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Footnotes-Robert Sordal

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Like many war veterans from the 1950s, Robert Sordal came home a changed man. With the harsh realities of battle as a first division Marine in Korea still fresh in his memory, the native of Minot, North Dakota, came to the golden west in pursuit of a dream. Upon his military discharge, Sordal’s vision of steady work materialized when he found a machinist gig in Culver City with National Dye and Finishing. After a year he knew every job in the place and thought life was peachy, until the day he met Phil Emery, a neighbor of his father-in-law, who was a studio grip at MGM. Hearing stories of the business, and then discovering that it paid twice what he was currently earning, Sordal became an easy convert to the growing employment ranks of the new TV age.Using that “in”, and the open union roster, Sordal was able to earn his permit days over a two-year period on the gang at MGM. Sworn to IATSE Local 80 in 1956, he is now retired with nearly 100,000 hours of industry experience. This immediately likable man with the looks and disposition of a burly Bob Newhart gave me the lowdown on his very golden career.Crewing early original television at Warner Bros. on classics like Maverick, Colt 45 and 77 Sunset Strip, Sordal built a reputation as a good hand with a dolly and crane arm. “I knew I had made it,” he recalled, “when I was retained by director Vincente Minnelli to operate crane on the Tony Curtis film Goodbye Charlie. The key grip had moved on to another show, but I was asked to stay and did the entire picture. My very next film was The Sound of Music with director Bob Wise.” The subsequent “Wise collaborations” were his favorite work and a testimony to Sordal’s art.By the 1970s, Sordal’s professional reality mirrored the dream he was pursuing. With credits like The Boston Strangler, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, King Kong, Hello Dolly and Annie, he was always in the company of the top directors in Hollywood. Once on King Kong, Sordal was summoned into the offices of the producer Dino De Laurentiis. The maestro needed crane shots for some POVs of Kong at the gates. It was major stuff, and the first time the audience sees the beast in the film. Upon listening to the specifications that De Laurentiis required (400 feet of Titan crane track, 50 feet off the ground), Sordal nodded and stated, “No problem, but the on-ramp is going to be a major son-of-a-bitch.”Finishing out his career on the series Star Trek Voyager, Sordal later began working for Local 80 as a call steward, and received a 50-year Gold Card from the union in 2006. His son, William Sordal, is also a grip and serves on the union’s board. When prodded for a word of advice to up-and-coming grips, Sordal replied, “Always work for others, the way you would expect them to work for you.”

Written by Jim Udel

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