Sunday, October 31, 2010

1967 - Army Pictorial Center in Astoria

Yes, I've been to Astoria, Queens, where the Bunkers lived.  I saw houses that looked just like Archie and Edith's.

After Basic Training at Fort Benning I was ordered to the Army Pictorial Center in Long Island City to become a TV cameraman.  Since the TV operation was inoperable at the time, they changed my MOS (military occupational specialty) to camera repairman.  For that simple reason, I never became a combat photographer as several of the guys at APC had been.  Repair means maintenance, so in Vietnam I was a member of the 27th Maintenance Batallion of the First Cav.

The main studio building of the Pictorial Center houses the largest sound stage on the eastern seaboard.  It was the Paramount Studio until the movie business moved out to Hollywood. The building down the street also was used by APC.  The barracks - block building - was across the street, out of view at right. 

Although, I was fascinated by pictures in my youth, it was the Army that set me on a course to become "The Snapshooter of Soperton".  The association with talented troops and wise mentors during those few months really inspired me.

My best friend was a turkey farmer from rural Illinois. We had a few "stars" at APC, actors who volunteered or were drafted.  John (Johnny) Crawford who played "The Rifleman's" son in the TV series, Angela Lansbury's son, Peter Shaw.  

During the Christmas season of that year, the civilian guards were taking time off, so a few other troops and I got to be guards.  The duty allowed us to see every room of the entire center and what was done in each area.  Another duty of the guards was to sit at one of the doors to check in the people who worked there.  That's how I met Percy Ricks, or he met me, as he noticed our common name on my name tag. He was a civil service employee at that time, but he had already retired from the Army in the highest rank that an enlisted man can hold.  Percy grew up in Adrian, Georgia, and remembered the Harrell family most fondly.  (Our Harrells - Horace and Elmo.)  Years later, Percy Ricks was retired again and he and his wife moved back south to live, locating near Augusta - halfway between his Adrian home and her home in South Carolina.  He remembered the Ricks boy from Soperton, so while he was calling on homefolks in Adrian, he surprised me by showing up at the Soperton News office one day. We had a great time.

The Army Pictorial Center shut down in the early 70s, but the main studio was renovated and "rewired" with the latest technology, and it turns out TV and motion picture productions today as Kaufman Astoria Studio. 

The center continues to live on the internet. Go to the website, click the personnel roster, scroll right to the Rs, scroll down to my picture, look right and see that John Wayne and I are side by side.

America has always loved motion pictures, especially in the 30s and 40s before television. During World War II, the Army Pictorial Center was created to take advantage of that industry and harness its power. Directors like Frank Capra gave their talents to the war effort. All of Hollywood was willing to pitch in, and movie stars worked in APC films. "Why We Fight" was an Academy Award winning heroic series of films. Probably the best award or accolade APC ever received was from a German officer:

"We had everything calculated," said Nazi Field Marshal Von Keitel after WWII, "except the speed with which the Allies were able to train their troops ... our major miscalculation was in underestimating their quick and complete mastery of film education."

Our troops grew up watching movies, so they understood what movies were about.  The Army Pictorial Center was still making training films when I was there.  I even had a background role in a film we produced on the M-16. One of my cousins saw me in it when he did his basic training. 

So, never belittle pictures, photos, movies, video as being simply silliness. As Von Keitel learned, pictures win wars!

SLIDESHOW:  Now playing over on the sidebar is a short slideshow of  the Army Pictorial Center and related slides.  You can click to stop the show and see the enlarged photos and captions in the Picasa album.

William A. Ricks 
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