'Hollywood' Bob McRae gets his classic cars on the Big Screen
The retired automobile dealer owns a fleet of 45 old vehicles, which he rents to studios for about $300 per scene. You've probably seen them – in 'The Aviator,' 'Pearl Harbor,' and 'Seabiscuit.'
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Others agree. In fact, in some movies, cars are almost as important as the actors. "They help establish a mood," says Leslie Kendall, curator at The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. "You get a strong visual with a car. And cars and movies were born about the same time, so you find that movies embrace automobiles because they move."Skip to next paragraph
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For talent agents who scout cars, finding the right vehicle isn't enough. They also have to have the right owner – preferably one whose vehicles are insured and run right. "You don't have to worry about him running anyone over," says Ms. Meier of Aba Antique Autos.
Indeed, McRae likes to drive his own cars on set whenever he can rather than have actors do it. That's one way for him to insure they won't get dinged or dented. He can recall only one time in the past 10 years when one of his cars suffered a mishap – this one a nick on the bumper. In the recent movie "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," McRae drove his 1951 Packard, an ink-black behemoth with a silver swan ornament on the hood. It's one of Jay Leno's favorites.
"He pulled up next to me once and nodded with that 'I-like-your-car' kind of look. But I don't think I'd ever be interested in selling any of my cars," he says, focusing on the headlamp of a 1932 Dodge that he had worked on with his son." I have so much history with them."
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The helix strands of cars and movies run deep in McRae's DNA. He was born in Culver City, Calif., home to one of the biggest motionpicture studios at the time, MGM. His father was a teacher who discouraged McRae from selling cars. "He didn't think it was an honest job," says McRae, who worked at a gas station across the street from MGM. "But I'd fill up the cars of all these stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Lana Turner, and I thought some day I'd like to sell these cars."
McRae eventually worked for Pontiac for several decades and raised three kids. After retiring, a friend of his referred him to a studio. Before long, agents were thumbing through his portfolio. Chuck Shubb, an agent and owner of Specialty Vehicle Association, has placed McRae's cars in several films, including "The Thirteenth Floor." Shubb says many people rent out classic cars, "but there is a certain trust you have for people like Hollywood Bob."
Yet for all his celluloid success, McRae and his cars often suffer the same letdown as actors. "Sometimes when I go see a movie, I notice a lot of the stuff, including my cars, ends up on the cutting floor," he says. "It's a real shame."
In his neighborhood, though, McRae is still a celebrity. He sits down to a turkey sandwich lunch. The phone rings. "Oh, you're here. Great!" he says, excusing himself from the table to greet the neighbor and his guest. "I'll be right down to give you a walk through of my cars."