Micky Moore’s magic carpet ride

The 95-year-old filmmaker recalls a career that spanned more than eight decades in his book “My Magic Carpet of Films.”

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

When longtime Malibu resident Micky Moore made his first movie as a toddler, the first “talkie” was more than a decade away and America’s Sweetheart, Mary Pickford, was the most popular movie star on the planet. After a career that effectively spanned 85 cinematic years since that first film, Moore has published his memoirs in a book titled, “My Magic Carpet of Films: A Personal Journey in the Motion Picture Industry 1916-2000.”

Moore might be pushing 95 years, but his gallantry is sharp as ever as he invites a guest to his Latigo Shore home stuffed with memorabilia from his years before and behind the camera. Despite a recent illness requiring memory-clouding medication and strict instruction to forego his usual 40 daily laps in Pepperdine University’s Olympic-sized pool (which he only grudgingly accedes to), Moore facilely recounted tales of working with Hollywood’s most celebrated and eccentric stars, directors and producers, from the earliest two-reel films to blockbusters like Steven Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones” series.

“Believe me, when I was making all those movies, I didn’t think to myself, ‘Gee, that’ll make a great book someday,” Moore said in his study, sitting next to the guitar that doubled as a gun in the MGM camp classic “The Fastest Guitar Alive,” starring Roy Orbison and which Moore directed. “It might be my first book, but it’s also my last. It was a lot of work.”

That “work” entailed sorting and archiving material that catalogues more than 200 films, including notes, scripts, storyboards, production stills and glowing letters of love and appreciation from the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Jerry Lewis, Richard Zanuck, Elvis Presley, George Lucas and Dustin Hoffman.

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What emerged, with the help of assistant and recent Dolphin Award recipient Judi Devin, is indeed a magic carpet ride through Hollywood history from the perspective of someone who lived it from its earliest days.

Moore was 18 months old and living with his family in Santa Barbara when a producer from the “Flying A” studio there approached his mother to cast both the curly mopped Moore and his older brother Pat in a film.

“My mother was pretty smart,” Moore reflected. “She kept careful ledgers with all the films we were in, noting the work permits and how much we were paid.”

Between 1916 and 1927, Moore and his brother worked in almost 50 films. At a time when the U.S. average annual income was about $1,000, Moore’s $200 per week salary (eventually doubling to $400 per week) had significant impact on the family fortunes.

But then came the stock market crash and Moore’s awkward transition out of child actor-hood. He worked on fishing boats off the Santa Monica Pier and married his high school sweetheart, Esther. Before long, he had a family to consider and decided to try film work again. He made an appointment to see producer Cecil B. DeMille, who had cast him in the epic “The King of Kings” years before.

“He was pretty surprised when I told him that I didn’t want to be an actor again,” Moore said. “I said I wanted to work in the property department. I figured it offered better job security. My adult career began when Mr. DeMille said yes.”

Moore worked constantly on DeMille’s (and other) films after that, with stars like Claudette Colbert and Frederic March, in a medium that had gone from silent to orchestrated. He traveled for location shooting throughout California and was on set of a John Barrymore-Dorothy Lamour film when the birth of his second daughter was announced.

By the ’50s, he was working as assistant director, then second unit director, then director, on films as diverse as “Mame” and “Patton.” He worked with Elvis Presley in his Hawaiian movies. He made “road” movies with Hope and Crosby. He was second unit director for John Wayne’s next-to-last movie, “Rooster Cogburn.”

“Katie Hepburn was in that movie and one day she got it into her head that she was going to kayak down a section of whitewater where we were filming,” Moore said, chuckling. “My assistant called me on the Walkie Talkie to warn me and I scooted up the river in a speedboat to stop her.”

But it was too late. Their million-dollar star, who was in her 60s, just shoved off, whooping. Moore urged the speedboat driver to follow as close as possible. When Hepburn finally pulled in where a dumbfounded crew was waiting, she said, “That’s the most fun I’ve ever had. I used to do that with my brother.”

Discretion being the better part of valor, they agreed not to tell producer Hal Wallis of her stunt.

When asked what are the biggest changes he has seen in film production, Moore immediately cites the equipment he has worked with so long. Lighting has become a “totally different animal” and cameras have gone from hand-cranked to motorized to digitized.

When asked about any scandals that occurred on shoots, Moore demurred.

“I’ve been very lucky to work with wonderful people,” he said. “Why stir the pot?”

“We left a lot of Micky’s really great stories out of the book because he didn’t want to sound disrespectful to anyone,” Devin said. “But there were some doozies. He gets asked about ‘Ishtar’ all the time.”

“Elaine May [the director] is a lovely woman,” Moore said, referring to the director of the 1987 film starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman that received scathing reviews upon its release. “I have no other comment.”

Moore doesn’t get out to the movies too much these days. There’s not much out there he thinks is very good. He dismissed any lack of recognition accorded to second unit directors, a position he occupied for so many years. (A second unit crew films shots such as scenery, crowds and inserts.)

“If you are good, you shouldn’t even be aware that a second unit director has been involved,” Moore said. “I just did the best I could possibly do on each shot, so they kept asking me to make more movies.”

“When we sat down to look at Mickey’s whole filmography, it was overwhelming,” Devin said. “He said, ‘You know, I think I should be kind of tired.”

Micky Moore’s “My Magic Carpet of Films” is available at Diesel, A Bookstore, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. He will be reading selections from his book at Diesel later this summer.

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