Is a Hollywood film studio a set for the paranormal?

 

Many locations around Hollywood are reported to be haunted, especially at Halloween. There are theaters, hotels, night clubs and studios that have their share of ghost stories. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, the possibility of a spirit continuing on after death is fascinating.

There are countless paranormal stories about Hollywood’s past. One story in particular, which originally had nothing to do with ghosts, had the blaring Los Angeles Times’ headline: “Death After Studio Party Called Accident by Police.” The story reported that a 31-year-old studio electrician was fatally injured after a wrap party attended by several well-known film stars.

According to the news report, Edward W. Gray, the father of three, was found near death on the floor of a film stage near midnight on April 3, 1946. He was dead on arrival at Hollywood Receiving Hospital. Original accounts stated that Gray may have been murdered, but a deputy coroner eventually discounted that theory. Upon examination, it was found that Gray suffered a fractured pelvis, numerous internal injuries, a skull fracture and facial lacerations. The coroner said that such injuries could only be attributed to falling from a great height or, — being run over by an automobile!

A ghostly image of Edward Gray from the Los Angeles Times report on his death.

Gray was found on the studio floor below a catwalk, 65-foot above. A ladder rose to the catwalk at one end, and police theorized that Gray had climbed to the top, then tumbled off.

Supporting this theory was the discovery of blood on a two-by-four jutting from the backdrop fifteen-feet above where Gray’s body was found, and would have been in the direct line of a fall from the catwalk. It was also found that Gray’s blood registered an alcohol content of .29 – today a .08 is considered intoxicated.

The studio where this happened was a rental lot at 1040 N. Las Palmas Avenue, which at the time was called General Service Studios (later known as Hollywood Center Studios). In May 2017, the lot was sold and renamed Sunset Las Palmas Studios.

Founded in 1919 by set designer John Jasper (1876-1929), three production studios were built on 15 acres south of Santa Monica Boulevard. Billionaire-producer, Howard Hughes filmed Hell’s Angels here; the television shows, Ozzie and Harriett, Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies and the first two years of I Love Lucy (Studio 2) also called this lot home. Shirley Temple made her film debut here, and it may also be remembered as the ill-fated Zoetrope Studios founded by Francis Ford Coppola in the early 1980s.

Author and film historian, Laurie Jacobson, who with historian Marc Wanamaker, are the authors of Hollywood Haunted: A Ghostly Tour of Filmland. Jacobson claims that stories have circulated about phenomenon on that particular lot, including “cold spots, unexplained noises, unusual shadows on sound stages, lights going on and off, things being moved, etc. all reported by guards, workers, maintenance workers and film workers on the lot.”

“There were also ‘problems’ with Stage 5,” Laurie recalled, “where Ozzie and Harriet was produced. Many say it happened all through the production. Others believe it is Ozzie himself — a workaholic who died before his time — who haunts the set.”

In the 1920s and 1930s, the lot was known as Metropolitan Studios. In later years, office workers reportedly heard talking in the empty offices on the second floor. “Those offices were occupied by film pioneer Al Christie from 1925 to 1932,” Jacobson said. “Second to Mack Sennett, Christie lost everything in the stock market crash, including his studio. He tried, but never regained his success or wealth. Now in death, he continues the work he’d been forced to give up.”

Reportedly, a former stage manager also claimed the lot was haunted, “particularly on Stage 6, where a gaffer fell to his death decades ago.” He described the happenings:

“…when you went in to close up the stage for the night, turn off the work lights, secure all the doors, etc., you could hear foot steps in the perms (rafters) above you, following you as you moved from one part of the stage to another. When you stop, it stops. Freaking scary.”

Edward Gray fell to his death in Stage 4 (highlighted). The studio entrance is only a short walk from there.

Laurie Jacobson recalled a similar story, but it happened on a different stage. “In 1946, a studio worker fell to his death on Stage 4 making the film Stairway to Hell,” she said. “For many years after, there were technical problems on that stage.” That was the year (1946) that Edward Gray, the electrician in the Los Angeles Times article, fell to his death during the wrap party for Angel on My Shoulder, which, at the time had the working title – Stairway to Hell.

There were enough questions about Gray’s death that an inquest was held. Reportedly, Gray and another friend were “uninvited guests” at ‘a gay party’ that was hosted by the film’s star, Paul Muni to celebrate the completion of the film. Neither Gray nor his friend had worked on the film, but showed up anyway.

The party began at 6pm with a bar set up on the sound stage. More than a score of tables had been arranged in front of the papier-mâché reconstruction of “Hell” – a familiar scene in the film.

Angel on My Shoulder’s stars, Paul Muni and Anne Baxter were both called to testify at the inquest. Muni stated that he felt he could be of very little help, having left the party early. “What was called ‘a gay party’ didn’t seem gay to me as I had been working all day and was very tired,” Muni told the jury. “Without seeming facetious, if that was a ‘gay party,’ I wonder what a dull one would be. All the people were tired. The idea was just to throw a little shindig to show good will. We were very tired, dog tired.”

The interior of Stage 4 where Edward Gray’s body was found and the “Hell” set for Angel on My Shoulder was located. (Sunset Las Palmas website)

“Did you see any drinking?” asked Dep. Dist. Atty. S. Ernest Roll.

“Oh, yes,” Muni replied. “Miss Baxter had milk, Miss (Joan) Blair had Coke, I had a scotch and soda, and Mrs. Muni had a sherry. Others went to the bar. I don’t know what they were drinking.”

Muni told the jury that he didn’t know Gray, although other witnesses said he sat at Gray’s table for a while. Muni and his wife Bella left about 7:45pm. Muni added that he didn’t see anyone intoxicated.

Anne Baxter said she also left the party early after posing for pictures on the film set where the bar and tables had been set up. “Some people were drinking, others eating at steam tables,” she recalled.

Three cases of Bourbon, a case of Scotch and four cases of beer were consumed, according to the caterer.

“Wasn’t there any liquor left?” inquired Deputy Coroner Frank Monfort.

“Oh no, nothing was left,” the caterer replied.

Several witnesses agreed that Gray was intoxicated, although not quarrelsome. Along with other technicians who worked on the film, he had been invited to attend, “as is custom.”

Edward Gray was escorted by a friend to this gate (above) to get a taxi but instead was seen by the gate guard returning to the studio where he eventually met his death. (click on image to enlarge)

A recent image of the studio’s entrance.

One friend, Allan Seiger, a property man, said that Gray was hardly able to walk from the party, so he assisted him to the studio gate to call a cab. But as soon as Seiger walked away, Gray ran back into the studio, according to the guard, who said that earlier in the evening he had seen Gray fall down “two or three times on the set.”

Further testimony disclosed that after the taxi incident, Gray had climbed the high backdrop, and from there he either stumbled or fell, even though no one actually witnessed Gray climbing to the catwalk.

According to other testimony, it was common for studio workers who had been drinking to climb up high to “get out of sight.”

Studio officials emphasized that everyone had left the studio long before Gray was found. According to the caterer, the party ended at 8:45pm when the liquor supply was exhausted.

Gray’s widow was represented by future Los Angeles mayor, Sam Yorty, who argued that the dead man may have been in a fight, or run over by a car. However, expert medical, scientific and police testimony claimed his injuries were most likely caused by a fall.

Edward W. Gray’s death certificate (click on image to enlarge).

And in fact, the nine-man jury found Edward Gray’s fatal injuries were “received from a fall while intoxicated.” To this day, family members still dispute the jury’s findings.

Could Edward Gray be haunting the sound stages of the Sunset Las Palmas Studios? Perhaps he was murdered and his soul can not rest. Unlike the characters of the film whose wrap-party he crashed, instead of hell, he chose to walk the rafters of the studio that was his last memory.

So this Halloween, take a walk past the gates of Sunset Las Palmas Studios, and perhaps you will see the ghost of Edward Gray hailing a taxi instead of returning to the studio – and to his death.

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One Response to “Is a Hollywood film studio a set for the paranormal?”

  1. Allan Landman says:

    Always a joy to read your interesting articles Allan. This one was very interesting, as all the famous TV shows that were filmed on these stages. Do you have any stories about the I Love Lucy stage? Thanks Allan, for all the history you are preserving.

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