Getting a 'grip' on the Hollywood lifestyle
Sit and chat with Lynn Troupe at his Prineville home, and he could spend all day and possibly longer sharing stories about his decades spent working in Hollywood.
He can show you a hallway where more than a dozen framed photos hang. Some are autographed black and white head shots of Bette Midler and Heather Locklear.
"I worked with Bette Midler on 'The Rose' and 'The Janis Joplin Story,'" Troupe says, before going on to explain why he has a Heather Locklear photo. "She was on 'T.J. Hooker.' I worked on 'T.J. Hooker' for two years."
He then points out another shot, this one featuring Tippi Hedren, a platinum blonde movie actress that starred in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" and "Marnie."
"I worked for her for four years on a movie called 'Roar,'" he said of the actress and fashion model. "I worked with lions and tigers, and she had 130 head of cats."
Troupe called Prineville home for much of his childhood before he was uprooted at the age of 14 and settled into such Eastern Oregon communities as Long Creek and John Day.
"Dad was either logging, rodeo-ing or driving truck, so I've been all over this state," he remarked.
During these nomadic years, he also wound up in Portland, where he put his scuba diving skills to work at the shipyards. He later went north to Seattle and spent time working as an auto mechanic for the World's Fair and completed bartending school.
But Troupe had bigger dreams and in 1966, the 26-year-old packed up his worldly goods and headed to Hollywood.
"I was gonna be a big star," he said.
After finishing his four-year stint with Hedren on the "Roar" set, Troupe was presented with a chance to continue his career in the movie industry. The star's husband approached him to see if he had an interest in some more work behind the scenes.
"They have opened up their books in the union, and here's what you can do," he was told. "You can be an electrician, you can be a camera assistant, or props, or makeup — or a grip."
"I said, 'Well, what's a grip?'"
Troupe would go on to learn what a grip does and how it fits into the hierarchy of movie production. He explains that the producer leads the project and tells the director how he wants the movie to look. The director then delegates responsibilities to a host of workers committed to different part of the movie-making process. Among these is the key grip, who assigns duties to a best boy grip, dolly grip and other grips.
"I was in charge of men and equipment a lot of the time," he said of his grip duties. "I was in charge of the equipment that went on the set."
The grips also work closely with the electricians, whose job it was to light the set properly. The grips were asked to diffuse that light to help improve the look of the film.
The work was fun, Troupe recalls, but it wasn't without its share of stress. Sometimes he would suffer migraine headaches.
"There are usually anywhere from 65 to 150 people on set," he said. "As a grip, you are in charge of a lot of money and equipment and operations."
Any slowdowns in production could cost thousands, he said, noting that William Shatner made $20,000 an episode while starring on "T.J. Hooker." And that was in the 1980s. By the time Troupe decided to retire in 2001, the salary for a starring TV role had risen to $80,000 per episode.
"It's crazy," he remarked.
The amount of money, and the emphasis on making more of it, soured Troupe on his Hollywood career. He began to see a change at some point in the 1980s when a younger generation joined the industry.
"It was all about money instead of about product," he said.
Now, when he watches modern-day movies, he finds himself picking them apart. He concedes that there are still many movies that are well-crafted, but most fail to visually meet the same standards he feels were established by some of the classics.
"If you watch some of your older movies like 'Gone with the Wind' or some of the old Westerns (you see) how crisp the picture is," Troupe said. "Now, you see these movies and they are soft and out of focus, and they do strictly a head shot instead of a medium shot where you don't have to do the lighting in the background to make it beautiful. It irritates the hell out of me."
As he explains this, a TV show playing in the background gives him a perfect example of what he means.
"See how out of focus the background is?" he says, gesturing at the screen. "If you look at your old movies, you never saw that. Everything was nice and crisp and rich."
Two years after retiring from the movie industry, Troupe chose to return to his original hometown of Prineville, a community he always enjoyed growing up, especially because of its hunting and fishing opportunities.
In summing up how he is spending his retired years, he quips, "I'm retired. I don't do anything." But that isn't exactly true. He likes to restore classic cars and participate in car shows with the Crook County Rodders. His girlfriend, Dorothy Perala, is quick to point out the glossy walking sticks he has carved and polished, and if you venture into his backyard, you will find a little Western town he built, featuring a saloon — complete with half-filled booze bottles — a general store and an outhouse.
Back when Troupe first made the trek to Hollywood with big star aspirations, he had hoped to work on Westerns. He got to work on three or four during his career, including an appearance in "Young Guns" as a stuntman on horseback, but he wishes there had been more.
But now, the Wild West and a reminder of his movie-making past always wait right out his back door.
"I guess I didn't leave Hollywood completely behind," he said.