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TV Heroes Draw 35,000 to Universal : Entertainment: The rush by children and their parents to see the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers surprises amusement park officials. Freeway snarl stretches for miles.

February 22, 1994|JULIE TAMAKI and RICHARD SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Six characters in crayon-colored spandex drew thousands of excited kids to Universal Studios on Monday. And the young enthusiasts dragged along their parents, creating an eight-mile-long traffic jam that stretched all the way to Downtown Los Angeles.

The grown-ups endured the Presidents' Day freeway ordeal, and then, once inside the grounds, faced long waits in line with their children anxiously bobbing at their sides. Then they got to shell out $29.95 per adult and $23.95 per child over the age of 3 for admission--plus $6 for parking.

To see whom?

The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, of course. Those same television super-heroes who outdrew Santa Claus at a San Fernando Valley shopping mall last Christmas. Sort of the pre-adolescents' equivalent of the Beatles.

"This is a parent's worst nightmare," said Betty Ushie, stuck in her car on the Hollywood Freeway just before the Lankershim Boulevard exit. Ushie said the typical 20-minute trip from Culver City to Universal Studios took her more than an hour Monday afternoon.

Yet her 9-year-old son Ada appeared oblivious to his mother's frustrations as he explained why he had begged her to take him to see the Power Rangers, teen-age karate experts who vanquish foes every weeknight at 5.

"It's the characters . . . they're cool," Ada Ushie said. "I try and watch them every day."

The estimated crowd of 35,000--close to a 30-year attendance record at Universal Studios--caught even the amusement park by surprise. It hastily moved the Power Rangers from a small theater into the 6,000-seat Universal Amphitheatre for six shows. The entrance fee included admission to the entire amusement park.

Lines began forming outside Universal Studios at 7 a.m., three hours before the first show. A kiosk offering Power Rangers merchandise was closed within seconds after it opened "because the crowd mobbed it," said Universal spokesman Jim Yeager, who brought his 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son to the show. The kiosk was reopened after staffing was beefed up, and merchandise began "selling as fast as we put it out."

"I've never seen anything like it," Yeager said of the crowd.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn't draw this well.

The stars of the top-rated children's TV show performed flips and other gymnastics to promote the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program. Universal Studios Hollywood donated $15,000 to the anti-drug education program plus an unspecified portion of proceeds from the sale of Power Rangers merchandise.

But getting there was as difficult as battling Rita Repulsa, the Empress of Evil and chief nemesis of the Power Rangers.

Traffic was backed up for five miles on the northbound Hollywood Freeway as parents and their children headed for Universal. The Lankershim Boulevard and Universal Center Drive off-ramps were closed because the Universal City parking lots were nearly full.

Ushie shook her head when asked whether she would have braved the trip to Universal City had she known of the traffic disaster that lay ahead.

"I would not have come or I would have started earlier," Ushie said.

But getting an early start was no consolation to Jenny Romero of Lynwood, whose Ford Aerostar broke down just before the Lankershim exit about 9 a.m., leaving her and her three children and four nieces and nephews stranded. For Romero and her family, Monday's trip to see the Power Rangers became a lesson in broken dreams.

"This was my day to meet them," said Jimy Tamayo, 10, Romero's nephew. "Now it's blown out of history. I can't meet them anymore."

Some waiting in the endless line of cars on the Hollywood Freeway were oblivious as to why traffic was so bad. Even one parking enforcement officer was baffled by his assignment to guard the Coral Drive entrance to the studios.

"You've got to be kidding me," he yelled when told by a reporter that the entrance had been shut because of an onslaught of traffic triggered by the Power Rangers performances. "I thought there was a bomb scare or something."

Others, who realized they shared the same goals as hundreds of other parents--getting their kids to see the Power Rangers--sat frantically in their cars wondering whether a parking space would await them when they finally arrived at the studios.

But Betsy Astor, who brought her 2- and 4-year-old sons to Universal, said the long wait was worth it.

The Power Rangers are "positive role models," she said. "They have a lot of things to say about listening to your parents."

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