"This is definitely the biggest production number that has ever been choreographed out of this office," says Haller. Under his direction a team of 17 reporters has been working the city for the past eight weeks. They have researched the great scandals of the past ("It was sex then, more likely money now," Haller notes), interviewed all-time movie greats and the cast of supporting characters who made Hollywood a unique American institution. Deputy bureau chief Suzanne Adelson tracked down the woman who posed with a torch for the Columbia Pictures logo; free-lancer Jennifer Ash went to the motion picture and TV retirement home to interview Mae Clarke, the actress whom James Cagney slapped in the face with a grapefruit in the 1931 film The Public Enemy. And national correspondent Lois Armstrong, assigned to track down the usually reclusive Katharine Hepburn, got an unexpected call at home. Prompted by photographer friend John Bryson, Hepburn was obligingly telephoning in to report on herself.
Haller, 32, the son of a Cincinnati steel company executive and a computer software sales representative, has been movie-mad since childhood (he says he learned to read by studying the titles on theater marquees). He wrote his first review (of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) in seventh grade. Three days before graduating from Yale as an English major he was hired as an assistant editor on Horizon magazine, later moving on as senior editor to Saturday Review before joining PEOPLE, where he still contributes movie reviews.
Haller has found working on the Hollywood special a refreshing change. "So much of life in this town is lived in the present and future tense," he explains. "It's nice to pay proper homage to the past."