Integrator on Working with Elizabeth Taylor
Brad Sundberg recaps installing indoor and outdoor speakers, systems each year for the Academy Awards, and shopping for lamps with the late Elizabeth Taylor.
Brad Sundberg, owner of BSUN Media Systems, has, like many integrators, worked with celebrity clients.
And Sundberg is not exaggerating when he says he has “worked with Hollywood’s elite for more than twenty years.” He’s worked with some real A-listers, including Michael Jackson, Madonna, Will Smith and Tom Cruise, to name a few.
He also had the chance to work with the late Elizabeth Taylor, who he met while working for Michael Jackson at Neverland Ranch. Sundberg wrote about his experiences with Taylor in the March 29, 2011 edition of the BSUN e-newsletter. Following is the article in its entirety.
More than once I have sat down to write an article in the eNews, and I think to myself, “What if people don’t believe what I write?” Some of the encounters, friendships and business associations I have had are incredible, and I don’t take them for granted. Nor do I embellish the truth. What’s the fun in that? I have too much respect for my clients (and their friends who might also glance at my eNews) to drift from the real story. So when I heard the sad news that Dame Elizabeth Taylor passed away this past week, I knew I had to share a few stories about one of my favorite clients who went on to become a friend.
I first met Elizabeth late in 1991, soon after she married Larry Fortensky at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Valley Ranch. I had been building all of the music and video systems for Neverland for some time, and we kicked into high gear to prep for the wedding. The ranch was buzzing with gardeners and decorators, and we put speakers all around the gazebo and lawn where the ceremony was to take place. I was not invited to the gala, but my music must have been heard over the helicopters well enough for Elizabeth to get my name from Michael. (I don’t know, and highly doubt it happened AT the wedding, but who knows?).
I was summoned for a meeting with the newlyweds at her home in Bel Air. I arrived early, and waited with her assistant in an office connected to the house. Soon I was escorted down a path to an outdoor dining table, where I passed two guys in dress clothes walking back up the hill. Elizabeth and Larry were sitting at the table, and they greeted me warmly and asked me to join them. Drinks were offered, and the meeting began.
Larry nodded to the two guys who had just left the meeting and said that they claimed they worked for Michael Jackson at Neverland, and were taking credit for my work. I was speechless. It was like something had been stolen from me. He sat back in his chair and shrugged it off, saying he doesn’t like liars, so there is no chance of them ever doing work on the property. I regrouped, took a sip of my drink, and the meeting continued.
They explained how much they loved Neverland, and wanted me to build the same type of music systems for them in their back yard, which was maybe 2 or 3 acres, slightly smaller than Michael’s 2800 acre ranch. At Neverland, there were areas where we stacked 3 different sound systems playing music and sound effects at the same time. This gave a layered, almost 3D effect that few people fully understood, they just liked it. Once I described the system to Elizabeth and Larry, they wanted it. I designed a rather large outdoor music system for them (I think we used around 24 rock and weatherproof speakers) and went to work. The key to getting great sound in a back yard is to use more speakers playing at a softer volume from all around the listener, which they fully understood. Rock Speaker 2.
Business aside, Elizabeth was funny, warm and very attentive during our first meeting. I thought it was very cool how Larry, who had a long history in construction, took control of the details. (Larry sort of became a joke in the press, but I liked him and found him to be decent guy). I was only a small part of the renovations they were doing, which included an amazing back yard and swimming pool that was actually on a man-made shelf, floating over the hillside. After it’s completion you could walk under the pool and yard, where the gardeners stored their tools.
Our outdoor system was a huge hit, and over time Elizabeth asked for more music inside the house, in the bedrooms, the master bath (her tub was incredible), and the living areas. I became a bit of a regular at the house, routinely crossing paths with Jose’ Eber, and Elizabeth’s other friends and family. She had a huge, octagonal master suite upstairs, and Larry had a smaller bedroom downstairs. I didn’t ask questions.
We installed studio monitors (custom painted white) over her tub, and a surround system around her bed. Larry got a much more masculine system in his bedroom featuring huge Tannoy speakers on the wall, and a slightly smaller version in his gym.
Steve Crowe has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Steve at [email protected]
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