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How Gene Barry Lost a Caterer
(Hollywood Studio Catering)

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Rick Jason in a fight scene with George Kennedy for an episode of The Case of the Dangerous Robin. George did his own stunts, too.

I made $1,750 a segment [for The Case of the Dangerous Robin], against ten percent of the gross over the break, which in my case was twenty-seven thousand dollars a show. I figured all that I needed was three years doing thirty-eight segments a year to build a big enough library for extended syndication and then I’d be set for life.

About half the time we were shooting on location in or around Los Angeles, and that called for a catering service. In the late ‘50s, there were only a few caterers in the film business and they took terrible advantage of their positions. I was a brown bagger, so I didn’t know what the rest of the company was going through.

We were shooting up the coast for three days at a place called Tranca’s Beach, and I happened to step out of my dressing room trailer as lunch was being served. I noticed, as people stepped out of line with their trays, they were putting their noses to the meat, which looked a little green, dumping their food in the trash, and going next door to a fast food place. I went over to our makeup man and smelled his tray.

"Oh, my God!" I said. "How long has this been going on?"

"As long as I’ve been in the business," he said.

I went to our Assistant Director, Don Verk, who was also a brown bagger. Don was a great A.D. He was about five-feet-five, very thin from running in five directions at the same time, and, well, given to nervousness.

"Don," I said, "I’d like to have a few words with you."

He immediately became nervous. "Sure, Rick. Yeah, Rick. What is it, Rick?"

"Have you smelled that food?" I asked pointing to the lunch being doled onto trays. Frankly, he hadn’t, so I threatened to drive back to the studio for lunch the next day, which took an hour each way, and take an hour to eat at the commissary, rather than the half hour we were alotted on location. Unless! "Unless something is done about that garbage they’re serving."

  Don, sweet, nice, really considerate man when you got his attention, said something like, "Ohmygodohmygod, you don’t have to do that, because Gene Barry is doing rodeos this week, and his company is shut down. I can get his caterer, who is wonderful. How’s that?" At the time, Barry was starring in the western series, Bat Masterson. (Pictured right, Gene Barry)

When I arrived on location the next morning about six, a nice-looking woman (slightly reminiscent of a ranch wife) and her helper were handing out sandwiches from the back of a station wagon. A large coffee urn sat on a table, plugged into a honeywagon (a long trailer that holds small dressing rooms for extras and bit players to change their clothes, and which also contains men’s and ladies’ rooms).

The sandwiches were on toast, still warm, and consisted of bacon, egg, and a slice of cheese. There was a platter of sliced onions, for those who wanted them, plus catsup. The coffee was hot, there was plenty of half-and-half and sugar for those who wanted it, and everybody in the crew looked happy in the chill morning air. About ten, while we were setting up a shot on the sand near the water, two of our teamster drivers lugged in a huge caldron, a ladle, and plastic cups. We all broke for ten minutes and had a cup or two of hot soup. I was impressed.

At lunch, tables and chairs were set out (the station wagon had hauled an open trailer of them), and the long serving tables sported red and white checkered cloths. The entrees were a roast turkey, a tremendous rib roast of beef, and a large ham. There was a choice of two vegetables, mashed potatoes, corn, two kinds of salad with various dressings, and for desert three kinds of pie and two cakes. The company ate like there was no tomorrow.

After lunch, while our drivers folded the dining tables and chairs, and stowed them in the trailer, I went over to the ladies and introduced myself. The gray-haired one was Mae and her boss was Millie. "That was a spectacular meal," I said.

"Why thank you, Mr. Jason," Millie said, blushing ever so slightly.

"Excuse me, but it’s Rick, and are you going to be with us tomorrow?" I asked.

"If you want us," Mae said.

"Do we want you?! Where have you two been all my life?"

By Friday, Millie and I were the best of friends, morale in the company had shot up two hundred per cent, and the two ladies were delighted with the reception they received every morning when they showed up in the station wagon. They were up each morning at three, prepared what food they hadn’t finished the night before, dished everything into huge stainless steel restaurant pots and trays, wrapped them in extra wide foil, and then wrapped them again in army blankets, to keep warm. The salads were covered by large bags of ice, and everything sat in the back of the station wagon. Each day the menu was different, except for the sandwiches in the morning. There was even a different soup at ten.

Friday after lunch, I went over to Millie and thanked her from the bottom of my heart. She was so taken aback for a moment that anyone would make such a fuss over her, that her mouth dropped open, then she clamped it shut and gave me a big hug.

"I don’t know what we’re going to do next week," I said, "The whole company has been working so much better since you came on board. Listen," I continued, "When you have a spare week will you come back?"

"We’ll stay, if you want us to," she said.

"What about Gene Barry?" I asked.

She thought for a second. "I’ll send him box lunches," she said.

Millie cooked for us during the remainder of the season. Gene Barry wouldn’t say hello to me for two weeks. I’d pass him on the lot when we were both shooting interiors and say, "Hi!" He’d make believe he hadn’t heard a thing and keep on walking. I guess I couldn’t blame him.

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