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'90210' Finds the University of Beverly Hills : Television: The century-old Occidental campus nestled in a residential enclave was chosen as a filming site for the popular series as it follows its characters on to college.

September 16, 1993|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

EAGLE ROCK — If you want to be famous, go to Hollywood. Or, if you're Occidental College, you let Hollywood come to you.

The century-old Eagle Rock campus, with its Eastern-style halls, will debut on international television next week as "California University," where the gang from the popular teen series "Beverly Hills, 90210" will embark on college careers in their fourth season on television.

Oxy was eager to play college to the stars, said Pam Bellew, director of conference services and campus filming, because for too long the small liberal arts college tucked away in a residential enclave "has been the best-kept secret in L.A."

Bellew is charged with increasing Occidental's role as a place of note in Southern California. "We've opened our doors to filming," she said, noting that the campus has been familiar to movie and television crews for decades but that "90210" is the first regular series to be shot there.

Late last week, camera crews shot a scene at the fountain in front of the student union, then shifted equipment to a lecture hall in an attempt to wrap up as much filming as possible before the start of real-life classes on Sept. 23.

Crews began filming in July and could return as often as every week for scenes for subsequent episodes, although less frequent visits are more likely, college officials and producers said. The show will give the campus two weeks' notice for future filming, and the duration of Occidental's role in the series will depend on how well the television audience accepts the doings of the Walsh siblings--the featured players--and their friends at college.

"We see it not only as a way of generating revenue, but as increasing the positive relationship between the college and the community, bringing more outside groups into involvement with the campus," Bellew said.

Producers of "90210" selected the 1,700-student college not only for its Ivy League looks, but also because of its proximity to the series' production facilities and sets in Van Nuys and a second key location in Altadena, said Betty Reardon, assistant to producer Paul Wagner.

"It has the look that we wanted--and the location," Reardon said.

The open-door policy is part of the mission set forth five years ago when John B. Slaughter was named president of the college.

Slaughter, formerly chancellor of the University of Maryland, was the first black president of an independent college in California and one of a few blacks in the nation to head a primarily white institution of higher learning. He said in a 1988 interview that he intended to get Occidental "more involved in the life of Los Angeles."

Hollywood "discovered" Occidental as a movie set six decades ago when the Marx Brothers cavorted about the football field.

Over the years, Bing Crosby, Donald O'Connor, Joan Crawford, Robert Young, Richard Chamberlain, David Niven, Nancy Sinatra and James Mitchum have delivered their lines while on location at the 120-acre campus.

Columbia's 1949 production "And Baby Makes Three" used the campus, as well as Warner's "The Tall Story" and MGM's "The Impossible Years." Some particularly photogenic spots on campus--Thorne Hall, Freeman Union, The Quad--have played multiple roles.

But it was only three years ago that Bellew was given the title of director of campus filming, and results are just now becoming evident, she said. In the past, the campus was used as a location two or three times a year and earned less than $100,000 in filming fees. But Bellew said she hopes to boost the number of location bookings to about 10 a year, which could earn $200,000 to $250,000 in yearly fees.

Campus officials and producers will not say how many of the "location shoots" this year will be for the "90210" series, nor how much money the school will earn from the series. However, location managers familiar with Occidental's policies, who asked not to be named, said the campus generally is available at a daily rate of $3,000 to $5,000.

While that amount is small compared with the college's annual operating budget of $48 million, it is expected to help build Oxy's name recognition in the form of credits that run across the screen, Bellew said.

There are disadvantages to permitting filming on campus, officials said, pointing out that the activities generally are disruptive and can cause parking congestion and other problems. Serving as a regular set location, such as the "90210" series, can be particularly worrisome because it requires repeated visits to the campus. "I think just one series is more than we can handle," said Carl Vance, Occidental's finance director, when asked if the school was hoping to pick up additional lucrative clients.

"We try to be flexible, but our academic schedule and Occidental students come first," Bellew said. "We certainly would never bump a class for the sake of filming."

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