The opening scene of “The Sound of Music,” with Julie Andrews twirling and singing in hilltop meadow, is one of the most famous of all-time.

Filmed by helicopter, the logistics have been much talked about, although the cameraman’s name never seems to be mentioned.

Don Rogers says it was him.

He was the guy strapped behind the camera, legs dangling out where the door should have been, capturing the memorable scene.

“We shot it nine times and knocked her down four times,” Rogers said, because of the helicopter’s powerful downdraft.

Andrews was a remarkably good sport during filming, but she’s been known to give him grief about it when they bump into each other at Hollywood functions.

Rogers lives in Salem now, far removed from a career that stretched continuously from the early 1950s to the mid-1990s, mostly in post-production, which is all the work that happens after filming ends.

He was so accomplished he was singled out for an Oscar, the 1995 Gordon E. Sawyer Lifetime Achievement Academy Award, which honors an individual whose technological contributions have brought credit to the motion picture industry.

His area of expertise was sound, and he contributed to more than 1,000 films for industry heavyweights Twentieth Century Fox, Todd-AO, Samuel Goldwyn Studios, and Warner Bros. Studios.

He worked on “South Pacific,” “Spartacus,” “The Sound of Music,” “Star Wars,” “Raging Bull,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Top Gun” and “Unforgiven.”

“He’s a pioneer,” wife Lizabeth said. “He’s known as the Godfather of modern motion picture sound.”

For the record, he worked on the “The Godfather,” too.

Serenity in the Willamette Valley

His wife may be biased, but let’s assume the Academy is not.

Rogers is one of 70 subjects in the Academy’s Oral History Collection. The collection documents the lives and careers of individuals who’ve worked in various areas of the motion picture industry.

These days he lives a charming life, putzing around on his tractor on a pristine, 2-acre lakefront spread and tinkering on his cars in an immaculate, 4,000-plus-square-foot shop.

His countryside retreat, which he shares with his wife and two cats named after Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., is just 900-some miles from Warner Bros., where he retired more than two decades ago as senior vice president of post-production services.

But it might as well be a million.

The couple sought serenity in the Mid-Valley, where Liz grew up, a few years ago. The move was triggered by a nearly $300 parking ticket tossed in their laps while sitting in their Corvette convertible on Sunset Boulevard, emergency flashers on, asking for directions.

But every year, during Oscar season, they faithfully head back to Hollywood for a series of black-tie affairs, including the Academy Awards.

While most of us will be watching the Oscars in our favorite PJs from the couch of our living room, he’ll be wearing one of his three tuxedos and sitting in the front row of the Dolby Theatre’s first mezzanine.

“I’ve got to go,” Rogers said during a recent interview with the Statesman Journal. “Based on what I’ve done in my career, it’s something I should go to.”

This will be his 57th Academy Awards. His first one was in 1962. And the only one he’s missed since was in 1998, around the time his second wife died.

He used to have seats on the floor when he was on the Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

A weighty Statuette

His Oscar sits on the fireplace mantle with a spotlight shining down on it. The iconic gold-plated statuette is more impressive up close and in person.

It weighs 8.5 pounds and is a stylized figure of a knight holding a crusader’s sword and standing on a reel of film with five spokes representing the original branches of the Academy (actors, directors, producers, technicians, and writers).

It’s been said that no model was used during the design process, although some close to Rogers joke it must have been him. He’s bald, and his wife sees a strong resemblance in the backside.

His Oscar is emblazoned with 2777 on the back edge of the reel.

It was presented to him by Richard Dreyfuss, who hosted the Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards event three weeks prior to the Oscars that year. A framed black-and-white photograph hanging in the loft of Rogers’ shop commemorates the occasion.

Dreyfuss signed it: “Don, you deserve this and more.”

It’s among a personal wall of fame that includes certificates and plaques. The photos are what draw you in, though. There’s Rogers with Gregory Peck, with Sharon Stone, and with Ronald Reagan.

He’s not a name-dropper unless you press him. And boy, can he tell a story. His life story would make a good script.

His first film

Donald C. Rogers grew up in southern California, dreaming of becoming a Hollywood cameraman.

After one semester at UC Santa Barbara, he joined the Navy and became a pilot. He flew the patrol-bomber P2V Neptune during the Korean War with a squadron based out of North Africa.

He got a job with a Howard Hughes company after he completed his military service. The company, working out of a hangar in Van Nuys, California, developed a weapons fire control system.

Connections paid off for Rogers. His father sold lumber materials to Howard Hughes that were used to make the Spruce Goose.

While working for the Hughes company, he still dreamed of breaking into the motion picture industry. A friend from college was a cameraman at 20th Century Fox and helped him get his foot in the door.

Rogers began his career in 1953 as a rookie soundman operating a playback machine. For five weeks, six days a week, he pushed a heavy cart full of equipment to the rehearsal hall, then waited not-so-patiently for the choreographer, the dancers, and finally the star to show.

The star came in with “hair like it was in a mix-master,” Rogers said. “You’d walk right by her and wouldn’t know who she was.”

He’d play the same song over and over while they rehearsed the number, and when the actual scene was filmed, he was on the set.

The song was “Heat Wave.” The movie, “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” The star, Marilyn Monroe.

“She became a very close friend,” said Rogers, who worked on several other movies with the blonde bombshell, including “Misfit,” “Some Like It Hot,” and “The Seven Year Itch.”

Reminiscing with Rogers is a blast if you’re a movie buff. He’s worked with so many big names and on so many big movies, he loves to share stories with family and friends, even reporters.

“I never tire of it,” he said after his wife suggested he not go into quite so many details with every story. “I remember everything like it was yesterday.”

Hand-picked for studio

Rogers worked his way up to become a boom operator and was a member of the sound crew when Fox received Oscars for “The King and I” and “South Pacific.”

He left Fox in 1960 to work for Todd-AO as a recordist. His first project was on “Spartacus.” When a car accident sidelined a cameraman, he filled in and after a six-month crash course in photography, became head of the camera department.

Rogers seemed to always be in the right place at the right time for a promotion and was quick to learn on the job. He traveled throughout the world on film locations.

While delivering equipment one day to Goldwyn Studios, he was approached by sound director Gordon Sawyer. Sawyer was well-respected in the business and planning to retire soon. He hand-picked Rogers as his successor.

Rogers took the job in 1971, working alongside Sawyer until he retired.

The first priority for Rogers was to update the facility.

“We built it to where it was THE sound department,” said Rogers, who worked for Goldwyn until 1992.

During that stretch, the studio won 15 Oscars for sound out of 23 nominations.

“There’s nobody in town, even today, who has won that many,” Rogers said. “I’m proud of that.”

Protege thanks him

Not all the movies he worked on won awards. But most are recognizable, such as “Blazing Saddles,” “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Field of Dreams,” “Batman,” “Steel Magnolias,” and “The Bodyguard.”

Rogers occasionally worked on projects other than feature films. In February 1979, he spent time with a crew at Ronald Reagan’s ranch in Santa Barbara. They documented Reagan doing everyday chores such as chopping wood and then produced a short film showing him fit to be president.

Reagan became the oldest person ever elected to the presidency in 1980. He was 69. He topped that four years later when he was elected to a second term.

“I was really fortunate all the years in the business I was around so many important people,” Rogers said. “But they’re just people. They’re human beings.”

He was a longtime member of the Academy’s Board of Governors and while serving recommended the board create an award in honor of Sawyer, his mentor. Little did he know he would become the 12th recipient of that lifetime achievement award.

Like Sawyer, Rogers hired and helped develop future stars in the business.

One of his proteges was Gregg Landaker, who’s won four Academy Awards for Best Sound.

During his acceptance speech for “Dunkirk” last year, Landaker gave a nod to Rogers in the front row of the mezzanine.

“…To two gentlemen that bookend my career: Don Rogers, giving me flight, and to Kim Waugh for giving me a safe landing…”

“He didn’t have to do that,” Rogers said.

Taking a chance

Rogers was the senior vice president of post-production services at Warner Bros. when he retired in 1996. He had planned to retire three years earlier, but couldn’t resist when the studio gave him $27 million to overhaul the post-production facility.

“They waived a carrot in front of me,” Rogers said. “But I produced. I didn’t take the money and run.”

He always had a way of getting whatever funding he needed, like the time producer-director Irwin Winkler came to him with the rough cut of a film.

Winkler wanted Rogers to add sound — because he was considered the best in town — but he’d run out of money.

Rogers secured the financing and headed up the sound team for a little film called “Rocky.” He went on do 13 of Winkler’s films, including all the sequels.

Rogers doesn’t get residuals. He was a union guy on salary, but he also had a deal where he received a percentage of the studio’s net profits.

“I made more on commission than salary,” he said.

He and his wife bought the property just east of Salem in 2012 and moved here two years later after remodeling the house and building a shop for a dozen of Don’s antique and classic cars.

Among his collection are a 1929 Graham-Paige that belonged to notorious bank robber Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd and a couple of 1960s Corvettes.

Framed movie posters decorate the walls in the shop, but not all his Hollywood memorabilia is on display. He donated his microphone collection to the Academy for its new museum, which is scheduled to open sometime in 2019.

That’ll be another black-tie event he’s invited to, and he always looks forward to a stroll down memory lane on the red carpet. But with each passing year, it becomes a more pensive experience.

“There’s less and less people I really know anymore,” Rogers said. “They’re all gone.”

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