Catering Combat! :
feeding the cast and crew on location
We went into production June 2nd. On board as producer was an excellent
writer, Bob Blees, and as associate producer and often director, a fellow named Robert
Altman. About a week before we began, I went into the production managers office.
"What can I do for you, Rick?" Richard Caffey asked.
"I figure were going to spend a lot of time on the back
lots," I said.
"About sixty percent," he answered.
"Whos going to cater?"
"Harper and Green," he said. "Its either them or
"How about Millie?" I asked.
"Who is Millie?" and he sat forward.
I told him about my experience at Ziv.
Richard Caffey had come out of the production department at Paramount,
and Millie had never even been on a major studio lot, let alone worked for one.
I took a blank check out of my pocket and signed it. "Here" I
said, trying to hand it to him, "if you get one complaint, Ill pay for
"That wont be necessary," he said, "well try
I gave him her phone number and went home to call her. Our conversation
boiled down to, "Buy a catering truck, new or used, and sit by the phone, youve
just made the big time."
The first meal Millie and Mae served was something to behold. She did
everything but roll out a red carpet. The crew, practically all of whom had been at MGM
for twenty years or more, were flabbergasted, which is too mild a word. As they went
through the line and saw what was being put on their trays, a few of them said,
"Whered you come from?" "How come we never got you
before?" things like that.
I stood off to the side as the sun set on a June evening, smiling and
Occasionally shed point in my direction and say something like,
"Him," or "We worked for him on another show."
A couple of the crew had moved over from Ziv, which had been sold to
United Artists Television, and was quickly going out of production. The era of cheap TV
had passed. The guys who knew Millie welcomed her onto the show and, turning to their new
cohorts, said things like, "Waitll you taste it!"
Millie stayed with us for the entire five years. During that time she
expanded her operation to three trucks, because when word got out about her, she got calls
to cater other shows shooting at MGM. Then word spread to other studios. Soon she was
getting calls from Warner Brothers and Universal. Her three trucks were working all five
days of the week. But as to Combat!, nobody fed us but Millie herself.
A few weeks after she started with us, she handed in chits for a
hundred and nineteen lunches. Richard Caffey said that was ridiculous, "We only have
ninety in the company."
"Thats how many lunches I served," and Millie stood
Caffey paid her. Nosing around a few days later, he discovered that
some crew members from other companies shooting nearby had been sneaking over to our chow
line to get a good meal. And thats how her fame spread.
By the time she got finished, Millie Quirin had changed the face of
catering in the film industry. The only complaints she ever got were at the end of a
season. At least twenty of the crew complained that theyd gained fifteen or more
pounds and their wives demanded they go on diets!
A final note about Millie: in 1984 I invited her to my wedding to Cindy. She asked if
she could bring anything and I said, "Only yourself." She showed up with two
twenty-five pound roasted turkeys, made room on a couple of platters and just put them on
the buffet table. During the reception when I found out what shed done and tried to
find her to thank her, shed already left.