Reel Toronto: The Golden Age of Guttenberg

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Reel Toronto: The Golden Age of Guttenberg

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
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It all begins with two amazing phenomena that coincided in the 1980s: The rise of Toronto as a Hollywood player, and the career of Steve Guttenberg.


You must remember his big brown eyes, his curly hair, or his subtle comic timing. He had it all. The Gutt went bigtime with his turn as irrepressible police recruit Carey Mahoney in Police Academy. You remember that one, right? It’s the one with the Dude Who Makes Funny Sounds, the Big Black Guy, the Sweet-Voiced Woman With a Hidden Tough Side, and a bunch of other quirky recruits.
The premise, such as it is, is that the recruit-strapped police force of an anonymous American city opens up its ranks to anyone: hilarity ensues. The filmmakers set up shop in Toronto for the first three films of the series before venturing to international locations. In general, they did not put too much effort into disgusing Toronto, and you don’t have to look hard to spot vintage bank signs and other 1980s-Torontoniana.
By the third film, any attempt to hide the city is well out the window. As you can see above, the credits show the entire skyline, minus the CN Tower. Okay, maybe a non-Torontonian wouldn’t recognize First Canadian Place or the Royal York, but the building that says “Toronto Star” on the roof is a dead giveaway, isn’t it?
But that’s just for starters.
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You can see Humber’s Building G on the east side of the campus, near the roundabout.
The academy itself (which Guttenberg is walking in front of here) is actually Humber College’s Building G. True story: before being acquired by Humber it was an administration building for the Toronto Lunatic Asylum, later known as Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital. The college took over the building in 1991.
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This lot appears to be where Metro Hall is now located.
As the classic first film opens, Guttenberg’s pre-police career involves manning a Canpark parking lot on King Street, just west of Roy Thomson Hall (he’s in the Trans Am). A rude customer, played by Canadian actor Don Lake (you’ve seen him in a zillion things), insists our hero park his car despite the fact that there is clearly no more room. We soon learn that Mahoney is a rebellious soul, as he takes the car, puts it up on two wheels, and “parks” it between two other cars. Then he’s fired and the plot is able to surge forward.
The photo also provides proof that there was actually a time in the not too distant past when you could get prime parking in downtown for only $4.
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Kensington is the place to go for vintage clothes, rare spices, fresh produce, and urban riots.
The filmmakers seem to have enjoyed filming in the Spadina-College area. Police Academy‘s climactic riot takes place in and around Kensington Market, with many recognizable streetscape shots.

The Silver Dollar’s place in history is safe thanks to its support of the blues, and its role as the Blue Oyster Bar.
Perhaps the movie’s most infamous scene (or at least the one that has the ignominy of being the least politically correct—no mean feat) is the Blue Oyster Bar. As you watch the clip you may recognize the gay leather bar’s checkerboard floor as that of Spadina’s Silver Dollar Room. The Silver Dollar has a storied cinematic history, having also provided the venue in which future Oscar winner Elisabeth Shue struts her stuff in Adventures in Babysitting. Don’t act like “The Babysitting Blues” isn’t in heavy rotation on your iPod.
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The posh, secluded RCYC doesn’t appreciate Ski-Dooing criminals or any other riff raff.
Even the CN Tower—the city’s most recognizable landmark—shows up. The aquatic finale of the third Police Academy film takes place at the Queen City Yacht Club and the lagoons of the Toronto Islands. In real life you can rent canoes and kayaks there but this makes us think Ski-Doos would be pretty cool too. Anyway, a good number of shots in the sequence include glorious views of the skyline in broad daylight. While the skyline has grown a bit since 1986, prominent landmarks like the Harbour Castle are clearly visible.
Of course, Guttenberg’s T.O. connections don’t end there. He would return to town for the mega-hit Three Men and a Baby. Directed by Leonard Nimoy (you forgot THAT, didn’t you?!), the film became the subject of an urban legend when rumours circulated that a dead boy’s ghost appeared in the back of one frame. The story that the boy had died in the location house was easily debunked (it was filmed in a Lakeshore soundstage), and it turns out the “ghost” was actually a picture of Ted Danson. [Insert joke here…]
The most recognizable location in the movie is the construction site architect Tom Selleck is working on: it’s now Scotia Plaza.
Inexplicably, Guttenberg skipped the sequel to Short Circuit. While Johnny 5’s first film was filmed in Oregon, the sequel took place here, with scenes filmed at the Eaton Centre and shots of Queen’s Park decked out in American flags.
But Steve wasn’t done with the 416 yet. No, he would return in 1995 for the Olsen Twins film, It Takes Two. (We sat through Police Academy, but you’ll just have to imagine screencaps of this one.) An era had ended but the city would never be the same.


CORRECTION: July 3, 2014, 11:30 AM This post originally stated that the aquatic finale of the film took place at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, when in fact it was the Queen City Yacht Club. We regret the error.

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