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Catering Combat! :
feeding the cast and crew on location

We went into production June 2nd. On board as producer was an excellent writer, Bob Blees, and as associate producer and often director, a fellow named Robert Altman. About a week before we began, I went into the production manager’s office.

"What can I do for you, Rick?" Richard Caffey asked.

"I figure we’re going to spend a lot of time on the back lots," I said.

"About sixty percent," he answered.

"Who’s going to cater?"

"Harper and Green," he said. "It’s either them or Brittinghams."

"How about Millie?" I asked.

"Who is Millie?" and he sat forward.

I told him about my experience at Ziv.

Richard Caffey had come out of the production department at Paramount, and Millie had never even been on a major studio lot, let alone worked for one.

I took a blank check out of my pocket and signed it. "Here" I said, trying to hand it to him, "if you get one complaint, I’ll pay for lunch".

"That won’t be necessary," he said, "we’ll try her once."

I gave him her phone number and went home to call her. Our conversation boiled down to, "Buy a catering truck, new or used, and sit by the phone, you’ve just made the big time."

The first meal Millie and Mae served was something to behold. She did everything but roll out a red carpet. The crew, practically all of whom had been at MGM for twenty years or more, were flabbergasted, which is too mild a word. As they went through the line and saw what was being put on their trays, a few of them said, "Where’d you come from?" — "How come we never got you before?" things like that.

I stood off to the side as the sun set on a June evening, smiling and watching.

Occasionally she’d point in my direction and say something like, "Him," or "We worked for him on another show."

A couple of the crew had moved over from Ziv, which had been sold to United Artists Television, and was quickly going out of production. The era of cheap TV had passed. The guys who knew Millie welcomed her onto the show and, turning to their new cohorts, said things like, "Wait’ll you taste it!"

Millie stayed with us for the entire five years. During that time she expanded her operation to three trucks, because when word got out about her, she got calls to cater other shows shooting at MGM. Then word spread to other studios. Soon she was getting calls from Warner Brothers and Universal. Her three trucks were working all five days of the week. But as to Combat!, nobody fed us but Millie herself.

A few weeks after she started with us, she handed in chits for a hundred and nineteen lunches. Richard Caffey said that was ridiculous, "We only have ninety in the company."

"That’s how many lunches I served," and Millie stood firm.

Caffey paid her. Nosing around a few days later, he discovered that some crew members from other companies shooting nearby had been sneaking over to our chow line to get a good meal. And that’s how her fame spread.

By the time she got finished, Millie Quirin had changed the face of catering in the film industry. The only complaints she ever got were at the end of a season. At least twenty of the crew complained that they’d gained fifteen or more pounds and their wives demanded they go on diets!

A final note about Millie: in 1984 I invited her to my wedding to Cindy. She asked if she could bring anything and I said, "Only yourself." She showed up with two twenty-five pound roasted turkeys, made room on a couple of platters and just put them on the buffet table. During the reception when I found out what she’d done and tried to find her to thank her, she’d already left.

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