Arnold Schwarzenegger blows up San Simeon

Posted by David Middlecamp on June 5, 2014 

San Simeon cove was briefly transformed into the fictional South American country of Val Verde before it was blown up in 1985. ©Brooks Townes/Telegram-Tribune

BROOKS TOWNES

San Simeon Cove has a rich history: Chumash settlement, whaling station, millionaire's wharf and ill-fated banana republic.

The last item was ersatz history.

Lady Gaga isn't the only star who filmed in San Simeon.

Arnold Schwarzenegger made several trips to San Luis Obispo County as California governor, but in his previous job, he came here to blow stuff up and exact revenge.

Schwarzenegger, in the role of John Matrix, uttered lines of dialog like: “You're a funny guy Sully, I like you. That's why I'm going to kill you last.”

According to movie website IMDb, the scenes in the fictional South American nation of “Val Verde” were originally scheduled for the California town of Palos Verdes.

The Coast Guard canceled permits two days before shooting, and production moved up the coast.

On June 22, 1985, Telegram-Tribune reporter Brooks Townes wrote about impending filming of the movie “Commando.”

San Simeon Cove is scene of Schwarzenegger movie

Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to swoop into San Simeon Cove next week, blow up five buildings, a watch tower and parts of a 360-foot rock wall, and rescue his daughter. It’s all part of the muscle man’s star role in a new 20th Century Fox shoot ‘em up, blow ‘em up feature flick called “Commando” — a movie out of the Rambo mold, said a truck driver on the set.

Twentieth Century rented William Randolph Hearst State Beach for two weeks starting last Monday to build the set and shoot final scenes of the multi-million dollar picture — a job that is expected to contribute more than $500,000 to the San Simeon economy, said Lisa Meechan of the film’s publicity department. One local who’s making money on the film is Vince Kay of Cambria. Kay, 15, is earning $12.80 per hour, six days a week, picking up nails and trash around the set, his first ever job.

“I’m going to buy a weight-lifting bench with the money,” he said.

“What else,” laughed the set carpenter George Fouche, “It’s a Schwarzenegger movie.”

No more local help is needed, however, according to Location Manager Bob Decker.

Earlier in the week a casting agent scoured the county for some 30 Hispanics with experience in handling firearms. They are to play the armed guards for a deposed banana republic presidente.

San Simeon was chosen for the set because, “We needed an area along the California coast with cliffs, beaches and a pier that looked like a remote South American island,” said Meechan.

Taking time from his job as coordinator of set construction, Cal DiValerio stood next to a machine gun bunker near three barracks built to blow up and related the story line: “Arnold plays an ex-commando named Matrix who lands out there in the cove on a seaplane and comes ashore in a raft to rescue his daughter who has been kidnapped and brought to this island.

“See, this is supposed to be a strongly fortified island where this former dictator of a fictitious little South American country has hidden out while he plots to take his country back from another dictator who threw him out of office.”

The deposed presidente, named Arius, played by Dan Hedaya, has hired another ex-commando who kidnapped Matrix’s daughter, played by Rae Dawn Chong, and grought her to the island. Arius figured Matrix would help him oust his ouster in order to get his daughter back.

“Did you follow all that?” DiValerio asked.

The long and short of it is Schwarzenegger, or Matrix, lands and takes on about 170 armed guards and blows up the buildings and walls attempting to rescue his daughter from Arius.

“Don’t tell how it ends,” said Decker. “We want them to go to the movie to find out.” The explosive parts are to be shot late next week when the walls, gates and buildings built this week will be blown to splinters.

Constructing army barracks as large as three-bedroom houses so they will blow apart realistically is an art form of its own.

Friday afternoon, construction foreman Don Winter’s crews were putting final touches on the barracks and hanging out two huge, thick wooden gates on a wall for Matrix to blast through.

“They’re all made out of balsa wood, which is very expensive,” he said, but they have to be light enough to blow up without using an atom bomb. There are no nails in them,” he said. “If you put nails in, they’re dangerous when they blow. Whenever we need nails, we use toothpicks.”

The “stone” wall sections to be exploded are made out of something called Parasol, DiValerio said. It is very light, and no mortar is used. When it blows, it just turns to dust and can be swept away.”

The walls of the buildings are made of vacuum-formed plastic over very light studs and trusses and thin plywood, which is scored to help it blow up the way producer Joel Silver expects.

In each building are several mortars aimed at the walls and three big iron caldrons like those used to cook the great white hunter in old African jungle movies.

They’re filled with black powder and sand,” said explosive expert Bill Ferrier. “When it blows, it drives sand and two-by-fours up against plywood, and the rafters blow the roof off.”

Ferrier was busy Friday stringing explosive Primacord around the walls and windows. “This stuff is about as powerful as dynamite for volume and density, but it’s faster. It goes off at a rate of 65,000 feet per second,” which means if one end of the cord is lit, the other end goes off at the same time for one big bang.

The move company is paying Virg’s Fish’n to take its sport boats from the cove, said Virg’s manager Mike Fitzimmons. In their place near the pier will be the Wild Goose, a large yacht formerly owned by John Wayne. It will pose as the deposed dictator’s yacht.

“We are grateful to the State Parks for renting the site to us,” said Decker. “It is part of Gov. Deukmejian’s efforts to keep the film industry in California. Other states offer a lot of economic incentive to film makers, which has cost California a considerable amount of money.

“The money we pay for the park saves taxpayers that much. That is something we want people to understand.”

Decker also said a rumor had been started that movie included setting off explosives in the water, “but that is not true. This is a sea otter sanctuary, and we are not about to blow them up.”

There will be tight security around the park this weekend and until the end of production late next week, Decker said. The park was to be closed to the public at sundown Friday.

The movie is to be in theaters by Christmas.

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