Strange Neighbors-Code 3

Colonial Street, Universal Studios. The Leave It to Beaver House foreground, during Christmas.
R.I.P. Tony Dow, Universal Hall of Fame. The Beaver’s House on a sunny day…
Same house-different address…
Original Colonial Street location. Producer Bungalows replaced this area. It was moved, yes, the entire street. Welcome to Hollywood. The Long and Winding Road-wait -is that Paul McCartney?
Kid’s go to school here- pull over!” You’re correct- that’s the Beaver House in the rear-view mirror.
We just passed the Beaver House, now passing the Munster’s, he’s not stopping, speeds up to 50 mph”
Beaver House inside search…
All clear...
Beaver’s house is clearsuspect at Munster’s house”...
1313 Mockingbird Lane- Munster’s House
They could be anywhere around hereDamn-Trespassers!”…Beaver house side view beyond officer Malloy.
Blue jeans- long hair….very fast”
Munster’s Houseopposite end of street...”I’m sick of chasing you!”
Have you seen two kids running around?”…” No-Are they still on the loose?”
Have we searched the Pink Palace yet?”
I’m not searching in here…”
Thanks for protecting our neighborhood…
We have fine law enforcement – that’s why we live here.”
My favorite house on the lot. Let’s peek inside, shall we?…
Bottom floor, just inside the front door where Butch Patrick exits with a club in his hand
Although Lily Munster seldom cooked, Teri Hatcher did. So Desperate Housewives built her character a nice kitchenette. That TV series took over this street for eight years. Disney was in charge of this entire street. No other filming was allowed. Disney and Universal compete heavy against each other, tour guides were not to promote this show. The view out the kitchen window looks at The Beaver House across the way. The original street location had both houses on the same side of street.
This is the stairway that takes you to the second floor
This is the turret section of the Munster’s home-interior.

The turret exterior, on the right upstairs. French doors took you out on a balcony when The Munsters lived here.
Today’s version of 1313 relocated.
The Beatles had a sleepover in 1965 on the Universal Lot. MCA -Music Corporation of America…Not movies-music is the(M). Lew Wasserman, rest his soul, stepped up and offered our facility to a band that is so big, hotels wanted nothing to do with them. Dodger Stadium’s first concert. The baseball team won the World Series in 1965.

How did I miss this one“- I wasn’t hired in yet, but soon after-I too gave Michael Jackson a tour on that exact trolley. We paused while inside the ice tunnel, and my tour guide gave him the microphone as I slowly backed up, went forward, backed up -just to force him to sing his way out…As the tunnel spun endlessly, Michael sang a verse of (Beat It). We had a captive audience-stuck in a spinning tunnel of ice.
Paul McCartney with wife Linda-clutching a refreshing Jaws cup- and Michael Jackson. In the years to come, M.J. not only took the VIP tours often, but he shot two large videos on our lot. Paul was here in 1965 with the Beatles on a sleep over-with the entire band in tow. Beatles, Munsters, and the King of Pop, one big summerfest .
Michael Jackson appears so shy…Paul fits right in-Castle Dracula on your tour map. Quincy Jones and his 28 Grammys complete our show… “On behalf of the boys in the band, we thank you for this audition “

On a quaint little neighborhood on the Universal Backlot…We Begin

There are so many iconic homes are on this street, it’s hard to disguise what can still appear as clear as day. Every house on this street has a star attached to it, Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Barbara Eden, Eva Longoria, Marcus Welby, The Cleaver Family and my favorite-The Munsters.

Recently, I was watching Adam 12 and criminal activity was taking place where all these stars have studio homes. Reed and Malloy attempted to make a traffic stop on a speeder in a Chevy Nova, naturally he resisted. Quickly things escalated and backups arrived and scoured the street. I became fascinated, this street has very noticeable structures and all were in play on this episode. Two houses we all know and grew up at were the focus of police attention.

First, the Beaver House needed to be investigated, while the suspect ended up across from the Munsters’ residence. At this point, I’m all in. A potpourri of iconic film sets need police to secure it. This is better than my TV dinner. My mind races as the police search everywhere- my gosh, this could be me running from building to building. Before my long career, I trespassed here, I met Barbara Eden on this street in Harper Valley P.T.A.

I hung out with Dan Pastorini and Greg Evigan along with Sam – the chimp. Bear is his stage name. These were all fine trespassing moments. I never could have dreamed back when I banged the bushes to hang out here, I would eventually have a full backstage pass career here. Before I worked here, I knew these buildings inside and out. As a production electrician, I would need access to all the buildings on this lot. Inside are the shooting stations that we tie our power to and distribute around the set.

My job requires me access to the same buildings I used to hide from security in. My, how times changed.

This street would be moved, one structure at a time, to an upper lot location as the studio landscape was altered and producer bungalows would become a creative campus area. Backlot sets were relocated even deeper in the backlot. In this remembrance, I want you to see what the two homes featured in this episode look like inside. These interiors you walk into now are not the same as they originally were-they were restrengthened, and old rotted wood replaced.

This is necessary if you want another 50 years of movie and TV production to happen here. These sets are now built to last, secured and sealed from weather. Yes, flat out livable. There is one bathroom next to the Beaver House and not every house has water. But wood floors, carpets and drapes brighten up what once were drab interiors.

This episode of one of the best police shows of its time triggered so many memories. Tram guests love this street. Cameras can’t click fast enough as tourist’s heads swing side to side. Many not understanding a single word being spoken. One set is equal to a thousand words in any language. The studio offers tours in several tongues, and it was fun to hear these sets talked about in German, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and just good old broken English.

I couldn’t understand 90% of the tour, but the faces and reactions said it all. Guides and drivers laugh at how many pictures of us in action are across this great big planet. Since tourists rarely see movie stars, they photograph us. We feel very honored to have this privilege. On coffee tables everywhere foreign flags fly, you may see a tiny piece of memorabilia with yours truly behind the wheel of a Glamour Tram.

Adios, Auf Wiedersehen, Sayonara, Zaijian, Arrivederci… so long everybody.

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden

A Day with Maverick at TBS

My adventures on this backlot all start with this set. It’s behind a barn that we enter this facility. This is always the first thing we see. Let the adventure begin…
Kami Cotler at her favorite set. I wish to thank her publicly for allowing me to share a quote from her on the back cover of my book-Hole in the Fence. She’s the coolest Walton of all.
“I think those big kids over there are trespassing”- “yeah, they stink up the treehouse every time they’re here, where’d they come from?”…. “Jimmy-we’ve been had,- time to move on!”

“Do you smell what I smell John Boy?”- “I figured it was yours Grandpa, it’s what it smells like outside your trailer all the time”…
Ike Godsey’s Country Store…
The General Lee in the TBS Jungle.
“Hairpins and curls, touch ups done here”… Make-up on Laramie Street.
Laramie Street with a facelift for Maverick
When Howard Duff took an unexpected plunge, Morgan embraced me like I was -Mark Harmon.
These guys are often at this studio, I’ve met them also, at MGM Lot 2-1977.
Mr. James Garner on the field of The Rose Bowl following the Raider’s thumping of the Vikings.
James with actor/football star John Matuszak. This legendary character Maverick on Sundays is all things Raiders.
This is our call sheet and activities taking place…
Technical stuff needed for a long day…
Livestock is a big part of westerns…
All my years of trespassing has molded me to spring into action when a director yells “CUT”-I gotta go meet the star… “I’m a Maverick myself sir-I just rode into town”
Wood plank sidewalks, benches and chairs, lanterns, horse tie-offs, and canvas bags of merchandise that when opened are full of saw dust.
A sound stage version of Laramie Street.
Laramie Street– After snapping this photo-I fell partially through a hole in the roof, I barely escaped, like being stuck in quicksand. This is the view from the roof of the Bank being filmed at today. This was a very long fall had the roof not caught hold of my belt and camera strap. That story is in my book Hole in the Fence …Waltons 1975.
I survived of course, and next we drove around this backlot wearing Walton clothing we found in the trunk of the car. We were the Waltons on that deserted holiday weekend. A lot went on in the backlot while people celebrated elsewhere. So Fun….

101 Hollywood Freeway- 1982

At 55 MPH-We Begin…

Our thirst for a backlot adventure has taken Jimmy and me out to Burbank this Friday afternoon. We pass Universal Studios after exiting the 101 freeway onto a street named Barham. It intersects with The Burbank Studios, and another road called Hollywood Way, where Columbia Pictures backlot ranch is located. Our destination is any one of these studio backlots. Just to see studio backlots again is refreshing.

Culver City officially destructed every set ever built on their backlots. Townhomes, estates, and industrial warehouses have replaced 5th Avenue, New York City, Tarzan’s Lake, Mayberry, Stalag 13 and on and on. No morals, scruples or guilt seemed on display. A pure money grab, I barely recognize the city I grew up in.

Now a days, we drive to the valley to get our fix of Hollywood. We never know what shows we will run into and that will depend on what lot we choose to scale the fences at. Our decision is sometimes made and based off the challenges of being seen by homeowners living on the streets we park on. We try not to display ourselves as unusual, so we kind of read the tea leaves, so to speak.

But today we grab parking just outside a rusted old ivy-covered chain-link fence with the typical 3 strands of barb wire on top. On the other side is a thick jungle with a berm blocking a rooftop. We are entering the TBS lot behind The Waltons house, and the shed is where we take cover, next to some empty chicken coops and farm tools.

Since this area is deserted, we swing for a bit, on the Waltons tire swing. Pumping feverishly, taking turns, trying to reach higher heights on each leg kick. The treehouse sits vacant above us- no sign of any Walton family today.

The beauty of the valley is we never know what to expect show wise, and these Hollywood lots are always busy. This is like climbing into your TV set. Look over there- it’s Richard Thomas or John Boy, wait there’s the General Lee with Bo Duke. Is that Mr. Roarke and Tattoo? That’s how trespassing at a place like this works.

Flamingo Road let us watch them film last time we were here, they were filming at the lagoon up yonder. We watched as Howard Duff was attempting to dock a hydrofoil. As simple as that may sound, it didn’t go well. This large fan that looks like a studio wind machine was a bit tricky at low speed and suddenly flipped, tossing Mr. Duff headfirst into the swamp. I was standing next to Morgan Fairchild who was watching this scene with us.

At first, there was some concern, but as his head popped out of the shallow pond, laughter erupted. Morgan Fairchild, who was sipping tea, turned and stuck her head in my shoulder, trying to hide her laughter. Like I’m crew or something, I’m trespassing, but the star of the show is trying to control her laughter by putting her head on my shoulder.

Right place-right time is how the magic works. MGM, over the last decade, trained me for this very proficiently.

Every road here can lead to its own adventure and in four weeks or so, you can watch and relive this day as the show gets aired on network television. In many cases, we see scenes that get cut or go afoul. Such as this Hydrofoil, that outtake will be cut out and only lived or remembered by those working…or trespassing!

From a tire swing hanging from a tree house, we begin foraging through the jungle. No one is home today at The Waltons House. We pass by the lagoon that is full of water and go inside a cabin that overlooks this pond. We smoke a victory joint in a location today void of human life. We christen this moment with a billowing cloud of happiness. These evolve into shapes like figures as the sun highlights different patterns as these plumes travel slowly along hugging the green water. We sit on the porch relaxing, before we head over to Laramie Street, our next location. At this point-I feel like Grandpa Walton.

In front of Ike Godsey’s Country Store, we are greeted by horses with saddles, tied to a large horse trailer. Jimmy and I exchange “Hellos” to these 4-legged actors. We scratch their snouts as they kick at the dirt. Lots of action is taking place over at Laramie Street, we see cowboys riding and kicking up dust. The western street is off-limits, and we could accidentally walk into a camera shot. The town bank is where most of the activity is. The side streets surrounding Laramie Street have trailers for make-up and transportation equipment. We peek inside each trailer door that is wide open while walking along the wooden sidewalks that lead to the saloon. We go upstairs to get the feel for what’s taking place on the street below.

Bingo, we see the star just across the way- It’s James Garner. The cardboard show identifiers in the vehicles indicate what we now have verified, this is the TV series Maverick.

We watch James messing around off camera, as my mind races. I love cowboy TV, I want to go meet him. Jimmy my friend, and I are plotting our next move. I tell Jimmy-“He loves the Oakland Raiders.” Our eyes follow his every move. ” Let me break the ice, we will talk Raiders football…follow me!

Out of the saloon we go and cross the dirt road like we belong here- casually positioning ourselves within speaking distance. We sit on chairs that are part of set decorations. Barrels, boxes and benches line the wooden gang planks. James is standing alongside an elevated arc light, with one hand bracing against the crank- evator that lifts the 10-k light and housing. A lamp operator wearing leather gloves stands on an A-frame ladder. He too chimes in on Raider talk.

Knowing timing is everything and his time is valuable, I act like I know him. “It’s so nice to see the Raiders dominate again.” I get out of my stool and stand directly side by side of- Maverick!

“Jim Plunkett turned that team around” is his response as he wipes his brow under his cowboy hat.

“Al Davis added that key piece- he’s the guru of football” I try to impress…

“No-one scouts talent better than Al, all the misfits from other teams put us over the top” Mr Garner replies.

“Big John Matuszak is a great example, my favorite player is Jack Tatum” I pump Raider knowledge. “This is a team full of Mavericks– I work that in cleverly, I’m so excited right now…

“The Snake is one Raider I miss, but Jim got us the trophy” answers Maverick himself.

This conversation is progressing well, here I am, trespassing, standing with the legendary star who I first saw at MGM on a show titled-They Only Kill Their Masters- 10 years ago.

Jimmy is still seated listening to James and I talk football when all of the sudden…

BOOOM!

The smoking dragon that we are standing under just exploded! The fresnel, or glass lens just blew up. Broken glass narrowly misses our star. Maverick and I jump for cover, it’s like I’ve trespassed into my own scene with James Garner.

This arc light is now the center of attention and is fittingly how this visit to The Burbank Studios ended on this Friday, March 12, 1982.

Through the smoke of a damaged Arc light-we disappear...all in a days work.

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden.

The Hill Above… DESILU

Once upon a time... A hill overlooked a movie studio, like a balcony in an Opera House.
December 11, 1916. Culver City was not incorporated yet. But Heinz 57 Pickles were thriving. This hilltop reflects the setting that lured Thomas Ince to build a studio here. The 57 was lit up at night. That’s a light standard in between the five and seven.
Sgt. Carter often visits this area, so he can BLOW HIS TOP!
When filling up at Goober’s Gas Station, this hilltop is what you see. Pumps just out of frame on the left. The creek is behind these trees.
1976-right before the 40 acres backlot is no more. Looking toward the hilltop from another hilltop, on the Desilu lot next to Stalag 13. A road separates the studio from this hilltop. You can see Jefferson Blvd. in this photo of mine. Barney ticketed this Highway in his side car mounted Motorcycle. Just looking for speeders is all. ” If you give them an extra 5 miles an hour then they’ll want 10″
The studio man-made hills is the area in left hand side. Hogan’s Heroes has its Bridge located here. That is the hill Sgt. Carter drives his jeep to…to escape Pyle. This area was catering and all the tables and crew for GWTW fed here. The bridge was not built yet and these two small studio hills are man-made. But this rooftop I’m on top of existed going all the way back to 1927. King of Kings set, Cecil B. DeMille.
Scarlett O’Hara in line for lunch, lower corner standing. Boxcar 8142, upper left, along with the mangled one just right of it was used in the fire sequence in the Burning of Atlanta.
Boxcar 8142 (left) and the one on the right which is filled with explosives.
It’s been blown up a few times…Once again, you can watch all this safe and sanely from our hilltop. You’re not trespassing when on the big hill. That’s Baldwin Hills-not Desilu. This is the exact area GWTW lunch was served.
Notice a structure on top of the big hill. Howard Hughes is in charge of this mountain top. The Hughes Tool Company has a research and development project at the summit.
“HELP ME!”
Waiting for LeBeau and balloons. I have the scene script involving this moment. The trees at the very top of this picture sit inside a fenced and secured area inside this Hughes Tool Company Compound.
Waiting for LeBeau and Balloons….
Periscope up…
The studio paved paradise and put up a parking lot. That S.U.V. is parked where Klink’s office once was. It’s summer in the picture from Hogan’s Heroes, the brown hillside is dried out. It turns green for much of the year. The white snow is all fake, paint on the roof, and powder on the ground.
Duke-keeping tabs on the race between Gomer and Yellow Bear.
Carter put all his money on Yellow Bear to win. But, against all odds, Gomer pulled out the win. The Little League Field sits on the hill above Sgt. Carter’s cap. That’s home plate!
This factory can be seen in several TV shows and films. A legendary laundry cleaners used by the studios. J.B. French sits one building south of this. Sadly, it went out of business after decades of service at this spot.
A dedicated crew hard at work.This facility sits directly across the street and clearly into the backlot with the town church looking directly down upon it.
James MacArthur, Chuck Connors, and Claude Akins star in Ride Beyond Vengeance. This 1966 film shared our favorite TV Land backlot. Bernard McEveety directed this fun adventure. The French laundry is the building distant behind the Bar and Grill. Where Mayberry gets things dry-cleaned. These sets date back to GWTW.
As of 7/5/22-Building remodeled and painted black. Across the street from Mayberry.
J.B. French sits…Out of Business.
“Slow it down”- The J.B. French building is in the background.
Behind that billboard is a road named Hetzler. It takes you to the top of this hillside.
Jefferson Blvd., Culver City. This public highway separates the studio property from this hillside. The popular “stairs” leading to the Culver Scenic Overlook Visitor Center looks down on this. You park your car to visit this hilltop along this stretch of Highway patrolled by Culver City Police these days. Yes, you too can get a speeding ticket right here.
Close-up of traffic stop. The creek behind this fence separates the backlot from Jefferson Blvd. at this point in time pictured, Desilu owns this side also, Tarzan’s jungle.
Tarzan…RKO style.
This RKO Tarzan inhabited this area along Jefferson Blvd.
A real hilltop- Overlooking Tarzan’s set.
If Ince Blvd. did not dead end at the 40 acre’s backlot, it would continue right up here. Ince Blvd, and the iconic water tower in a picture from up here overlooking Gomer Pyle’s Camp Henderson.
Vintage Panorama…same spot.
Almost exactly same angle as the B/W overview picture. Picture One of a three picture panorama.
Continue panning -second picture in sequence of four. Picture two. From here, center of backlot was the Western Street and Mayberry R.F.D. farm. Before that- King Kong’s walls from 1933 would clearly be looked down on from here. Of course, The Burning of Atlanta would take place five years after Kong for yet another landmark film. Fire trucks lined this hilltop for protection on that December night in 1938.
This quadrant below was Mayberry. Andy Griffith’s Courthouse and the Mayberry Church would be the sets in this section. You could see Barney write speeding tickets from here. Picture three of four.
Trails at the summit.
Now the same panorama three picture- but vintage. Picture One of vintage Panorama.
Picture two of vintage panorama…. I can see my dressing room, a black spec from this distance, in far corner of the lot. The Atlanta Rail Depot is the center building. No trains ever visited that station. Notice it has no tracks. Mayberry are the sets most right in frame. The very west end of the street. It’s more-so Atlanta. Mayberry hasn’t been dreamed up yet. Give Danny Thomas a bit more time, he’s got some popular TV series coming!
Picture three…this one is pre- Gone With the Wind. The King of Kings sets from 1927 are on display. Elvis Presley would use these same sets in Harum Scarum, 1965. Cecil B. DeMille had this section built.
The Culver Studios lot from the Howard Hughes R and D compound. Inside the hangar I’m on top of is a radar, it moves on a track inside and outside this hangar. I met an engineer that worked up here, long after it shut down in 1973. He was reminiscing up here, these guys always watched the goings on in the backlot below.
From the top looking down with Clark Kent. The Tara Plantation can be seen left of his arm. Stalag 13 not built yet is what that means. Marion Davies’ trailer is situated behind Tara set. It was there and active long after Marion received a new one in 1926. The original horse drawn trailer is caked in history.
T.V. was just starting to take off- as is Superman. The backlot will have two new sets in the near future. Gomer Pyle’s barracks and Stalag 13.
This picture was taken at the Ron Smith Little League Field. The mountain has the radar installation, the two green buildings top of hill. It’s that area Superman is attempting to take flight. Home plate actually looks down on the Desilu backlot. MGM had a guard with the name Ron Smith. He was a great guy and excellent security guard. He caught me in a rowboat in Tarzan’s Lake.
Before and after. The landscape changed forever. Cement buildings and asphalt roads replaced the dirt streets and wooden sets.
The tall eucalyptus trees yonder still remain where Goober’s Gas Station was situated.
1976-The End is Here... Bottom left- what looks like a concrete wall is the film vaults. It’s the only thing still standing. It’s as if no one knows they’re here. All the blast doors appear shut. A yellow water container sits exactly where the 40-acre guard shack was situated. Those trees in the middle were the ones in Camp Henderson.

Amazon Studios as it appears today. About 40 percent of the lot is original. Two big stages and The Plantation Building escaped remodel. I prefer the old studio in every way, shape, and form. It needs a water tower. MGM or Sony, Warner’s, and Paramount have the last towers left in show business.

On a hill once controlled by Howard Hughes… We Begin.

Paramount Pictures uses a mountain for their Moniker. They had it built on their backlot. It’s most famous for the TV series Bonanza. The Mod Squad filmed their opening credits inside it. It had a storage area that could double for a strange set.

But RKO/Desilu had a real mountain bestowed above their backlot, and it’s as legendary as the studio below it. From up on top of this dirt playground you could watch Hollywoodland develop from its preliminary infancy to robust, viable, commodity. Plus, the Hollywood stares back at this Hughes Radar hilltop. You can even see the Paramount lot in the distance with its tiny little composite snow painted mountain.

In my desperation to explore the Desilu backlot, I used this hilltop to map what’s below me in the late 60’s and early 70’s. This was my private balcony that overlooked this legendary backlot. Baldwin Hills has horse stables up as does 40 acres backlot below. Horses are king here, and bulls make good beer commercials. Wildlife thrives along the old creek bed, which divides up two sections of Desilu.

It was from this hilltop I verified what the Desilu fences had warned against- “Dogs on Duty.”

This set me back, it was almost impossible to gather a group of trespassers bold enough to explore here since… after all “You could be eaten alive.” Eventually temptation won out, Robin Hood-myself, along with a group of Merry Men, banded up together to go where no kid has dared to challenge- the 40-acre plot of backlot land protected by these The Dogs on Duty!

We slowly progressed, almost inch by inch-in pitch dark landscape, towards the first Stalag 13 guard tower we could climb up in…

The genie was officially out of the bottle for all things Desilu going forward. Dogs on Duty must be Dogs Asleep, thankfully.

Normally I take you through old sets, but today let’s look at the POV of Desilu from both looking down on it- and looking up at it. It’s a fun hike and the top has views of the Hollywood sign one direction, the Pacific Ocean the other. Overhead, a continual parade of aircraft lining up to land at LAX. This mountain top is a strategic vector as planes begin descent. Radar experimentation takes place up here, and that facility is operated by The Hughes Tool Company.

Everything that ever took place on the Ince, RKO, Desilu backlot could be clearly viewed from up here, and I’ve been told by engineers who worked up top here that’s exactly what took place. The Backlot was a T.V. set and this radar facility was like an antenna connecting you to the Outer Limits.

I find it fascinating that Howard Hughes ended up choosing this area for this secret facility, these hills extend to his aviation plant and airport. That’s the place the Spruce Goose was built. The real estate controlled by Summa Corporation is where Playa Vista occupies today… What didn’t Mr. Hughes delve into?

Nicolas Cage would film 8MM up top here at the summit after the facility was abandoned. On Jefferson Blvd. below this hill top-CHIPS, The A-Team, and Hunter, starring Fred Dryer-followed up the The Andy Griffith Show with more street credits.

To sum this all up, this mountain appears attached to the 40-acre backlot and indeed it is. Just traverse a creek and highway that lies in between. My biggest all-time regret is not photographing all this area with the backlot still standing below. You felt as if you were part of the studio up here. The church tower and the Mayberry Hotel were the tallest sets on the backlot but they were easily looked down upon here. This view made Desilu look like a game board with actual moving game pieces making T.V. shows below.

This area was to become upscale homes but thanks to the Santa Monica conservancy, it was spared an unrecognizable fate. I think a studio shrine needs to be included at the visitor center that sits lost and unenlightened after climbing the mile high stairs. This hilltop needs a good tour guide…

Written and lived by… Donnie Norden.

40 acres Main Gate and Beyond

No other public street in Hollywood can spin the tales this 3800 hundred block can.
A Backlot so wild – it’s guarded by dogsand Marines.
Ince, Selznick, RKO, and Desilu productions all crusaded down this street named after Thomas Ince. Where Ince crosses Washington Blvd, a plantation building modeled after George Washington’s Mt. Vernon began all things movie ranch. Inceville Studios, also known as the Triangle ranch, moved from its beach location inland, out of the fog to this spot in a deal made between Harry Culver and Mr. Ince. Ince needed backlot settings for his B-Westerns. What a perfect fit!
This is the main entrance to the Desilu Backlot. This shack is where you check in to proceed forward. When permission is granted, your road will turn to dirt. You’ve arrived at Sand Point.

I ordered a pizza once from this shack and met the delivery guy right here. I slipped the cash through the chain link while the delivery man slid the box under the fence. We needed a phone, which this room had- just dial 9 first for-off lot business. Inside furnishings were modest. A desk, a comfy chair, a calendar. a clock, and a phone. A book of crossword puzzles was security’s entertainment. Well- besides every great TV show being filmed beyond these windowpanes. Who needs a TV, this box is a TV. The shack was often unlocked, but it took guts to go inside as a trespasser. If a real guard shows up, he will see you and your escape time is based on how fast he can unlock the gate to let himself in. Escape requires running as fast as “Yellow Bear” and disappearing into La Ballona Creek. We loved to tease guards this way, behind locked fences that they’re on the wrong side of. Smoke emits from the top of their head, while laughter emits from our mouths…
I found this inside the security shack.
This too, is a 40-acre main gate photo. The guard shack is clearly visible. The houses left of the guard shack are homes of citizens living on Lucerne. 9 square lid covers are the location of the Desilu Film vaults. I’ve explored those ancient relics and found every episode of The Whirlybirds inside one section. Even Lucy episodes were shelved inside.Notice the oil derrick covered with sound proofing drilling on studio property.
Film vaults contained many entire classic TV series. Like ancient Tombs in Egypt. Forgotten where they were constructed. Airwolf, a series I worked on – got its concept here, pre–Jet Helicopters.
The film in this camera set up is protected from dust by an extra canvas cover, a glass plate will shield the camera lens from debris when the rotor spins. Blowing sand at Inceville Triangle Ranch created problems for Thomas Ince, often finding its way on to the negatives. The elements need to be factored in and not taken for granted.
Hogan’s Heroes is busy at work in this photo as Gomer’s set sits vacant. Chances are Pyle is at stages at the Paramount lot on this afternoon, or up around Mayberry which has crew parking behind the street. Your personal cars were what delivered to your set and spent the day with you on the backlot. There was no such thing as parking structures around here, so the backlot doubled as a parking lot. You had to be parked in an area where the camera won’t see your muscle car.
This picture preceded Gomer Pyle’s barracks, Goober’s gas station, and the Hogan’s Heroes bridge. Those series were just about to kick in. Andy Griffith was on the air and Wally’s filling station sits at the top/middle of this of this photo. Two structures built into a hillside. The Atlanta Rail Depot from Gone With the Wind sits empty and adjacent. Hogan’s Heroes would build a bridge at this spot removing Wally’s Gas Station. But Goober would get his own station closer to Camp Henderson. This picture shows the area right before the landscape best known in sixties television shows would change. Lots of transition about to take place here in this early sixties photo. This is the section being toured in my story.
This map is the section of 40 acres I’m bringing you through. Where Ince Blvd. turns to dirt- “You’ve arrived!” Obviously -long before TV made this lot a staple, these mapped sets preceded all things TV.

False Face is trespassing here again…this is a job for Batman.
Old abandoned BIOSCOPE Studios…Public street “INCE” behind the open chain link.
You’ve arrived” – dirt welcomes you!
Every show must pass this set upon entry. Built in 1964
1974- still standing. Parts of it remained until the end August 1976.
Same angle as my photo-10 years later.
The white house located behind the barrack with the Blue Door is actually not on studio property. Two of my friends from school lived there, Charlene and Tony. Tony had a terrible mishap on this backlot. A stairway inside the Mayberry Hotel gave way and he fell a ways down severely injuring himself. The dangers on these backlots present themselves in numerous ways, and ancient wooden sets require close inspection. The stairway that collapsed was on the 4th floor. To get on the roof, you must maneuver a stairway that is barely tied in due to rot. I did it once, but it’s the scariest unsafe rooftop of all this backlot. We did it just once, realizing the negatives far outweigh the positives. This is a sad reality whether you work or trespass these old backlots. It was not if, but when this stairway up would collapse. I saw that coming before it did!
Tony and Charlene’s house was built alongside the backlot. Chain link fences provide temptations. This house still exists and is located on Van Buren. Bruce Lee, or KATO, lived up the street in 1967/68. This area is the site of the Desilu Film Vaults. Stuff in this lot at the time of my picture includes a trailer for a star, it had basic furniture inside-a couch, chair and mirror. Alongside is a shot up gangster car from The Untouchables. Adjacent to that is a mobile air conditioner. Just out of frame begins the film vaults. This is where the oil derrick was set up in the early sixties. Another dressing room is in a yard just up the way…Marion Davies.
Welcome to La Ballona Creek-opposite P.O.V. from the storage area previously pictured. This storm drain still exists on the bike trail. It is a crime scene in The Untouchables. Gomer’s camp is a top this embankment.
“Someone’s trespassing, here’s the evidence”…” Pretty sure it’s that Donnie Kid, he runs around here with an Untouchable Tommy Gun”- I met Robert Stack at an event at Warner Brothers, Universal rented trams and drivers to celebrate Warner Brothers rededication from TBS. We talked Desilu while on the Warner Lot. He rode my tram.It was a dream come true, to visit with Elliott Ness.
OK- no rope needed. This is where we get in at most of the time. We don’t have time for rope. Gomer Pyle’s barracks are the first thing you see at the summit. I’ve taken motorcycles up this embankment. You can see the flood control channel below, better known as La Ballona creek.
Always pay attention around here, anything could happen. Through these trees is the creek in The Untouchables. That drain is just adjacent to this explosion.
Film vaults, main gate behind jeep.
Well look who showed up, they’re looking straight at his gas station from here.
A white car is exiting the backlot at the main gate behind our actors. This backlot provided crew parking in the sixties TV era. You and your car might be captured on some rerun entering or exiting 40 acres.
This gate is a set- its job to simulate Camp Henderson’s entrance.
Damn’ car again…”
I’ve seen you before!”
Gomer Pyle episode- 20 yards difference in location, same actor, same expression. Truck is being used to block out gas station.
Man in a Hurry episode…Pleading with Gomer to Hurry -Up. Andy Griffith episode, a year apart from Gomer Pyle episode. Same location and expression.
Until we meet again!
Once again, a truck blocks Goober’s Filling Station. I wouldn’t have imagined when I watched this series on TV as a kid, I would live this. But- I ended up leading U.S. Marines through this backlot myself and sure enough we ran into trouble. Great story in Book 2, titled Hogan’s Heroes Bridge in Hole in the Fence -2, later this year. Real deal stuff -Real Recon-Rangers. OORAH
Camp Henderson gate set just ahead.
Gomer Pyle was often in production within walking distance of The Andy Griffith Show when on the backlot. Hogan’s Heroes is just beyond those trees ahead. A brown truck is blocking Gomer’s camp. This area equals 2000 hours of quality TV Land Desilu reruns…
Gomer’s Barracks in Andy Griffith’s- Grab Bag for Cash episode.
The Ince gate of present day. This was the entrance legendary real-life adventures would begin. Every film ever made here crusaded down this road. That’s why the street is named Ince. But long after his mysterious death, the crusades continued…King Kong 1933 all funneled through here. Gone With the Wind would load in horse after horse, coach after coach, costume after costume had to pass through here. It’s like a bottle-to get anything out you must embrace spout.
This room was full of…gardening tools. But when removed, It’s as if a history book opened up. Each page more exciting than the next. I will share much more on this subject at a future date. It’s the Holy Grail of this lot’s history.
Once Upon a Time…
Marion Davies- photo shop back into her mirror.
Ghosts hang out here…
Just up the dirt road if you’re on the backlot, sits an ancient relic, cleverly disguised as a gardening shed. This chameleon has been changing colors here for nearly 100 years. One of the only original film making compounds still in existence. It’s pleasantly… Haunted!

1972…

Film production has just ceased on this backlot. This was a Lost Backlot unlike all the rest in Hollywood until Desi and Lucy purchased this parcel and named it Desilu. It finally had an identity, and you grew up here if you owned a TV. Black and white is fine, that is until Batman came along in living color. Slap a “Out of business” sale on the fence that warns of “Dogs on Duty.”

As Desilu ended its ties here, this lot once again became Hollywood’s Lost Backlot. Steven Bingen’s book of the same name is a must have bible for all things 40 acres. I just wish I had this book with me when I was running around this wild film ranch.

I had to make my own maps, figure things out on my own, all the while under fear of four-legged K-9 security.

I never became friends with security here on this lot, but have had several run-ins. And I never saw a regular face. Security was as hodge-podge as was the backlot itself. I’ve previously shared stories my friends lived who resided by this entrance…” Jim Nabors serenading children at the main gate while handing out lifesavers. Bob Crane was known to give tours of Stalag 13 and all adventures begin at this Ince main gate. Spock, in full costume, has exited this gate to visit the neighborhood Jackson Street market. “I’ll have whatever he’s having!”

There is one other studio gate on Higuera, but it is rarely unlocked and probably more of a fire gate or emergency entrance. Basically, this lot has one way in and out and it’s through this gate right here, unless you’re a trespasser- like me!

I’ve never met a fence that could keep me out, to be honest, there was no fence period along the creek. It was like an open border from Mexico to the U.S.A. Drugs and trespassers poured in, but I digress…

I told you-it’s the seventies!

Even in the sixties, I would stare through this fence when it was locked shut- wearing a Batman costume I bought with a million Blue Chip Stamps. I just wanted to see Adam West. Eventually I was lucky enough to see the Batmobile and the Caped Crusaders zip by. The hair on my arms stood up when my dream was realized.

Exploration sensitive area…

To explore the main gate and surrounding structures, you have to come to a conclusion first that security is not here. This is a very risky area. The gate would be locked and a quick tour through Mayberry can verify activity or not. If the lot is ours, then that’s our opportunity to get dirty at the main gate. Exploring the structures beyond the security shack would include the film vaults, which this guard shack looks directly at.

Inside the security shack are humble settings, A heater, a radio, a desk, a phone, a clock and a calendar. Finally, a water dispenser. Windows on all sides allowing the guard to watch filming, as if this shack is a TV set. The only luxury not inside was a TV. Very similar to my backlot forts, minus a heater and clock.

Public homes exist on Lucerne with their backyard being the studio fence property line. You can Bar B-Q while TV Land is filming over your back fence. You can slip a hot dog through the fence to your favorite TV star. A greenhouse sits neglected and in the process of being reclaimed by nature itself. The plants inside are letting their hair down, like a bunch of hippies. The stories this structure lived is rooted into the ground.

A wagon and a tractor sit side by side, tall weeds grow between the wagon spoked wheels, as gentle breezes encourage life to exist, once again. A plow wonders if it will till the land here ever again. Like a Toy Story. Time does not exist here. If you continue hugging this fence line you will see an artillery cannon, painted gray, as is a German Troop carrier and a Tiger Tank. That means you have left the boundaries of Camp Henderson and arrived behind the sets of Stalag 13.

Tucked behind Stalag 13, in a Triangle, is where I rediscovered Ms. Marion Davies’ first ever mobile make-up room. That is an incredible story still taking place… a hundred years after the fact.

This main gate doubled as a set frequently, especially for Gomer Pyle due to the proximity to the camp. Today, you explored with me a non-descript section that contains security headquarters on the 40-acre backlot.

If you get into the shack- dial 9 on the rotary phone to get off lot. Chris’s pizza delivers here- no questions asked…

Written and lived by …Donnie Norden

Jaws- This time it’s personal…

Neptune’s Follyin dry dock. Universal. Being prepped to withstand a special effect hurricane
There’s a tram over there-watching us work!”
Boo– scared ya!
This should workMario, just a little farther!”
Where did Mario go?
Let’s just get back to shore for more cocktails”…
A shark disguise-he’s a fake- halibut dressed up as a shark.
Jet engines create hurricane conditions and deafening noise aboard the Neptune’s Folly. Dump tanks tower in the background, behind the Champion cranes. These tanks allow a mass profusion of water for stormy conditions. Sound has to be dubbed in later due to the ear-splitting noise. Three Musco lighting towers, parked behind the Big Sky attempt to illuminate our storm. This was an overcast summer day- at the backdrop.
Calm before a hurricane…the clouds never move, they’re painted on.
The Star– a tourist favorite
Shark Profile…
All our lakes have sharks…there’s money in it!-The Orca is docked here.
Fire was added when it was felt we needed to- scare kids worse!
Bruce spits hydraulic fluid as he snaps his jaws…
Each car gets attacked, 4 attacks per tram. This is the hardest working employee on this lot.
Who’s next?…The most terrifying shark of all- greets kids!
My son Hudson (foreground) and our friend David with Bruce, the shark. Named after Spielberg’s accountant, according to the tour spiel. This is how our tour shark sits after hours… “Can somebody put me back in the ocean please ?”
The shark at the backdrop- hydraulics bring to life the the frightening attack sequences.
What a cool jet ski...

Released in 1987…

The film that is, the shark is still in captivity. Every tram that circles Cabot Cove is attacked by this creature that lurks just below the surface. In my experience driving trams, this is the most popular animation still going on the tram tour. I’ve seen children cry when finding out the ride is closed for repairs. To attack trams as rapidly as need be, this shark moves both forwards, then backwards. It has to reset itself and the amount of moving parts that creates this tram attack is a constant work in progress. This old Great White is very high maintenance…

In the sequel to Jaws- Mr Spielberg handed the job to another director, Joseph Sargent. Sidney Sheinberg, who discovered Steven, put his wife in this remake. Lorraine Gary starred in this sequel with Michael Caine and Mario Van Peebles. This was the sequel to Jaws 2. The joke on the set is Lorraine is on a paid studio vacation. She’s getting paid a lot of money to sip cocktails on the beach.

The cast was mentioned by every tour guide, about 80 times a day, since trams actually could watch scenes filmed at our backdrop. This is one location on the tour where filming is often seen by tourists. It’s because the Ice Tunnel- or Mummy’s Tomb in more recent times- is adjacent to our giant backdrop. You have to pass this set to experience the last tram animation on your tour.

This was the first set I ever witnessed jet engines create wind effects. The electrical department (40 shop) handles Ritter Fans that require DC power to operate. We also power the wave makers; those are used to create a choppy water surface rather than a calm pond you could skip pebbles on. But Special Effects operate gasoline blowing devices including the jet engines used on this shoot. The sound created is like a jet plane taking off. Hearing protection only goes so far, no sound is recorded when under these conditions.

The buzz around the lot was this edition of Jaws was lacking something, besides just Spielberg. The cast was so so at best. The shark delivered its part well. We knew it was a flop before it flopped. I’m surprised this shark hasn’t resurfaced, pardon the pun, into another Shark box -office attempt. Like a Jurassic Park of the ocean, where sea creatures rule.

Considering sharks date back over 420 million years, it’s amazing we only did three of these…not counting the 3-D version. Steven Spielberg was busy focusing on land sharks -kinda- with Jurassic Park ready to replace the Great Whites.

Fear sells tickets, if you don’t think so, every animation on the tram tour is framed with fear. It’s not just a small world at Universal- it’s an extremely violent world- also.

Keep your arms and legs inside the tram at all times…

Written and lived by Donnie Norden

Garrison’s Gorillas

Selmur Productions 1967 – Comic books meet the backlot.
This tiny village became the most frequently liberated in all backlot folklore... The cover of the comic was photographed on this bridge below the steepleMGM Lot 3
The Backlot Raid begins…
Infiltrate this setting…
This train station has been bombed and machine gunned all through the entire decade of 1960’s. Combat first pelted it non-stop in “What are the Bugels Blowin’ For”
Combat- station under heavy bombardment. Years later, the Rat Patrol raced it’s jeeps down this platform, guns a-blazing. In between those series, and one more-Jericho, the Gorillas needed to hitch a ride here for this mission…
Quality comic book here!
These guys were replaced me and my friends. We often looked exactly like this.
The engineer saysNo objections here”
German Train Yard…
“I‘ll short this joint out...now it’s time to clear out
Box car ahead…now, it’s up to the boys !
All aboard; from MGM Lot 2 Train Station to MGM Lot 3 Stalag set.
” I don’t expect anyone to notice us here, we’re only 2 miles to Lot 3″ says me, in my undercover disguise, white pants, wallabies, and Puka shells.
Watch out for a Red Jeep !
“I got us covered from here!”
Let’s Go Prisoners, No Time to Lose”
Another Death Camp now liberated by the brave hero’s known as Garrison’s Gorillas
ABC canceled this show for a undercover police series.
Our replacement- police shows replace war shows in the decade ahead.
Big Sky Backdrop MGM Lot 3, here being used in Ice Station Zebra.
This picture from the MGM Art Department is the backside of this enormous painted horizon. Garrison’s Gorillas has an episode using this structure’s hind quarters and infra structure. You can see much of the engineering that took place in front, back, and interior of the best set at MGM.
Combat did not have a comic book-only this game…

Realism in look, this took playing army to the next level.
My Untouchables machine gun. I still have this one. I used this one at Desilu. There we played- Elliott Ness verse the mob. I loved this show, Walter Winchell and his opening monologue voice trigger’d the mood for Tommy Guns. Our Desilu gun fights always had this show, The Untouchables, as the center of our imagination.
The Daisy, the official rifle of backlot B.B Gun fights. I could cock this thing as fast as the Rifleman.This gun was designed by a smart, cool-kid! A tiny can of 3 in 1 oil poured down the barrel created smoke when the B.B discharged. We carried spare B.B’s and oil on us, and some Bazooka Joe bubble gum. Time stopped maybe even went backwards- on these fun as heck days!
Rifles, pistols, one-hand grenade each, and a bayonet. We out did security.. As years moved forward, several of my older friends became Marines. Several times, I played this game with real deal Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton. One night, I was on a rooftop, suddenly as I peaked over the side, I got hit in the head from three directions, simultaneously! There was nothing better than playing this game with real, superiorly trained- RECON-RANGERS…OORAH!
Crosman made the perfect pistol for close quarter engagements. We carried pistols in our waistlines and a Daisy long rifle for building to building exchanges. Glass windows would shatter or create a perfect hole for added realism. The fact that shells still existed on the floor decks from Combat made everything seem real. We even came across helmets in these buildings which did add protection, even though the only rule we had was don’t shoot at each others heads. Rules are seldom followed in the heat of a battle…
I had to add this from the comic book because I owned this bike. George Barris designed it. He is the creator of the Batmobile and the Munster’s hearst. When I first started riding it around the outside of the studio fences, it was slick. In fact, the back tire was a slick. Making long tire skids was a way of life. Back when boys were little men!
This is how I grew up- Guns a Blazing !
There’s that kid over there again, he’s armed!

Rewind 1967/68

Combat just completed a run lasting longer than W.W. 2. ABC-TV shutdown one war series and simultaneously kick started another. Many of the crew jumped on board Garrison’s Gorillas. The most important being the powder guy, A.D Flowers. No one did a better job ever of blowing these MGM backlots up then this Hollywood Legend.

26 one-hour episodes are all we have left of this. ABC canceled it and it’s spot was replaced at the network by the Groovy, hip-Mod Squad.

We read comics on the backlot, it made them more realistic. It set off the soldier inside all of us, so we brought in guns also. B.B gun battles were inspired by reruns and comics. Combat had a board game we also played inside the studio. The best part about that game was the cover-with Sgt. Saunders doing his thing.

Combat did not make comics, but it had the best toy machine gun ever designed. It was cool to pretend, for sure, but real fun comes when you can feel pain. If you get hit by a round, you need to feel it. Daisy provide that little- umphhh. It made a nice welt. Realism meets make believe.

Mercy, Mercy, Me

Combat was the show we emulated as we had gun fights at MGM. It was usually on Saturdays when we had these battles. Noon-time happened to rerun Combat. The classic-Soul Train preceded it. I love Motown, you had me at Don Cornelius. When our showdowns began, there was a blend of soul in our ears as we prepared ourselves for battle.

Four Tops– this is WHITE ROOK…OVER ”

The Rat Patrol would be the last war series to film war scenes on a regular basis. I saw all their equipment. It was always parked on the lot. A half track, troop carriers, a tank/cannon on rubber wheels, and the two jeeps with the 50 caliber machine guns mounted on back.

It is hard today to find quality reruns of Garrison’s Gorillas, why I’m not sure. But the star, Ron Harper and I would meet at this very train station discussed in this story. But it was during the filming of Planet of the Apes. Roddy McDowell granted permission for kids to watch filming. My entire street came to watch a Gorilla raid. Not Garrison’s Gorillas- just Urko, the Gorilla, leading a pack of Apes.

I bet Ron Harper never expected the future to become so chaotic. If you get hold of a copy of these two seasons, you will find every single episode uses the backlots of MGM.

New York Street sees a lot of action in this series, disguised as Berlin. Every exterior was practically MGM -somewhere. One episode has a mission, and it takes place in The Big Sky Backdrop, made famous by special effects WizardArnold Gillespie. Nowhere will you be able to see what it was like inside the structure whose front side-is the sky in a broad horizon. If you wanted to be inside that massive historical backdrop first used in 1924 in Ben-Hur, it’s worth the effort to find it.

Everything about this show was awesome, yet it still flies, barely, under the radar, except in Japan. It became a cult classic in the land of the Rising Sun.

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden

The Phantom of Hollywood 50 years later

The true Phantom of the Backlots, with his trustworthy, trespassing K-9 companion.

Long haired teenage punks arrive...we often exit here, where they are arriving. Maureen’s apartment is on the other side of this fence. You can see the streetlight above the fence line. Ironically, streetlights get stored where these hoodlums just entered.
This is where the two teenagers touched ground to open this film. Security is well aware of trespasser’s using this spot. Here they are, parked. Yes, there is a guard sunken low in the front seat. He would have caught them depending if he’s awake. I took this picture from on top of the fence depicted in opening of The Phantom of Hollywood.
Where art thou Juliet?”

A scene from the movie and a picture I took below

Ohhh, you shouldn’t break things…
Naughty boys, you’re in trouble!”
We don’t like that!”
Run little boy…
Cause of death...my fort is inside this section where the awning gave way.
The awning gave way, and they broke their neck.” Chalk marks are all that remain of two teenage long hair punks with fittings in their pockets.
They think we’re dead…not so.”
Boystown...5 months after “two long haired teenage punks” fell to their deaths. Bill Murphy parked brand new fancy Buicks in this dusty area with tombstones surrounding it. You may have owned one of these Plymouths fresh out of Detroit. The 70’s- anything goes!
Pat– short haired teenage punk. Jimmy and I were the long-haired ones…Pat was still in Catholic school with this trim. Take notice of that peek hole to Pat’s left. When on alert we use that hole to keep track of security’s moves. Like a periscope.
Reverse angle- Boystown fort. To access the tower roof, you will find yourself inside here. All furnishings are from sets on the lot. An ammo clip from Combat sits on the table in front of that Orange Crush bottle. An Army jacket hangs on the wall from the Helmet Room. The water jug is from a labor crew taking care of the backlot. The table was in They Only Kill Their Masters and was walked over from Maple Street. Maureen helped me with that one. Lots of climbing is involved to get up here. Hidden ladders and compartments must be diagnosed. We felt entitlement. This fort would hold up under extreme scrutiny. In the months ahead, we survived a full assault of the MGM security department and lots of help from Culver City P.D. They gave it their best. You can’t catch a Phantom where he lives. The story called “Run, run, run” is in my book one-Hole in the Fence.
Our views were unsurpassed…East Wing, a large chimney is on each wing. Small town square beyond.
In the show, a security guard walks over this bridge at night with a flashlight. In real life, I’ve had powerful searchlights beam up through the floorboards when security would park below us in the red Bronco.
Come out come out wherever you are”…
I’ve lived this momentLiterally!
Ooops- we need more chalk. Security this time!
Esther Williams pool. It sloped to a deep bottom for fancy diving board launches. But, after the water was drained for good, it became a skateboard destination.
These tombstones travel, the initial MGM cemetery was back by the pool, exactly where we first found our Hole in the Fence. Then they moved to New York Street for the closing chase scenes in Soylent Green. From there, they relocated to the Tarzan Lake set for this graveyard where the movie Phantom resides. He lives in a tunnel, we live in a penthouse overhang looking over his spooky little plot of land.
Fable or reality...I lived this.
Action” shouts Gene Levitt in this one take scene. An episode of Combat used this house as a bewildered Sgt. Saunders, dazed from explosions, swam with a bag of grenades to blow up Germans firing from every window inside here. Shell casings and a large hole from the detonation was how this building existed at this final moment. It sat here, barely used since that episode. Walk through the bomb hole created by Saunders and you have walked back in timeto Combat.
Bullet holes still exist around the windows, a machine gun was stationed up here. Every window had gunfire coming out of it. Robert Altman directed an episode of Combat involving this building. One of the best episodes. Everywhere Combat filmed, bullet holes and shell casings still exist as if a retreat just happened.
If anyone gets an approval to wipe out a set, it’s Gene Levitt. His memories here are special. I heard all these battles from my house. He was the orchestra leader of all the WW2 battles that carried to my house.
My fort is the upstairs overhang pictured here, we look down on the movie Phantom’s hideout. Both our forts are real close. I took a spear home that was part of set decoration. It was pretty fancy with a carved wooden spearhead and custom painting on it. I was so excited, I ran like a wild native on the warpath with spear in tow, down public streets to my house. This became a common site for the neighbors on my streetSome kids carry school books, I carry movie props.
This is me, kneeling in the undersized doorway, I was pretending to be a hobbit. Empty film cans sit on the floor behind me. Probably, the long-haired teenage punk Broderick Crawford was referring to.
Same doorway I was just seen kneeling in.

Watch out Mister, trouble ahead! “…. My first ever near miss happened here, prior to this show.The purple torn curtain behind the helmeted fellow was our hiding place in a moment’s notice with Nowhere to hide. Jimmy and I had barely a second to tuck behind that cheesy curtain. Half our legs were showing as the Bronco cruised by. A black cap with a black arm extending out the window drove right by us unknowingly. Early in 1972, my very first very close call.
Hey Clyde, you up there?”
Ouch, so much for plastic hardhats!”
This was my moment with the TV Phantom. This was the scene when we crossed paths.
This set is where the two Phantoms acknowledged each other. Right before he killed the man with the helmet on, he waved “Hi” to me. All in a day’s work!R.I.P. Clyde
Maureen and I used this rowboat and spent some lazy, quiet afternoons listening to 93 KHJ Radio while floating alongside the forest and just above the snapping crawfish.
Jimmy and I also used this raft when it was seaworthy. I was caught in this boat by security guard Ron Smith. Jimmy was pulling me along with a rope attached, he was on shore. We took turns for quite awhile. The oars were gone. I was inside when the Bronco shows up and Jimmy takes off over this bridge to safety. Meanwhile I’m up the creek without a paddle. The Bronco pulls as close as possible and stares at me. Massive in stature, Ron steps out and asks “What exactly are you doing?” He told me to get inside the jeep, then we went looking for Jimmy. He let me go, “I think because he digs Maureen.”
We loved riding this wheel. We would stand inside it and get it spinning by pushing on it. It turned easy. Ride it like a lumberjack does on a spinning log.
As this car with studio VIP’s turns towards the backlot, the green car parked in the cubby hole is Bronco Bob Coleman’s personal vehicle. We got to know the guards’ cars. We would scout-Who’s on duty by seeing whose car is parked up at the shack at the West Gate. We took advantage of the little things, it helped us to succeed.
MGM officer Les Green. Thís is the same MGM guard shack with Worldwide on it. Al Black’s forhead is in bottom right corner. We were horsing around, they were telling me how they were going to catch me…”just wait and see!”
This guard shack is where I acquired the MGM trespassers list. All my friends are on it. It’s displayed in my first book, in case you’ve ever been caught.
As we cross Overland, this is where the front lot meets the backlot. Down the street is Winchell’s Donuts. A spot where trespassers can stand alongside MGM security, and city police, to get a sugar fix.
Worldwide Lot 2 main gate.
MGM Lot 2 Main Gate…
End of watch…
Out of the basement…
Off to the roof I go…
Brownstone Street, right after Soylent Green. Pre-Phantom film.
Wait, don’t cut that rope
Too late!
We need more chalk”
Copperfield Court below, Stage 29 in the distance. The MGM catwalks are where streets get tarps dragged across wires to create daytime/nighttime. This studio can create every illusion imaginable.
Maureen’s apartment and her bedroom looks easily over this fence in the distance. What fun we had, like a legal fort.
He’s got to be in here”
A half picture as camera roll expired, a bonus so to speak…digital folks don’t have this problem. View from steeple in German Village, or Copperfield Streetof the TV Phantom’s final resting grounds.
Good Luck Mr. Phantom
Who’s really the Phantom of the Backlots?”

50 years ago

Long before this Movie of the Week TV show was made, a Phantom on the MGM backlot existed. Security gave me that name as I became their Public Enemy #1. 1972.

I was able to carry that title the entire time MGM was in charge of backlot security. It’s based off reports to the watch commander about a frequent trespasser. His real name is Donnie, but often went by the name John. A good trespasser should always have an alias ready at their disposal. This frequent flyer is often seen by security but wrangling me up is unlike any challenge MGM security ever dealt with involving this mysteriously haunted backlot.

Here one second…but gone the next is how accounts were explained to the higher-ups. Hence, the name Phantom was attached to my backlot portfolio. This was the reality of MGM security in the beginning of the 1970’s.

Fast forward a bit, December 1973. At this time, I have never been caught, only seen and pursued, even shot at, but always made it back home to check in like all’s well that ends well. I have already built a fancy fort up in a massive building that the studio calls The Girls School but what us boys call Boystown. This fort is for boys, girls could never climb all the obstacles needed to infiltrate the upper reaches that lead to a hidden paradise.

MGM, or Worldwide Studios as it is named in this TV Movie, began filming several important scenes all over what I call my backlot. Fancy that, I find a call sheet that details all things taking place on the MGM backlot. The title –The Phantom of Lot 2.

Timeout, I was called the Phantom of Lot 2, for close to two years. Now a film is taking place with my identity. It stars Jack Cassidy as the Phantom of this backlot. Broderick Crawford is in charge of security and rolls out a line directed towards me and Jimmy. He explains to studio head Peter Lawford about an accident involving my fort in Boystown. Two teenagers had just fallen to their death, from where my fort sits at the top of this iconic structure. The greatest fort ever built on the MGM backlot.

It’s perfectly safe if you know what you’re doing, but in this show movie deaths happen. Chalk lines shaped of teenage bodies are being photographed as Broderick explains to Peter, ” they’re just two teenage long-haired punks is all we know”

I take exception to that insult that accurately describes me and Jimmy. Peter Lawford wants “our deaths” to create a publicity moment warning the rest of the public teens of the dangers that exist back here on this ancient backlot. But the following line deserved a slogan on a T-Shirt. “You can’t fence out curiosity” No truer words needed.

Well, what am I watching here, a movie about me?

At another set, the watermill house, I meet the TV Phantom. Jack Cassidy, in between takes in the middle of a camera set up. He sees me staring at him and waves to me with his leather glove hand, while he carries an iron spiked weapon in his other. He is just about to kill a demolition worker that is part of the team tearing down the backlot in this show.

The moment has arrived the true Phantom meets the costumed movie Phantom, as director Gene Levitt looks on. In Phantom style, I quickly disappear, because MGM has security on this set. At the time, I had no idea what my world was about. All I know is I live on studio backlots in Culver City, often disappearing into dark shadows, only to reappear on some rooftop or an image or reflection in a window.

When this show aired about a month later, it was must see TV as anything ever. This is the coolest show ever -story wise- involving Lot 2. CBS changed the name from The Phantom of Lot 2 to The Phantom of Hollywood for more zing right before airing. Gene Levitt returned to his old Combat stomping grounds to polish off a couple buildings he used in his classic war series. Gene has permission to do whatever needs be around here since he truly is a backlot legend.

I feel honored that he used my lot, he used my fort, I met the costumed up movie version of “me .” To this day this is must have TV if you like my stories and love MGM like I do. Do yourself a favor and get a copy, many MGM stars do cameo rolls and it was made over a year before That’s Entertainment.

Always remember…You can’t fence in curiosity!

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden

MGM-Maple Street in the 70’s

MGM Art Department photo-the church minus its tower. A very rare shot. Power cables are running along the sidewalk.
Medical Center had an episode with a sniper up in the bell tower.
Maybe they’re all at church…
This is actually inside this church- this tiny room is what greets you.
“Whats that ocean liner doing over there-are we still drunk Bob?”…the view when the second door opens is the back of an ocean liner. That’s their view.
View of steeple from balcony of The Shelter house. Several episodes of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone filmed here on this street.
Looks clean but, it’s filthy up top. Owls own this tower at night.
“This place is fake”…New York Street in distance.
“He just stares in the sky, like he’s waiting for someone or something!”
Your car works…what’s up!
Neighborhood watch”
1978- a year after Sgt. Pepper left. The last scene ever filmed on this street was from CHiPs. MGM TV. The Phantom cycle fittingly races his bike around the entire lot being chased by CHP.
I had a fort upstairs inside Andy Hardy’s house. It lasted until 1977. The film – Sgt. Pepper redesigned the street. Each of the 4 walls of this home ended up elsewhere on this street in the town of Heartland.
Same angle of upstairs at Andy Hardy’s house.
The front porch of the Andy Hardy house moved to fill the space where the church burned down. I was on the lot that night and in the church itself. As we left the lot we ran into trespassers going inside. As my friends and I arrived at the Culver High Football game, we saw a huge fire which destroyed the church. All the details and pictures will be in Hole in the Fence -Book Two around Xmas
This view of Maple Street is from the west end of New York Street.
We just go to each backlot, kill the power, and watch the dysfunction…One after the other.
“Few variations-silly humans”
“U.F.O.’s are for real”- this saying was painted inside the Grand Central Train Station. Someone had a close encounter.
One of the coolest nights I’ve ever experienced took place upstairs in that building. I watched and recorded Earth, Wind and Fire performing “Got to Get You into My Life” right below me. I captured the song in its entirety. Not only the music, but the conversations that were taking place. That was a very popular cassette.
A fixer upper got fixed up!
The long yellow signs discarded and leaning up against the corner house are from Hawkins. Jimmy Stewart was a lawyer in the small town of Beauville. Those two side by side windows up on the second story got lots of action. Very strategic site lines.
That’s Maple Street yonder, from the roof of the theater building on New York Street. Picture taken on Memorial Day.
Don’t go Mr.- you’re better off finishing that door”
Notice the balcony above the front door, it was a party spot often.
Party spot-there’s me, sitting cross legged, smoking some fine Columbian
Sitting cross legged on the floor manifesting his next classic.
Westinghouse needed Desi Arnaz’ persuasion, along with Bert Granet of Twilight Zone fame to get this series launched.
Shots fired!
Chaos ensues…
Looks innocent on maps.
I’d love to have this address…
Aliens are messing with our planet…War of the Worlds set.
Maple Street from the oversized prop warehouse roof. Photo from Stopover in a Quiet Town credits.

A trip down memory lane…

Call the street what you wish, but when best friend Jimmy and I first stepped foot on it, we named it after the Twilight Zone episode, Maple Street. That’s what we called it. We synergized it when we snuck in a tiny black and white TV with partially broken rabbit ears and watched this episode where it was filmed, here on Maple Street. TV’s and backlots work as time machines. Eventually you have two pictures, the original on television, and the one presently in living color, with living potential hazards.

It’s like One Step Beyond and The Twilight Zone combined…

Every studio has a residential street similar to this neighborhood. The residents vary from lot to lot, depending first on writers, then on ratings. Rod Serling imagined, then created memories and scenes that we still watch and love to this day on this backlot. His narratives helped shaped this street in the early 60’s. This backlot isThe Twilight Zone

Rod has written and produced more subject matter here than anyone else that’s set foot on this backlot. Not enough credit can be given to his accomplishments considering the quality of that series and the tight demands of TV scheduling. Six days of filming for one episode.

The concept Rod was selling to Westinghouse at the time faced rejections, and not until Bert Granet and Desi Arnaz vowed their unlimited support did this series get off the ground.

Due to budget restraints with CBS, some episodes were videotaped in the first season. It is extremely noticeable, only one episode made at Television City was the quality of what MGM produced. “The Night of the Meek” starring Art Carney as Santa Claus, held up in this format. It’s the only Christmas episode made. This cost cutting move, one video camera, completely on stage at CBS, was an attempt to trim the $65,000 per episode cost. The experiment was deemed a failure, then this show infiltrated into film and naturally –backlots!

I would have died to have run into Rod Serling walking around this backlot. I felt his spirit, he fits this backlot like a good pair of tennis shoes.

The film They Only Kill Their Masters, starring James Garner, was the first film I saw being made on this street. The set dressing inside a home on the street here consisted of (a wall picture, a table and a chair) which ended up disappearing from one house and reappearing upstairs across the street in Andy Hardy’s house.

Often, each house gets a complimentary doorway set up when front doors will be open. It’s like the Salvation Army around here.

Needless to say I spent an awful lot of time here. It’s like this street connects to my house and street. I have occupied every home on this street in one adventure or another.

Sadly, the church burned down in November of 1975. But before you shed any tears, Sgt. Pepper to the rescue. A little over a year later, this street was magnificently rebuilt- as good as ever. Backlot fires are easier to take when new sets sprout up from ashes of what stood before it.

Fittingly, a musical would charm the backlot in grandiose style. (The Trolley Song), performed here by Judy Garland, would turn into an entire Beatles album with artists including Peter Frampton, The Bee Gees, and Billy Preston.

Let’s be happy this street went out with class. But I’d feel remiss if I didn’t take you somewhere daring, so lets go up in the church tower…shall we?

Through the church doors- we appear. We are greeted by a tiny room, like a chapel would look. If you open the next door in the sequence, you see an ocean liner. That’s how it works here- Lost Horizons are blocked by doors, curtains, and walls. Behind door number two is a ladder. Four stories, straight up. No ledges or platforms to rest at, just go to the top. See what surprises await you…

Bird feces cover everything in this bell tower. Worse- dead birds appear to have been trapped inside. It’s pretty terrible up here, and that’s coming from a teenager. On the conical top of this -place of worship -is where the MGM owls sit and hoot at all goings on. There are normally two, and they existed the entire time lot 2 was standing. They leave a pile of bones when they digest their prey, which is actually very interesting to reconstruct.

I’m happy to say, owls still hunt where the backlot use to be, I recently saw one fly across the street and up to the water tower on what is now Sony lot 1. This would be the offspring of my two favorite backlot birds ever. I’m a proud grandpa it turns out.

The climb to the top of this church is scary in daylight, but you should try it at night. Just trust what you’re grabbing hold of for support doesn’t snap. A sign of the cross is in order once you arrive up top….literally!

Four humans can fit fairly comfortable here but be careful not to be seen.

OK …I got to go, good luck everybody getting down from here!”

Hoot, hoot…hoot

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

A Tortuga Bar Story

This set has covered for old Mexico in the TV series from the early 70’s- Alias Smith and Jones. It became a bar on Tortuga for Pirates, this is where all the mayhem took place.
This section was added to block the view of the Earthquake animation which is right out that back door behind the bar.
A view from the roof of the area before the bar was built. This area below became the Tortuga Bar
This fireplace was blazing as the bottles were being swung and thrown everywhere…we had no shortage of candy glass rum containers.
The bar just prior to a drunken, anything goes-brawl.
You better run Jack!
You missed!”
Spill the Wine...I feel like Eric Burdon
Left over bar fight bottle made of candy glass.
Stand still so I can shoot you!
Captain Jack working his way upstairs…
It’s safer upstairs…
This is like an E-Ticket ride at Disneyland.
These were attached to the bar and can be seen in my yellow bar picture.
Rooftop and alley behind bar set.
Make-up for this show is extensive- tents with make-up tables inside were stationed in this courtyard, which is right behind the fireplace at the bar set.
In case you’re lost…Yellow means bar.
Davy Jones Locker…Interior -Stage 24
Set on Stage 24...A card game for the millennium.
First mate Hudson, my sonhistory class at Universal.
Scenes shot aboard ship on stage.

Once upon a time

The feature that just won’t quit. It’s so popular, the budget allows for episodes 2 and 3 to be made in the same year. Any and all on this production become consumed with this Pirate lifestyle. Pirate jewelry can be bought on set. Skeleton rings are popular and almost everyone wears one. Pirate flags are hoisted above the trailers at basecamp. The closer or deeper you go on set, the more real it gets.

My job allows me to see all phases of production. The preparation begins with construction of the sets. Once that happens scenic artists age it to look ancient. Then come the props, while set lighting pulls 4/0 cables from generators to distro boxes. You can never have enough power on sets this large.

The transportation department alone eats up over a thousand amps, set lighting, effects, catering-all need juice!

A show like this is self-contained and can film basically anywhere in the world. The producer, Jerry Bruckheimer has all the credit you need to open doors no one else can. When in Hollywood, their job becomes much easier. That’s why Universal gets attached to every Pirate episode. We have big stages and a huge backlot. We have had Pirate battles all over it, from our cobblestone European streets to lighthouse set up at Falls Lake.

One of my favorite sets ever on Stage 12 is the Singapore Harbor set. This stage is our biggest, and that set covered almost every square inch inside. I can walk you through there some other time. You will not believe the details and Chinese decorations; you will feel like you’re in ancient times as soon as you shut the stage door.

The Tortuga Bar set on the backlot was a relatively quick build for a show like this one. The morning after the all-night fight was classic, broken bottles were everywhere. Stunts were performed efficiently, and you probably woke up with a hangover, not from drinking-just being there as bottles full of syrup were everywhere you turned. This brawl was completed in one night, how’s that for professionalism?

As fast as it was put up, it came down. The bar was built in the courtyard of an already existing set, so hardly any materials were used. The bar itself was destroyed; I salvaged the Lion Heads that were headed to the dumpster. They lined the bar and are plaster. You can see them in my bar picture, just below the counter.

In the big picture, this was a small scene for this crew. But be forewarned-even the smallest scene on a show starring Orlando Bloom and Johnny DeppIS HUGE!

I wish J.D. well in his legal predicament that has America glued to Court TV. Stand up for what’s right, Captain Jack!

In 1995, the world watched in anticipation as the O.J. Simpson verdict was announced. Universal was in complete shutdown mode on every stage and set when the verdict was to be announced on his murder trial. It was like a Murder She Wrote episode, but better.

Not only everybody at Universal watched, but the entire country took an early lunch for the outcome. I was in a gold room on Stage 12 and watched on a black and white rabbit ear TV set with set lighting personnel rigging the stage. We were shocked at the verdict, just as shocked as when we heard he was arrested back on June 13, 1994.

A driver friend Gene was with us and shared a very recent experience he had with O.J. on the set of Frogmen. In that film, Gene was driving for the show and was chauffeuring O.J. from the set in Malibu to his house in Brentwood. O.J. plays a Navy Seal in this film. On the way back home, he had Gene detour so O.J. could visit a store in Santa Monica that sells knives and swords. Nothing was thought of at that moment in time-but fast forward and then think backwards. Coincidence…?

You can read between the lines yourself. The role of a Navy Seal requires superior skill with weapons, and he received technical military training prior to what took place in Brentwood.

I met O.J. of all places-on the California incline in Santa Monica. He was running uphill with the Olympic Torch, as he handed it off, I high- fived him. I had chills it was so cool.

O.J. carrying the Olympic Torch up the California incline in Santa Monica. I was standing next to him as he handed off the torch.

After all, he was #32, The Juice– back then…

I close with these legal memories…One, the O.J. trial, Two, the John Landis trial involving Vic Morrow, Three, Johnny Depp and his interesting situation, and Alec Baldwin’s debacle. Every 20 years something big happens to our unfathomable heroes.

I’ve been on two sets of Mr. Landis’. One -the star and my hero growing up, Vic Morrow was killed. The other film. Oscar, the entire New York Street Set he was in charge of, burned down.
Another Landis fiasco…
We lost a street full of vintage picture cars…
Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger on a red carpet at Warner Brothers, I took this picture as they were about to board my Glamour Tram in a special event. What happened on his set in New Mexico is an extremely sad situation. God Bless everyone on that film. No comment needed on the unprofessionalism that took place there.
Raise the Jolly Roger- and may the best man win!

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden

On Deck-Pirates of the Caribbean

Captain Donnie at helm- The Black Pearl
We’re headed out as a cargo ship enters the Port of L.A.
That’s one fine anchor…
Top deck and below deck boasts cannon after cannon. These hatches open as the symphony of gunpowder and cannonballs fill the air. Throw in some crusty old pirates, and we all had a jolly good time.
Rigged for battle…Starboard side
Port side…cannons above and below deck. This is a battleship.
I dare ya!
The crow top…
For whom the bell tolls…
Tortuga-that way!

A view toward the stern…
These light up with candles…
The Bow…
Port side…
What keeps this seaworthy is that it’s built on top of a barge. The rest is art department illusion. This has a motor inside.
Dead men tell no tales
Below deck…explosives, fire hoses and extinguishers, special effects stages from below deck.
This Pirate ship is actually a barge built to look ancient.
These guns work and when stations are manned and the battle commences, it’s as real as it gets!
A below deck-love letter for J.D
Stuff needed- pack accordingly…
Long ride back to shore- be prepared.
White Cap Bay list…
Top deck view, a lighting barge is fastened alongside. This is how this ship gets lit up. We had wind machines on board when we needed strong breezes. The white balloon is a light. It’s filled with gas and would float on its own, so it’s tethered. At the right height, the ship becomes illuminated in a soft white light, like a full moon. It’s quite the sight to see on a dark ocean night.
The special effects supervisor is John Frazier, he is a legend. Every time an extreme stunt is needed, call in John. Joe Pancake is the hands on foreman. Safety and proper timing of explosive devices is critical on shows like this, no team does it better.
John Frazier HOF special effects master, the gray haired gentleman, here seated in the big chair with Michael Bay. That’s a director that can’t get enough pyro effects.
30 support maritime crafts, a flotilla, assisted and wrangled up everything at sea.
Notice, it’s cheaper when your blockbuster intertwines two episodes at once. Resourceful planning reduces the shooting schedule. Due to the major success of the initial film, producer Jerry Bruckheimer enveloped episodes 2-3 in the same production schedule. You know you’re successful when you have that big of a pile of chips.
White Cap Bay is located at Universal Studios, Falls Lake…
White Cap Bay lighthouse…Universal Studios, Falls Lake. A blue screen backdrop with one of three wave makers in the bay. It’s the blue device peeking out above the surface. Another wave making method I’ve seen used here, utilizes a huge rig that rotates, pounding the surface creating large ripples. Power is floated to it on inner tubes. That’s what Universal provides as a rental for ocean effects. Pirates built a state of the art rig. They don’t need us, they’re all things water on this film. The cheapest way to create small waves is a jet ski cutting loose to chop the water right before the director cries out -ACTION
This set, like so many others, was difficult to watch getting torn down. But our water tank is a big rental and gets booked frequently.
The cabin in the background is not part of this set. We blew part of that building up for the film Shooter. The tower in between the bay and the cabin had an explosion as did some small boats that had dummies on board.
This captain’s wheel is all that’s left of one exploded boat. The torch from above the harbor lighthouse and a bottle of rum are left over props from that film. The bottle is candy glass, hundreds of these bottles were used in a bar room fight done on our backlot in the European Street sets. This show used several backlot locations and rented our biggest stages. Disney cannot fit this show on their tiny lot.
Stairs to the beach…
Turquoise filtered water greets you. The rock formations are made of styrofoam.
This harbor had the smaller landing craft boats. The Dutchman and The Pearl were docked in San Pedro.
The lighthouse had a torch lit at night…
Captain Jack wrote this to my daughter…I have nothing but cool things to say about Mr Johnny Depp. When he’s in character, which is the entire time, he becomes this captain. He’s not Johnny Depp while in his time consuming make-up, he transforms. He becomes his character. His make up artist is a woman who looks like she too stepped out of this movie. She stands out. While filming the White Cap Bay, filming was all nights. I vividly remember Johnny, chain smoking, sitting in his folding chair at 3 am, looking like a teenager having the time of his life. He is absorbed into his character, he delivers crisply when in front of the camera. Often, no more than two takes are needed. Chemistry between Orlando Bloom and Mr. Depp is as good as any two stars I’ve seen paired up. I think Johnny was born to be an actor, I can see it in his demeanor- he becomes the part, he is-Captain Jack Sparrow

Next Location, company move to England. Itinerary picture. Pirates 3
Hook – on stage at Sony Pictures, this is the one you rent when you need a pit to recreate a body of water-under any conditions. Arnold Gillespie was John Frazier, before John existed. Techniques developed by the MGM wizard apply to all nautical films.
This was a ship built never to sail, just look pretty…Hook-Our one handed star!
Older than a Flintstone, He’s a Rolling Stone
Quite the savvy pair….cigarette in hand-at all times.

Where do we begin;

At sea… the voyage begins at a berth in San Pedro, California. An hour away from Universal. I have a thing for Pirates, how can you not. The last Pirate Ship I was on was at Sony for the movie Hook. It would sit in the water tank on stage, but was not built to sail. Just to be admired, inside and out, this was a Pirate Museum. Gold bars were stacked aboard. “gold painted wood blocks.”

It was built in front of a harbor on stage, and no expense was spared on this Peter Pan film. Fast forward, from the twenties, through the eighties, and touch down at the original port of entry of all navigation going to and from Italy for the 1924 film Ben Hur. Distant locations required sailing to the destinations back then. This port area is where needed items were shipped out, and return voyages delivered film that was needed for post production. Now that’s pioneer movie making for you.

L.A. Harbor has long been a player in films. To this day, it’s always in use in some film series.

Things I’ll never forget is the cannon sequences when every hatched door opened with a powerful cannon blast, one after another. As real as it gets. The making of this movie and all the mechanical challenges, combined with sensation make up and costumes, is better than the movie itself. For added effect, fog guns laid a blanket on the sea that wind machines could push around. It helps provide contrast on a dark sea lane.

Usually a second unit goes to the desired location for all the marvelous establishing shots that transport the viewer where their mind should be. Then for costs, and control of activities, the principal sets are built here in Hollywood. For Pirates, Universal filled the bill three different times.

White Caps Harbor took over 3 months of preparation to build, with crews working 12 hour days.

Pirates 1-2-and 3 were done at the backlot that has those Glamour Trams cruising around. Tourists could see this set get rigged from a distance, and very few details were given out due to a family feud between these two studios. We don’t promote them nor do they promote Universal. Never mention the D -word while on our lot as a tour guide. That applies for the other Disney set yonder called Desperate . Housewives.

Disney had more successful shows on our lot than we did!

I remember one night about 3am, I had two shows going on in the middle of the night. Spiderman was on NY Street, the Spider Cam was attached to cables and simulated Spiderman traversing rooftops. New York Street looked like it was the real deal. The entire street was lit up. At the same time, Pirates was filming at the beach set I’m taking you on. We have two mega blockbusters going in the middle of the night –while the city sleeps.

Downtown Las Vegas has nothing on the Universal Backlot that week. This schedule went on for over a week of all nighters. But quickly after the final shots of rafts being blown up at sea and a tower blowing up in a major early evening explosion. It ended like when you wake up from a good dream. I want more…Everything was packed up to head overseas.

One set has a man dressed in a red Spider Costume, the other has a famous Pirate, also in a red outfit. I facilitate the technical needs of each film, so my job is insurance if something goes wrong, power wise. I sit next to Johnny as his beautiful make up artist touches him up. Johnny doesn’t hide away in his trailer, he’s Captain Jack, he belongs at sea, and all things surrounding it. I watch him, as he watches filming of a scene he’s not in. He’s the face of this film and he represents everything you would want in a star professionally. I sat 15 minutes two feet away, slightly behind him, watching his every reaction, inhaling his cigarette, in aww. Admiring how real he looks, from hat full of dreadlocks to those buckled boots and all things in between. Errol Flynn never looked this good.

If thats not enough, the next costumed star I run into down the hill is Spider Man. It’s 3:30 am, and our backlot is in full swing. There is more traffic on the backlot than the Hollywood Freeway.

These two shows overlapped with each other, trust me- these were gigantic production companies. These two sets were far enough apart that we could fit and film these sets at the same time without interference. Pyro must be finished by 10pm on our lot, for our surrounding neighbors. Nights often start with loud goings on and extreme action before settling down for dialogue basic photography.

The location work on that film at sea was augmented with scenes filmed on the backlot. Buildings hit by cannon fire. In Pirates 1, we blew up our European Street, it was being bombed by Pirate cannonballs. Then we built an entire village of Singapore, on Stage 12. That set was maybe the best on Stage 12- ever built.

Keith Richards was on that set, from the band The Rolling Stones I have a lot of history and precious memories from this series and I thought- Johnny could use some love. You know you’re a Pirate when you own your own island and hang with Keith Richards...that brit didn’t even need make up. Mick turned the part down.

As much as movie fans look up to Johnny, he himself looks up to someone. It’s natural, he’s human, Kieth Richard is that guy. The biggest box office star had his own dream come true on a Friday night at Universal, a cameo from a real life life Rolling Stone.

It’s a Pirates Life For Me too- Ahoy!

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden.