A Tale of a Pair of Shoes-The Twilight Zone

Dead Man’s Shoes” Written by Charles Beaumont. Directed by Montgomery Pittman. Aired Jan, 19, 1962

Props needed…”Shoes”…

What You Need“-Written by Rod Serling. Director Alvin Ganzer. Based off “What you Need ” by Lewis Padgett…”What happens next-I put these on- right- they take me somewhere?”

Now What old Man!”

“Nathan Edward Bledsoe of the Bowery Bledsoes, a man once, a specter now. One of those myriad modern-day ghosts that haunt the reeking nights of the city in search of a flop, a handout, a glass of forgetfulness. Nate doesn’t know it but his search is about to end, because those shiny new shoes are going to carry him right into the capital of The Twilight Zone”

A picture of mine-Looking down from across the way. This is where Rod introduces the opening narrative involving Edward Bledsoe and those shiny shoes…

Just going for a drive with the boys- no there’s nothing in the trunk”…Rod’s intro done on stairway behind car.

One of the three passageways into this secluded area…

Entrance to alley from Eastside Street.

This building is being knocked down by bulldozers…This was same alley Limo turns in.

Time to get up and stretch my legs”

This was one of my very favorite spots-center of New York City. Three entrances combine under this stairway.

Might as well have a drink!”

Coast is clear-dump him here”

Upstairs, across from Hobo stairs-looking down on deceased drop off point. I took this picture on a rainy day on the backlot.

“Poor fellow- sure has some nice shoes”

Good place to sleep up there”

Up -Theredifferent angle on our Hobo stairway.

The final moment of this most iconic stairway. I wanted this so bad, I’ve run up and down this a million times-recreating every movie scene ever done. My first view of filming on these stairs was Charlton Heston looking down in Soylent Green.

This wise old owl and I became friends. Center picture-white head, focused on me. A pair of them could be found up here sleeping in daylight, hunting at night. On quiet nights-the owls could be heard communicating fervently at times, shrieks echo the length of the street. Owls are part of the landscape. They ended up having babies. I’m proud to say offspring- Still Exist. I saw one recently flying off with a possum toward the Columbia Pictures sign and iconic Water Tower on Lot 1. Bone piles of digested rodents made like a science puzzle. I love owls!

Recognize this?-The alley being demolished.

1975- “garbage” is set dressing.

“Those are some high falutin shoes”

Same stairs -1976. Set dressed for Popi, a short lived MGM TV project starring Hector Elizondo.

Camera Marker-“Action”…My favorite words.

I feel rich”… just strutting along.

I like your shoes,- I’ll trade ya”

1980- Same angle our actor begins his feverish walk upset at our street vendor. Damaged vehicles are left over from the TV Series “CHiPs”

What gives old man?”

Get out of the way!”

This is not what I need!”

First, my tie gets caught in the elevator-now this!”

Where the trucks are parked in this picture is where the impatient man in those magic black shoes was struck down, on that corner. August 1973-“Lemon-Up” commercial being filmed.

The same area as the hit and run– long before the television series existed.

Larry Blyden gets killed in this alley and goes straight to “heaven”

You’re a Winner!”

Before being “Mr. French” Sebastian Cabot absolutely nails this part as Mr. Pip, the Devil’s Caretaker. This is the other Place

A down and out Jack Klugman befriends a trumpeter in this alley. “A Passage for Trumpet”

Sometimes, taking the high road in battle tested running shoes is “What you Need -to escape, that is!

Active Lad ShoesHigh performance, all terrain, acrobatic, dependable, and silent- except when playing basketball. The “right” shoe always wears out first- due to never ending skateboarding, which we do here often.

Shoes are important on these backlots…

Fancy shoes are for entitled hobos and movie stars. Trades and craftsmen wear boots and protective footwear. Security wears polished, shiny black leather footwear that match their uniforms. Trespassers wear tennis shoes-always ready to run and scale fences. It’s on the backlot they all come together like keys on a piano.

You can tell a man’s life story by the shoes he wears. You can tell a kid’s by all the scuff marks and dirt trapped below the surface. All the dirt on my body, from my cheeks, brow, hands, etc. is from somewhere here at MGM. I’ve worn out several pairs over the years here at MGM because- that’s what kids do! That’s what moms are for…new shoes, clean clothes, and dinner.

The Twilight Zone features two episodes with shoes as the narrative. Neither “ends well ” for the guest stars who fit inside these fancy Oxfords… Death becomes them.

Many times, hiding from security searching whatever building I’m hiding in, you hear only footsteps. Some rapid, some thuds, some soft footing sneaky types. You tune in on your surroundings, especially when you’re hiding from the law. Their fancy polished shoes make noise-like a tap dancer in a MGM Musical. My tennis shoes are silent, yet comfortable. When we climb fences, we are careful not to leave scuff marks. Shoe prints on fence tops are a dead giveaway for enquiring security personnel. The fences reflect the wear and tear of shoes, the rubber marks left on metal fences tell their own shoe story.

These two shoe episodes were always especially cool since both filmed extensively on the same section of New York Street. I can’t tell you how many times we relived the hobo scene at the top of the stairway. I’ve spent many an afternoon killing time in this alley that has more history- than any alley in the world.

This alley is the same one used in Boystown in 1938. Kids are throwing fruit at one another as Father Flanagan walks down the street adjacent to our alley.

I’ll keep focused on the Twilight Zone history, since this is that post.

In “A Nice Place to Visit episode, Larry Blyden is killed in this alley in a robbery and discovers himself in his “afterlife”. Sebastian Cabot stars as the provider of “any wish’ and is in charge of that “other place.” Directed by John Brahm. Writer-Charles Beaumont. Season 1-episode 28.

In “Person or Persons Unknown” Richard Long -“David Gurney” escapes from an institution that has a set in this alley. Charles Beaumont wrote this one also with the same director, John Brahm, this time in season three-episode 27.

Jack Klugman and John Anderson meet- in this alley in “A Passage for Trumpet,” Directed by Don Medford, Written by Rod Serling. Season One-episode 32. Featured music by Lyn Murray, including trumpet cues.

This condensed section of the backlot is like a funnel everything channels through. It’s fairly safe, but a long way from fences. If you somehow end up being pursued, just keep climbing higher than the pursuers. Catwalks connect to other buildings allowing eventual escape. Reason being, “no one is going to make that climb if they don’t have to.” Sometimes we have no choice and I’ve had to do it at night-“the devil you see vs. the devil you don’t.”

Somehow I survived, thanks most likely to a a very worn -in pair of black and white tennis shoes with a mind and story all their own…

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden

A Guard Tower at Stalag 13

In the summer of 1973-this story begins…

Teenagers will be teenagers, fun can be had anywhere. Anywhere for me almost always involves a backlot. I have a pretty girlfriend, named Maureen. She’s a female me, she likes excitement and smoothly and efficiently climbs razor sharp fences, usually in cut offs. We trespass at MGM Lot 2 all the time, it’s part of living so close. But my shiny new first ever girlfriend has heard so many cool stories about Desilu, she wants me to show her around. Like a 13 year old Gentleman, I agree.

A Green- Culver City bus drops us off on the corner of Van Buren and the driver reminds us “bus service stops at 10 pm.” We cordially nod in approval. I paid our fare with change from my dad’s Blue- Santa Monica Bus coin dispenser. It’s like my own personal piggy bank. Nickels, dimes, and quarters are at my beckon call when dad mistakenly leaves this money contraption on our kitchen table. Yes- my dad is also a bus driver with the Venice/Santa Monica beach route. Sometimes Jimmy and I ride with him just for the views. There are always plenty of nice girls riding along with the newest trends in beach attire, which is barely any attire at all. It’s cultural and educational.

Maureen and I exit the folding glass doors across from the Culver Hotel, at a Richfield Gas Station. It’s just a short walk from here to the La Ballona Creek. As we head in a southern direction, we small talk back and forth as we briskly walk to our destination. We slow the pace down as we pass where Bruce Lee once lived during the filming of The Green Hornet, “”He lived upstairs here,” I point upwards to the second floor in a duplex right behind Desilu. Every teenager “DigsBruce Lee and sadly he just passed on at the age of 32…His death shocked me like when Jimi Hendrix died, or when Vince Lombardi, Pete Duel, and Venice legend Jim Morrison died, all recently. It seems to us young teens… The Good Die Young!

We pause in respect likehe’s here!

We continue down the street and climb down a cement slope and into the La Ballona Creek. This is where most trespassers begin their journey. There is no fence at all. Barb wire chain link surrounds the studio, but no obstacles here. Guard Dogs have disappeared that use to guard this place. It has a new owner, Laird Studios, and Hogan’s Heroes was just canceled last year. That is the main destination tonight, Stalag 13. It’s just past 6 PM on a summer night, with a bright orange sky highlighting itself against a gracefully aged backlot.

We hold hands as we go up that same cement embankment and peek between eucalyptus trees that line the creek on one side and a dirt road that leads all the way to Mayberry. The first set we pass is Goobers Gas Station. I show her around, first inside where empty shelves used to sell motor oil. There is still a pump and an icebox, left behind out front. Off to the side is a dirt pit that cars drive over so Goober or Gomer can change your oil. There are a lot of holes around this backlot. We both jump over the pit at the same time because- “we saw Opie Taylor do it!

I cut through some Eucalyptus trees pulling Maureen behind me through a face full leaves where we enter the King of Kings set, built in 1927 by Cecil B. DeMille. “Me and the boys just built this fort” as I proudly walk upstairs to the second floor. It’s narrow inside and we have a table and chairs…they are actually boxes that say Explosives that we found at the camp. I quickly realize there is no comfortable place here to relax and talk school. This is a mans fort- so we move on.

Downstairs and after one last farewell glance backward, we proceed forward under a plaster archway . We’ve now entered the old west. Like a pair of tumbleweeds we roll through town. All’s quiet so far, we are the only people here this evening. As the sky becomes a more dramatic orange with whipped up white clouds, we head towards the infamous Hogan’s Heroes tree stump.

I hold open the lid as Maureen proceeds down a 6 foot wood ladder into the dark abyss, not hesitating at all. The entrance is being lit by the remaining daylight which suddenly turns to pitch black as I slam shut the hatch. Just me and her in the pitch dark inside most famous tree stump in the world.

I have the advantage, I control the lid. Her laughter turns into a scream as I grab at her childishly. She has located me in the pitch blackness and begins punching me as I reopen the lid for my own safety. As I help her out of this wood and composite stump chock full of spider webs- I notice her forehead and hair has some fairly large cobwebs on them, like camouflage.

We reset our bearings to approach our next target- Klink’s Office. We enter from the backside of his headquarters while walking and taking in 6 foot tall licorice plants. The entire backlot looks and smells like this wonderful fragranced gift from nature. We arrive quickly taking one step into the tiny, widely exposed backside and stand between a wild wall that hides this field from camera as -the front door opens. It’s my turn I turn to twist that black metal door handle and we step out on the covered porch overlooking the Stalag, we are at this moment like – Colonel Hogan and Helga.

I really want to make out, so does Maureen...I think. I feel electricity usually reserved for when I’m being chased, or hitting a home run, or scoring a touchdown-It’s that feeling!

We walk to the dog kennels located next to a wishing well and a utility hut. I tell her “I want one of these for my dog Pebbles”- who sometimes trespasses herself. I know all the tricks here, I say “under one of these 6 dog houses another backlot hole exists,” she finds it and celebrates like some hidden Golden Easter Egg. There is a certain moment of satisfaction when you see this particular camp entrance that supposedly begins at the tree stump yonder. Here it is- in all its glory.

Next we browse into a P.O.W. bungalow which happens to have… rope cots. We sit, then lay on them but we reject them as very uncomfortable, like potential “rope burn” uncomfortable. Close but no cigar. We open the P.O.W. door and look toward the main gate. “let’s go climb up into the guard tower, shall we?

We run in anticipation, stopping to look in the Red and White striped guard shack. Close by, a ladder invites you upwards toward the guard lookout vantage point. The gigantic searchlight has been removed as was the machine gun. We look over the Stalag as the sky just begins to darken. We are in the Tower farthest right looking outward beyond the Main gate, toward the grassy snow covered knolls.

A lot of kids watch sunsets at the beach, but Maureen and I dig backlots and find Stalag 13 very romantic. Eventually we get sick of standing and just lay on the floor of this tower…making out like sophisticated 13 year olds. I remind her to be careful not to fall through the hole the ladder rises up through. Maureen looks beautiful as the sun sets on her already golden blonde hair. As I remove one more cobweb…”We begin the Art of Making Hickeys” on each other’s necks to the sensual sound of crickets.

Definition…For those who don’t know- those are marks left on the skin, usually after sucking, and, can take 10 days to disappear.

Sometimes, I just like to soak in my surroundings. She likes to talk. I guess it’s what you call “pillow talk.” I find myself fading in and out but hear something that spikes my interest. She said, “when I get older, my first time has to be special, like in a barn with hay and moonlight.” I nod in polite concurrence. She may think I’m not listening, yet I feel that we have ratified an agreement, like a treaty between two countries. I think to myself… Desilu has three barns. Three! Whee! Three! Be careful what you wish for young lassie. Pillow talk… I can dig it.

Every time we watch the episode of Hogan’s Heroes when General Burkhalter arrives at that main gate, we share a secret. We were the last scenes at this Stalag…with those same two giant Southern California Palm Trees off in the distance. We each gave our personal stamp of approval on this iconic set. “Don’t let your mom see this for Ten Days-at least!

Written and Lived by… Maureen Miller and Donnie Norden

We’re off to Desilu! The Number 7 takes you past not only MGM- but Desilu too. MGM Studios pictured on the right.

Love American Style… this is how I felt after leaving the guard tower with Maureen!

The tower farthest is our landing spot. This is where we discover “necking and hickeys”.

Our love nest is the tower on the right.

This picture was taken right before Stalag 13 was torn down. It was dressed a bit different for She Wolf of the S.S. They painted the guard shack neutral and added a medical cross on the roof of Klink’s office.

Just behind those Eucalyptus trees lies Camp Henderson from Gomer Pyle. The Baldwin Hills looks downward like a balcony seat.

Future TrespassersLocation, location, location… Proximity to the studios would set our fate. At this age, machine gun fire echoed through our street from the T.V. series Combat, filming close by. I was born in the middle of WW 2-on T.V. anyway.

Partners in crime…Maureen on the left/Donnie on the right. Yearbook photos at Culver Jr. High. Funny thing here is “I never carried Identification but I did carry a brush-everywhere.” We were constantly brushing our hair. She was always reaching in my back pocket. That’s life in the 70’s.

50 years later on the site that used to be MGM Lot 3

Up this stairway- in that square windowless room is my first Desilu fort. Inside we have six of these “explosivstoff” boxes to sit on. Built by boys for-boys needs.There were about twenty of these boxes inside the barracks at Stalag 13. This fort often saw extensive teenage partying. Soon after more forts popped up. One in a saloon which had a rolling phone to call “off lot.” We had pizza delivered to the saloon. Then another fort in the farm home used in Mayberry R.F.D. Our last fort built was in Andy Griffith’s House, upstairs. That had a church pew for a group prayer if need be, we removed it from the church across the way. This fort burned down in the Mayberry fire.

A four foot deep square hole lies under one of the six dog houses. This was where the POW’s would enter and exit the camp. The tree stump tunnel was how our Heroes snuck back into Stalag 13. They were both just- holes in the ground.

Of the three stumps, only one opens. This lid shuts by that rope handle. It had an incandescent light at one time for the actors that were put inside. This evening had no such amenities…Pitch black darkness awaits us.

This wooden cross piece was part of the top lid that opened and closed. It’s all that remains from my tree stump that was towed across town on a steel wheel cart when Stalag 13 was torn down. I wanted a dog house but those were already removed. “I need something from here” were my thoughts as I began to panic. The camp was down to guard towers, cots, and rooftops painted as if covered with snow, removed from the barracks. I then realized …”The tree stump is still here” so my best friend Pat and I used resources we could find around the 40 Acres backlot and devised a way to ‘Bring it on home.” It was a fixture at my home for almost another decade before finally collapsing from “over use- by big kids!”

The main gate of Stalag 13 has two towers on each side of the two gates that swing open and can be latched shut.

This gaurd tower has had many occupants in the past. Our fearless Camp Commandant can be seen peeking over the edge.

This is the actual interior of the P.O.W.’s barracks. These cots were inside without the cushion tops. Rope was all that we had to lay on and was not comfortable at all. Somewhere, we will find- our sanctuary. These cots ended up on Western Street and made it upstairs to our Saloon Fort. The fort with the Rolling Phone. We dialed 9 to get “off lot.” We called all over the country, just horsing around, whoever picked up the other end was told “Hello, we’re casting agents in Hollywood” The studio came looking for this phone because a large phone bill must have been attached. The saloon was boarded shut! “Damn, We’re out of business”

Stalag 13 was used in the Mission Impossible episode Trial by Fury (1968). Both are Desilu Productions.

The Guard Tower being used in the Mission Impossible episode Trial by Fury (1968)

Prison Camp in an unnamed South American country, in episode Trial by Fury (1968)

A great shot of the underside opening of the roof

Klink’s Office, South America style… Mission Impossible.

In this scene you can accidently see the parking lot just beyond the truck which is used for the cast and crew.

In this overview, you see two guard towers at the main gate. A third would later be added the left end of the barb wire fence. Marion Davies’ dressing room is located over there and Hogan’s Heroes used her old make up facility for touch- ups. I would rediscover this mobile heirloom in 2021, after hiding behind it in 1972. Camp Henderson is the Quonset Hut section of buildings on the right side of this picture. These two legendary movie sets often filmed side by side in the real-TV Land.

Cleopatra 60 years later. The Epic that nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox

Elizabeth Taylor’s life had been threatened after the Vatican had denounced her scandalous relationship with Richard Burton. During the filming of Cleopatra’s entrance into Rome, the thousands of Roman Catholics who were extras became a serious concern. Soldiers packing guns lined the streets with barriers and cables to prevent an assassination. As Taylor came through the arch, the crowd broke through the barriers and cables. But as Taylor and the movie crew feared for her life, she realized that they were shouting “Bacio Liz!! Bacio Liz”, declaring their love for the actress. Instead of remaining in the highly strung character of Cleopatra, Taylor began to cry and thank the crowd as she blew kisses, and the scene had to be reshot.

Cleopatra 60 years later. The Epic that nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox

Like Cleopatra of the Imperial Roman Empire, Cleopatra the movie nearly affected the course of history. This literary Epic, nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox. Budget overruns due in part to turmoil on the set of the epic had forced the studio to completely shut down for six months and sell off a huge chunk of its backlot, which would eventually be turned into Century City.

During early filming at Pinewood Studios, the harsh weather conditions of the English winter brought on pneumonia for the fragile Elizabeth Taylor, where she eventually collapsed in her hotel room. An emergency tracheotomy was performed successfully at the hospital and Taylor slowly recovered. This setback helped to hold up the shoot for months, necessitating relocation of the production to the hot climate of Cinecitta Studios in Rome. Co-stars Peter Finch and Stephen Boyd were replaced with Rex Harrison and Richard Burton; and lacking a workable screenplay, the producers brought in Joseph L. Mankiewicz, four-time Oscar winner and a late choice to save the project, to replace Rouben Mamoulian.

Then there was the notorious affair with Richard Burton, that would lead both parties to leave their spouses, which Taylor would refer to as “Le scandale”.

Interestingly, with all of the attention surrounding the adulterous affair between Taylor and Burton, cost overruns and production troubles, very little attention has been focused on the important role of the Seventy-nine sets which were constructed for this movie. In fact, it is the sets themselves that define this movie as “Epic”.

Then there was the budget for Elizabeth Taylor’s costumes, $194,800, was the highest ever for a single-screen actress. Her 65 costumes included a dress made from 24-carat gold cloth. 26,000 total costumes were created for the film. Elizabeth Taylor’s overall take of $7 million for her role is equivalent to approximately $64.3 million in 2022 dollars. Adjusted for inflation, this is one of the most expensive movies ever made. Its budget of $44 million is equivalent to over $425 million today.

The movie was supposed to be released as two separate movies, “Caesar and Cleopatra”, followed by “Antony and Cleopatra”. Each was to run approximately three hours. But the studio did not want to wait an additional 6 months to capitalize on the Taylor-Burton affair. So, they released it in one colossal hunk, slicing out a lot of substance from the script.

It should be noted that the presentations of Cleopatra that were shown during June of 1963 were the original 4-hour version.  Only a couple of weeks into its release, the studio shortened the film by nearly an hour and circulating prints were edited to conform to the revised cut and/or replaced with newer prints.  All subsequent bookings were of the shorter cut regardless of whether or not it was roadshow or general release.

In the end, Cleopatra turned out to be the highest-grossing movie of 1963. It received nine nominations at the 36th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won four: Best Art Direction (Color), Best Cinematography (Color), Best Visual Effects and Best Costume Design (Color). Once it opened, it was sold out for the next four months. In 1966, ABC paid Twentieth Century Fox a record $5 million for two showings of the movie, a deal that put the movie in the black. But it wasn’t until 1973 when Fox claimed this movie finally broke even, and Fox “closed the books” on it, keeping all future profits secret to avoid paying those who might have been promised a percentage of the profits.

All in all, I love this movie and I find the making of it almost as interesting. This is one movie meant to be seen on the big screen!

Written and lived by… Donnie Norden

The Roman forum built at Cinecitta was three times the size of the real thing.

The dress that Elizabeth Taylor wears for the moment when Cleopatra arrives in Rome cost $6,500 to make in 1961!

The affair hardly came out of nowhere. Taylor had been taken with Richard Burton since catching him on Broadway as King Arthur in “Camelot.” The studio considered numerous actors for the role of Marc Antony, but Taylor only had eyes for Burton, so the studio bought out his “Camelot” contract and Taylor got her man.

During Cleopatra’s entry into Rome, the shots of the entry of Cleopatra’s giant sphinx, and the parade that precedes it, were filmed several months apart, posing problems in matching the lighting. The American child actor who played her four-year-old son got taller during the delay. He was replaced by an Italian boy, complete with a thick, inappropriate accent.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz said a master shot was spoiled because the camera caught an enterprising extra hawking gelato to his fellow extras.

Sir Michael Hordern who played Cicero, remembers the doves that were supposed to fly out of the miniature pyramid when it opened had grown very drowsy in the Roman heat and remained inside, a crew member had to hide inside to shoo them out at the right moment.

The budget for Elizabeth Taylor’s costumes, $194,800, was the highest ever for a single-screen actress. Her 65 costumes included a dress made from 24-carat gold cloth.

Writer and director Joseph L. Mankiewicz was fired during post-production, due to the quarrels with the then, newly reinstalled Fox President Darryl F. Zanuck, over the nature of editing the movie’s length. Since he wrote the script as he was shooting, Twentieth Century Fox soon realized that only Mankiewicz knew how the story fit together. He was then brought back to complete the project.

Elizabeth Taylor demanded that this movie be shot in the large, 70mm Todd-AO format system. She owned the rights to the system as the widow of the format system’s creator Mike Todd.

Production moved from London to Rome following Elizabeth Taylor’s illness, and the movie’s elaborate sets and props all had to be constructed twice. The production required so much lumber and raw material that building materials became scarce throughout all of Italy.

Roddy McDowall was playing a teenager in the first half of the film, despite being in his mid-30s.

Elizabeth Taylor’s overall take of $7 million is equivalent to approximately $64.3 million in 2022 dollars.

The life-saving emergency tracheotomy that Elizabeth Taylor received after being hospitalized in England, left a noticeable scar on her neck which can be seen in this image. Obviously, this would have been a historical error and great care had to be taken to cover it during shooting. On a personal level though, Taylor became quite proud of her scar (She called it her “war wound”) and made very little attempt to disguise it in public, something that annoyed studio publicists.

Cleopatra biggest controversy was the adulterous affair between the stars Taylor and Burton. It marked a turning point in Hollywood; the public would no longer buy the studio system’s sanitized version of the stars’ lives, nor would the stars allow the media moguls such control over their personal lives.

Knocking back some spirits in between takes.

Burton was an inveterate womaniser; he’d had numerous affairs but always returned to his wife Sybil. Everyone assumed this dalliance between him and Liz would be just as short-lived and that it would simply blow over. By February rumours of the affair had gone worldwide and Sybil Burton and Eddie Fisher couldn’t ignore them any more – they both fled Rome in the hope of forcing the couple apart.

Sharing a seat, in between takes.

One of the first pictures captured of the two by the paparazzi

As soon as they resumed filming the chemistry between them was too much. “I feel as if I’m intruding,” Director Mankiewicz said one day as his shouts of “Cut!” “Cut!” went unnoticed by Taylor and Burton during a love scene.

Original Pinewood Studio set that had to be demolished when production was moved to Rome.

Cleopatra’s navy required huge numbers of boats and ships. It was said at the time that Twentieth Century Fox had the World’s Third Largest Navy!

A group of female extras who played Cleopatra’s servants and slave girls went on strike to demand protection from the Italian male extras. The studio eventually hired a special guard to protect the female extras. In the gossip press, it became known as “The Revolt of the Slave Girls.”

A clerical error by Twentieth Century Fox probably cost Roddy McDowall a Best Actor in a Supporting Role Academy Award nomination. The studio erroneously listed him as a leading player rather than a supporting one. When Fox asked the Academy to correct the error, it refused, saying the ballots were already at the printer.

Hume Cronyn was originally signed to be on the movie for 10 weeks. He stayed with the production for 10 and a half months.

Sir Rex Harrison offered up his own salary to help the production and finish the movie. Mankiewicz refused to let him do that.

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A lot of the promotional artwork used in Cleopatra omitted the image of Rex Harrison. A clause in Sir Rex Harrison’s contract required a picture of him to appear in any ad with a picture of Richard Burton. He got the last laugh when he became the only one of the movie’s three stars to receive an Oscar nomination for his performance.

When a large billboard showed only Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Harrison’s lawyers complained. The studio tried to fulfill the contract by placing a small picture of Harrison in the corner of the billboard on the Seventh Avenue side of the Rivoli Theatre. Harrison was not satisfied!

The updated poster showing Sir Rex Harrison’s full image, and his previous image was covered up with “Tickets Now On Sale At Box Office”.

Seventy-nine sets were constructed for this movie

In Anzio, while building the Alexandria set, a few construction workers were killed by an unexploded mine left over from World War II.

An aerial view of the Alexandria set

“HOT SET”Pretty risque for 1963!

One of the final scenes of the movie filmed in Egypt. Egypt initially refused to let Elizabeth Taylor in because she had converted to Judaism when she married Eddie Fisher. They changed their minds when they realized the movie’s presence would put millions of American dollars into the economy.

The death of Cleopatra and nearly the death of 20th Century Fox.

A Press Conference to discuss the plans to sell off and develop the 20th Century Fox Studio Backlot.

A picture of the 20th Century Studio backlot which would become Century City.

Century City Plaza Hotel under construction.

The Premiere shown in theatres (Movietone News).

European Premiere in London. Filmgoers wait to enter the theater for the 1963 premiere of Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Rex Harrison.

New York premiere at the Rivoli Theatre.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton did not attend any of the US premieres.

Hollywood premiere at the RKO Pantages Theatre.

Souvenir coins given out at the premiere. These coins are a replica of the necklace of gold coins of Caesar and Cleopatra used in the movie.

Christmas of 1963. RKO Pantages is still showing the Roadshow engagement of Cleopatra.

A Strike Zone from the Twilight Zone

Park Avenue Baseball at MGM

Number 444, those two columns next to the number was Home Plate. We used both when one or the other had stuff blocking it. We pitched from the sidewalk in section 461. Kids imagine cool stuff, this was a ballpark if I ever saw one.

From high above…center of picture. Park Avenue and Wimpole Street. That’s where you can find me, almost every day.

I never expected this place to provide so many activities…Heaven on Earth.

Wimpole Street became ‘The Green Monster” …Park Avenue became Fenway Park.

Just another day…

So much here, that Time Machine was stored in the large Airplane Hangar with cockpits and fuselages. It rolled and the door opened upwards. We had some wild parties using this prop. Picture two is an example of neon signs bringing this street to life. These were also stored on the backlot in a warehouse entirely devoted to neon signs. These neons get used over and over, just relocated to different locations. Pics 3, 4 and 5 are the front side of this building. 5th Avenue greets you when you take a short cut through this building. The theater marquee can barely be seen. I’m this last picture. Notice the movie is “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” starring Doris Day. MGM always put one of their shows as a feature…”now playing.” Selfless promoters- anytime you see this marquee, MGM features are displayed.

MGM Art Department photo of “The Swan” filmed in 1956 being promoted on marquee “now playing.” What better way to shamelessly promote your product…

That’s me”... Stanley had a blazing fastball. He idolized Ron Guidry of the Yankees and pitched like “Louisiana Lightning“…very tough to hit off.

In this picture-Stanley just hit an orange ball-very top of picture in flight… Stanley played for UCLA and became an engineer. He was always fascinated by the electronics in the old airplanes in our backlot airplane hangar. He was cut out to be an engineer and was hired by JPL…Jet Propulsion Laboratories. He calculated everything he did, especially involving angles and projection. I learned a lot from him. Long time friend from St. Augustine’s, we’re Catholic boys. His brother was named John Orden, which became my alias since John rarely trespassed and our names were very similar. Security thought that was my name for a long time.

The PhantomCHiPs. My strike zone chalked on wall can be seen just right of front tire. The paint is chipped off wall from all the pitches. We played practically everyday from 1978 to 1980. Yes we played with the transportation guys and laborers from that TV series. We had to ask them to not block our home plate with their crashed cars. They forklifted the cars out of the way so we could play. They cordially agreed if- they could hit a few balls themselves. I owned the place those final few years…

This could just as easily be Stanley, Maureen , and Myself. What’s real here and what isn’t?

Take Me Out to The Ball Game

When I met Mr. Gene Kelly, we talked baseball and he told us how he grew up loving the Pittsburgh Pirates. I had no idea of this man’s passion for this Grand Old Game. We immediately “Hit it off.” I talked about the Pirate Team in 1974, when this meeting took place. They were a powerhouse team back then. He told us his favorite movie was The Three Musketeers because of all the fencing involved. He loved “physical challenges.” The coolest guy I’ve ever met-as real as a star could be. Humble, friendly, asks question about myself and was in absolutely no hurry to leave. He leaned against his car as we could talk as long as we wanted. Our visit took place at the curb of the main doorway in The Irving Thalberg Building… The center of the MGM Universe. When I told him- “we dance where you performed Singing in The Rain on the backlot, ” he broke out the biggest white tooth Kelly smile he is famous for. “Actually we do more splashing than dancing.” My favorite memory of all things MGM.

“The Monster” in left field. Each set of windows had their own rules, some were outs, some were hits…

View from home plate looking toward “first base” which was a fire hydrant, just out of view.

This Twilight Zone episode titled “Execution” was filmed directly at Park Avenue. We always loved when this episode was rerun. We loved to see “our park” used. This is one of the best episodes of all.

You never know who or what can show up in this main backlot intersection…

“Home plate” is either column depending on obstructions. Jim Henry’s Paradise became my Paradise. We have relived this scene exactly as it appears. It gives me chills to this day… Very special to me. When I had no one to play with, I’d listen to games right here on my beaten up transistor radio…Vin Scully was part of this landscape.

Albert Salmi, “Joe Caswell” looks like Pete Rose sliding head first into 2nd. Where he hits the dirt would be where we pitch from. This man is one my all-time favorite actors. This episode was aired April 1, 1960. Written by Rod Serling, Directed by David McDearmon.

Repurposed sign used before in MGM’s 1943 “Cabin in the Sky” directed by Vincente Minnelli.

First base line, this is Park Avenue on Studio nomenclature. This is how the field looked in our first season of ball.

View from window on Wimpole Street. Balls often ended up inside this building and on the roof. Crashed cars from CHiPs turned into part of the landscape. We had them moved if they blocked our pitching mound or home plate. Not bad for being trespassers!

Rooftop was a homer, it was fun to retrieve the balls to see where they finally stopped.

I’ve hit a lot of tennis balls up here…Home plate is located where the middle worklight is situated. This is the top of the “Green Monster.” We pretended this was Fenway Park. A short porch but 4 stories high, just like Fenway. This is a 6 am picture after being on set all night for “Hero at Large.” 1980 MGM feature starring John Ritter. I actually was hired as security on this film. This story will be in my 3rd book. You won’t believe what happened here involving myself and MGM Security. They checked up on this set since MGM was renting their old lot back for the ‘Grand Finale” of MGM on lot 2. It’s a wonderful story with incredible pictures. Not everything went as planned but sure was fun.

I’m in a bit of trouble for playing baseball -of all things I’ve done on this backlot.

My day in court over trespassing. Stanley and I were detained by CCPD who randomly pulled up in the middle of a game. The evidence I brought to court was my MGM baseball pictures. The ones you see in this post. The D.A. asked” is there a fence with posted “No Trespassing” sign. I said the only fence is barely standing, nothing’s posted saying “We can’t!” As he looked at my pictures he said ‘Case Dismissed” followed by, “I would have played with you too, looks fun!” This was the very last few months with the lot being demolished completely in October 1980.

A couple years later, See…Im not a bad kid. I just love MGM...”My home away from home.

“The End” of MGM Baseball and my marvelous backlot, 5 months after court. Truckloads of useable lumber were salvaged and trucked off to Mexico.

MGM Backlot Two-Waterfront Street, which was where centerfield was. I retrieved tennis balls off this sidewalk and cobblestone road, exactly where this scene took place. Singing and splashing in the rain on a totally pouring rain day on the backlot. We always felt Gene’s spirit in this area...

Waterfront Street, pre Singing in Rain.That would happen 5 years later than my MGM Art Department photo. Also known by us kids as centerfield.

No truer words…this place changed my entire life. Had I not trespassed, my life would be incomplete. The cherry on top of a life in Motion Pictures and backlots

Hunting for Candlesticks...From an Emperor, No-Less.

I will conclude with this quest a follower of mine and great granddaughter of the designer jeweler/silversmith regarding candlesticks from the 1937 Film-“The Emperor’s Candlesticks” Their great- grandfather made these for that film. In case someone knows their whereabouts today…they certainly still exist. The mystery is where? Just in case we can help find this needle in a haystack, Contact me and I’ll pass it on. Thanks, sincerely Donnie.

I found the plaster faces located in Verona Square…Now the hunt is on for Candlesticks!

43 years ago this weekwe begin.

Batter up !

Games begin by tossing up the bat at home plate followed by hand after hand until the handle is reached. We play 9 innings at least. Often these days turn into double headers…18 innings of fun. Hours fly by, arguments ensue because we’re very competitive. At times we have players in the field, but usually it’s Stanley and me…one on one.

I’ve played against a truckload of Marines a couple of times. Talk about intense. Guys come together from all around our country to experience what I do-everyday!

Cold weather is not a factor either. December 24, 1979, it poured all day non-stop. Stanley and I played 18 full innings-under a black, wet and often pouring sky. We were completely drenched the entire afternoon, when you hit the ball, water splattered like a dog shaking off.

Our centerfield happens to be where Gene Kelly filmed Singing in the Rain. When I met Gene, we talked baseball. He grew up a Pirate fan. I would love to have played him, right in the center area where all his musicals were filmed. The classiest man I’ve met. I didn’t wash my hand for a week after saying our farewells. On this Christmas Eve, while retrieving hit balls, I took a time out to jump in puddles and Sing – in a very heavy rainfall. I had a mitt instead of an umbrella.

All these movie memories float through my mind like soap bubbles from a magic wand. I’m living my dreams. I was so fortunate to have grabbed hold of that MGM Comet as the lot was in its final years, and sailed off with all things MGM. They let me on board with all the Hollywood legends and craftsman. I’m a trespasser, but a real good one.

I will be forever grateful to Steven Bingen for putting me in his latest MGM book- The MGM Effect along with writing the foreword to my book. A fantastic read, I’m very honored.

Besides my love for BB gun fights on the Combat set, baseball is another activity that occupied our free time. This Park Avenue set combined with our teenage imagination turned into our own private Fenway Park, complete with a wall full of windows that towered up in left field. This is the closet field any kid could have to that wonderful iconic baseball field.

Let’s just say our own field was probably just as iconic, although Fenway is even older…1912 started construction in Boston. Our version of Fenway had the same nuances as the real field, even better. Windows came into play designating doubles in second story, triples in third story. Homers on roof often ended up on Copperfield Court. If you cleared the catwalks, that’s a monster, tape measure shot. It was fun collecting the balls after their journey.

Cables that were used for the black tarps to create night in day stretched above us. Blackbirds would sit on the wires looking down at us and sometimes these wires cut down balls headed to catwalks for a potential homer. That was always frustrating when a sure homer was erased…

In this post-I include a Twilight Zone episode pertinent to my ball field, titled ” Execution” it was always in the back of my mind as I toed the mound. This is where all the action occurred.

When MGM was in charge, we could only imagine playing games here. But when private security took over, the opportunity presented itself. “Instant addiction” This became the funnest field anywhere not only this city-but the world. I can’t watch a show using this area without baseball memories flooding through my brain. I’ve had multiple security issues at ‘home plate,” but I talked my way out of most. I was even hired to be security for the final two films on Lot 2, in the middle of a game.

Hero at Large and Being There would close out the backlot filming for all time. I was hired at ‘Home Plate” when the owner of the company “Ren,” who chased me several times finally gave in saying “You love this place-don’t you?”…”Of course” as I stood there holding a bat-ready to run once again. But this wasn’t that moment. I bonded with him-after all our chases. He said “Do you want to be security on these two shows?”

I’d be honored sir” …a couple weeks later I carried a badge. How’s that for evolution, from being Public Enemy # 1 to carrying a badge on my old backlot. There is a lot more that happens once I’m “employed” that is a story in itself.

I first met “Ren” when he caught me skating in Esther Williams’ pool. He was with a female guest and was giving a tour. He was as surprised to see me in the bottom of the pool as I was to see him at the top. He vehemently demanded me out of pool, his patrol station wagon was a parked a ways away and he held on to me as we walked toward his vehicle. There was no way I was getting inside. He was being extremely rude. As we got close to the car, I had enough. I knocked his arm off my stretched out T-shirt and took off running with my skateboard. Stopping just long enough to tell his pretty guest “I can give you a better tour than he can!” That’s how we met, he would see me a million more times.

After all this history, toward the end of the lots existence, once again I deal with law enforcement. It’s the police this time. The lot was basically a junkyard and no security was usually ever on lot. So when the Black and White pulled up between the mound and home plate, 2 officers exited, one on each side. I figured I could talk my way out of this, but it would not be the case that afternoon. But the courtroom was where I took charge, using pictures of baseball games on Park Avenue. After all my adventures in a decade on this backlot, this is the event that required me to appear before a District Attorney at the Santa Monica Courthouse.

His first question was “Is there a fence and a posted No Trespassing sign?”…”No there isn’t” and I provided picture evidence of fences barely standing and us playing baseball.

“CASE DISMISSED” was his immediate response. The room erupted into laughter. The D.A. continued, “I’d play you guys -that looks fun!”

My pictures get around to say the least…

R.I.P. Stanley…till we meet again!

Written and lived by…Stanley Orden and Donnie Norden.

Lassie -A Dog’s Tale

The Original Lassie in 1943-Named “Pal” Starring in “Lassie Come Home” featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowall, Directed by MGM legend Fred Wilcox.

Fred is a MGM original, as is Lassie. In 1931, Fred was in charge of Recording and Scoring sound for MGM Features. I found this recording sheet in the bottom of a drawer. One of the older documents with his- name on it- in existence. His sister was married to Nicholas Schenck, the theater chain entrepreneur along with Marcus Loew.

Lassie walking up Copperfield St., MGM Backlot 2.

My Art Department still of Copperfield St, MGM Backlot #2

1943-Copperfield Courtyard.

My MGM Art Department still from the same location Before/after- Lassie set.

“Lassie” looking for home at MGM Copperfield Court. Same loaction as my Art Department still below.

This is a production still for Lassie set. B/W vs color. This film was to be done originally in B/W.

The famous Watterloo Bridge, Lot 2 -1943

A picture I took in 1973- of the bridge set used in Lassie Come Home

Need caption

Here we are trespassing on the same bridge.

MGM Park Avenue/Waterfront area, here depicting Scotland. In “Challenge to Lassie”, our courageous and loyal collie finds herself non-collared, non-licensed and (non-law abiding). Just a fellow fugitive trespasser…

This is a MGM Art Department Still shot for this film. Challenge to Lassie-1949

Provisions and Hotel sign can clearly be seen mathing my studio still above.

Two of my all-time favorites…PaL and Roddy McDowall. This started a series of six Lassie films at MGM.

Pal was one of 1,500 dogs auditioned. He was rejected for being a male. A prize winning collie show dog was selected. Rudd Weatherwax, Pal’s owner, was hired to train the star selected, while Pal was hired to do- STUNTS.

Similar to the way Johnny Weismuller’s career started on “Tarzan.”

What a pretty couple… “Some of my best leading men were dogs or horses” – Elizabeth Taylor

You better have finished your homework!”

“This is the same way Johnny Weismuller’s career started” on Tarzan.

1949 Installment…seen in the following four pictures.


Even the Devil can’t fool a dogkid!

Lassie at a swank party thrown by Ray Anthony-He is a male -one Lucky Boy!”

Pokey with June Lockhart

Pokey with Don Norden Sr. in 1960. That’s pops 57 Chevy and our house, across the way. MGM is the tall trees in the distance. Esther Williams pool and a haunted cemetery lie at the base of those Eucalyptus trees.

Pokey, taking a break from his Lassie T.V series.

Lassie and owner/handler-The legendary Robert Weatherwax, son of Rudd. The handlers and the dogs spanned generations.

I got my lines down-How bout you guys?”

The TV series… “Lassie Jr.” is the lead now.

I wonder what Lassie talked about?”

Couch time is very important for these hard working animals.

My dog Thora loves watching Lassie during her quality couch time…

Lassie…in between parts, delegated to The Animal Actor Stage at Universal Tours.

This almost never ending series lasted long enough for me to be part of it. 1989-92, this was a Universal Series, starring Dee Wallace and Christopher Stone with a star from the B/W series, Jon Provost. Pretty cool he was reconnected to Lassie

Lassie joined Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart as dogs on the Hollywood Blvd walk of fame. One missing famous dog is Asta. A movie veteran Terrier that starred alongside Myrna Loy, William Powell, Cary Grant, and Katherine Hepburn. Asta needed a better agentit belongs on this strip of famous stars. Asta-also known as Skippy, depending on the film, never played a hero- relegating it to a background star.

In 1943-This Tale Begins:

The first ever “Lassie” was planned as a low budget, black and white children’s film. Pal, was rejected for the role, because his head was too flat and eyes too big. 1,500 dogs applied. Pal was hired to do stunt work with animal trainer and legend Rudd Weatherwax. Their job was to make the star lead “look good.”

A female show dog was chosen for its looks. It needed a lot of training. Pal was a grizzled veteran.

During the course of filming, a decision was made to take advantage of flooding in central California. The opportunity for spectacular footage of the surging San Joaquin River was too tempting to resist. The female lead was still in training and refused to enter the raging waters. “Pal” saved the day.

A Star is Born, the sequence of shots involves Lassie swimming the river, hauling himself out without shaking off, attempt to crawl, then finally, lay on his side motionless. Lassie successfully completed the task all in one take shots, prompting director Fred Wilcox to-” tear up.” In response, the producers let the female lead go and the male legend “Lassie” was born.

Female Collies shed more than males. That too was a noticeable problem with her coat disappearing as the weather warmed. From this point on this series would have a male lead. The first six weeks needed to be reshot. MGM decided to upgrade this film to “A” status. Technicolor would replace B/W. Publicity would promote this full boar.

In 1951, MGM felt this series had run its course. Following “The Painted Hills,” the studio “MGM” and Rudd reached an agreement, parting ways. Rudd would own Lassie’s rights. Television Producer Robert Maxwell convinced Rudd the future for Lassie would be television. They came up with a concept with a boy and his dog on a struggling farm in Mid -U.S.A.

Now casting begins, “Pal” would be the casting director, and whatever lucky boy has chemistry with our dog lead-“wins out.” Pal and Tommy Rettig bonded and two pilots were shot using Pal and Tommy. Pal, now double digits in age, was set to retire with his off-spring, Lassie Junior, ready to perform as series lead. He was three and had two years extensive training. After viewing the pilots, CBS added this series to its fall line-up.

Fast forward again-the 70’s;

Rudd worked with another aspiring legend named Frank Inn. Frank’s claim to fame was a terrier named Benji. Frank happened to be visiting a fellow trainer who lives across the street from me named Glenn, who assisted on the Lassie TV series. Movie Dogs often visited my neighborhood. One day Glenn called me over to meet Frank Inn and his little side-kick Benji.

The duo just returned from LAX from NYC. The trip originated in France, and Frank’s spirit was still up in the air. Air France flew Concord S.S.T’s back then, and the pilots on board wanted Frank and Benji in the cockpit. We are talking supersonic flying, this plane creates “sonic booms” when coming in to land. Benji opened this door of adventure for Mr. Inn. Frank was still “sky high” as he shared his story, while for Benji, it was just another day.

Animal handlers are absolutely amazing individuals. We take for granted these animal’s reactions in films. But these innocent creatures need non-stop acclimation to movie sets that are so distracting. So much can go wrong, especially with the exotic breeds. I have seen young lions brought on to stages, caged or chained, not to be in a scene, but to get somewhat used to all the lighting and activity without going wild. Training starts extremely young and being comfortable around so many humans in a film setting is not an easy task.

This series carried on so long, I worked on it at Universal. They produced the final series often using the Universal Backlot. They own the rights to it now, acquiring it from The Weatherwax family.

“Paws Up” to all the skilled trainers who have the ability to communicate with these extraordinary creatures.

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden.

Easter Egg Hunt in the MGM Backlot

The final scene from MGM’s Easter Parade 1948I have my own special Easter hunting for eggs on the MGM’S Backlot 2.

Easter is when the difference between Catholic School and Public School is most noticeable. The days off don’t line up at all. Catholic kids wait for the resurrection before being cut loose with days off. Public School just calls it “spring break” no morals or scruples, just colored eggs and time-off. We pray- while they play!

But on Easter Sunday…all is forgiven. We all unite as one-under the guise of a good Peter Rabbit story. This is the time east meets west, all roads lead to God.

Jews, Catholics, Muslims, even Atheists, can come together as flowers begin their magnificent blooms. Today, God, in his magic, created colored eggs and chocolate bunnies, for kids of every age and color to unite in this small, small world. It’s amazing what candy can do…it breaks down fences and barriers.

My Easter lasted 3 months last year. That’s when Jimmy and I finally finished finding all the eggs. Two stubborn faded hard-boiled guys stayed hidden until around the 4th of July, when their odor and decomposition finally gave them away. They were lodged inside the steel bumper of an old Rambler that my dad has parked in our long driveway…

Odor solved; it was beginning to affect our kitchen table breakfasts. “No mom, I don’t want any eggs today or ever again.”… We’ve been living off pancakes for over a month due to the foul effects of rotten eggs.

This year, my mom has encouraged me to do this elsewhere, like Jimmy’s house. She still wants to spend Saturday coloring a couple dozen fresh ones, mom’s quite the artist, just hide them somewhere else is the rule this year.

Walking home from Market Basket with 2 dozen eggs in tow and a box full of chocolate marshmallow bunnies, I see Maureen as I turn the corner headed home for the decorating party. She is wearing a new Led Zeppelin t-shirt from the concert we both attended (but not together) at the Fabulous Forum. We excitedly exchange notes: “My seats were terrible” she says, “My seats were great” I brag. “They sounded sloppy drunk” she complains but it was mind-blowing!” we agree. “What ya got there Donnie?”

“Oh yeah, eggs!” then I ask her, “do you want to sneak in MGM and hide these with me?” “You hide a dozen, and I will hide a dozen at the same time- there’s no better place for a hard-boiled egg hunt than MGM.”

“Of course, what time?” she chimes. “Bright and early, I have to go to church about 11,” that was the one condition I had to agree to, to get this bag of Easter goodies”…

My mom loves MGM, if she didn’t walk with a crutch, she would come with us, I’m sure…bless her heart. But in the spirit and soul of living vicariously through her son, she has helped me decorate my eggs after MGM movie stars!

We are talking an Easter Parade of eggs, saluting MGM legends. Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Liz Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Ricardo Montalban, Roddy McDowall, Clark Gable, Judy Garland and Laurel and Hardy. MGM’s big hitters made up and ready for their 7am backlot call times.

A Bright Easter Morning – 7am

Maureen greets me on my porch, my parents are still asleep, we sit on the stairs admiring these hard-boiled legends. My mom should work for the MGM Art Department. Fantastic stuff, mom outdid herself on these hard-boiled entertainment legends!

We know these will end up being pulverized, that’s how most our egg hunts terminate, with a Battle Royale.

We load everything in one easy to run with canvas bag with handles, just in case a whiskered easter villain with a badge interrupts us. TWA has its logo stitched on each flapped side; it fits nicely on my shoulder. I feel like a pilot, why not, we do have a jumbo jet inside the airplane hangar used in the movie Skyjacked, starring Chuck Heston.

TWA meet MGM as 4 tennis shoes hit the ground at the same time at our Grand Central Train Station. We quickly occupy a seat in the Pullman train cars to get a feel for what’s up on the backlot. I expect zero security, or a courtesy Bronco drive through at best. Maybe the White Rabbit will run by; anything can happen here. We’ll tell him a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given us the call.

The sun comes in through the train windows caked with dust patterns on the east side compartments and shines on the eggs we are looking over one last time…Nice, mom made a Louis B. Mayer egg, and it’s gold, with round glasses!

Maureen finds a special egg in her carton… Lassie… mom painted the dog!

We love all of Lassie’s shows. I should have brought my dog Pebbles with us, that’s all that’s missing here. This is like That’s Entertainment- hard boiled!

Ok, here’s the rules…Catholic kids always have to have rules, it’s the law.

“You hide yours here, in these trains…and inside the Grand Station,” as I gesture with my arms.” I will go to the cemetery behind the Romeo and Juliet sets, so your hunt will be in the graveyard.”

“Sounds fun …get out of here!” as I am pushed out the side train door back onto the cement platform. “I’ll be back after I hide these guys, you have this entire train station to work with…see you in about 15 minutes!”

Twenty – minutes later, at the depot…

There are five trains at this depot, each with its own long aisle containing row after row of seats with hiding places.

I find my first egg, sitting proudly like the head of a movie studio would. It’s the Golden Egg, with Louis B. Mayer on it. It is in between the arm rests separating two reclining seats. His glasses are facing forward, as if he’s ready to have his ticket punched… in the first-class section.

He is the first one to go back inside the egg carton. Maureen is upset I found that one so quickly, “I think he wants out of this dusty train and would like to head back to his clean white office.” as I shut the lid on this mogul.

Peter Lawford has just been located, in an overhead compartment, he is yellow and hidden properly. The initials P.L. are on this egg in case we couldn’t recognize this member of the rat-pack. One of my mom’s heart throbs. This is so fun!

Maureen says there are a few outside also… I climb down the steel steps and examine the exterior, underneath the carriage, the train’s massive wheels, the couplers, the air hoses, like a conductor doing his pre-trip inspection. As luck and hinting would have it, Fred Astaire has been spotted on the sprouting grass between the rails. This spot is where he filmed the Band Wagon song By Myself.

Astaire… scene from the Band Wagon, but mom has drawn him in his more familiar top hat. (Grand Central Station MGM Backlot #2).

My Easter Egg Hunt location taken in 1973. (Grand Central Station MGM Backlot #2).

Free Range Fred Egg

Roddy McDowall is hiding around here I’m told. That hint takes me to the doorway he walked through when we both met him on Planet of the Apes. As I walk through that same door today, his egg appears, it’s on the fence cross brace in plain sight. It says Roddy on one side and is died Purple. That is a perfect color for the Bookworm.

I met Roddy McDowall for my second time on this TV series in 1974-He greeted all the kids who were watching these scenes filmed at Grand Central Station. The series wanted an abandoned look, bringing in cement fragments. The station was used in Young Frankenstein right before this and was very fancy. Both Planet of the Apes and Young Frankenstein were 20th Century Fox renting the MGM backlot. This station would get fixed up nicely for The Fortune, this deterioration is set dressing. This would become fit for a Band Wagon, once again.

The hunt begins here, we climb in where these train tracks enter the backlot.

We’re leaving the Train Station and off to the cemetery!There is a fence in this picture laying on the ground, white and dented, a car crashed through it. It was a traffic accident, not a stunt. Imagine crashing your car on the backlot. I’d keep driving around, leave out the main gate. The studio put a replacement fence in, which funny enough, was the side of a ship with port holes to look in the studio from. That’s the story behind this picture, Look closely, the rear of the train has a guard getting out of the Red Bronco, they patrol this area knowing this is our favorite way in.

My partner in today’s story...This picture is from Maureen’s balcony seen here holding her nephew Shad, In the background is Lot 2. Yes she had balcony MGM seating. We watched filming from her bedroom. So much fun…Notice the fence and you will see two-port holes. That’s the replacement to the fence-the side of a ship. Only in Hollywood…

MGM Lot 2 cemetery in it’s glory. Site of my original Hole in the Fence. When we entered we were scared stiff, we crawled in the high grass along these tombstones. In the 70’s, this cemetery was moved around to different locations. NY Street used it on Soylent Green. Chuck Connors had a shootout with Charlton Heston in the climax. Also, The Phantom of the Backlot used these graves at Tarzan’s Lake. Then Young Frankenstein made a graveyard below the Girls Reform School I still call Boystown. These are Styrofoam. Some are wood and were last used in Logan’s Run. I’ll take you on that set in Book 2 “The Uninvited Guest.” Walk with Richard York and Jenny Agutter with my pal Jimmy and I…
These gravestones were used in “Young Frankenstein” and seen here in transit.

A picture I took of the location of the Lot 2 cemetery. I’m peeling apart Peter Lawford as we head over to the next set. I’m hungry… it’s always fun when you can eat game pieces. The cemetery relocated for more filming.

We are done on my part of the hunt, next it’s her turn!

An egg hunt in a haunted cemetery…

“OK girl”…I kept it simple, most are in this cemetery but two are at the pool, just sunning themselves.”

She scans the field of retired souls, and now slowly walks apprehensively in search of…movie eggs. Cautiously, she touches the tops of the graves, like she’s knocking on a front door. She is warming up to this macabre environment. I bet no kids anywhere are having an Easter Morning quite like this… except maybe in Transylvania.

That’s good because I hid a white egg with Red Slippers on it- inside a coffin. This coffin has weeds growing out of the partially open lid. The egg just rolled under a wad of ancient and current spider webs. We will see if these slippers can be recovered or if Boris the Spider is the new owner of these painted on Ruby Red Slippers.

She points to the sarcophagus, looking for some reaffirmation, I blankly stare back, “Open it!”

Knowing she hates spiders -her head turns as if she’s seen a Phantom, perhaps Lon Chaney. He lurked this lot in the silent era after all… Boldly she grabs the Judy egg. “It’s cracked”, she says. Then in one smooth move as I approach her, she throws it at me sidearm.

Bullseye! She’s good… she can turn a double-play, she’s that good. The cracked egg is now pulverized as I tumble backwards alongside someone less fortunate than me. From a horizontal position, I look up at the graves as the dust settles, I slowly lift myself back up. We both bust up, “keep hunting”-as I think-your time will come!

I left this simple, a six-year-old could do it and most of these hard-boiled movie stars are now recovered, except the two “E’s”…Elvis and Esther. Esther sits balanced on the edge of her own diving board. Skateboards have replaced swimmers nowadays. As Maureen examines this blue egg with Esther on it, we agree, let’s let her roll off the diving board, her final plunge. We will leave her in the pool for eternity… Elvis, with your collar and fancy hair, you just stay seated in that metal lawn chair.

We sit next to King’s egg and talk. Just Maureen, me, and an egg painted with hair, glasses, and a collar. We decide to leave him be, “Happy Easter Elvis, if you get hungry, my mom’s having a buffet, around 2-ish”

Written and Lived by Maureen Miller and Donnie Norden….


A Chinese lunch for our Detectives today. This is a back side entrance into the Main NY Street. You can see out the back of the false front…upstairs.The depth is just enough to have actors walk inside the door and set decorations can be put in picture windows. The back street is a block of…false fronts. No detail on the backsides.

Chinatown in this episode is located on The Universal Studios Backlot. Their Fortune Cookies will forecast the rest of the afternoon. ” You’re in for a Bang”

We just got a tip on the movement of a large amount of explosives located in The Hollywood Hills. Right outside our Studio Precinct. “Let’s go take a Look!”

The Hollywood Freeway, coming up on The Universal Studios exit. “Get your money ready.” 1967

The World Famous…Cahuenga Pass. The Gateway to the San Fernando Valley.

Barham Blvd, bridge over the 101 Hollywood Freeway. Behind you is Universal Studios.

I gotta call from MGM”It’s downhill from here, 21 miles, as the crow flies…

Times have changed around here…

This type of Rock and Roll requires…Law Enforcement. Activities in and around L.A in 1967, located near the Cahuenga Pass. A bus ride from The Cow Palace down the 101 will put you in Hollywood in roughly 5 hours.

I’m the Host…Mr. Sam Riddle. Long before Ryan Seacrest hosted everything.

I’m in…For Free!

Careful …these roads are winding with many tight squeezes, The Hollywood Bowl and The Greek Theater are around here…”Is that Columbo’s car over there? Where are they shooting today? Check the call sheets!

This was one of my freeway exits to go to work, this is the Barham Blvd exit off the 101 Hollywood Freeway. In a short distance, you will stop at a red light on Barham. A small quaint flower shop is on the passenger side, and Universal Studios Property line greets you with a Billboard Welcoming You to Hollywood. That’s how far they went on location for these Hollywood Hills shots. The other side of the fence

The Hollywood Hills just turned into Colonial Street. Every home here is …Famous!

Look closely, same home and same angle used in Dragnet.

It’s always fun to adjust those old roof antennas…Part of TV Land people forget.

This is such a great street and a challenge not to complete the obvious, every home is recognizable. But Mayfield probably doesn’t work in Adam-12. The Munsters Home is the neighbor on the left side of the picture.

Eva Longoria “Gabby” presided here for 8 years in the series Desperate Housewives. This is its current location on Colonial. Inside was a functional set, trinkets, family pictures of “Carlos and Gabby,” and furniture graced you once you entered the front door.

Our next clue…they live over there, at the Leave it to Beaver House. Point us in the right direction”

We all know this iconic TV corner. Detective Joe Friday and Officer Bill Gannon go to investigate the suspicious family just down the street.

What kinda lunatic would collect this stuff?”…It’s not the Cleavers, that show’s been cancelled”

Always trust your fortune cookies”

Any Luck- finding the whereabouts of this deranged individual -officer?”

“I just made my first TV arrest, suspect is in custody, “says our- no name tag -fresh out of the academy, guest star. “Wonderful job, keep it up and you will land your own TV Series Sonny Boy…We’re looking for someone to cast opposite Martin Milner in a new crime drama next season”…This is where Reed got his foot in the door. Right place, right time. He has that “IT” cop look.

Crime doesn’t Pay!

Fast forwardnext TV Season. Same street. Dragnet, Adam-12, Columbo, The Rockford Files all helped keep the crime down in the late sixties at this movie studio. Jack Webb was a producer for this series.

Solving a Crime- Joe Friday and Bill Gannon style:

It’s a bright day in Los Angeles. It’s 1967, things to do range from Disneyland to Busch Gardens. How about the Hollywood Wax Museum- if you want to meet movie stars. A few wisely spent dollars at Hollywood Park can make the day fly by, and Jimi Hendrix is playing at The Fabulous Forum, across from the track. The Hollywood Bowl is perfect for music on summer nights under the stars.

The Rams, USC, UCLA, The Dodgers…You get my point. Sometimes, people get carried away at these activities and venues, “that’s when I go to work; I carry a badge.”

Just a normal afternoon luncheon, away from The L.A. County Courthouse cafeteria for a change, we stop in at The Pagoda Restaurant, at a famous Chinese location. Unknowingly, the cookies left alongside the gratuitous tip would foretell our afternoon. ” You’re in for a Bang” exclaim fortunes inside these tasty cookies.

The exterior of this Chinese Restaurant is located on… Universal’s Backlot. We need to follow up on a lead: A high number of explosives are in the possession of a radical individual. Luckily, the culprit lives very close to the studio. Up in the Hollywood Hills, where several television and film stars reside. Pete Duel and Lindsay Wagner live close to work in their tiny mansions nestled up alongside these curvy roads that barely fit one car alongside each other.

As usual, this TV series will grab some footage around the neighborhood, then mix it into the backlot scenery. This lead becomes a bullseye, and with the help of a uniformed officer, fresh out of the Police Academy, or Actors Guild. With the help of these fine agencies, law and order always prevails, and this villain now lives in San Quentin…This has been a MARK VII PRODUCTION.

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden

“CHiPs” Life on the Set

Officers Bobby “Hot Dog” Nelson and Frank Poncherello, on patrol in Culver City.

This trailer is often used and towed behind the camera car. It allows for steady and tight framing for the camera operator. Here, Erik adjusts his booster seat.

Tom Riley who replaced Larry Wilcox can be seen here with Eric Estrada. The show was “DIVA” heavy in this season. Larry had seen enough of this group and moved on from the ego’s in the shows last years.

This picture I took at Vet’s Park is of Erik pulling up towards the camera lens.This park is adjacent to MGM and is in several episodes of this T.V series.The paneled station wagon belongs to the studio and is a dandy ride to and from set.

The back of a “pick up” modified for camera work.

Chances are- you saw these cars crash.

Another pile of road rage victims…

This was a commercial picture for all my teenage friends…Don’t Drink and Drive. Buddy Pat volunteered to be the beer toting crash dummy. I can always count on Pat to deliver on whatever role he’s assigned. He lived to drink again.

My dog- surveying the situation-she did her own stunts. Tashka was her name, she knew how to trespass the backlot and ended up sometimes showing up on her own-looking for me. She knew the backlot as well as…Lassie.

MGM Lot 2, The Chips car crash boneyard. This was a constant work in progress, after a car was deemed worthless, it was sent away on a salvage trucks to be recycled. Later in the week, we would receive an entirely new batch. It was the routine in this section of New York Street.

These tankers ended up on the backlot.

This car carrier was a regular fixture on this series, carrying nice picture cars to location, then returning at the end a long day with rolled over, damaged and soon to be scrapped 70’s automobiles. In the picture most left, the carrier is acting in front of the camera. Normally, it’s how these cars arrive on set to be destroyed. This was a staple for transportation on this series.

So many classic cars ended their legacy in one final, grand- smash-up.

Notice how this truck gets launched, it needs the stunt driver to precisely hit a ramp built backside on another car.

LocationSepulveda and Greenlawn- Culver City, Four decades later.

C.H.P- Officer Andrew happened to be passing by as I visited this corner. “A Salute to Our Motorcycle Officers” and there fine work done in a very dangerous occupation. He watched the series in reruns. A reminder of how time flies by – not a lot of age 60 plus CHP officers on the beat.

My corner, Huron and Culver...”Silent Partner” episode… 1982

Same location… 2023

The last mission these vehicles from the T.V series “Emergency” was in a “CHiP’s” episode titled “Hot Wheels”

MGM had their own Fire Department that provided “safe haven” in explosive environments.

Dialogue…When these officers talk as they ride, complications need to be overcome to capture the conversation.The bikes are being towed, the stars don’t have do anything but talk…

Manis starred in “Every Which Way But Loose” before capturing hearts on this episode of “CHiP’s.”

This prop was featured in an episode on P.C.H. The boulder pictured is made fiberglass and wood and you can stand up inside its hollow core. It was driven out to Malibu and precariously positioned above the highway. It was like a guest star.

Ready to be relocated on P.C.H-the traveling rock.

Location…A sunny day in Malibu.

Saturday Night Fever” success found it’s way into every show in Hollywood. Every T.V show had some pulsating, grinding, Donna Summer rhythmic beat reminding you we’re in the wonderful decade of the 70’s.

CHP recruiting skyrocketed with this series, and you can see why!

A reminder…always designate a driver when drinking is involved, just ask Tom, his career on this show was terminated following his C.H.P arrest.

23 year old Tom Reilly. He would later be arrested by CHP Motorcycle officers after a brief chase for D.U.I…He was removed from series after his short stint as “Hot Dog”

Dating… “Joe Namath” while on series.

Enter- Bruce Penhall…

Enter- Bruce Jenner...Look at that guy, he’s more robust than Wilcox, who is a Marine.Yep, this Gold Medal winner is …”All Man”

As time goes forward, “people change”…

Girls Just Want to Have Fun” …down the street from MGM was this location affectionately called Chippendale’s. Chips rented this location for “Club Nights” The line up to get inside this club stopped traffic on Overland. A “Secret Garden” just a stones throw from the backlot, often visited by show biz patrons.

Our Star, hamming it up from his hospital bed after falling off his bike. “Ponch” fractured several ribs and broke both wrists after being thrown from his 600 lbs. motorbike.

Plastic Lunch Boxes replaced the steel cans that are most “trusted and needed” by students. This box could melt in an Emergency. I’m surprised they’re so cheaply designed. They at least need a “roll bar” under the hood. I’d rather have a dented Hub-Cap or a knob off a stick shift.

Saturday Nights at 8;00 P.M, following- “Emergency” on a T.V near you.

MGM Television Series-1977/1983– “Strap on your helmets,…let’s go for a ride!

Culver City’s landscape will forever be captured on film in this vehicular romp starring two motorcycle cops named-Jon Baker and Frank Poncherello. Larry Wilcox was cast first for a salary of 25 thousand dollars per episode. MGM chose a pin up model to ride alongside him named Erik Estrada.

A Diva” if there ever was one, His social life was served on a silver platter as he jumped in and out of relationships like a “speeder.on the 405 Freeway.” In 1981, he slowed his role and settled in with Beverly Sassoon, the ex-wife of Vidal Sassoon. Money, nor hair products, were a problem for this couple. Hollywood was surprised to hear these two were romantically involved since Ms. Sassoon is know for a conservativeness and class, something Erik was never famous for.

She would appear in an episode towards the end of the series and be-killed, by a drunk driver. A powerful episode denouncing drinking and driving. But in the beginning of the series, heavy friction existed between Larry Wilcox, a former Marine, and the Latin lover next to him. It was apparent Erik was hired for his looks, since he couldn’t even ride a Kawasaki. After an intense six week course on proper handling techniques, the studio finally felt safe allowing their star behind the handlebars.

This show filmed everywhere including my street-“3 times.” In the episode “Silent Partner” a spectacular crash took place on my residential street corner. In another episode, they rented out our friend “Tracy’s ” house, and a big chase started by breaking through a fence in her driveway. Our neighborhood could watch itself on television Saturday nights, and it seemed if everyone in this city had Erik Estrada encounters. One thing you would not see- is Larry and Erik fraternizing, that’s because of an extreme dislike between these two stars. In fact, I know no other lead pairing in a successful series with so much discontent.

It’s like Batman hating Robin, or The Green Hornet disliking KATO. Or even, heaven forbid, Andy despising Barney. It doesn’t happen, but it did on this set.

My dad had a second house on our street and we rented it to MGM employees. “Debbie“, was a Teamster on CHiPs, everyday MGM transportation ended up parked in front of my house.” Like Basecamp” cars coming and going with MGM logo’s proudly displayed. “Mike” her husband, worked at the MGM Film Labs as a “color timer.” I would work alongside him in that lab lab in this T.V Series final season. My job was a “reel router” and our department was the last MGM department to close down. “Lorimar” was taking over…I digress- but this was part of my development in future studio endeavors. I was becoming an adult.

MGM matched up an unlikely pair, one for looks, one for realism, then sprinkled in some fabulous car crashes thanks to Paul Knuckles. A U.S Navy veteran and motorcycle enthusiast, he is in the Stuntman’s Hall of Fame. He passed away in 2015, I’ll never forget him.

Each evening along Culver Blvd, a carnival of transportation vehicles would convoy back to MGM after a very long day-crashing stuff! When this caravan passed by-it gave me chills. I so wanted to go on location with them. It’s all I dreamed about. I’d head over to the backlot to examine the remains of crashed cars that were in good condition before loading into the car carrier for their roles. Every crash car was modified with roll bars inside and minimum amounts of gas in the engines to help prevent unwanted fire in these spectacular crashes.

Feature quality stunt work not usually found on a TV Series, this show was my addiction. Seeing the car bone yard grow larger and larger per episode. Fork lifts would off-load the destroyed vehicles on the backlot. Each episode ended its day in this way, with transportation putting away one mess-while preparing a new group of picture vehicles for destruction on some deserted freeway or local intersection. Something to look for in Paul’s old school effects- is ramps.

The stunts on this show are real deal, when you see a car fly through the air, usually in slo-motion, majestically, checkout the back of the car directly in front of the launched vehicle. You may notice ramps hidden on the backside of the car needed to help launch the airborne vehicle. This show had a magical blend, terrific stunts, decent plots, and dysfunctional chemistry with a wide cast of CHP officers.

CHP recruiting went through the roof when this series became popular. I have been on this set so often you would think I worked on it. I stocked it, I wanted to be in it, and I can be seen in the background in a scene at Vet’s Park. I also saw the friction between our stars. It was no secret on set these guys dislike each other but 25 k an episode for six days work was a healthy reason to tolerate one another.

Eventually Larry Wilcox had enough of our “Diva” and divorced this series. He was replaced by actor Thomas Reilly in the role as Officer Bobby “Hot Dog” Nelson. In what would have been a great episode, our star was arrested a year into his new role. Real CHP in Downtown L.A picked up Mr. Reilly after a short pursuit and virtually ended his career before it could take off. Real CHP takes out fake CHP. Two very inflated egos were the normal on this set in 1982. The chemistry was glittery, almost slimy, and each star thought they were God’s Gift to Television. Tom was lucky since he was cast into an already hit series. Larry Wilcox was the meat and potatoes to the meal.

In someways this pairing defined the decade of the 70’s. Themes involving dancing and roller disco became episodes. Saturday Night Fever was the biggest box office hit going and disco was king. Ponch would film some dance sequences just a short walk from the studio’s west gate at an establishment named Chippendale’s. The line up to get inside was like a meat market cattle call. The morning after in the parking lot was disgusting blend empty alcohol bottles, cigarette butts with lipstick no-less, dope baggies and cash were just some of the things you would find after a nights of entertainment.

This location fits what CHIP’s was becoming…a tease of slimy skin, gyrating, and amorous crowds of women unlike I’ve ever witnessed. Dressed ready for anything.

After “Hot Dogs”arrest, another star was brought in. Motorcycle champion Bruce Penhall was hired delivering instant credibility. Probably the most wholesome of all the actors still in the series. Bruce is the guy you would allow your daughter to date. In 1982, Bruce won his second World Championship in speedway racing at the L.A Coliseum. Let me tell you, that was a fantastic course. The best man won. Bruce brought class, dirt bike riding skills, and hard work to this set of twinkling glitter.

When Erik Estrada was in a contract dispute with MGM, the studio brought in another Bruce-last name- Jenner. A Gold Medal Winner in the 76′ Olympics, he seemed the perfect fit for this series. After all, he has the “all man” machoism that you would expect from CHP. I remember thinking he’s perfect for this role. Eventually “Ponch” would return to finish this last but very successful MGM T.V Series.

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden

Emergency!…Universal Studio’s Style

Live Your Lunchpale!”

Man down in Hill Valley” …Put on your safety gear for what’s ahead…

Psycho House used in Emergency! (1972) John and Roy must be checking up on “Mother“!

Mother’s alive!

What’s Grandpa up to now?”The Munster Home front yard.

Munster House opposite…

Thanks- Squad 51″

The Garage from the Leave it to Beaver house is on fire.

Entering the Garage from the Leave it to Beaver home.

Another set on fire…Terry’s home from Desperate Housewives..

Terry’s home in Desperate Housewives…Smoke out upstairs windows-controlled fire lower story front window for Emergency... This in studio terms is a simple quick turnover.

Terry’s home today from Desperate Housewives…

Eva Longoria home from Desperate Housewives, is now on fire! across from Engine 51.

Don’t forget to turn off the stove Eva” says Carlos.

House of Seven Gables in an episode of Emergency in the 70’s.

Original- Mockingbird Lane. You can see one of Seven Gables on the house across the street.

Engine speeds to another Emergency…as they pass Jaws Lake

Jaws Lake-reverse angle. Original name-Singapore Lake.

Same road in the 70’s leading from Old Mexico to 6 Points.

This road takes you into Old Mexico and the Flash Flood animation.

This waterfall no longer exists-Emergency Squad 51 is responding to a stagecoach accident.


We can get him out now!”

Upper pond -Falls Lake today

This warehouse is located in Hill Valley ,or Mayfield if you prefer-The Courthouse faces this section. The other side of this building is Brownstone Street, just keep going through the door the Fire Department is standing in.

Universal Studios’ New York Street in Emergency! 

LACoFD Fire Station 127 in Carson stood as the fictitious Station 51 in this series.

‘Put him out!” A fire stunt on this same set almost- 50 years later!

Life back to normal. Trams pass by this house daily.

Original Colonial Street, lower lot. Neighbors include –The Munsters, The Cleavers, and Marcus Welby.

Costumes off- A summer day on Colonial Street. Wardrobe/Make-up are hard to bear on hot summer days. Air Conditioning units often get added to cool off stars and prevent make-up melting. I would get these calls and if it effects production-it’s considered an… Emergency!

Our original New York Street. Lighting towers on wheels get moved around the backlot (right) in photo.

A real- Emergency. New York Street up in flames. Engine Company 51 First Responder.

Careful where you park!”

There’s Fires everywhere around here”...C.S.I

Jaws Lake in- Emergency. This area is not yet the Jaws set, technically. Emergency proceeded Spielberg’s shark. No dock built yet for trams.

Jaws Dock- is also Cabot Cove in Murder She Wrote.

Singapore Lake before it became Jaws Lake.

Jaws Lake from our wilderness area. “To Kill a Mockingbird” home is the structure right of the hotel…Elm Street. In the distance is a castle-The Tower of London.

Here comes help”

A saloon now sits in center of 6 Points. Built for “Wild Bill” starring Jeff Bridges.

This studio is one accident after another… let’s get underneath this unstable load… good idea”

Even the Cleaver House has hadEmergencies

Old upper Falls Lake-this is the part of the Universal Backlot that you could actually get lost on the backroads. Our version of -Topanga Canyon.

Nice view of this area when this series was filmed. The house at the top of the Universal Hillside belonged to…Tom Mix. He had tires on his car personalized with T.M, so on dirt roads T.M was indented. His horse shoes probably did the same. Cowboy ego…

Upper Falls Lake today (rebuilt) -this was where Emergency filmed the stagecoach accident.

A Hawk- enjoying the afternoon with the pond to itself. Lower Falls Lake.

Modern Falls Lakereconstructed early 80’s. You can see a rim holding back water in upper falls”bottom right in photo.” Lower falls lake is in front of Blue Sky Backdrop with it’s basin drained. To build sets, lake gets drained, then filled when ready to shoot. It takes a couple days to refill lake. The Plumbing Department is in charge of basin. The Plane Emergency is leftover from War of Worlds set.

My dog Thor resting after an action packed Emergency Day on the Universal Backlot, up at Falls Lake.

Building 3384-Fire Station 51. Centrally located on the Universal Lot. Center of map.

Tacoma Fire Department’s Donald LeRoy Norden. 1947. ‘My Dad” Needless to say, this was pops favorite show

Don’t let them know how much money we make-pretending!” John Gage (Randolph Mantooth) and Roy DeSoto (Kevin Tighe) in a series produced by non-other than Jack Webb.

I visited my dads old Firehouse in Tacoma last summer.

Here, Engine 51 rolls on it’s last assignment ever, on an episode of CHiP’s titled “Hot Wheels”

End of Watch -Engine 51…Last ever Emergency response was on CHiP’s-1979. This fiery freeway pile-up

A big thanks to the Tacoma Fire Department for their hospitality. Don Jr. in green T-shirt. What a great experience walking in my dads footprints. The T.V Series of the same name has also visited here.

Our fireboat is P.T 73″

This is what happens when your show get canceled-you no longer get a slip, you’re dry docked.

This fireboat assisted the Tacoma Fire Department before being retired.It was a tiny Battleship.

A big hand for our first responders, Air, Land and Sea.

The Alarm Sounds…

The history involving this T.V Series “Emergency” will live on forever at Universal. That’s partially because that’s the number of our Fire Squad stationed on our movie lot. Inside is an alter of photos from the T.V Series it was named after. Ironically, it stands a sling shot away from what use to be- the Burning House animation from the old tram tour. This is a very active fire department, it backs up film production when explosives are being used.

What was a T.V series is now a full blown Fire Department. It has seen more than its share of backlot fires, Universal leads the way in backlot blazes. It has a long history, partially because the backlot is enormous and highly flammable.

I have seen three- New York Streets, the original, then it’s replacement, burned down entirely. When I drove trams, we would pass firemen polishing their equipment, while talking to guests sitting on board. They have the job all our guests want… Universal FireFighter. You will see action, both planned and unplanned. Most our guests probably remember this series from 50 years ago, and it will live on in infamy.

In our first N.Y Street fire, Santa Ana winds quickly spread flames up into the rooftops before all hell broke loose. Even a swift response could not halt the flames jumping from building to building. The T.V series preplanned every fire and prepared each structure to handle what was to be filmed. Thick drywall, metal flashing, fire extinguishers and controlled gas manifolds line the interior of any burning set with a camera on it. Safety is all about preparation.

Starting in 1972, Jack Webb had 2 big hits-Adam-12, and Emergency. The initially salary for our actors was surprisingly low-$250 per episodeElectricians make more! In 1974 they got raises up to $1,250 per episode, still a low ball number. The badges worn were real and collected at the end of the day.

Rick Rosner, the main producer for the T.V Series “CHIP’S” utilized Squad 51 in three episodes. First, in the episode ‘Cry Wolf,” then in “MAIT Team.” Engine 51 responds to a horrific pile-up. One more crossover happened in season 3, episode “Hot Wheels”

CHIP’s began filming in 1977 at MGM. Emergency briefly went on hiatus at that time-only to return as “specials.”

All studios with backlots have a fire department on lot. Universal Captain Ron Perkins “retired” was in charge when I was involved there. Fire departments work hand in hand with studio facilities to safely coordinate massive spiraling sets with sensors for early smoke detection, this goes for both exterior and interior sets. They constantly patrol making sure no short cuts have taken place.

No department has more responsibility, without them we would have more disastrous fires take place. Let’s tip our cap to our first responders who are as important as they are legendary on this Universal Backlot.

If you enjoy special effects like I do- check out my YouTube Channel Phantomofthebacklots. Experience being abducted into a spacecraft if you dare…

Written and Lived by…Donnie Norden

Mayberry in Flames-The Post

Shazam… The backlot’s ablaze…

Gone with the Wind…

It was here one day, then gone the next. One hazy afternoon after school in 1976, I ventured over to Desilu with my camera to capture Mayberry in pictures. My pal Jimmy was alongside, and we merrily climbed into the backlot from the La Ballona creek. Jibber-jabbering with not a care in the world, we walked alongside the Hogan’s Heroes bridge and headed toward the Mayberry Main Street.

We are at a cross angle along the dirt road that leads to town, the area to our left had the old rail depot built for Gone With the Wind. Foundations are all that remain of that set. Straight ahead is the farm house from Mayberry R.F.D., where I have a fort. As we hit pavement, that means you’ve arrived in Mayberry. A theater is the first set you see and walking down the sidewalk we abruptly stop underneath the marquee.

Not only is the street a complete mess, the overwhelming smell of burnt wood lingers powerfully. The most substantial set on this backlot is barely standing. From all the way down at the opposite end, it’s clear devastation has taken place since our last trespass. Hesitantly and now silently, we proceed forward. Each step becomes more somber, the extent of the damage is becoming… all too clear.

Mayberry as we know it has gone up in flames. I probably know who did this since there has been a rash of backlot fires the last two years. But this one absolutely ruined 40 acres. This church structure was by far the biggest set here on the lot and the centerpiece of the Andy Griffith Series. It existed long before Barney, Andy and Opie, but was not part of G.W.T.W.’s original street design.

This elaborate set made this town complete when it was constructed. Going forward-this was Mayberry’s Town church. It is located right across from the Mayberry Courthouse. We practically slow to a crawl with the smiles wiped off our faces. Jimmy stomachs this horrific scene better than I can, I refuse to take pictures of this carnage, I’m in denial. Something I didn’t realize a 16 year old was capable of.

Walking where the inside once stood, nothing remains but a badly burned front entrance and a steeple that can no longer be climbed. My fun childhood memories inside here race through my head. Across from the church-more bad news…

Andy Griffith’s house is severely damaged. I had a fort inside his house, upstairs. We even put a church pew up the stairs where Opie’s room overlooked this quaint setting. Each set and what remains could easily fall down. The ground is black and scorched-unfixable. The gallant gimble horse that was sheltered inside is no more. No trace of the horse dating back to Thomas Ince’s westerns. Metal items survived, laying in a graveyard of wood ash. It’s hard to make out what these items once were-only the metal survived.

There will be no replacing this-the end is near for this entire backlot. One last show wanted a street that looks like this and Vigilante Force, starring Kris Kristofferson and Jan Michael Vincent completed the backlot history of film production in chaotic fashion.

Hollywood’s Lost Backlot -as Steven Bingen coins it in his fantastic book of the same name, disappears in the wild fashion it lived…

Forever, this set as we know it…is lost!

An account of this event story will appear in my second book, coming soon. The Uninvited Visitor.

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden.

This was my reaction too as I filtered through the charred remains on that fateful day…

The charred remains of Aunt Pittypat’s House from Gone With the Wind which later became part of Mayberry.

Aunt Pittypat’s House can be seen here in an episode of Andy Griffith.

Behind those upstairs drapes and windows lies a fort, complete with a pew from our town church.

This yellow house burned down…It was a real home with all the rooms any house would have. But, no utilities existed indicating this home was moved from elsewhere, probably relocated from Culver City residential. This is where the cement street ends and turns back to dirt roads.

Dirt roads indicate another show covered the paved street. This happens often, under the dirt covered top in cement.

The fire jumped this street and continued as the firefighters tried their best to salvage Mayberry.

The view from Andy Griffith’s porch. A movie company arrives in Mayberry on a scout. The porch and upstairs windows look out toward that “real” yellow house, the church-where the picket fence stands, and the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. The Stairs, as it is called now, will take you above the backlot like a balcony at a theater. You could watch this show filmed from there without ever having to trespass into Desilu.

The flagpole survived…

Lucky for Briscoe, a horse water trough can help out with his- overheating.

1938-Gone With the Wind. This street was born out of a revolution and eventually succumbed to one.

1961-My Three Sons visited the backlot. Arthur Hunnicutt stars in that episode. Maybe best know as Hyder Simpson from The Twilight Zone episode titled-The Hunt. Andy Griffith’s house is just out of frames-left side of car.

The fire was at the opposite end of town, this is the post apocalyptic vandalism. It looks as if it was hit by an 8.0 Earthquake.

Surprisingly, this was left in this condition for months afterwards, liability danger to say the least. It was dangerous around here prior to the fire.

Reminds me of me! ” My mom would give me a swift Elbow me in the ribs if I started dozing.”

Double exposure-twice the carnage.

This picture is from Jefferson Blvd. The burnt and heavily damaged steeple can never be climbed up inside again. The Mayberry Hotel, the tall building left in frame escaped fire damage. But, it was the most unstable and unsafe building on the lot prior to and after this fire. Stairways leading to the roof ended up collapsing, severely injuring a friend and- fellow trespasserTony G.