“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.

Universal’s Legendary Water Fountain Set

Super Trams could never make this move. The bigger tram design upgraded passengers counts from 125 patrons to 175, not counting “The Flight Crew” These old pink and white Glamour Trams allowed us more diverse mobility. Drivers wore red shirts and black polyester pants that melted to your skin on hot summer days. Very uncomfortable wardrobe. We drivers looked like “Good Humor” Ice Cream vendors.

You are here!

This set we call “Court of Miracles” has survived dating back to Universal’s Monster Movies.

Back when “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” lurked these parts.

It’s a “miracle” this set still exists.

Built of a combination steel and fiberglass…like a boat.

The stories this winged Lion has lived.

Fountain removed- photo.

The Wolfman-1941

The Court painted cheerfully-like it appeared in an episode of ‘Moonlighting,” starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. Fountain removed for lightpost.

Looking down on the courtyard, the fountain is waiting on the next Glamour Tram photo stop. The tiny structure top of picture is a rail depot. The last stop on this line. This is where you debark from Transylvania…

Just another day on the backlot. This photo is a scene taking place in “The Court of Miracles”

“Quasimodo” still inhabits this area…

Here is the the fountain being stored over by The Spartacus set. We have a crane on the lot capable of moving this fountain to and from. The base is separate from the lions that will be inserted inside when next in use.

A family of three flying beasts inhabit this ancient relic. Water is pumped through copper tubes in their oral passageways.This fountain is large enough to put people inside the reservoir.

Notre Dame Cathedral Belltower-for Quasimodo. This set was built alongside our fountain.

Set dressing creates ambiance from the distant past.

Archways connect to-more archways. This castle style entranceway was constructed for “Scorpion King.”

These dressed sets will be filmed at night. Bon-fires will burn on the ground while torches mounted on walls will provide eerie, flickering illumination.

Props from this original film were used once again in Mel Brook’s “Young Frankenstein”-1974

True Blood” series film sets.

Rooftops are my favorite places... Older sets without a tar covered roof can be extremely dangerous. Desilu had the worst roofs of all backlot studios. Basically, every roof on that backlot could collapse. Universal has very few roofs left that our risky. Those would be located over at our Western Streets.

Tram picture stop…Guides repetitively talk about past monster movies here.

This building will always have a special memory for me. I was running power inside this set from a panel located inside the door on the left side when I received a call from my boss, friend and veteran Universal “40 Man” Tony Grillo. He was saddened to inform me my dad passed away. I was inside this building when I received the bad news. My dad went to two “Seagram Christmas Parties” on this backlot where alcohol/food was set up on every corner. Best parties ever thrown here. When you work here over three decades, this is your home away from home. My parents passed away during my career -but my kids were born born into this. Personal history happens…

Nighttime scene at Court of Miracles-“The spirits are ready to dance and festival”

This core area survived fire and brimstone and is most often used by caterers preparing crew meals. Tables, chairs, work lights and catering trucks all tightly position themselves inside this courtyard. When you film on Elm Street- you eat here. Mario’s Catering is still going strong as a top flight food provider for Hollywood.

Frankenstein Village was situated in this area but fire would destroy these buildings.

OktoberfestUniversal Style

Friendlier Times…

The-House-of-Fear. 1945 Sherlock Holmes- Universal-Studios European Street.

“Adam-12″…looking for a trespasser!

Below the World Famous Hollywood Sign– lies another sign. Facing out in the opposite direction, towards the San Fernando Valley, Universal City proudly represents itself here. Universal owns this hill top. The studio wishes they could lump together 25 cars and still operate like business as usual. “We will have to unhitch you here, we’ll pick you up later.” Only 4 cars can fit the animations.

Today’s version of Trams R’ Us. !

Opportunity awaits...Somehow tours rejected Whoopi Goldberg for this position and she never forgave them. I did a tour for her once and there was a serious bitterness in our little trolley. It teetered on racism. “The View” hired her, Tours didn’t!

“I wanna drive that famous 25 car tram!”…Be prepared to piss in a cup and have your commercial driver’s license “spotless” with passenger endorsements. This job comes with drug testing. This is an opportunity to join “The Teamsters Local #399.” This ship needs a Captain and a Hostess , endless fun for those lucky enough to be selected to this fast paced, passionate, inspiring environment. Drivers make substantially more than guides do to Teamster Union Affiliation. Steering wheels pay more than microphones but together, you have a studio tour.

We begin at a Picture Stop;

“Focus your camera’s on my side of the tram” says the cute guide sitting shot-gun with a microphone in her hand, instead of a rifle. Be prepared, this is a stall area where trams pace themselves. Behind us our-more trams, while in front of us is an animation that takes about 4 minutes to experience and reset itself. A San Francisco EarthQuake is in you future moving forward. But it’s here we look backwards, when Monsters roamed the earth.

Costumed Monsters greeted you as you boarded our specialized vehicle to begin your tour, but this photo stop puts you dead square where these Miracles happened. It’s a Miracle this set is still here, this is the last of our Universal Monster sets still standing. So soak it up-this area transcends time on a backlot not governed by a clock. What you see on the outside of these facades is far different than you probably imagine inside.

Set lighting has various size lamps inside adjacent to filthy, dust covered windows. These same lights create a “someone’s home feel” when switched on inside the sets interiors. Stairways and uneven walkways help you circumvent the interiors with windows looking outwards at this functioning movie studio. It’s almost “ghostly” inside these buildings. Alterations involving modifications overlap each other, like a puzzle. Stairways to the rooftops have hatches that open like some… Monster movie!

Trams never stop pulling up out front, stopping, as eager tourists snap picture after picture. It’s fun to evaluate the guides and how they present their spiel. I’ve done a million picture stops here myself with a couple stand out memories. The hit T.V Series “Moonlighting” filmed here and each tram passed by this shooting set when given clearance. Red Flags, held by security guards, stop tram traffic. Communication is done with P.A’s on walkie- talkies.Trams stop in a position that will not effect filming. When cleared, we arrive point blank on this film set.

Bruce Willis and Sybil Shepherd- in between scenes, would walk over and visit with our audience. Another time, a still shoot by Playboy took place here. This rout is critical to access Earth Quake and tours had itself in a pickle. We have to drive by here, but, this is a family tour. The photo layout involved nude models horsing around the old relic water fountain. Wet, naked Playmates on one side, fully clothed tourists on the other. Only the guide and myself knows what evils lurk just inside the make-shift curtain.

Studio operations had to make a decision to separate the actual conduct from the studio conduct code. Opaque cloth was set up to block the view of what’s going on here, we were told not to stop for photos, but if another tram is in E.Q, we have no choice but to sit, wait and watch as shapely figures move about behind barely adequate coverage.

Miracles have never stopped happening on this cobblestoned street and European Village that still provides…your own “personal picture stop.”

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden

Star Trek -The Final Frontier

Star Trek “The City on the Edge of Forever”. One of several episodes that galactic travelers materialize on the Desilu backlot.

Same angle-my friend Jimmy peeking out of the doorway in the same alley. He is aiming a laser weapon my direction. We recreate battle scenes from shows we see on T.V, The Untouchables was this backlots version of Combat. Tommy Guns were the preferred weapon on this street.

Star Trek episode  “The Cage”. Mr. Spock predates Captain Kirk.

A picture I snapped while trespassing in 1974, same location as the Star Trek episode above.

Star Trek episode “Errand of Mercy”…This village was built by Cecil B. DeMille for the “King of Kings” 1927.

My picture in 1974 showing a slightly different angle as the Star Trek episode. The stairway in the background leads upstairs to a fort I built that saw a whole lot of action and spirited times. Elvis Presley even graced that stairway.in Harum Scarum.

Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons”. The Archons seen here enjoying a “night of violence and destruction” during “festival.” I’ve lived nights exactly like this. This was the look the backlot deteriorated to by late 1975. Trolley tracks through this 4 way intersection running north to south towards the La Ballona creek.

A picture I took ground level at the same location. This section was often Berlin in Hogan’s Heroes. Both series filmed during the same years and time on this backlot. Chicago is what we called it. The Untouchables,Capone-1974 and Lepke-1975 used this as The Windy City.

Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons”. Call it a night, the party’s over. Teen- age Zombies…towards the final frontier, this backlot became a hangout. Parties began to happen on the lot. If a party a local residence was broken up by police, often it shifted to this backlot location. Large groups fun seekers roamed these dark streets. This picture depicts the future of Desilu.

Another scene from the Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons”. A closer view. A cloaked and cowled “Lawgiver”. He looks scary but I’m more concerned of the Dogs on Duty. German Shepards go where no man has gone before-and that’s what guards this place.

Star Trek episode “Miri” This is Mayberry. Andy Griffith is the number one rated T.V show at this time and the courthouse is pictured here. A squad car from hell sits parked out front. Floyd’s Barber shop has it’s windows covered with wood so you don’t see Floyd’s name painted on it and Emmit’s Fix-it next to that.As soon as this show films it’s scenes, all this junk gets struck immediately so this town can return to Mayberry and it’s top ranking.

Pictures I took showing both buildings from the Star Trek episode above. Eat Moe’s Drink… also famous as Mayberry’s pharmacy/soda shop located on the bottom floor.

Notice here how busy Desilu can get on any given day in 1967. The top three rated shows are Desilu, farther down at 24 is Lassie, also a Desilu backlot series. Mission Impossible and Hogan’s Heroes round out a typical day at the backlot. Surprisingly, Hogan’s Heroes is sitting at #17 and would drop to #38 in 1968. Star Trek’s first year was triumphant with a 25.2 share compared to My Three Sons 9.4 rating in the same slot.Television audiences were branching out to…Outer Space.

Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons”. The cast is running towards The Mayberry Theater.

My picture taken in the same location as the Star Trek episode above.

Star Trek episode “Miri” Looks like The Who song-“Teenage Wasteland.” The largest building, farthest back is a soundstage on the main lot. The iconic Desilu water tower is just blocked by backlot sets.

This picture that I took in 1975 shows the same location as the episode above. Notice the Gone With The Wind train station is missing at the end of the street. Bill boards put up for Lepke, starring Tony Curtis. I will share that story in book two, “The Uninvited Guest.”

The Road to Freedom, few years later with tumbleweeds.

Star Trek episode “Miri”…”why did we come hereare there any good hotels?”

The Mayberry Hotel-I captured this photo in 1975, same location as the Star Trek episode above with the added Four Deuces sign used in Lepke. Miss Singing Nightly looks down ready to entertain. Otis Campbell had a still in a basement, under that sign.

Never Drink and Drive!

Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”. Little did we know that some years later, the backlot would be more like The city on the edge of destruction…Notice how the streets have no storm drains, There is no sewer/ drainage system here in the land of Mayberry. The roads slope towards the creek for gravity draining. Water travels down hill so slopes were how water runoff drained. The lot tapers towards the La Ballona creek.

Opposite angle showing the same 3 buildings from the Star Trek image above. Notice the fire escapes have been added to the building 4th from the left and the first floor of the shorter building received a red and white striped paint job. Capone starring Ben Gazzara just used this area followed by Lepke, the two final Chicago gangster films shot on a lot most famous for The Untouchables.

Camera assignments on Star Trek -1967. Interiors were shot cross town at Desilu/Gower. Backlot exteriors were usually 40 acres. Not enough stages at Desilu/Culver for all this production. Notice “The Monkees” at Columbia.In 1967 The Monkees outsold both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in 1967. In T.V ratings, “The Monkees” averaged 7.9. Series lasted two seasons. I was one of that 7.9, I loved The Monkees. Star Trek did 25.2 in season one. It lasted three seasons. It’s backlot neighbor, Gomer Pyle ended up knocking it off the air when matched against each other on Friday night when program shuffling took place.The Marines liberated our planet from outer space visitors…CANCELED!


To boldly go where Star Trek has gone before…

The iconic science-fiction television series Star Trek ran on NBC between 1966 and 1969. The show gave birth to a franchise that has become a defining aspect of American culture. Four years after completion of the T.V. series I would take my own adventure down these sets located in Culver City, where I would spend the next four years of my life exploring, making forts and shooting my own 8mm movies on this fantastic playground.

This section of the backlot was built for the movie Gone with the Wind, and it survived the “Civil War”. It was not built to be the focal point of the studio and survive the next forty years, even though it continued to thrive and survive.

These sets were presentable from the outside and hospitable inside. Inside, most sets had curtains from another era. Some are made of felt and some are dried out so bad the only thing holding them together is decades of dirt. Climbing up on the roof is where I drew the line; it was far too risky to walk on this top level. There are only partial floors surrounding these windows. The center of these buildings are like an elevator chute without an elevator. If something you’re standing on gives way, there’s a chance you can fall several stories to the ground floor.

40 acres sets had no plan for longevity. It’s a garage with leftover movie parts. Use what you need, if you can find it. In 1976, the lot was in shambles, the church had just burned; it’s as if all the wound up, wild spirits are letting you know they’re here. The demolition of these streets went out with no fanfare, no love, just tumbleweeds blowing everywhere through this wild west ranch.

The peek of all things 40 Acres was indeed the Era of the Sixties-despite the iconic legendary features. Television could not get enough of this backlot. Every day, often multiple T.V series coexisted along side each other as friends, but, depending on your network and time slot, the show next to you could be your competitor for ratings and survival. Gomer Pyle shifting to Friday nights all but killed Star Trek. Pyle dominated this low rated space series. This show is more popular now than it use to be.

Danny Thomas was a stamp of quality T.V in the Sixties. Desi Arnez’s vision with this backlot probably even surprised him. Every show with Desilu imprinted on it was successful. Legendary was made here on a daily basis. From a P.O.W Camp, to a tiny gas station and courthouse, this lot had just enough variety of sets to facilitate almost every T.V series being made. Most of which were using the same streets and sidewalks used sun Gone With the Wind.

Walk in a doorway and you will be transported back to 1938, from peeling wall paper to curtains turning to dust, rope tied up and used for rigging in some cases never became untied. Good job Grips…the vibe inside these sets still has the inner charm of yesterday.

It did not “Live long” but it did “prosper”; by producing some of the greatest movies and television of our time. I’d love to travel back in time and visit my playground once more before I too leave this world for the final frontier. So Scotty… Can you beam me up?

Written and lived by Donnie Norden

My journey into a wonderous land of imagination. Your next stop: The MGM Backlots

Join me as I take you on an adventure through the streets of the MGM Studios Backlots.

A scene from the Twilight Zone episode “Passage on the Lady Anne.” NY Dock, MGM Lot #2. Directed by Lamont Johnson, written by Charles Beaumont in 1963.

My MGM Art Department still of the NY Dock used in the Twilight Zone episode Passage on the Lady Anne. NY Dock, MGM Lot #2.

This ship never sailed so this ramp never moved…

My picture of the New York Docks, years later, used in the Twilight Zone episode Passage on the Lady Anne. New York Dock, MGM Lot #2.

A scene from the Twilight Zone episode “One For The Angels.” Directed by Robert Parrish. Written by Rod Serling in 1959. The second episode ever filmed and the first on the MGM backlot. Episode one-“Where is Everybody?” was done on the Universal Backlot. This set is located at the corner of 5th avenue-MGM Backlot #2.

A picture I took of the courthouse in 1976, from the episode One For The Angels

Our next stop are the sets used in the haunting episode “Deaths-Head Revisited” MGM Backlot #3. Directed by Don Medford, written by Rod Serling in 1961. Rod had a penchant for WW 2 stories as well he should, since he was in the middle of it. His spirit and soul comes forward in the episodes in this series involving this topic. War was MGM’s specialty, and Lot 3 was one of the studio’s main battlefields.

My Art Department still of the same location used in the episode Deaths-Head Revisited. MGM Backlot #3. Combat,

Next stop is the Twilight Zone episode The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. This is the neighborhood where Andy Hardy and Donnie Norden grew up. I had a fort upstairs in his house. The studio name for this street is New England Street. We call it Maple Street. MGM Backlot #2. This is a great street to watch reruns on-“I live my TV”

Twilight Zone episode The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. MGM Backlot #2. Directed by Ron Winston. Written by Rod Serling, 1960.”Bob’s House-why does his car start?”

This is the same house the mob is standing in front of in the previous picture, in the Twilight Zone episode The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. New England St. MGM Backlot #2. This picture was taken after a fire that took down the church. This home would be restored two years later for the film Sgt. Pepper.

Opening scene in “Living Doll” episode starring Telly Savalas. Directed by Richard C. Sarafian, Written by Charles Beaumont, 1963.

Shelley Fabares just missed her bus, but this gentleman is nice enough to –offer up a ride.

Black Leather Jackets cruisin’ for a bruisin’ on Maple Street. Directed by Joseph M. Newman. Written by Earl Hamner Jr. 1964

1977-I’m on the set of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Everything sparkles in the summer of love. Woodstock comes to MGM, as top bands come to perform unlike any musical ever made. Peter Frampton jumps out the upstairs window in that corner building…he is saved by Billy Preston.

The next stop, the Twilight Zone episode Stopover in a Quiet Town. Also filmed on New England St. MGM Backlot #2. My friends and I called this street “Maple Street”

Bob’s House”- where he stands outside in the middle of the night “looking, or just waiting, for something to come from the sky above” – “Why does his car start, when no one else’s car does?” There’s always that one neighbor who doesn’t fit in. We not only watched this episode rerun here on this street, we acted it out, line for line…Featured in “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”

From Twilight Zone episode Stopover in a Quiet Town. The Church located at the end of the street, shown on the right in the aerial picture. New England St., MGM Backlot #2.

A picture of the church I took in 73.’

The pool and mansion from Twilight Zone episode The Bewitchin’ Pool. MGM Backlot #2. Directed by Joseph M. Newman, written by Earl Hamner Jr. This sadly was the series’ last episode…1964.

The water’s fine, follow me over to the lake at Lot 3″

Filmed where Esther Williams once swam, she too may have disappeared to the temptations of Aunt Tee. That gingerbread house is pretty tempting, just ask Jeb and Sport. The Bewitchin’ Pool was a place to hide from bickering parents. MGM Backlot #2.

Jimmy and I spent a lot of time at this pool trying our darnedest to get to this party!

Is anyone home?’– “I want to go horseback riding.” That’s me knocking at the front door. Same mansion from Twilight Zone episode “The Bewitchin’ Pool” and “Spur of the Moment.”

Spur of the Moment” directed by Elliot Silverstein. Written by -Richard Matheson-1964

Night scene -“Spur of the Moment”…1964

Exact angle in daylight-I snapped this picture in 1977.

Kick the Can” episode, filmed on St. Louis Street, MGM Backlot #3. Directed by Lamont Johnson. Written by George Clayton Johnson in 1962. “I was a young kid like these when I first went down this road-at night– with a full moon”

Twilight Episode “Kick the Can”, St Louis Street, MGM Backlot #3. Today, Sunnyvale Rest is would make a fine rest stop for the- “aged Donnie.” I grew old here amongst Peace and Tranquility. I’ve transformed from Can Kickin to Porch Rockin…Can’t stop Father Time!

Sunnyvale Rest Home from “Kick the Can”. Building number 532, St. Louis Street, MGM Backlot #3 (1970). The MGM Auction is selling everything not nailed down at this time.

The Odyssey of Flight 33-Interior of cockpit of Flight 33. I’m a frequent flyer on this aircraft, usually I take place of the Captain….Directed by Jus Addiss. Written by Rod Serling-1961.

Give him something to drink-everything is fine Shatner!”Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Directed by Dick Donner. Written by Richard Matheson-1963.

A picture of the cockpit from 1979, used in some of the scenes.

From the episode Dust. Ghost Town, MGM Backlot#3. Directed by Douglas Heyes. Written by Rod Serling-1961.

My Art Department Still. Red arrow shows the same location from the opening credits of Dust. Notice the train they moved to block Baldwin Hills. Ghost Town, MGM Backlot#3.

Nick of Time…Starring William Shatner. Directed by Richard L. Bare, Written by Richard Matheson. 1960. Small Town Square.

The park, center of town with the Happy Newlyweds.

Small Town Square, I took this picture in 1975. That tiny dried out park is located dead center of the backlot. A cannon, a flagpole, and a clock are typical set decorations that get added here.

“Don’t drag me back in there- Don!”

Is there anyway out…anyway at all?

3:22 P.M…”All’s well that ends well.” Moving on from that sinister little Fortune Teller.

Once Upon a Time” The town on the MGM backlot #2-Small Town Square, once again. This episode stars Buster Keaton. An MGM contract player who made a lot of money at MGM while his career deteriorated. Word has it he stayed on the backlot in a trailer and enjoyed alcohol regularly on the backlot. I love this episode that Norman Z McLeod directed. Written by Richard Matheson… 1961

Welcome to Harmony” ...I’m standing exactly where Buster Keaton is standing under the Harmony banner.This is now a real residential neighborhood called “Studio Estates” but I call it-“Studio Mistakes.” I took this picture at 5-A.M on Astaire Street as the full moon sets in the North -West. Yes, I to was wearing a “sparkler helmet”

None of these clocks work!”

Recognize the clock? This prop gets recycled all the time on this lot. Here being used in Once Upon a Time. Main Street Jewelers is Campus Jewelers in disguise.

Small Town Square, MGM Backlot #2. Picture snapped from roof of Courthouse on a spectacular puffy clouded day rooftop hopping. 1974, I remember taking this and a series of photos like it was yesterday. Very windy afternoon, those were the funnest days on this backlot. The spirits come out in force, doors slam, curtains rustle, squeeks sound like some old lines being delivered. Everything subtle comes back to life -flamboyantly. The wind is like your car key, it turns on the ignition to this marvelous fairy land.

From the episode Elegy. St Louis Street, MGM Backlot #3. Directed by Douglas Heyes. Written by Charles Beaumont-1960.

MGM Backlot #3. The same house from the episode Elegy was used in Meet Me in St. Louis, with Judy Garland. St Louis Street, MGM Backlot #3

From the episode The Old Man in the Cave. Ghost Town, MGM Backlot#3. Directed by Alan Crosland Jr. Based off a short story by Henry Slezar, tele-played by Rod Serling…1963

Years later, Ghost Town, MGM Backlot#3. Support Your Local Sheriff was the last western filmed on this dirt road.

A Stop at Willoughby” County Courthouse, MGM Backlot #3. Directed by Robert Parrish, written by Rod Serling…1960.

1970 showing the same building from A Stop at Willoughby. County Courthouse, MGM Backlot #3.

Eight ball- corner pocket”-Rod wins again!

“Game of Pool” Directed by Buzz Kulick. Written by Rod Serling-1961.

The End…Rod Serling’s Production Company. Named after Cayuga Lake in New York, where Rod had a summer home.This company was operated out of MGM. The series came to an ending after it’s 5th season. Rod ended up selling his interest to CBS for a small sum, thinking it would never again be profitable. I still watch it and own the special formatted DVD collection. Sensationally exquisite with interviews and commercials from that time. It takes you back to the golden age of television. It’s a pricey collection but worth every penny.

My journey into a wonderous land of imagination. Next stop-MGM Backlots

Fade in from the sky... On the deep dark corners of the MGM backlot-Rod’s ghost lives on. Follow the scent of his Chesterfield cigarettes, take time to inhale before delivering your brilliant opening monologues. Often these are delivered from a porch or alongside shrubbery. That’s where you usually find me. As kids, we idolized Rod because we loved the Twilight Zone.

We all knew Combat filmed here because the studio fences could not contain World War 2. But, once we entered inside-through a Hole in the Fence, we discovered there is more going on inside here than just war. Being limited in the day to TV’s that just had channels 2-13, with several numbers omitted, we had a small sample size. We knew this show was filmed here because the credits said Metro Goldwyn Mayer on them. Sure enough, as we trespassed for the very first time, we stumbled upon our first filming set. My pal Jimmy and I stared in amazement at a pool we just saw on TV, The Bewitchin’ Pool. We communicated telepathically at first, with expressions before shouting “This is the Bewitchin’ Pool” we had just watched this rerun-now here it is.

In our endeavors on this lot going forward, we named these sets after famous episodes of this television series and some MGM films. Forever, this pool was referred to by us in terms of Witchcraft. We had no idea this was Esther Williams’ set. Maple Street would be the next title selected and for almost a decade that was how we identified it. This street name transcended time, just like the flying clock in the opening credits.

When the series was cancelled, it lived on through me and a few loyal friends. We recreated Rod’s openings, in our very own mysterious sounding teen age voices. Then we took it to the next level and started sneaking in a television. Battle scarred from being lifted over fences. Yes, we watched this series in the exact sets they were filmed in. A very beaten up television served its purpose for a few years. Sure the rabbit ears were broken and we needed pliers to change the channel, but the quality was pure Black and White Gold!

What’s cool is watching episodes upstairs in these homes, it’s a fusion of color around us with a black and white portal going backwards in time. The ultimate-picture in picture before such a thing existed. The show ironically finished off in 1964 with the Bewitching Pool episode – 8 years later- that’s where I picked up, where they left off. This set is where we first entered The Twilight Zone, unknowingly back then. Once we connected dots, we did our part to relieve every scene done in this wonderland of a backlot, where imagination runs as wild as the kids who trespass through each and every passageway, corridor and revolving door…adventure awaits for those who dare, you gotta believe is all.

Rod would have appreciated how much respect the next generation of future adults still has for him. A small part of him lives in- all us neighborhood kids. This series transcends beyond both time, space and mind. Quantum physics can’t explain it.Take a journey where no boundaries exist…once you’re over the studio fence, that is. It’s here you let your imagination do the work. That sign post ahead- is a prop, the entire backlot is fake-“yet real”...

Welcome to Donnie’s version of growing up in- “The Twilight Zone.” Before we fade back upwards in the sky, “How about just one-more Chesterfield?” Jonathan Winters is just waiting to challenge me to A Game of Pool

Watch what you wish for around here…

Written and lived by Donnie Norden

How the West Was Won 60 years later

Gregory Peck as Cleve Van Valen with Debbie Reynolds as Lily Prescott. Frank Sinatra was originally intended for the Gregory Peck role.

How the West Was Won 60 years later…..

First of all, I love this movie. How the West Was Won gives a courageous account of westward expansion from the 1830s to the 1890s. The story is conveyed through the eyes of multiple generations of a driven pioneer family. The rugged landscape of the era is spectacularly captured in this film and the statement “They don’t make them like this anymore” rings true.

There are five interrelated segments directed by three of Hollywood’s most renowned directors who coordinated and shared the zealous vision of making the first full length feature film using the Cinerama process. “The Rivers”, “The Plains” and “The Outlaws”, was directed by Henry Hathaway, “The Civil War”, was directed by John Ford and George Marshall did, “The Railroad”. They were assisted by four top cinematographers, a cast of 24 stars, more than 12,000 extras, including several Indian tribes and a roster of over 50 actors and stunt men.

The movie had an All-Star cast which includes three of Hollywood’s greatest Western stars; John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda, appearing together for the first and only time, although none share scenes together. The rest of the cast includes Carroll Baker, Walter Brennan, Lee J Cobb, Carolyn Jones, Karl Malden, Raymond Massey, Agnes Moorehead, Harry Morgan, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Robert Preston, Debbie Reynolds, Thelma Ritter, Russ Tamblyn, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, and Richard Widmark.

The movie ends in present-day America with aerial shots of L.A. freeways (with very little traffic) as an illustration of the inevitable progress and the price it takes to achieve it.

How the West Was Won is widely considered one of Hollywood’s greatest epics. The film received widespread critical acclaim and was a box office success, grossing $50 million on a budget of $15 million. At the 36th Academy Awards, it earned eight nominations, including Best Picture, and won three, for Best Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Sound and Best Film Editing. In 1997, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

If you ever want to see this movie on an 86ft curved screen, How the West Was Won is played at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood during the Cinerama festivals which seem to take place every 4 years. Around 15 years ago, Cinerama projecters were finally installed at the Dome. This theater, which shares it’s name, only showed single-lens Cinerama which is basically Ultra Panavision and never used the 3-Strip film process until recently.

Written and lived by… Donnie Norden

James Stewart as Linus Rawlings with Carroll Baker as Eve Prescott Rawlings. Although James Stewart’s character was only supposed to be 28 in the movie, Stewart was actually 53 at the time of filming.

Karl Malden questions Carroll Baker about her night with a fur trapper while sister Debbie Reynolds looks on. During filming in June 1961, Karl Malden had to be rushed to hospital to have an emergency appendectomy.

Henry Fonda as Jethro Stuart, scout for the railroad with George Peppard as Zeb Rawlings. Henry Fonda’s part was originally much bigger, but was gradually scaled down.

The adult Donnie…protecting his horses on the Universal backlot.

Lee J. Cobb and Mickey Shaughnessy are seen here with “my train”! This train was moved back to MGM Studios after filming and I played on it as a kid.There goes that long haired horse thief, again,”

Wanted -Dead or AliveThe younger horse thief Donnie, on the same train during my days of trespassing, MGM Backlot 2!

Director Hathaway (in white hat) confers with cinematographers for the runaway train sequence. Bob Morgan who was married to Yvonne De Carlo was seriously injured, and almost died, while performing a stunt in this scene. Toward the end of the film, there is a gunfight on a moving train between the sheriff and a gang of train robbers. Morgan was one of the stuntmen playing a robber and was crouched next to a pile of logs on a flatcar. The chains holding the logs together snapped, and Morgan was crushed by the falling logs and lost his leg.

The movie includes three of Hollywood’s greatest Western stars; John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda, appearing together for the first and only time, although none share scenes together.

A scene from How the West Was Won filmed in Culver City, Ca. MGM Backlot #3.

Same Mansion years later in 1970

Another shot taken during the MGM Auction 1970, prior to demolition

The lyrics for “Home in the Meadow”, sung by many characters throughout the movie, was written by Sammy Cahn. The music, however, is the old English ballad “Greensleeves” from the 15th century.

John Wayne had intended to play a character in a part directed by Henry Hathaway, but John Ford insisted he appear in the Civil War sequence. John Ford’s habit was to always sit beside the camera while it was filming, so he could watch the action intently. Unfortunately, because of the triple lens on the Cinerama camera, he kept appearing in shots until director of photography Joseph LaShelle hit on the idea of building a rig that allowed Ford to sit above the camera.

Carroll Baker plays George Peppard’s mother in the film, but George was actually three years older than Baker in real life!

Debbie Reynolds and George Peppard are the only cast members who appear in three of the five sequences in the film. According to Ms. Reynolds her character of Lilith was originally supposed to have drowned in the river. However, it was decided that Lilith would best tie the generations of Prescotts together, so, she remained in the story to become an elderly lady in the film’s conclusion.

This river-rafting sequence was filmed over a period of seven days.

Gary Cooper had been offered the role of Linus Rawlings but died before filming began. James Stewart then accepted the part despite feeling miscast and too old for Carroll Baker.

Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda appeared in five movies together. In addition, they were both married to the same woman, the socialite Susan Blanchard.

It’s hard to beat the All-Star Casts from the Epic movies of the 60’s.

Hollywood Warner Theater, was the only theater in the LA area, able to show 3-Strip Cinerama.

How the West Was Won played there for 92 weeks straight!

The curved Cinerama screen gives it a 3-D effect

This is impressive on the Big Screen, everything appears larger than life.

HTWWW shown in 3-Strip Cinerama to a packed house at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood (2012).

Ancient Relics and Heirlooms from a 100 year old Makeup Trailer

An Aerial view with Gone With the Wind sets from when David O. Selznick was leasing out the Studio and backlot. Sudio compound and Makeup trailer is located in the bottom right corner of the intersection of Lucerne and Higuera.

Lets take a drive to this corner studio compound! The Studio Compound can be seen here in the show The Real McCoys. Notice the water tower which will later be used in the television series Hogan’s Heroes. This barn was also in early episodes of Andy Griffith.

We’ll keep that water tank!

We arrive at the compound. The Batmoblie has been seen parked in front of this house, Hogan’s Heroes camp, Stalag 13 was built behind this estate that had two private walkway fences into the 40 acres backlot. Hal Roach Studios is a short walk. An Our Gang relic was inside..

We enter the backyard and arrive at the Marion Davies Makeup Trailer, which was farmed out to RKO, then Desilu Studios-for 40 years.

Let’s see what’s inside.

A camera dating to 1933. King Kong was made at RKO here in Culver City in 1933. Also in this picture is a Star Home Electric Massage Vibrator. The owners tell us Fay Wray once used this room for make-up.

1921-stuff was built to last.

Yes, I plugged it in”…I plugged it in and it purrs and reverberates like it’s suppose too.

Ideal indeed! Best 5$ ever spent! A way to relax during long hours in the chair…

The stories this item overheard…

1937 American Magazine Advertizement for the Scott Atwater Photopal Camera with camera found in trailer.

Like the trailer, this camera succumbed to the elements. For all I know there’s still a roll of film inside. The lever on the side of the housing is the shutter. It works- click!

This camera most likely used in King Kong for Fay Wray continuity in make-up. This room and compound is a very short walk to the Skull Island Sets.

8″ by 10″ Kodak film paper was kept inside. This could double as a dark room and probably did. A make up artist needs a visual to work off and create the desired look and style.

This appears to be an Our Gang (Spanky) light. This series was filmed a short walk from here at Hal Roach Studios.

Reflection in the make up mirror. Extremely old item. Everything inside here works.

A sample of stuff…the lights are original and color tones can be adjusted with red and blue bulbs. A soap bar sits waiting to clean off the next star. A Star Maker Massager . Wine bottles imported from Italy and mints from England are part of the ambiance inside…

This chair was centered between 3 mirrors. One left of chair was square mirror, the main mirror was canter and wide oval for wide dress costumes, the thirds mirror on the door to see backside.

Marion Davies entertainment was this music box mounted on the wall inside her trailer entrance.
Marion’s music…
Tonight You Belong to Me…

Panatron Radio-custom built inside this trailer by Desi Arnez. This trailer became a T.V show make-up factory when television began. The cast of Hogan’s Heroes was the last to receive make-up inside. Batman was seen by neighbors going back and forth to this room and the Batmobile.

This trailer had waterlines and gas lines installed linking it to shore power. Electric power ties to the house panel. Shingles were added at this point to the exterior to preserve longevity. Had not a tree branch busted through the roof- this would still be in immaculate condition…Ready for use!

Ince’s 3rd Triangle beholding produced this resting place, the room sits at the crux of yet another triangle... “Notice”– the pathways leading inside the studio from this compound.
Below the red arrow tucked behind The Tara Plantation. The corner of Higuera and Lucerne. This make up room continued on in this star compound after Marion moved to MGM. The owners said this room was loaned out during the production of Gone With the Wind. A camera dating to 1933 is inside. Fay Wray used this dressing room for King Kong. Gone With The Wind would also use this entire compound behind the Tara set.

In this picture taken in 1959, you can see the telephone poles and palm trees located on the corner of the intersection of Lucerne and Higuera, which are ocassionally seen in the background of the TV series Hogan’s Heroes.

100 hundred years later, disguised as a gardening shed. The roof and trailer sit beneath an avocado tree, that lived and died in the presence of this ancient mobile Hollywood dressing room. It’s that old. It sat locked, tucked away, in a corner where spirits could frolic. As a kid, I played here, I think Mr. Ince had his eyes on me. We think the same, we’re movie Pioneers!

Mirror, mirror on wall…The top of the mirror winked at me to be save her, a lot of gardening supplies hid the the prize inside.

If this room could talk- it’s ground zero for legendary film stars.

Pages Silver Mints- indigestion was the thing that we hear killed…Thomas Ince.

Green Paint is the signal you’ve arrived at R.K.O.
RKO -Pathe’…The studio went into receivership as a result of the depression, even the box office success of King Kong couldn’t pull it through.
The backside of the living room looks squarely inside 40 acres. It was connected with two pathways with its own gated fences. One connects the house, the other the make-up trailer.
Fountain for pond…fit for a mega star
A statue from antiquity, sat center of Koi Pond.
Not your average art piece…

Statue from antiquity relocated to my Star Compound…I absolutely adore this extremely heavy item. I would speculate this was one of Randolph Hearst’s ornaments, and it was stationed in the Koi Pond.

This pond and statue are original to the house completion in 1924. Just beyond the Ivy covered fence are two palm trees often talked about in several episodes of Hogan’s Heroes. “Why are there palm trees outside a Luft Stalag?”…The corner house was once occupied by a squatter named- Charles Manson. Three neighbors shared that same memory. Tex Watson provided transportation. This is -“that corner.”

Koi existed inside this pond when this property changed hands when annexed. Earthquakes cracked the lining and it’s sat dry for decades.
Koi Pond tiles…
This flagpole monument dates pre-Gone With the Wind and all the activity that took place in the year 1938/39. If we could only ID these prints…This is a Hollywood history puzzle I’m determined to connect these dots. This was done in the David O. Selznick era when Gone With The Wind took over this entire lot. Whose dogs, whose hands and initials-we need to connect these dots…

Make-up is right behind Scarlett in this legendary photo…

Stills are needed for make -up artists to be consistent.

Filming GWTW- This dress could barely fit in this room. Most likely put on after the make-up. Costumes could be stored inside the home. Here is a matching scene to test.

40 acre backlotThe bungalow structure on the left, behind Vivien, -is the backlot bathrooms.You could watch this movie filmed and probably met some actors along the fence lines that look straight inside.

Out of frame“-Expand the background and you will see parked cars- that section would be- in the futureGomer Pyle’s Camp Henderson.

Everything needed to make a movie is present in this scene…

This room was busier than a phone booth outside Central Casting.

Clark Gable looking dapper as ever, Rhett Butler not needed in this scene…

Clarke Gable had his own bungalow on this film on the RKO main lot. But backlot “star make-up” would make this trailer and compound extremely active.

This star is my mother…Betty Lou Norden.I wish she could have seen this discovery herself.Photo-shopped image into the mirror of course. My moms all time favorite actor is Clarke Gable.

Top of entry door, the outside used to say Marion Davies on it, the interior of this door is entirely mirrored. The green on this door includes the entire compound. It’s the color of choice by RKO. It was not green when used only by Marion. A cloth is attached around the door entrance as an insulator to repel the cold air. The nails securing it are exquisitely installed.
The Green Connection…
RKO, Paramount, Desilu and Laird International are all represented in the history green studio lineage.
Quiet please!….

Knock -first…

The floor these ladies are standing on is pictured below…

This pattern is the floor as you enter inside our star chamber…

Wipe your shoes off before entering…

Shelves were added everywhere.

The history continued long after Marion relocated to MGM. Shelves, a sink, and a modern Panatron Stereo would be added when Desilu took over from RKO. I got that on record from Panatron Corporation. It still exists. The biggest films ever made used this trailer…

Every bulb is a different style including blue and red bulbs to dial in skin tones.

The mirror and original bulbs came to life when power was applied.

The porcelain fixture hung overhead the make- up chair.

Cornucopia of history…

Yet another can of indigestion mints-loaded with fasteners. This would be to hang the trinkets alongside the mirror when that phase of make-up is ready. Also pictures are put up for the artist to match up. Not a lot is available information wise on old Hollywood location make up artists.

This rigid brush most likely was to remove debris of thick coats used often in the day.

Ancient cabinet handles, My guess on the disconnected switch is that could be activated to signal the star inside. Tape measure from the Desilu era.

These are curtain rods that cover shelfs with jar after jar of solutions.

Imported wine from Italy.

Who drank these?…

Reflections of the way life use to be. The moon- as it’s done for a hundred years, adds calmness with its reflection.

This wonderful photo shopped photo captures what this room was part of. The glass door was as close to this blaze as the horses and carriages. Animals and rodents of every kind hastily exited the backlot during the filming of this scene. I adore this picture just because of it’s realism to the events that took place here.

Pioneers...My goal is to produce the best TV series ever, Hole in the Fence. We will go back and forth through time, giving credit to top film makers. I played where they worked. I learned to love film making from these very studios I write about. It’s all I ever lived.
Quality is my number one goal, I truly feel my stories would be sensational as both content and visual experience.
Wait until you give book 2 a ride…The Uninvited Visitor. “It’s a movie inside a movie” –Coming Soon!
Wish me Luck- I have lofty goals!

Going mobile!This room has it’s wheels hidden inside the trailer walls, for this discovery-checkout my YouTube posting. We spin the wheel for the first time many decades.

The Patsy...Three stars with director King Vidor, seated right. Mr. Vidor felt strongly Marion should be in comedies-Like Lucille Ball long before Lucy. Some clowning going on here. Randolph Hearst had other ideas.

Go west young man!…

That was the path chosen by film pioneer Thomas Ince when he arrived in Southern California. He first set up shop at the beach at Inceville. Unfavorable weather conditions brought him inland, where the La Ballona creek and the Baldwin Hills provided rustic locations perfect for his westerns, without constant windy, gray skies. It was while filming at the tree lined natural creek he met Mr. Harry Culver. Mr. Culver was all about luring business to a city that was just becoming incorporated with his name attached.

Harry offered Thomas Ince a deal of a lifetime, and soon Ince’s Studio sprung up on a short street named after him. The properties are surrounded by Hollywood bungalows, many of which will house the city of technicians and craftsmen needed for the state-of-the-art studio to operate. All this coincided while two homes were being built on the corner of Lucerne and Higuera. The yards are connected to the studio’s backlot.

Research is indicating that this property was a studio compound for actors making films. Luxuries exist such as a Koi Pond, push button switches and glass door knobs are inside the home. These same luxuries existed in the make-up rooms that sat at the top of the stages used in classics such as Gone with the Wind. Room after room were lined up like an assembly line. The door handles were glass, push button switches, a mirror, a toilet, a place to sit or lay. Amazon tore all this down. These rooms no longer exist, but they did, similar to what exists on this corner. But the home attached to this room and koi pond are for Hollywood’s elite, when filming in this area. Once Opulent sliding stain glass doors sit covered yet discarded. Everything to do with this property has a lime green color attached. Even the door of this ancient Make -Up room has green tint.

It seems apparent that green was the identifier for RKO. Even the walk path to the front door of Chris’ home has green.

Please understand, this is a work in progress for me, connecting dots, intelligently. Over one- hundred years of film history has evolved since this star-make up room rolled into town. It was making movies before Culver City was incorporated. The sign on the hill overlooking this future film community dates back to Hollywoodland.

I find it possibly more than coincidence that each Ince Property involving studios was a Triangle.

Triangle Ranch greeted you at Inceville. The name Triangle carried on to Culver City was the studio name before it became MGM. Finally, this make-up trailer ended up being parked at the hypotenuse of a property shaped like a triangle. Ince’s world was all about…Triangles

Inside this house, glass handles and push button switches are what you touch. Two gates once attached to this Triangle from the rustic backlot ranch just outside the homes back doors. One gate was dedicated to this dressing room. In 1964, Stalag 13 was built where the Tara Plantation from Gone With the Wind once stood. The kitchen window of this house once looked at the King Kong’s Skull Island walls, the the Tara Plantation. Then finally Stalag 13 from Hogan’s Heroes.

You could pop corn and watch actual filming take place as the corn pops. It’s that house, like a Twilight Zone. You could be in the movie depending on what door you exit. Reality shape shifters…

Watch a rerun of Hogan’s Heroes here, you can still hear Klink and Schultz call roll call. It’s here, I snuck into this Stalag, just like Bob Crane leading his merry men in and out of this camp by means of a tree stump. Well, I picked up that stump 50 years ago and rolled it cross town on a steel wheel cart.

50 years later, I’ve discovered another heirloom that attaches as a horse drawn trailer, by means of a steel wheeled hitch.

I’m honored to take you inside to explore inside this ultimate- Hollywoodland– time capsule. Mr. Ince and Marion want the world to see and experience this heirloom-a hundred years later…

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

The Real Spider Man-Bud Collins

The only exterior sets at Sony Studios. This no longer exists; this area is now basecamp for…The Goldbergs. The vent on the stage roof beyond is a ventilator. It sucks hot air off the stage and out the roof. It can also be used to clear the air of sawdust during a set build. Because of the noise, these ventilators must be “off on red light” otherwise-the sound guy will complain. The contraption that looks like a trailer is a chiller unit. It feeds air handlers inside the stages. These old stages were not built with air conditioning so pre planning for air conditioning is critical especially for shows this size.

Base-camp Spider-Man 3.

For Stars Catering set -up. This company is operated by two of the nicest, hardest working, most professional, chefs -Frank and Peter. Hats off to this entire crew. Frank’s lovely wife specializes in fancy desserts. When California has large wildfires, this rig heads towards the inferno, to feed firemen. This company is capable of feeding the entire studio and practically did at Universal Studios during filming of The Grinch.

You need a map to find your trailer…

A typical Spider-Man set on stage at Sony.

The tunnel curves to appear it goes on forever…

DNA experimentation begins here…

I think I’m understanding the formula!

Are you ready for the test class?

Stuff we might need to use

One of several stages used in this feature…

The hut on the left barely visible is a dimmer room. Set-Lighting controls lighting in these overly-amped, usually very warm rooms. The output is cabled over the top of the stage door to prevent trip hazards, then through the easement separating the two stages and enters through tiny cable holes that raccoons use to sneak into the stages. Often, I’m first on a set to get the power going and more than once I’ve met a family of raccoons picking over any food left out overnight. This is a generational happening. Raccoons adapted very well to show biz!

Interior Stage 22. The ducting coming off the air handler, left side of picture, is the other part of installing Air Conditioning Units. Some stages use up to eight of these 30 tons of refrigeration units to offset the heat of the lighting equipment.

Rooftops and sewers have a place in this show.

This stage is rooftops, there is not a complete structure here…Built from roof up.

A poster for the premier in Paris…very rare.

From the perms looking down like a real Spider -Man.

Careful up here, the fall will kill ya!

Studio Graffiti on the top of stage perms or catwalks – priceless.

A nicely done ledger of history written by Grips and Electricians.

My man –Bud Collins. This man is a legendary… His name was the first I learned at MGM, on the backlot. It’s chalked inside every single backlot set on New York Street. In places unreachable by kids that climb. We were fascinated by this guy- his name anyway. To this day, no other name turns up more than Bud Collins’ inside Sony’s Lot 1. Bud was not only the king of the backlot- but it turns out – the main lot also.

I Love This! Imagine how shocked I was to relive Bud Collins all over the Main lot. It triggered my childhood memories of this guy we always wondered about. He took claim to all things MGM. He was there when Combat, The Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, Dr Kildare were filming. He saw so much. He was like our childhood idol. He did everything in white chalk and how he reached certain areas defies physics. He must be part Spider ManR.I.P. -You live on forever at MGM Bud, Great Job!

Bud Collins probably visited here too-The bar closest to MGM is legendary and is called appropriately, The Backstage. Combat cast tipped a few shots after a hard day’s night as legend has it. Larry Hagman, better known as J.R., found his way across the street for some spirits. MGM organized a sting operation in the 70’s searching for employees and drugs. The TV series CHiPs was scrutinized I’ve heard from a reliable source, MGM Security guard Dan Stein, who is still alive and well. Security had binoculars on the goings on across Culver Blvd that was taking place- Backstage.

“Keep an eye on that bar-there’s drug dealing going on”…George Barner, MGM Security, the big guy. Fire Marshal Fernald accompanying the very unpopular- Big George.

I had a fort on the top floor of this building that lasted from 1974 until the backlot was demolished. It was located on the top floor behind those two tiny square windows.

The view from the fort, we would open or shut the two swinging doors depending on security around us. Vets’ auditorium used to decorate like a Christmas tree, and we would sit and listen to music while enjoying all the lights that shined down on the backlot. Just a bench to sit on with signs and props from the street below. Most of this area below was warehouses that were removed prior to this picture. Below us, on the cement pad, was the Airplane Room. One of the funnest hangers you would ever want to see. Bud’s name is just above these doors.

Bud Collins- The Real Spider Man

If there was ever a guy that preceded the comic book character Spider Man, it is a man who was a grip at MGM and left his mark-everywhere. “Kilroy Was Here” can be attached to-Bud Collins. His was a name that kept reappearing in the strangest places on my old backlot. I hung out in those same hard to reach places as a trespasser, but his name caught everyone’s attention. Often because of where it was written. As if he was a spider, his name shows up in the most difficult places to access. Constantly just his name and a date, written in white chalk, like a ghost that left his mark then just disappeared.

As time went by, I figured it was just a backlot thing, so imagine how my mind shifted to reverse when I saw his name in several areas, once again, up top of the most difficult places to access on Stage this time. Bud the Ghost is at it again. I got chills seeing his name again- in all these areas I frequent. Then I saw the R.I.P. remembrance, written of course up in the top of the perms. WowMy heart skipped a beat!

I never met this man in a physical realm, but damn if we aren’t the same guy. He started earlier than me, so he saw the stuff get filmed whereas I just got to play with the left-over props. His name was in my fort, a hard-to-reach place on New York Street. Bud found it-that was a great fort by the way, made better by a man and legend, named Bud Collins.

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden

Please check out my YouTube channel for more insight and thrills…Phantom of the Backlots, Happy New Year everyone!

Ince-Cosmopolitan Headquarters-“Quiet on the Set”

Aerial view of the Goldwyn Studios in Culver City, California, 1918

Aerial view of the Goldwyn Studios in Culver City, California, 1918
Big Things indeed!

Indulge me as I quote facts and steer you in a direction of genuine possibility, perhaps probability.
The Players: Thomas H. Ince, Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies
The Scene: Negotiating the deal “Ince-Cosmopolitan” Pictures
The Location: Remote Triangle on Ince Culver City property
The year: 1924- One of the most significant years in motion picture factory history…

Goldwyn-Ince Triangle studio would become MGM and Ince would leave the Triangle studios for his own brand-new studio cross town, thanks to city founder Harry Culver. Mr. Hearst and his mistress Marion were not your normal Hollywoodland players. They dictate what they want and get it. When Louie B. Mayer took charge, a new set of rules took place. Louie B. is a star maker, he runs a factory that can create them. Dancing lessons, singing, make up, all the bells and whistles- hence you and I become stars.

Hearst and Mayer were alpha-dogs and Hearst did not want any friction from someone else when it came to Marion Davies and what she would star in. Therefore, an alternate plan was being woven just a few blocks away. A period of time not fully accounted for in Hollywood history,

Thomas Ince’s 3rd Triangle was taking shape. Ince was battening down the hatches and nearly on board with Randolph Hearst to incorporate a cash infusion.

Picture if you will…

By 1924, Ince was said to be close to bankruptcy and began to discuss a merger with Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. The deal would focus on production and distribution of the films of Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies. Davies was currently at MGM under the management of Louis B. Mayer. Hearst wanted control of Marion’s career and had the money to make this happen with Ince.

Fact – Hearst began negotiations for Cosmopolitan to occupy the Thomas H. Ince lot in late 1924. The part no one may know, but given the facts can easily speculate is, since the time this merger had been in the making, comfortable quarters were already being constructed on a tiny corner of Ince’s Culver City Studio. The star (Marion Davies) was treated as such on this little corner and was adorned with her own make-up trailer and bungalow complete with a koi pond, ornate statue, and patio that looked out on the lot. A refuge, office, and most likely love nest for Marion and Hearst (or Chaplin as you might suppose).

The famous mansion, headqurters of Ince Studios.

Aerial view of Ince Studios

A porcelain street sign once located at the corner of Ince and Washington Blvd.

The crux of this tract triangle on the left side of this picture would become a star compound. Private gates existed behind the house backdoor into the studio itself. Had this merger gone through, Lucerne Ave. most likely would become Cosmopolitan Blvd, where it would intersect with Ince Blvd.

Aerial shot of the same location

Ince-Cosmopolitan, the merger that never happened…

A signing party to seal the deal and celebrate Ince’s 42nd birthday was arranged on Hearst’s yacht. Guests would include Hearst, Davies, Ince, Chaplin, and Louella Parsons, Hearst’s publicist, who was paid handsomely to write complimentary columns on Davies. Her catch line was sometimes ridiculed “and Marion never looked lovelier”. It is unclear the events that unfolded on this yacht. The merger was never announced as Ince had to be taken away from the cruise in a stretcher and died just days later. First newspaper account said that Ince was shot in the head and swiftly, Hearst’s papers ran an entirely different account, stating Ince died of heart failure. “Silence” on the set. It was speculated that Hearst paid handsome hush money to Parsons and Chaplin for their silence as to what happened on that yacht.

Hearst’s yacht, the Oneida. Ince was dead at age 42. Quickly rumors circulated that Hearst had shot Ince in a jealous fit of anger—though not at the producer but at Chaplin, whom Hearst suspected was having inappropriate relations with his beloved mistress, Davies. In this whispered version of the events, Hearst stormed around the yacht late at night seeking out Chaplin, stumbled across Ince, and shot him in a case of mistaken identity.

It has been commonly accepted that Ince died of heart failure but elatedly, the popular view is that Hearst shot Ince in the head, a bullet intended for Chaplin, who he suspected of having a fling with Marion. Yet, what we know for sure is that Ince died at home a few days later and Hearst remained friends with Chaplin for years to come. Whether accidental or on purpose, the Ince-Cosmopolitan merger would never be.

The alternate ending that changed film history…

So, what became of Marion’s make-up trailer? I’ll tell you what happened! I discovered it where it has been sitting for over a hundred years. When you connect the dots, there leaves little doubt that the make-up trailer I have discovered belonged to Marion Davies, as it can be matched up in pictures.

A colorized photo of Marion’s make-up trailer

One of the oldest picture found thus far of this trailer is dated 1926, with Marion in an MGM costume. One may assume the picture was taken on the MGM lot, but it could very well have been taken a few blocks away. This is no further from MGM lot 1 than the MGM backlot is, in other words, keep me away from the cattle.

During filming of The Fair Co-ed. The B could stand for-Billionaire… One of the oldest picture found thus far of this trailer is dated 1926, with Marion in an MGM costume. One may assume the picture was taken on the MGM lot, but it could very well have been taken a few blocks away. This is no further from MGM lot 1 than the MGM backlot is, in other words, keep me away from the cattle.
Shingles would be added to preserve the exterior, plumbing for a sink and electricity came from the house on this compound. A koi pond separates the house from the Make-up trailer. Not only is this the first star trailer, it’s the first star compound. The things this door has seen and been part of will stagger your mind!
Hollywood’s first mobile star trailer…

Was the trailer moved to MGM with the horse hitch that was attached? Was it built at MGM and then moved to this little corner of Ince’s studio property to spend the rest of its days? And if so, why?

MGM built her second trailer, with a refrigerator. My research leads me to this trailer was built at Paramount before MGM existed. 

This room could be towed around by horses. The same horses could then be unhitched, throw a cowboy on the saddle, and that same horse is now in front of the camera. Yesterday’s version of 399/SAG. A horse that can act, but doubles as a driver…before unions and guilds. Mr. Ince was known to travel from set to set directing his films while sitting atop a horse. The “General” of filmmaking.

One of the two back wheels… This is a horse hitch for this make-up trailer

A souvenier token from the movie “When Knighthood was in Flower” recently shown on TCM.

Connecting the dots…

For me, and until proven otherwise, I stick to the more romantic theory that the make-up trailer has never moved from this unassuming spot and that Marion frequented this private, comfortable home away from the set perhaps in between shots, for a few years at least. And who could blame her? At MGM, just a few short blocks away, she was thrown into communal make-up rooms of all the stars of the day, like cattle if you will.

Big stars don’t work as cattle, the bigger the star, the more perks. But, you gotta be big to put your nose in the air. Marion could call her shots prior to MGM. This compound allowed Marion to be Marion, she is not part of a herd.

This star make-up trailer is opulent, still, over a 100 years later. I will share with you going forward the heirlooms that were hidden inside this make up trailer. Each item ties to a different era. This was an active make up room up to the early 70’s, Hogan’s Heroes cast was often in this yard since Stalag 13 was next door. A guard tower – number 3 inside the camp looked down into this yard.

Sneaking into Stalag 13 in 1972 is when I first became aware of this peculiar structure. It disguised itself as a garden shed and has remained hidden in plain sight…for close to a hundred years.

50 years later, after my eventful sneak into Stalag 13- this room discovered me! We’ve reunited, older but wiser.

The Phantom will personally take you inside this room in future posts as we try to connect dots and salvage as much as we can from what is probably the first ever Make-up trailer in…Hollywoodland !

An heirloom- full of heirlooms from movie history…Follow each discovery on YouTube, Phantomofthebacklots...
Common’ inwe’ve been waiting for ya!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden and Maureen Miller…

Visit us on YouTube for much more…