You’ve seen Marjorie Douglas’s home but you just didn’t know it.
Her pristine, three-story 1756 Dutch Colonial in Rockland County, New York, where she lives and runs a production studio, has hosted over 1,800 shoots for various commercials, a few lesser-known movies, and an array of popular TV shows, including Saturday Night Live’s “Schmitt’s Gay Beer” skit, Showtime’s The Affair, Law & Order: SVU, and a number of commercials for household brands like Black and Decker, Butterball and Fisher-Price.
“They tell me [the Schmitt’s skit has] become a cult thing and it’s been played a lot of times,” said Douglas with a genteel laugh.
The 91-year-young homeowner has been in the television production industry since 1981 when she and her late husband Henry decided to transform their hobby into a full-time business. Before finding what would become the Douglas House, the Douglases had been renting out their previous home in Bergen County, New Jersey, for film and television shoots, something that came about when Marjorie saw an ad looking for a place to film a kitchen scene.
According to Douglas, the woman who put the ad out was “very excited” about the kitchen layout — a U-shaped design that divided the kitchen from the eating area. It also had a range, which was unusual back then, Douglas said, and made the kitchen desirable.
For the next five years, the Douglases rented out their kitchen for a number of television shows and commercials, slowly learning about the production business along the way. Eventually, some new neighbors began complaining about the Douglases venture, claiming that zoning law violations were being left unaddressed. So the duo decided to embark on a quest to find the perfect home — one where they could film (legally) in peace.
Douglas says she worked with at least eight different Realtors before finding the one who would help her nab the perfect house.
“The Realtors really had a hard time understanding what we needed,” she said. “The main thing was to find a house in a residential area where zoning would allow shooting.”
After a year of searching unsuccessfully, the final Realtor decided to go off the beaten path and reach out to the owner of a dilapidated two-story Dutch Colonial that had extensive fire damage, had been vandalized and had a squatter living inside. The owner had only been holding onto the home for investment purposes and quickly decided to sell the decaying property to the couple.
“I don’t think anybody would have remodeled it, except we realized it would fit everything we needed. I’m sure it would have been torn down if we hadn’t bought it,” she said.
In addition to taking out a mortgage, the couple secured a business loan with an interest of 21 percent — a huge financial risk.
“It was a scary time, but it was also fun,” Douglas said. “We kept saying that we have to have some income coming in. People don’t realize [interest rates] were ever that high.”
“I always like to say that’s when I got high blood pressure,” she joked. “Every day I was just seeing dollar signs and the interest we were paying.”
Over the course of eight months, the Douglases worked feverishly to transform the home into a production team’s dream by stripping the house down to the studs and installing custom wiring, sound deadening and plumbing that wouldn’t be found in a regular house.
They also designed six porches and entryways, each with a different architectural style (Victorian, Colonial, Adirondack) two decks, a modular kitchen with removable cupboard faces for three distinct looks, a bathroom with a wild wall which slides out of sight, and a swimming pool and patio.
Lastly, they added a third floor which served as their personal living quarters when they needed to escape all the action.
“I have all the good things on the third floor where I live,” Douglas noted with a laugh.
They had their first shoot in August 1981. Douglas doesn’t remember what that first shoot was, but she’s come to pinpoint a few favorites, which include Saturday Night Live’s “Schmitt’s Gay Beer” skit with Adam Sandler and Chris Farley, a Black and Decker commercial featuring a zoo’s worth of animals and a Butterball commercial that included a gaggle of half-cooked turkeys floating in a kiddie pool.
Douglas most lovingly talks about the Black and Decker commercial, which featured 22 exotic animals, including a camel, a water buffalo, a baby leopard and a Macau, plus the opportunity to meet Jack Hanna.
“I’m an animal lover, so it was loads of fun,” she said. “They had the water buffalo in the kitchen, and they asked me if the floor would support a water buffalo. I told them I had no idea, but it ended up being okay.”
When it came to the Butterball commercial, Douglas could hardly contain herself when recounting how she and her daughter Heather tried to salvage 36 half-cooked turkeys.
“We had all these turkeys, and they had them floating in a child’s plastic pool, and they stuffed them with paper towels and partially cooked them,” she said. “And they used Worcestershire sauce to make them look brown, so they looked beautiful!”
The father character was only supposed to cut one slice for the shot, so they needed a new turkey for every take, Douglas said, and the crew was planning to throw the turkeys away.
It was a waste Douglas was determined to prevent. She and her daughter took the paper towels out of the turkeys, wiped off the sauce and finished cooking them to perfection (with the help of a meat thermometer) and gave them away to churches, food pantries and friends.
Douglas doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon, and says she thrives on the spontaneity of the business and keeping up with new trends.
“It’s part of what makes it so much fun — we never know what’s going to happen.”