Yikes!  Too soon!  But I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity, so I called my wife and told her, then called my boss in Phoenix and told him.  So much for giving a 2-week notice.

Describe your journey from tour guide to entertainment director? 
I actually envisioned my job as a tour guide as the stepping stone to becoming a great actor.  That pursuit occupied the first several years of my life, acting classes, interviews, etc.  That’s a story that is on the horizon for one of my future books – Show Biz for Christians.

I worked as a tour guide for a year and a half, then was drafted into the Army, served for 2 years, then came back to the studio.  I returned to the position of tour guide, but when business slowed I was transferred to the wardrobe dept.  No, not making clothes, but handing out costumes to people like Frankenstein, Phantom, Woody Woodpecker, etc.

After 3 months of doing that my boss came in one day and said he liked my attitude, never complaining and doing a good job, and he was moving me to the Screen Test Show.  I was going to host a live stage show.  That was going to be the most defining part of my professional life and my job for the next many years.  Over the course of my career I hosted over 32,000 live stage shows at the studio, plus more in other places across the U.S. and Canada.  I also co-hosted a live stage show with Joan Embrey, the San Diego Zoo’s international ambassador.

In 1984 the boss called me to his office.  Again, Yikes!  I wasn’t sure what that was all about.  But long story short, I was offered the job as Director of Entertainment.

 Hosting a show at Universal Studios with Mike Douglas (wearing police uniform) as guest star

What exactly is the job description of an entertainment director?
During my 25 years, Universal Studios Hollywood, as it’s now called, had six live shows.  The entertainment director is responsible for overseeing all shows, including the performers, maintaining performance levels, hiring and firing, plus oversight of the strolling characters I mentioned before, and also a variety of other employees working in the theaters, stage managers, show control, park attendants, etc.  There were also special effects under my supervision, such as the KITT car, a talking car from the very popular TV show Knight Rider starring David Hasselhoff.
Depending on the time of year I had up to 350 employees.

Did you often run into high-profile entertainers or celebrities during your time at Universal? Any funny or interesting stories that stick out?
I met a plethora of celebrities, many of whom I talk about in my book, one of them none other than President Ronald Reagan.  Meeting him was the highlight of my professional career..  But one I forgot to mention in my book was Michael Jackson.  I co-hosted an event with Lew Wasserman and Steven Spielberg in Manhattan announcing the building of Universal Florida.  Wasserman was the CEO of MCA/Universal, and truly the last of the Hollywood movie moguls.  But it’s interesting the number of events and people I forgot to talk about when writing my story.

I imagine that the theme park business is high pressure and intense. What do you think is the key to running a successful theme park?
Interesting you should ask that question.  I was just talking about that yesterday.  The key to any business is the employees.  I guess it’s a general understanding whether talking about business or life in general.  My employees represented the studio and me.  My belief is that if we treat others with respect, most will live up to that trust and do a good job.
But the theme park business requires constant care.  It isn’t like making a movie where the director oversees the performance and can have a retake or edit out the missteps in postproduction.  Our shows were live every day, four to sixteen times a day. There were no retakes for the audience.  It was one and done.

During my years at the studio, MCA owned Universal and the executives were tight with the dollar.  Universal Florida, which I also worked to help develop, came after years of struggle with the ‘big bosses’.  The studio is now owned by Comcast.  They are throwing literally billions of dollars into it.  They’ve discovered that the theme park business is a safe investment while the movie and television business is always a risk.  Universal has become an entity on par with Disney.

Hosting a show at the San Diego Zoo.  The horse is the Black Stallion from the movie of the same name

Any favorite memories from your time at Universal?
My life is filled with memories.  Those were the best years of my life.  While hosting shows we had a team of five guys who became family. We worked together for twenty years and got along famously.  How can 5 guys work together for that long?  In my book I talk about ‘blood lettings’ we had from time to time.  Blood lettings – we guys would go into our break room, a room with no windows, take a seat, and turn off the lights so the room was pitch black.  Wait for it, don’t imagine what happened.  With the lights off each guy could say whatever he wanted about anyone on the crew, i.e., performance, attitude, appearance, etc. The person couldn’t respond until it was their turn.  They could then make a defense or apologize.  It was a catharsis that kept us together.  Three of the five guys have died but Don and I are still great friends even today.

Tell us, briefly, about what readers will find in your book.
I’ll quote what my publisher said when I first submitted the manuscript to him –
“Just finished your manuscript – and loved it.  Lots of details, anecdotes, and most important, well-written.  Overall, an easy, fun read, which is exactly what a book like that should be.”
My story is just that, my life at Universal during the early years.  Until 1964 the public wasn’t allowed inside a working studio.  The studio and I grew up together.  I was a young buck of 20 and ‘Universal Studios Tour’, as it was called then, was only four.

I talk of celebrity encounters, opening a show in front of a full house of 2,000 people plus media, with absolutely no rehearsal.  “Jerry, we have to do a show.  The press is waiting and we promised a show today.”  I said, “Okay, let’s do a show.”  I picked up the microphone, walked to the front of the stage and … “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Screen Test Show.”  And with that we were off and running, making it up as I went along.  The first show took two hours.  But after a few days we trimmed it down to 35 minutes.

I remember opening day for the Star Trek live stage show with all the celebrities.  The intent was for William Shatner to co-host with me, but the crew forgot to have a microphone ready for him.  However, the show had to start.  The audience was waiting, plus hundreds of the press corp.

Universal wanted to create a more 'user friendly' monster.  A press event I hosted - the 'Birth of Baby Frankenstein'

If you could offer one piece of advice to anyone hoping to achieve their dreams, what would it be?
My advice may not be what your expecting, but I would tell anyone to never compromise, not even if that carrot is dangling just beyond your reach.  Character is more important than temporary success.  And ‘temporary’ can be twenty or thirty years, maybe more.

Another piece of advice is to be persistent – not in an annoying way, but pursue your dream with integrity.  Be a person who can be depended on.  Someone who’s done their homework and is prepared to perform, even if it’s in a business other than show biz.

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us today. 

Thanks Summer.

Visit Jerry at his Official Website.


Jerry Green was born into a very poor family in a small town in North Florida, the very deep South.  He admits he never dreamed of getting to Hollywood.  His dreams weren’t that big.  But through a series of unexpected turns that’s exactly where his path led.  And although acting was his goal, instead his rural-to-riches story put him at the epicenter of a theme park revolution, on the precipice of an industry that was about to explode.  His park, however was the one without the mouse.

On his first two visits to southern California, Jerry made the regular tourist stops,   
Disneyland and Universal Studios. But it was the nascent Universal Studios Tour that captured his imagination, and his timing couldn’t have been better.  The tour was only four years old.  He took a chance and applied for a job as a tour guide.  “You’re hired,” he was told.  “You start training in two days.”

Universal’s upper echelon quickly discovered that Jerry had a knack for connecting with his audience so they moved him through the ranks and before long he was hosting Universal's popular audience participation shows.  After hosting over 32,000 live stage shows he was promoted to Director of Entertainment.

When the green light was given to develop the studio in Orlando he was sent there to write, produce and direct several projects for the mega-attraction - Universal Studios Florida, which opened with higher attendance and approval ratings than Disney MGM Studio the prior year.

Filled with humor, celebrity encounters including President Reagan, stories of Universal's cast and culture you've never heard before, and healthy doses of "jerryosophy", Jerry Green's memoir of his 25 Years Inside Universal Studios is that rarest of entertaining/business books: a truly fun read, loaded with laughs and appropriate for theme park and show biz fans of all ages.”

Bob McLain
Theme Park Press

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