Opening ceremony filled with music, color, and pageantry
Los Angeles — Any event which can get 2,500 homing pigeons to fly away on cue, charge $50 to $200 per seat, and limit the President of the United States to a 16-word address - in an election year, no less - is bound to receive considerable attention.And certainly plenty was focused on the 3 1/2 hour spectacular that successfully kicked off the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
David Wolper, the man who produced the Opening Ceremony, must have felt under more pressure than Carl Lewis and Mary Decker. They're only expected to win gold medals. Wolper, on the other hand, was asked to put on an unforgettable show - no mean feat in the entertainment capital of the world, where people aren't impressed easily.
An internationally acclaimed fimmaker who brought ''Roots'' to TV, Wolper talks of ''framing our memories'' with opening and closing ceremonies.
He was given $7 million to do the job. And from the looks of Saturday's spectacle, he probably will spend every dime before the Games conclude Aug. 12.
For starters, the L.A. Coliseum was dolled up in the vibrant California colors chosen for this Olympics--magenta, vermillion, aqua, chrome yellow, and vivid green. At the stadium's open end, the famed peristyle, a landmark since the 1932 Games, was transformed into a spectacular staging area that was shades of Busby Berkley.
The writer who forecast a ''Hollympics'' (an Olympics with show business touches), certainly was right on target when it came to the hour-long musical tribute that led up to march of athletes, Olympic oath, and flame lighting. The host country traditionally displays its music and dance, and the ceremony did this in a big, brassy way with a splendid 750-piece marching band and several large-cast production numbers.
The music in this mega-American medley ran from ''Turkey in the Straw'' to ''Take the 'A' Train,'' culminating in a spectacular finale danced to melodies from the movie and TV blockbuster ''Fame'' and the longest-running show in Broadway history, ''A Chorus Line.'' It represented composers as varied as Aaron Copeland and Michael Jackson, and was all tastefully, energetically, and upliftingly performed.
As was to be expected, everything was done on a mammoth scale.The cast numbered 18,000, enough to cover the Coliseum floor. In ''Twelve Days of Christmas'' style, Olympic publicists were also pleased to share other numbers, such as 120 trumpeters, 200,000 props, and --are you ready?--12 pigeon releasers.
Particularly show-stopping, however, were 84 grand pianos wheeled out from the peristyle archways for George Gershwin's ''Rhapsody in Blue.''
In the best Hollywood tradition, Wolper incorporated moments of surprise and suspense that captivated the capcity crowd, as well as a global TV audience.
Early in the program, a pilot wearing a jet pack suddendly shot out over the field. Later the 88,000 paying spectators expressed their wonder at a massive card stunt, which recruited them to convert the stadium into, surprise, a sea of huge international flags. The distribution pattern of the cards, incidentally, was achieved with the help of 200 separate aerial photographs. The most agonizing suspense, a source of wild speculation all week, involved the identity of the torchbearer.
Peter Ueberroth, president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, stated the person's identity would remain a top secret right up to the last second.
The media at first suspected Nadia Comaneci, the Romanian gymnast who starred in the 1976 and '80 Games and was in L.A. Picking Nadia, an Eastern Bloc athlete, would be loaded with the type of political overtones, that the LAOOC wished to avoid. Ueberroth would only say the torchbearer would be ''well known.''
He threw everyone a big curve, though, because emerging from the tunnel with the torch was Gina Hemphill, hardly a household name.
But as the Coliseum message board indicated, her grandfather was Jesse Owens, the famed sprinter who starred in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
In May she had joined Jim Thorpe's grandson in running the first leg of the tremendously successful torch relay, which made a 9,000-mile route across the country.
This time she was impeded by Olympic athletes who stepped out onto the track, practically forcing her to stop at one point. After completing a lap, she handed the torch to Rafer Johnson, a Californian who won the 1960 Olympic decathlon in Rome. He ran up the steps toward the unlit bowl resting atop the peristyle. This is when another surprise element came into play.
How would Johnson light the flame, which appeared unreachable and had been flicked on with a switch in 1932? A moveable stairway allowed him to reach the apex of the tallest peristyle archway. And from there he lit a track that ignited the Olympic rings and subsequently the flame.
The crowd cheered as loudly as when the the 500-member US delegation paraded into the stadium at the tail-end of a colorful, 140-nation parade.
The host Americans were led proudly by 44-year-old flagbearer Ed Burke, a hammer thrower who competed at the 1964 and 1968 Olympics, then came out of a long retirement to make this year's team. Burke's teammates, some of whom waved and exhorted their fans, could have taken a marching lesson from the visiting athletes.
Edwin Moses, the outstanding US hurdler assigned to lead the participants in the Olympic oath, needed help in remembering his lines. President Reagan, seated in the press box, had no such problem reciting his short part. He was limited to this brief proclamation: ''I declare open the Olympic Games of Los Angeles celebrating the twenty-third Olympics of the modern era.''
For a chief executive who didn't have to sprint off, it was a succinct speech indeed, a real Olympic effort.