Movie and Television Ambulances
By Louis C. Farah
The magic of Hollywood is something that I am very familiar with. I grew-up in the Los Angeles community of Toluca Lake, just a stone’s throw away from Universal, Warner Brothers and Walt Disney Studios and saw my fair share of television shows and movies filmed throughout my neighborhood.
Television shows were the most heavily filmed productions in and around the area and featured such well-know series as the “Rockford Files”, “Ironsides”, “Happy Days” and “Ozzie and Harriet”. Most of the stars of these shows actually lived in Toluca Lake, which made the productions easy to shoot with little travel and set-up time. But perhaps the most extensively filmed shows in my neighborhood were the Jack Webb productions of “Dragnet”, “Adam-12” and “Emergency!”
All three shows were filmed by Universal City Studios, located in the hills above the heart of Toluca Lake. In close proximity to the studios and nestled in a quiet area with little traffic, it was the perfect place to film a television series that used a lot of street scenes and homes as a backdrop.
Most scenes from Adam-12 were filmed on either Riverside Drive or Moorpark Street. The same held true for Emergency! Most stock footage of Reed and Malloy racing to a police emergency or Gage and Desoto responding to their rescues involved Cahuenga Blvd. and the small residential streets of my neighborhood. The studios did not venture far when filming their shows because the locations were convenient and saved a great deal of money.
With much smaller budgets than today’s television shows, the studios did not maintain of fleet of picture cars for their productions. Although Adam-12 had the 1968 Plymouth as their patrol car and Emergency! had the Dodge D-300 pick-up as Squad 51, the rest of the background vehicles usually came from independent contractors. In the case of the ambulances, local ambulance companies and even the city of Los Angeles rented their vehicles.
Perhaps the most famous ambulances of the 1970’s were owned by Snyder Ambulance Service in Van Nuys. Harry Snyder was the person that rented his 1968 Miller-Meteor Cadillac ambulance which starred as the first ambulance used on Emergency! That was followed by the 1969 Chevy Suburban ambulance used on the show. Although newer modular ambulances would eventually make their way into later episodes, it was these ambulances from Snyder that were most well-known.
But Snyder wasn’t the only company in Los Angeles that was renting ambulances to the studios. Both Schaefer and Good-hew had been renting their ambulances as far back as the 1950’s to a variety of film projects. Eventually the later part of the 1960’s saw the City of Los Angeles and Professional Ambulance of Glendale getting involved as well.
Adam-12 had featured a 1966 white-over-red Chevy panel ambulance built by Stoner Industries. Although many believed that this was an actual LAFD ambulance, it was not. It was owned by Professional Ambulance Service of Glendale, and is still owned Randy Brooks, son of Rand Brooks, the founder of Professional. However, there were a number of the early episodes of Adam-12 that did feature actual in-service ambulances from the ambulance division of Central Receiving Hospital and the Los Angeles City Fire Department in the San Fernando Valley.
A recent search of the web revealed a plethora of ambulances that were used in various Hollywood productions through the years. As major player in the rental industry, Schaefer Ambulance Service provided rigs from a variety of their stations located throughout the greater Los Angeles basin. Schaefer rigs could be seen in a number of television shows and movies. Goodhew ambulances also dominated movies and television shows including the original version of “Gone In 60 Seconds” and the interior of their 1973 Miller-Meteor Cadillac ambulance was used for the love scene between Harvey Keitel and Rachel Welch in the movie classic “Mother, Jugs and Speed”.
For the casual television viewer, the ambulances seen on television and movies were nothing special. For those of us that lived in the greater Los Angeles area, we had a double treat. Not only were the ambulances of the various companies in town featured on the television, but the locations were just as well known as the ambulance companies that provided the vehicles. Great memories for a pro car collector.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, I had the pleasure of renting my fleet of ambulances and hearse to productions as well. Located just a few minutes from Warner Brothers, Disney and NBC Studios, many of my vehicles can still be seen in reruns of those vintage movies and television shows. A perusal of www.hulu.com will reveal a treasure chest of vintage television shows featuring including “Emergency!” and “Adam-12”. Seeing vintage ambulances in action is just a computer click away. Ambulances that were owned by Schaefer, Professional, Goodhew, Snyder and the City of Los Angeles are featured in dozens of episodes. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon.
Although most of those vintage ambulances are long-gone, but their imagines and memories live-on through the modern miracle of your desktop or laptop computer. With just a few minutes of search time, you too can discover vintage television shows and movies that depict classic ambulances of all types from the 1930’s through the end of the 1970’s. Now you have a whole new resource for professional car history and photographs!
Reprinted with permission from the March 2010 Issue of the “Professional Car Collector” magazine. The official publication of Professional Cars International. PCI Club Information can be found HERE.
Discuss this article in our Forums HERE.