Columbia Ranch New Year’s Day-1976

We do our best plotting at our favorite Bob’s Big Boy location here in Burbank. After our halftime lunch break, we exit alongside the overweight boy carrying a hamburger. We joke,” that kid could never climb the fence”. We all touch Bob for good luck. “He looks like a security guard anyways,” I retort.

As the Rose Bowl kicks off, we begin our second half of the day. Jimmy drives around each of the four corners along the outside fences of this studio called the Columbia Ranch. This lot is like MGM lot 2, it sits nestled in the heart of this Burbank community. People’s homes look inside here…

As Jimmy and I originally figured, the easiest low profile climbing spot is behind a corner shopping center. We park in the shade provided by a tall wall, we will soon be climbing. Aerosmith’s song- Back in the Saddle keeps us in our car seats. We know once we start, we can’t stop, there are no time-outs in the game of trespassing. We’re like some grizzled Cowboys,” just getting water for our horses, ma’am!”

We can’t get out of the car fast enough as Janis Ian’s song –Seventeen- begins with its depressing tones and lyrics. I’m fifteen and having the time of my life…girls have so many sad feelings. You’re not going to ruin our day with this song. I hope Janis has a better year when she’s eighteen!

Thirty seconds later…we mount up

The three of us, Jimmy, Pat, and myself touch down on pay dirt, large trees and grass berms provide shade and places to hide at while we take in the landscape. We see several four-story tall buildings not too far off. Those buildings can be seen driving down Hollywood Way, a street the locked main gate is located on. The locked gate is an indication this place is probably empty.

We enter here…

Being inside is how we will verify what we are hoping for, is the lot empty for the taking? Everything we see is stationary- empty streets, parked cars, as if someone hit a pause button. Time has frozen still for us, it’s like we’re climbing into a picture or matte painting. We three boys are the only live action going on here today, it appears.

Nothing so far is recognizable from things on TV, because we came in through a backstage entrance, so to speak. But after a half hour in this forested area, we head toward the big city with the tall buildings over yonder. Weaving in and out of what the studio calls picture cars, a huge selection of cars could double as Cal Worthington and his dog Spot’s used car dealership. Jimmy and I pull Pat by the arm so to keep toward our goal, Downtown- Columbia Ranch style.

Pat’s used car lot…quite the selection
The rooftops in the distance fit our needs today…

Pat has a thing for cars, he would stay here all day if we let him. But, we’re going to the highest vantage point on the backlot. It offers not only great views, but a 360 degree observation of any and all activities on the lot. Following proven effective methods used on all our other lots, we sit on rooftops four stories high. A fountain sits below us, and a pool with crystal blue water, in a park setting. We have a pool at MGM, but it’s drained now, so we skateboard in the old Esther Williams pool.

We are on top of the world, or Columbia anyways. We bask in our glory, another successful backlot adventure is taking place, we three sit on the roof and dig into the depths of our collective brains that are TV sets at this moment. Each of us adjust our rabbit ears- pointing out things that slowly are being remembered or identified from TV shows from the sixties.

The Monkees used this fountain in their music video I Wanna Buy Me a Dog. Jimmy and I loved the Monkees and now here we are. “This is the Partridge Family Studio, I’ve seen that bus drive by here” as I follow up with another series, we take a brief Susan Dey moment… Bewitched used that fountain also. This fountain is like the center of the universe on this backlot. We sit above all this reflecting fondly, what a cool way to start the year. Off in the distance we see the Bewitched house. It’s a sling shot from Dennis the Menace’s house.

We are zipping through the sixties on classic TV memories, like we do at Desilu, where Superheroes come alive.

This rooftop allows us to see the entire backlot
The iconic fountain below...
The fountain is the most used set still going...
Looking south west- at the old westHigh Noon was filmed here…
West view- the only stages are in this section of the lot.
Same rooftop- different trespasses!
Same rooftop- years apart…I’ve combined pictures from later trespasses for this story

The buildings we are on top of…

My dream car…
Samantha- taking on city hall over this iconic fountain…
The fountain used in all your TV Land television series filmed on this lot.

The Partridge Family in front of Dennis Mitchell’s Home.
I’m going to nail that bus!

Dennis’ front porch view…
Bewitched House- left side brick home
Around the bend here is a Colonial street with another church to go with this one.

Columbia Ranch-church two...

This village is charming, we decide to climb up into this steeple. We love bell towers; a ladder takes us to the top. It’s dark and musty smelling…the sunlight shines in shapes of perforated squares, like a grid. We reach the top to say “we did it”-then quickly decide this is the worst steeple we’ve been in. It stinks bad and the floor is covered with bird droppings- inches high.

Behind this street is this lot’s western street. Gary Cooper made it famous as did Marlon Brando in 1953 in the film The Wild One. A lot of dust and tumbleweeds have blown down this street since then…

Sheriff’s comin boys!

The Wild One…

Inside theses buildings clocks move backwards…
Water trucks are used on filming sets all the time, but never have I seen one this old...

Before Jurassic Park… T-Rex’s roamed these lots!

A typical western street usually has a gallow at one end, a church at the other, and a saloon in the middle, livery stables, and a chicken ranch within walking distance of the saloon. A sheriff office and a bank trim out all you could possibly want or need.

Today, we visited two old west deserted ghost towns, and we only had to go to Burbank to go back in time. As we make our way back across the entire lot to get back to our climbing spot, Pat finds an unlocked door in a steel covered one story storage facility, it’s the property department. Small hand props are packed inside here- we touch everything. It’s like the biggest curio shop ever, odd, strange yet cool things…

I am in love with a brass container in the shape of a Scorpion. It opens up to put things inside. As tempting as this is, the Robin Hood in us says “Don’t take anything.” We still have a long way to go to exit and we are already carrying camera equipment. “You would think they would lock this place”…

As neat as this room is, it really is all about these wonderful backlots. Today, January 1, 1976…we conquered two more. We head back to Culver City together this New Year’s Day-no chases, no watch commanders, just a relaxing trip back in time to the good old days…

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

CBS -1976 New Years Day

Well, here we go again…

The challenge…

Our typical greeting…all the motivation we need!

Just like last year around the Christmas Holidays, we’ve gone mobile. Studio City here we come. We were out here casing a few of these valley backlots last weekend. Jimmy and I have determined CBS has passed go, and that’s the first stop on today’s Monopoly board we will circumvent. The fence along the L.A. River is as simple as a recreational climb. Jimmy, Pat, and I are no match for this corner fence that has had little activity on its crest. You can tell when a fence gets action by shoe marks and bends from what must be trespassers. Apparently, kids are compliant to the trespassing signs here in a city that named itself after the industry itself. CBS Radford is the facilities operating name.

Universal is a true studio city, since they have their own mayor, fire department and post office. But Culver City has always been the hub for the greatest movies and TV shows ever made. We take pride in the backlots in our city. We live on them. We’re professionals…

Today, we explore the unknown. We know every square inch of our backlots, but each turn today will be a passage into the unknown. Every open door, or structure, possibly trees and bushes, will be approached and used as camouflage. Like three chameleons-we are on a mission– to find Gilligan’s Island.

Sure, we might see a security guard, earning double time today. That said, the badge will be in for double trouble, if we cross paths. Better have a fast golf cart buddy…trespassing doesn’t stop on holidays in our world.

This is how we mentally prepare for our excursion. Like a team, a team that’s undefeated. When we touch down on the forewarned private property, it’s like taking the field for the big game. If Maureen and her pals were here, they’d be cheering… Go Centaurs!

We’ve landed…CBS

First and ten…

We’re in and the three of us take cover in some houses laid out in a rustic tree lined area void of roads and activity. That’s how we like to start, quietly nestled in, observing activities. Jimmy and I both have camera bags on our shoulders, Pat is shopping for old cars. Where we begin reminds us of MGM lot 3. The landscape is all we see, a large grass field with lots of trees around it, could the remains of the lagoon be around this spot?

We sometimes need to put on detective hats to connect dots to the past. Things get buried easily when ratings cease to meet expectations. Your only as good as your last sweep weeks in Hollywood.

With Gilligan canceled years ago, who knows if this deserted island still exists.. At MGM and Desilu, Tarzan filmed on sets like this. But Tarzan’s deep “AHHHAAHHHA” as he swings vine to vine would be be replaced by the skipper shouting “Gilligan” on this lot.

We have no idea of what this set was used for, but that’s the beauty of being kid detectives.

The silence of a backlot on a holiday morning is similar to a prayer moment in church. Pristine quiet, we skip the kneeling, of course. Morning dew covers the grass on this chilly but bright morning sun-rise. We touch everything, we are on an expedition. Last year on this same day, we conquered The Burbank Studios. My camera is still dented forever after saving me from falling all the way through a roof on Laramie Street, last New Years Day. Of course, at Disney, my camera received more battering, and was captured, only to be released to my parents, who were forced to drive all the way out to get me.

This year’s resolution was the same as last year’s, go where few if any kids trespass, and explore new frontiers. If all goes well on this tiny lot, we will visit the Columbia Ranch afterwards. But first, where is this damn island?

My other island was torn down for housing, the former MGM lot 3. Some of it remains and is located in what is called Raintree Condominiums. We sneak in there also- to remember the glory of MGM lot 3. A few original things still remain besides the magnificent trees, if you have a keen studio eye.

Right off the bat, this area seems to be where you would stick an island or lagoon on the Radford backlot. We scrounge through the bushes, as if searching for the remains of a downed aircraft or yacht that’s been marooned. It appears the castaways have been rescued, there are no signs of life now-or ever. The jungle gives and the jungle takes back…

Our homework also has centered on another set that says CBS on it’s credits. This is the home of The Wild Wild West, starring Robert Conrad. I love Cowboy shows, and this one is slick. He’s a thinking man’s Cowboy. We usually just watch shows from Culver City lots, but Alias Smith and Jones and this show are too good to pass up. I made my own 8mm western movie on the Desilu lot, in front of the saloon, I feel at home as we pass a gallows pole…

Follow these tracks and you’ve arrived in the Wild West, CBS style.

Just like last year at a saloon on Laramie street, we toast to the New Year with a big joint in the old west. We sit on bar stools lined up along the dust covered dark stained counter top. The three amigos are reunited, this time in a different saloon. Satisfaction gleams on all our faces. Adventure awaits, maybe we’ll find a picture car from My Three Sons. A station wagon tour, after all, we are three boys!

Smoke blows out the swinging doors as we follow it’s swirling path. The aroma sets us free. Life is easy- welcome 1976.

There are props all over the place on this western street. It’s like we’re at a sale. This western street is jam packed with lanterns, whiskey barrels, gun powder boxes and livery equipment. Such wonderful items, we take our time on this deserted street. Must be no hanging’s planned today.

Behind the western street is a small town square, Mary Tyler Moore films her show here. She should, she and husband Grant Tinker own the place. I found a call sheet from Dick Van Dyke Show at Desilu. Here she lives, ten years later. Different husband and studio. That’s Hollywood for ya!

This is one finely built set…
No- that’s not us boys…

No- we’re not driving this car and trailer…

My Three Sons set has been discovered… Kids were so good back then!

Well, we covered this entire, quaint, backlot and it’s just now noon, after a near by- Bob’s Big Boy lunch, we will plan the second half of today’s adventures at this iconic hamburger joint. It’s much older than the ones where we live. While Ohio State is kicking off versus UCLA today, we will be climbing a fence to take to take on Columbia Studios.

It’s good for the taking- we already cased the joint!

Another backlot…another year of backlot fun awaits!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

.

The Mayberry Sun Newspaper

I knew I liked this kid- Opie. He’s an entrepreneur!
I’m following his footsteps…this is how you posted before the internet!
Advice by a wise man…”To increase circulation, we need more than just Karen Faulkner scrapped her knee again, you need to write about the whole town.”
“Cute kids, that should help the circulation!”
“Mayberry After Midnight-that’s the good stuff.”
“We can charge 3 cents for this”…A little bird tells us
“Did I just hear Aunt Bee say Mrs Foster’s chicken tastes like wall paper paste?”
Preacher of the long drawn out sermons…
Burt Mustin agreeing with Andy. His sermons are Dry as Dust
Copy that!
“Don’t look now Aunt Bee but it’s Harold Grisby and that new wife of his”…” He’s old enough to be her father!”
Blonde, right out of a bottle-Copy that!
Edition one- your worst nightmare…Mayberry after Midnight
“Opie, where all have these been delivered?”
” What’s going on, anything I can use in my paper?”
They’re everywhere in this town…
” It’s not real silverware at Ms Fosters”
“I love your chicken and may I have the recipe?”…”That’s why I’m here”
“If I go this way -maybe, shoot!”
“What are you doing here deputy?”
“I got eyes- I can see the two of ya!”
Dry as Dust is worth a month of Sunday sermons as the last copy is recovered. The town is anxious to rid itself of this nusciance.
But, it’s Damm Good Reading for 3 cents!
“She’s Blonde all right- right out of a bottle”…copy that, newspaper talk!
“I got eyes – I can see the two of you”
A whole month of Sundays is all it takes to be forgiven.
“The preachers sermons are Dry as Dust

As a kid we relived all these episodes right exactly where they were filmed. I had a fancy radio that picks up not only Armed Forces Radio, but TV audio. At certain times of day Andy Griffith reruns were broadcast on it’s airwaves. My antenna was set up in Mayberry so I could recieve audio from outer space.

Not having a visual was no problem. I’ve seen them all a million times so it’s already etched in my mind. I can anticipate where I need to be to capture the audioto it’s exact location-a decade later…in living color -no less. It’s how I had fun when I snuck in alone.

Opie’s paper episode is one that I relieved with audio wondering set to set. I stood where Burt Mustin and Andy concluded “Preacher is Dry as dust”…I felt the anger of Harold Grisby once again. Chicken ala King is my mom’s specialty, your at the wrong house Aunt Bee.

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Welcome back to Season Two of Phantom of the Backlots

Since our last post, I’m proud to announce I completed writing my first ever book, with the help of some special people whose contributions made this possible. Ever since these early 1970’s backlot experiences, my dream was to capture these lots in pictures and storied adventures. Thanks to my long journey at Universal, over three decades, I continued loading up on studio experiences from the inside out.

Submitted for your approval; Book one, Titled Hole in the Fence, it captures these early adventures of innocence yet intrigue of growing up…all things backlots.

Available now on Amazon…

Do to the depth of my stories and my high number of adventures, it will take a three book trilogy to get to the ending stories and final demolition of the MGM and Desilu. I appreciate all who have been waiting for these true accounts and encouraged me along the way. It’s a book no-one would publish, so we did it ourselves. Consider yourself warned!

A toast to Mike and Christa Escarzaga, Maureen Miller, and Donna Quesada for dealing with me on the front lines and exhibiting wonderful skills, abilities and incredible patience as we labored through with love and affection all these recollections and kid notes I took …50 years ago.

Finally, with deep graciousness I wish to thank friend and author Steven Bingen for his wonderful forward, very touching to me. He has a wonderful book being published next month- so we have plenty to look forward to, we will follow that release on my site, also.

Time to go to work!

The Mayberry Sun Times is back in business, Happy New Year Everybody!

RKO- Desilu Church

Mayberry Church-1973

The original church that stood here was originally built for the movie Gone With the Wind

Stained Glass Gone With The Wind Church/Hospital

Gone With the Wind concept of Atlanta. Notice the GWTW Church (Back center) has a steeple on it. The actual church in the movie did not.

An early picture of the rebuilt church. Built for the movie Miracle of the Bells 1948
Actual interior of the church as seen in Miracle of the Bells 1948. Reach deep for the collection service!
The view from inside-out….Notice the sets in the background. ” I’m here to see Frank Sinatra”
First come- first served.
Welcome to our community parish
This stained glass circular window at the rear of the church is illuminating on moonlit nights.
1948
Here’s a great shot showing the stained glass circular window at the rear of the church.

A later shot of the church

Mayberry Community Church 1960’s

The town of Atlanta- long before Mayberry
Steeple view I took. Straight up a 5 story ladder takes you to this view of Mayberry. I bet Opie never made this climb. I captured the Mayberry flag!
Steven Bingen’s- Hollywood’s Lost Backlot is the best source for film history and spectacular photos for this unique backlot. The lot main gate greets you with a dirt road that leads toward Timbuktu.
What you don’t see is me crying, this was my first post-fire visit. Rather than document this better, I couldn’t stand what I was laying witness to. This was the heart of this backlot, the fire jumped across the street destroying Andy’s house. I was completely devastated beyond words.
Double the exposure, double the damage.

More of the damaged church

Aunt Pittypat’s House in the 60’s before the fire

Aunt Pittypat’s House after, is seen in the right of the picture after the fire.

Andy Taylor’s house in 1975

Located dead center of the old RKO backlot, it could be viewed clearly by town folks doing their everyday chores, if their endeavors take them down Jefferson Blvd. I remember my parents going to the local Fedco Department Store in pop’s station wagon, I marveled at all the backlots we passed along the way. Just east of MGM lot 3 and its sky background is the Desilu lot, perfectly wedged between a creek and a hillside. It sits at the edge of town. It was always a part of the landscape around here. It stands out like a parish should.

The best set ever built for a backlot backdrop is this complete church. It’s real inside and should count toward credit on Sunday mass. It’s better than many real churches I see about town. I was raised at St. Augustine’s catholic church. After school- often us Catholic boys headed over to Desilu and this church was our sanctuary from the grind of going to school in a church run by nuns. Frank Sinatra seems more forgiving than Sister Sheila. Every kid needs his Father Flanagan. If ever a backlot needed God’s influence, it’s this 40 acre backlot.

Pews stretch out inside from end to end. Most likely, the last mass inside was for The Andy Griffith series. It sat silently, yet stoically, as if on pause, until we breathed life into it again.

Long before Mayberry existed on this lot by name, this area was built as Atlanta in Gone With the Wind. Inside all the buildings are simple reminders of this prestigious past. Curtains, wallpaper, even some signs are inside every doorway. The focal point of this town is its wonderful church. It makes this town very identifiable, “oh I recognize that set”-stuff. When Jimmy and I first approached it, we tuned in all the Andy Griffith shows done here. One reason is that show was on every evening, so we could watch it on TV then-play there…

Well, that’s the buildup, so let’s step inside -follow me through the front door

We Begin;

We walk down a path with a black sign of mass schedules on one side and a flagpole on the other. We come to two wooden doors that hide what’s inside. So we open sesame…

A vast expanse religious space greets you; it takes a few seconds to absorb what’s inside. A four-story high roof creates an airplane hangar effect. It smells old inside here. There is scent in this building that began fermenting back when the church doors first opened back in 1947. Ancient dust kicked up by horses and soldiers and has settled for eternity inside these old buildings.

It’s real church size and a complete covered shelter. A large circular stained-glass window looks east, outward and beyond. At night the moon shines inside through it. This was the place where catholic boys can cut loose, get their uniforms dirty. Instead of myrrh incense, pot fills the air inside here often. It’s kinda where teen-age kids come to experiment. We’ve had deep life discussions in these pews, as deep as 13-year-olds get. Like confession!

Power exists inside, this church is often a hub for production to set up inside. Food tables, copy machines, refrigerators etc. Phone jacks and rolling phones are inside on production shoots. It doubles as an on-lot production office. The inside of this church was captured in the feature-Miracle of the Bells.

Starring Frank Sinatra and Fred MacMurray, this 1948 film captures this church like no other. As we begin to focus inside, we are greeted by silence. Opaque windows look out to the residential neighborhood that includes both Andy Griffith’s house across the street, two houses down from the church reverend.

A set of dual wood doors also provides access on this, the west side of the church. A messed up stand-up piano sits in a back corner, alongside a more messed up old gimbel horse. The horse is so old it’s decayed from termites but still has spooky eyes and a saddle built on to its back to pretend you’re riding off into the sunset.

For all I know Clark Gable sat on this rocker horse before us kids took it over

As we muster around here some more, we end up at the tallest peak this building offers. An imposing shaft towers overhead like the Tower of London. A straight shot ladder built directly into the church siding itself tempts you or…scares you away.

You came this far, let’s do it. Hold on tight to each rung, don’t look down. It’s worth the risk/ reward. Each story has a window to provide the only light to work with. At night, you make the climb by feel, best you practice in daylight. As you reach the summit, your head pops through to a belfry covered with pigeon and owl droppings. Owls leave piles of bones behind, I learned to differentiate up here. It’s like a kid science project. Not just a little, four decades worth, a foot thick. This old movie ranch has creatures of the night on the hunt. Nothing sleeps around here, you just lightly shut your eyes is all. Predators lurk at every turn. Bless the beasts and the children…

Now you’re here, this view is unparalleled, it’s the grandest position on the lot. It looks far beyond Mayberry and the 40-acre lot, Culver City encompasses the outer radius, beyond all parts Mayberry. It’s as if the two cities merge here. Culver City actually had Mayberry charm and innocence, way back when.

You have to factor in something important, you can easily be seen up here. It takes 20 to 30 seconds to climb up here, so if you’re seen and feel a need to escape, the posse after you can cover a lot of ground while you’re stuck in climb mode. As great as this view is- be careful is all. My Mom’s favorite line. Night time is the better time and I have spent many a moonlit night inside this church and up top in this steeple. I would guess I’ve been up here 100 times. It is the set of sets on this iconic lot.

Sadly, it was lit on fire. A small group of vandals has done so much backlot damage, it’s pitiful. Let’s celebrate its long existence, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It’s almost appropriate this lot goes out on fire, it’s what it’s best known for…

Gone With the Wind is how we began, and it’s how we end it. Close the curtains, put the horses back to pasture, and exit in the cloud of dust that blows in from the Ince main gate.

I love this place!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Brothers Grimm at MGM Studios

Look what I found! That’s my buddy Stanley peaking out the dragons head.

The monster in 1962- just before bing subdued by Buddy Hackett
From the Original Cinerama 6-Sheet, 1962
This monster and I became close. He was stored in the Giant Prop Warehouse on the MGM backlot.
This massive plaster and composite creature was built like a house. Plaster and chicken wire on a wood frame. Paint it- last detail. Then light it to highlight its green coloring…
Promotional Jig Saw Puzzle- we looked everywhere for the head to complete the dragon when we determined there wasn’t ever a head on the real full scale Dragon. We were playing a real puzzle with real pieces back in the early seventies… I lived this puzzle! This dragon escaped the famous MGM auction. What kid wouldn’t want that next to their swing set. It was to big for me to take!

MGM’s famous Grand Central Station was one of the locations used in the filming of Brothers Grimm. It can be a working train station which actually ties in to Southern Pacific’s tracks where MGM shipped out large props such as stage coaches to arrive at various filming locations. This iconic set, Grand Central Station, was located inside MGM’s fabled Lot 2, and was featured in the closing scenes of this classic tale of The Brothers Grimm in 1962. This set had a small but important role, when Hollywood needed a grand rail depot. In 1972 while roaming this backlot we found the dragon which was missing it’s head, used in Brothers Grimm. At the time we weren’t sure what movie it was from. We searched the area everywhere looking for the head but it was gone! It did not need a stationary head- facial expressions would be needed. It never had a plaster head. Visual effects takes over in the Buddy Hackett/ dragon interactions. That’s a George Pal specialty. He had just completed work on the classic Time Machine film on this very same lot the year before. Below is a picture I took of my friend Stanley peeking out the neck of the dragon.

The Brothers Grimm was filmed here the same time the television show Combat was blowing up these same sets. MGM had a difficult time on the backlots in the early sixties with all the sound issues these battles created. Sound can’t be contained. I could hear it at my house. The sound of gunfire was equivalent to a fire bell or the end-of-day school bell for me. Me and my buddies would go running out of the house and be on set in literally just moments- to see what action was going on today at MGM!

Combat factor exists-Often a big problem, that hit show was a nightmare for other films and TV shows not set in WWII. The Twilight Zone battled Combat, just for quiet. Imagine trying to film the Twilight Zone episode “Stop Over in a Quiet Town” here. This Quiet Town sits next to the loudest village in all of Hollywood. The small town square is deserted, except for the battalion sitting in the shadows with their guns hanging out the windows. These shows that attempted to film quietly would have to be in radio contact with the production of Combat, so quiet scenes could happen while Combat reloads. It’s probably something many folk don’t realize takes place. But, it does…. I’ve personally dealt with sound carry over several times at Universal.

I enjoyed all the gunfire, as a boy. It made my army battles in my yard feel so real. Non-stop gunfire, all day, only stopping to reload or move cameras. What you see on TV was half of what took place gunfire and noise wise. Much gets edited, but when in doubt –fire away.

The movie Phantom of Hollywood, to the T.V. series Planet of the Apes, and of course That’s Entertainment all thrashed it. But the Fortune, Capone, and Young Frankenstein all fixed it up nice before filming began.

This plot of land with it’s wonderful worldly sets is where magic creates itself. I still feel it when I walk my dog down the residential streets that now cover what once was. Magic is real but you must believe in your wishes! In my case an MGM genie was perched on my shoulder and gave me everything I ever dreamed of-and still is ! It was like I was inserted into this world to first live, then share all these special memories from this wonderful real life fairy-tale land.

My big dream now is making a film based of these kid stories, the entire decade of the seventies- relived. This era of color, music, and energy played out full scale, this lot went with a bang. I’ll take you there, in my upcoming book- Hole in the Fence. This time can be recaptured for all through the tiny eyes of little trespassers -that turned into big trespassers on the ultimate E-ticket ride. Buckle-up!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

This depot had to turn over from a bombed out shell to fancy Grand Central, almost overnight. That’s the world in all the busy Hollywood backlots. I’ve witnessed this depot go from thrashed to fancy a few times.

My picture looking down on this set from a church tower. The bridge is barely visible to the left.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_0218.jpg
Combat… Saunders- just Stayin Alive
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_0224-1.jpg
1964 Combat episodeWhat are the Bugles Blowin’ For?

Brothers Grimm- meet Brothers Gibb…they’re here to close out this old station with a very appropriate rock video- Stayin Alive…This was the last scene ever filmed here at this iconic rail destination.-1977. The lot was not only Alive’ but flourishing!

Fred Astaire, That’s Entertainment 1974. I met Fred on this show. I have his autograph, as well as Mr. Gene Kelly’s. I have met so many stars in my life- but the old MGM stable of icons stands alone. Their is a dignified air about them. It’s a lost vibration in todays Hollywood. This feeling will never exist again. As each legend moves on, we lose quality that can’t be replaced. The magic of film allows us to enertained and this backlot was the canvas for all these artists to costume up and do what they do best. Understand these MGM icons always coinsidered MGM backlots, both 2/3, the real MGM stars. “We just film in this wonderland- the backlots the star.” That’s a quote Gene Kelly told me with a huge Gene Kelly melt your heart grin- when I told him we recreate his dance numbers on New York street.

1975 N.Y Central is painted over what was Penn Central for Young Frankenstien.

MGM Backlot 2 Train Station location-bottom left corner is a large green structure that is a working rail station.

Premiere Ticket to the the Cinerama Theatre in Hollywood
Such similarities in these two films
George Pal was busy on the MGM backlots as 1960 rolled in. This picture is where Filby’s modern store existed. The town is taking cover from the Mushroom clouds.
Another fun toy for the backyard- a fancy newer model time machine, it’s got a V-8. Speeds through time…
To anyone who is interested, the restored Blu-ray of this Cinerama tale will be released in October of this year.

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Elvis-Harum Scarum on 2 Backlots…

1965…
Elvis- impersonating a lotus flower. His spiritual journey is as fascinating as this man himself. He spent much time at the Self Realization Fellowship off Sunset Blvd, Pacific Palisades, figuring his life stuff out.
Those stairs going up take you to my first ever Desilu fort. They are featured in this movie.
Elvis at the base of my stairs.
Bountiful treasures exist here
“Yeah, sure, I can dance a little!”
Same set 5 years later…
“Spin me around”
This dance sequence by the King is at Desilu- King on Kings set from the 1927 Cecil B. Demille classic.
A hunk, a hunk, a hunk of burning love…

MGM has so many villages, I was shocked they even left their studio. This lot is as close as MGM lot 3 is to the main MGM facility, so logistics work. MGM has so many of these same style buildings, I was stunned when I realized this was at Desilu.
Billy reminds be of my buddy Pat Rich. Same intense look and extra small. Pat is-Tough as a box of nails!

These trees are in my old pictures.

Elvis at my fort front door, top of the stairs. Camera is inside fort, it wasn’t a fort yet.
Only one way up. But jumping down from windows and balconies afford you more options when being chased.
The rooftop of my fort in the King of Kings set. This is the roof of the building Elvis ran upstairs to. It is the roof for my fort. Hogan’s Heroes bridge is in left edge of this picture. These two dirt roads below split and end up taking you to Mayberry.

You look into this area from the roof of the picture above this one.

Cut here- this chase begins a hot pursuit of our stars that exits Desilu’s old Jerusalem set from the King of Kings. The next scene, chase continued, picks up at MGM lot 2, Chinese street. Very similiar sets, two different studios, one hair-raising chase. My fort is in background. We built it in 1972, my first Desilu fort.

This is the same archway, it leads into the Western Street, where I had a second fort, in the town saloon. We even had a rolling phone that called off- lot. Just dial 9, I called my mom once to tell her “I’m not coming home” one night from the saloon.

Let’s get a drink, I smell Whiskey! I had similiar events happen in this village, several times. Mayhem in Mayberry is a story I shared a ways back that begins with a thundering police herd coming on the backlot for target practice. It was crazier than this show. This sequence switches backlots at this scene.

Chinese street-MGM lot 2, exact spot.
“Will you stand still?”- “I’ve chased you through two lots!”

Elvis here saved by a rock and a little girl.

“I owe you one!”- Elvis helps his little savior.

MGM Security guard Garth Bluff and the Red Bronco are parked at the end of that train. He’s looking for me in the train. We are on top of the fence, across from Maureen’s apartment. Her bedroom view of the backlot is 30 feet behind this fence I’m on top off. The sets for this film can be seen this clearly. The fence on the ground was struck by a car. If your going to crash, this is fun place to get towed!

Am I dreaming, or is Elvis outside my bedroom window?”
Number 17 is the Chinese street set being used in these final pictures. We called it Chinese street also, but sliver street was another description. Every piece of wood you touched with your skin could send you home with a unwanted souvenier. They can be a battle to remove. Cedrick Gibbons, Arnold Gillepie, Harry Oliver, and Edward B. Willis designed this area for The Good Earth, 1937. Maureen’s apartment is located on Elenda, just outside where you see gate in map. The gate was hit by a car and replaced with a prop wall. The starboard side of an ocean liner, including portholes you could look through, was what the studio repair consisted off.
Only a movie studio uses spare ship walls for a quick fix. That’s why I love this place, it’s McGuyverland. You can see the damaged gate in my above photo with the guard.

Harum Scarum ;

Nobody except the King himself can put you in this movie chase besides me. Something caught my attention watching this Elvis rerun recently. Elvis had a Harum at Desilu studios. Even better, he used my fort to escape from angry tribesmen with little Billy Barty. This Middle Eastern village is located just adjacent to the La Ballona creek. Everyshow that films on this lot uses the dirt road behind this village to get to the heart of the backlot.

In 1965, the year this was filmed, an average day on this historic backlot could include one, if not all the shows I will name now:

Hogan’s Heroes, Andy Griffith, Lassie, Gomer Pyle, This was TV in the 60’s at it’s best. Desilu Studios was a TV factory, so when this feature rolled in, it stood out. MGM equipment, MGM personnel and MGM’s biggest star. Goober’s gas station sits almost connected to this village. Production vehicles would have surely been parked here and on Western street. Fitting equipment in on busy backlots goes unnoticed, unless your crew, and there is an an art to loading 10 pounds of crap in a 5 pound box. Somehow, it all gets done. I can only imagine the buzz on the backlot on these other sets and shows knowing Elvis is filming here. It’s safe to say the cast of Hogan’s Heroes probably crossed paths with Elvis, even if it was a quick “Hello.”

I’m guessing this Harum Scarum set had a lot of visitors wanting to see a piece of the legend called- The King. He did not let anyone down. He danced about in this tiny village on a backlot known more for horse rustling than dancing…

Stalag 13 stands within close proximity, close enough for sound to carry to the prison. Can’t hide noise. There was a King here in 1933, named Kong. Elvis is running around in the same footsteps where King Kong once filmed. Those sets were destroyed in Gone with the Wind. The burning of Atlanta cleansed this part of the lot. This village from King of Kings has stood through all this history. It remained as the last set standing until a 1976 fire did it in. Goober’s gas station also burned that night at 10:25 pm, December 29,1975. I was there when this fire broke out, it was a fitting way for it to go, bulldozers were soon to be leveling the few sets still standing. Fire was a fitting way to see it disappear. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, best describes the Desilu backlot. It was cremated.

I was told a story that took place at 20th Century Fox in the late 50’s involving Elvis. He had an office next to Marilyn Monroe in a complex on the studio lot. My friend was a laborer and his job was to deliver a piano to a second story office. It had to go up a flight of stairs. Elvis was playing football in a courtyard when the studio crew arrived. He had other plans, he said “Your on that team”, to the one laborer. Elvis directed “Mike Murphy” into his huddle and said “Your with us.”

15 pass plays later, the group all helped get this piano upstairs to finish the delivery.

Number 11 is Elvis, here playing football at MGM in front of my Boystown Fort in another 1969 film The Trouble with Girls

We boys know the trouble with girls- they can’t throw a football!

Roswell New Mexico, the Elvis plane sells for 430,000k just recently. It sat alongside recovered UFO’s for 30 years.

Long Live the King!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Runaway Train-Waltons Treehouse Pt.2

Fade in: March 6,1981- continued on from the Waltons Treehouse adventure…

Sitting at the counter at Bob’s Big Boy on Riverside Drive is like being in a studio commissary at certain times. A man with a Wolfman costume sits at the opposite end as if this is his set. Jimmy and I rehash our interlude at TBS earlier today with the Waltons crew, having never before been in a set that became “hot” while we were inside it.

We explored the Burbank Studios lot this morning and now it’s off to Universal for the second part of our afternoon. We take the car from Valley Heart Drive, the public street behind the Waltons house and we pull into the Universal Lot. It is so big that employees get shuttled by a yellow school bus that reminds us of the Partridge Family. Over an hour ago, we walked out of the TBS lot and waved “good by” to security like we will see you again Monday. Now, we are waving “Hello” to Universal security as the magic bus door slaps open, and a teamster tells us “pull the cord when you want off” … “will do sir”

The older we get, the easier this charade has become.

We decide to get off by stage 44 with the rest of the kids. Across the way is Colonial Street. Filming for BJ and the Bear is already in progress on this street that has the Munsters House and The Beaver House. Jimmy and I go inside the Munster house and go upstairs, we see a big rig with a chimp climbing around the cab. Greg Evigan is kissing a blonde girl good-by as he and the Bear climb inside the cab and say “Farewell”

This lot is even busier than the one we just left! We have just gone from Dukes of Hazzard, The Waltons, and Blade Runner at TBS to BJ and the Bear and some other show farther down the street.  Jimmy and I relax and finish the joint that we had to snuff out up in the Waltons’ treehouse. This joint, started up in a treehouse on the Waltons at TBS, and gets finished upstairs- in the Munster’s house. Welcome to my world!

As the smoke clears we appear and walk right out the front door of 1313 Mockingbird Lane. I correctly diagnosed something I was looking down at, Dan Pastorini is on this set. He plays Pro-Football, he is on the Raiders. He is the star I want to meet. I position myself alongside him, he is busy being the object of several women’s attention in between scenes. I just want to talk football, the Raiders are World Champs. He obliges me, I sit in a folding chair next to him. I’m acting like I belong here and am doing a real good job.

I get what I needed, including seeing the advance for Monday, on the call sheets. 7am, Santa Monica Pier. Count me in, I live right by there, see ya at breakfast.

A camera operator shares a story with me, it involves a moving truck shot and the camera is inside this truck POV looking out of the cab while driving. The camera is in the sleeper compartment behind “Stacks, BJ, and the Bear (BJ’s sidekick “the Bear” is actually a chimp named after University of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant.) The concern is this- the Bear is infatuated with the red air brake knob that would lock this truck up and send it into a jack-knife if it gets pulled. The entire time this scene is filmed, everyone was looking from the corner of their eye as they delivered their lines- ready to grab the chimp’s arm if he makes one wrong move towards the brakes.

The Bear would have loved the Waltons treehouse we were in earlier today. I’m sure the Waltons kids wouldn’t mind. This show is on the move to stage so we also move to another set, right down the street. Barbara Eden is being hosed down in front of a home by a green water hose, she’s dripping wet as we watch from the Beaver’s porch. Let’s all just pause and take a Barbara Eden moment…

That scene gets finished and we are in the mood to explore, so we walk the length of New York Street and end up at a castle that is better known as The Tower of London. From on top a castle turret, we watch all the activity on this lot and beyond. We can see the church steeple at The Burbank Studios, heck, we were just there. Below this castle is 6 points Texas, and the best gig on the Glamour Tram tour takes place right here-The Runaway Train.

Every couple minutes this train heads straight for the Pink and Whites with the conductor shouting ” I can’t stop!”

The train, having scared the Glamour Tram farther along, backs up by itself and hides next to the barn on this special set of tracks. It’s ready for the next unsuspecting tram.

O.K. we got this, the train parks, like train robbers we climb aboard, we duck behind the conductor, there are three of us up here now. Here we go, there’s a tram, ride em’ cowboy.

We pop our heads up as the train goes face to face with the tram. Pictures are shot from inside the tram as all this takes place by tourists and somewhere, in this world, Jimmy and I are in several. We do this several times, with each one we become bolder, we embellish the “can’t stop- part”

I always wanted to ride in a train engine, and today, we did that. We say, “Good by” to the gray-haired guy in blue coveralls with the three-word vocabulary “I can’t stop.” “We will see you again sir,” with that we walk to the next town.

The depot on Denver street doubles as a jail, inside anyway. Inside it, is a picture of Alias Smith and Jones. That’s a must have picture, The Hole in the Wall Gang meets The Hole in the Fence gang.

Jimmy and I got what this gang was searching for…Amnesty! It’s all Smith and Jones wanted, not to have to look over their shoulder at every turn. Well, the show got cancelled before the Governor came through. But the valley and its marvelous studios have provided Jimmy and I the amnesty those boys were searching for.

We’ve gone being shot at, hunted, and on every most wanted list at every studio gate in Culver City, to a simpler life. Unassuming, willing to work, can drive a train if need be. We got something special out here, we couldn’t get it in Culver City. We got… amnesty!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Bob’s Big Boy on Riverside Drive- where we took intermission from TBS to Universal. I owe the waitress a little something still- 47 cents low on the bill. Taxes got me, came up a little short. She was understanding, we told her we would show her around studio some time.
Employees parked here in 1981. But in 1975, it was an Airport.
Several blizzard scenes were shot in this parking lot with wind machines blowing fake snowflakes. The company was chasing snow storms for an airport sequence, they gave up the chase and did it here, instead.
Then, most recently, it became a Superstore. But in 1981, it was where employees parked.
This is where you grab the magic school bus that drives from adventure to adventure, just pull the cord.

We pass the Red Sea, just outside my school bus window.
We arrive on set and quickly make our way upstairs inside 1313 Mockingbird Lane.We finish the joint we had to snuff out up in the Waltons’ treehouse. If this smoke could only talk, like in Alice in Wonderland. The things it saw in its short existence tucked away in my stretch socks…
This rig was parked across from the Munster’s house. Everyone is so friendly around here!
Today’s guest star, he is dressed on set in a hat that says- Stunt 1, a down jacket, jeans and boots. But normally, he wears… number 7. This is supposed to be a movie set and Dan’s a stuntman. Two crashed cars are parked at the end of the street from an earlier scene.

Stella was getting hosed down with a garden hose when we passed by this end of the street.

Who can resist a Runaway train- all aboard!
Get out of the way, I can’t stop!
Each time we did this, we laughed harder and harder. I would soon be in Glamour Tram driver seat, on the other end of this ridiculously fun thing to do! Today, I’m a train conductor!
Let’s back-up, and do it again! C’mon, this is funner than the Waltons’ treehouse.

Here it is now, old number 67- retired from operation. It sits just outside the only bathroom in these parts. It still looks as if could terrorize any tram passing by.
Props -across from the Red Gap depot.

This cell is inside the Red Gap train depot- I found an Alias Smith and Jones picture inside here.
The Runaway Train- what stories it can tell.

Let us do the driving!
At the station…
I can’t stop!
Ghost Train

Last train ever on these old tracks…

I was- the funnest ride here!

Red Gap, Last stop Willoughby
I found this picture that day back in 1981, in the Red Gap depot. Amnesty is all Smith and Jones ever wanted. The show was cancelled before the Governor ever fulfilled that promise. But Jimmy and I have been brokered Amnesty by these valley studios. No more getting chased, shot at, or being on-Most Wanted Posters in the guard shacks.
Amnesty– it feels good!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Famous MGM Lot 2 Chases involving- The Lord Home

Might as well…JUMP

This album cover type photo was snapped by Danny Hancock as we recreated a chase that took place requiring us to- jump.

This upstairs window is the launch platform for my- Jump picture
This is the view from the front yard of this home. Beyond this stage is a designated dirt pile on old studio maps. The Time Machine sat parked right here by these steps in 1959
1976…This is the same front door Arthur Curtis exits in a hurry in the Twillight Zone episode –A World of Difference

This picture is the fence and parkinglot behind this isolated Hunting Lodge set.
6 years later, 1978 same corner, original green fence removed, chain link temporary fence replaces it.
The Phantom Cycle starts his demonstration for police behind today’s featured set.

As he takes his first turn, you can see the stairway going upstairs to the Lord Home just above his helmet. This set is just a half- building.
This utility road exists behind the set. MGM Greens Department created climbing obsticles with fake trees blocking the fence when we get chased here. This is a hub, over the years for scary chases.
I’ve ran down this road countless times the opposite way, being chased from New York street usually.
This road is directly in front of the home, which is out of view on lefthand side.

You can see Hunting Lodge through the trees from the Tarzan jungle. Lodge in front of me, lake behind me.
MGM security guard Al Black at the South Gate guard shack, we respect each other. He’s all business when you trespass, but also a fun guy to talk to when we’re just visiting. He is responsible for a scar on my hand. He tried yanking me off the top of the fence as I began my jump to freedom. My palm was ripped open by the sharp fence top. He’s good!

We begin;

Inside this home is another very basic and simple set. A stairway behind the structure takes you upstairs. There is no backing so you can be seen upstairs, it’s a nice place to visit. It lies in the outskirts of New York Street and Tarzan’s Lake. Nestled along side tall, beautiful pine trees. A couple wild walls provide some cover, you can step directly inside here from the backside. Doors only exist in the front for the illusion this is real. Curtains that haven’t completely fallen off still profide cover, if nothing else. The window we jumped from was where we would sit down and relax at under normal conditions. We picked places depending on; Our mood, our plans, and what is taking place on the lot at that moment. Often, our decisions are based off the work taking place here at MGM. Also a big factor is whose on duty in that Bronco.

Most my memories in this area were security issues, which were several terrifying moments I will never forget.

In 1972, my good friend Pat Rich, was shot at by a salt rock gun in front of this home. He branched off away from a group of us being chased thinking he would be safe away from the pack as we were all running to exit, at the closest fence we could climb. The Red Bronco was going wild, we were on the set of Soylent Green, and we all had some green in our possesion when the guard showed up under the theater marquee on 5th avenue. This story of the movie and chase will be in my new book- A Hole in the Fence.

Fast forward, 1975

Pat brings a couple friends visiting from Oregon over for a backlot tour. MGM was heavy duty with security due to a fire earlier in the week on a set just used in the movie Logan’s Run. The Girls School had just burned down, boys call it Boystown. Whatever you wish to call it, it- was a smoldering ruin. As we snuck up on it we see 5 MGM guards. My posse is also 5 guys, 2 of which don’t have a clue of where their actually at. They know it’s a studio is all.

As we peer from the Tarzan jungle, a branch snaps, a flock of birds take off creating a huge ruckus. That attracts security and the next thing you know as dusk sets in, officer Al Black comes flying in to our group and before we know it he’s on our tail and tackles one of Pat’s friends who has only been on the lot with us for ten minutes. He is apprehended as Danny and I take off running towards- then into, the Hunting Lodge.

We laugh are heads off replaying what just happened as we are on pure adrenaline. So much just happened, and we just got here. Well, wouldn’t you know, here comes a dark figure against a dark sky, it’s Al again. He handed over Pats friend to Culver City Police and is hot on our trail again. It’s the moment Butch says to Sundance-Who is this guy?- He’s really good!

We were too loud laughing, we were so pumped up. Al is like a Indian Chief who knows how to track his prey. We shut up when we see his torso outline, he walks in the door just below the window we’re up inside in. We see the top of his sweaty head. He knows we’re up here. We must wait until he gets as close as possible, all the way up the backstairs. As we see the whites of his eyes, it’s time to exit by jumping out that window. We figured, just like Butch Cassidy did in my favorite cowboy movie ever, that your not going make this jump unless you have to…we have too!

We play cat and mouse until we safely exit…

Fast Forward, 1976

King Kong is on the lot and the production company has hired bikers as security. MGM no longer secures the lot, Heathen’s do, on motorbikes. Like a modern episode of the Twillight zone episode Black Leather Jackets.

I’m by myself when I’m spotted just in front of this house. We stare at each other at 50 yards away. They’re planning and suddenly one takes the backroad behind the house while the other one is hauling ass my way. I’ve never been chased by a biker before, this is new. I hide just inside the front door as these bikes circle the Lord House with little Donnie tucked inside. I have no intention of staying here, I counter their moves. I need to get out of here. I need to make it to the designated dirt pile area across the way. They can’t chase me on there bikes in that area. I can see they don’t want me to get to the fence. I have to escape in the lot.

In between circling the home, I get my moment to take off and get to a no ride area. I can out run them on foot. They’re only chance is these bikes, my counter move works to perfection. I crawl through the weeds and hide under a building –The Courthouse on NY street. I’m like a big racoon they’re after, but this coon got away.

When Chips filmed their Phantom scenes here, in 1978, it reminded me of my Phantom real life escapades at this same.

All these stories will show up in a series of books to begin very soon. Also, Steven Bingen will have his latest book on MGM out shortly after mine as it stands now. His tremendous extrapolations on studio history our unparalleled and is must have studio literature. My books will be great companions, if you dare to actually step foot on these lots. Watch what you wish for…

Just – Be careful…As mom always says!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

One-eyed Jack

The arches across the way is our destination in today’s fun and games…

My pal Stanley and I love baseball and BB gun fights. He is an exceptional student preparing for an engineering major in electronics at nearby UCLA. He is fun to run with because he always wants to build things or reverse engineer to see how “it” was made. His brother John Ordon was my classmate at St. Augustine’s, Stan is a year younger. We live down the street from one another. John Ordon is the alias I use around the lot if I get caught by security. John replaces Don, and Ordon replaces Norden. John never trespasses so there is no way these names cross paths. If challenged by police, I can say my name and “you must have misunderstood, it’s Donnie- not Johnnie!”

Stanley and I can’t get enough BB gun fights inside the backlot. All my friends think this is the best thing to do on this lot. Normally, Combat Village is the set of choice, but, we just watched the Rat Patrol and a raid took place in Verona Square by the guys with the cool jeeps. We want to shoot it out where Romeo and Juliet once intermingled… and Christopher George cleansed it from Germans.

Alleyways and passages like these make for great realism- as do the cries of “ouch” as you get shot! Passages like this exist in almost every village.

We enter at the rail depot and instantly we are on set. Maureen is hanging out across the street and can easily see us and we wave back and forth. This is no village for a girl right now. Liberation is taking place, me vs Stanley, may the best man win. We start by going inside separate buildings, thereby no longer having the human target in sight. This is when soldiers become creative, exit the set that you’re thought to be in, and sneak around to surprise your hunter and make him- the hunted. We both invoke this policy. The door you run in is not always where you stay, you create an illusion then sneak up from behind.

Simple Rules…

To keep from being injured, there’s no targeting the other guy’s head. We have no protection, welts appear when you’re hit. If you’re hit in the arm, you’re wounded and can continue. Torso, you’re dead! …Simple

Generally, we get several battles or kills in-then go home no worse for wear with just a few battle scars.

The skirmish I’m in now takes us behind the sets in Mexican Village. We are ducking in and out doorways along the old street light storage area. They are kept behind these buildings. Maureen and her friends hear this as BB’s meant for me hit the metal fence instead. The girls she’s with on the other side realize we mean business, this is a hot set. You could get hurt. This is no place for girls today.

Stanley and I take turns chasing each other, trying to corner the pursued. This is a ground level battle, building to building. We only brought pistols today. These Crossman black pistols look real and fire both BB’s and pellets. But compared to our Daisy rifles, these lack punch. So we need to close ranks and get closer to the target “that being Stanley or me.

We know the girls are being entertained by the occasional tings and visuals of doorways providing cover. It’s like we are a TV set and the girls just watch, gab and brush their hair, trying to out-cool us…like they’ve seen this rerun before.

We find ourselves involuntarily staring at this group of pretty girls but once our feet hit the battleground, we fall into character. Their side of the studio fence blurs out. We’re real. This is war on this side of the fence. This battle is about to climax, I turn on the offensive and run and hide behind one of the ten columns that hold up this building. There are ten, evenly spread out in the front side of this ground level battlefield. Only our heads protrude from side to side, along with an arm holding a pistol. This is going to end bad, someone’s going to get it, we are closer than usual in this particular exchange. After each shot, you hear the immediate recocking of each pistol. You return fire when you hear a round fired, while your adversary has to recock.

The battle finishes using these columns for cover...
I lived this scene…

My head sees Stanley’s head, and the two of us exchange fire. I am hit, right in the left- eye, I’m blind! We have one rule, don’t shoot each other in the head! I throw this heavy little pistol in my hand at Stanley. I feel no eye in the socket where it’s supposed to be located in…Stan is silent and feels terrible. At this moment, I have just one working eye.

Out of my one good eye, things get worse. The Bronco is headed straight for us like a tornado. I’m leaving, exit stage right!

I ignore our group of female fans, they have no idea yet what’s taken place. I stop as my one working eye sees Stan atop the fence…

Next, a crash of metal onto concrete as Stanley tosses over both guns. I stop from running to grab them. I can’t believe he rescued my gun with Big George in mad pursuit. The next body is security guard George himself-on top of the fence, he can only watch our escape. The girls, seeing that our predicament at the moment is an MGM chase, begin cheering “Go Boys Go- Go Boys Go.” We realize George can’t make it over the fence top; we stop long enough to accept our cheers and watch his frustration. We bask for a brief moment, as if to take a bow toward our enthusiastic audience, we realize the police are probably going to be the next puzzle piece to arrive. No one here except Stanley realizes I can’t see and maybe don’t have a left eye.

So many places to hide and at night, it’s so scary fun…my playground!
A map of the village involved in this battle, Verona Square
The front side of Verona Square
This view is the backside of today’s battle and is taken from the wall the girls are rooting us on from…

Stan’s bravery in salvaging my gun will never be forgotten. He earned another stripe on his sleeve today and is very deserving of this cheerleading squad celebration as he touchdowned just out of George Barner’s grasp.

The brief run turns into a fast walk as we round the last corner toward my house. Stan is worried he blinded me, and for all I can tell…he did! My eye still won’t open as we enter my empty house. No one is home to cry to, and it’s just as well, since mom’s favorite last words are always …Donnie be careful!

Stanley’s face when he looks at my eye is no comfort. Masking the pain makes time pass slowly. Yet, within the next thirty minutes, magic happens, my eye fixes itself, although it is a bit swollen and I may get a shiner. No one needs to take me to the doctor and no one even needs to know what happened. Period. Just chalk up another fun day in our own personal Disneyland… with weapons !

24 hours later, I could see clearly again.

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

The Waltons Treehouse

The Good Ole Days…

Rated- R; for marijuana use… By the time your day is done, you will have smoked out in many iconic film sets. Films are being made everywhere around me…Last but not least- this is a real life trespass. It’s through those red eyes we begin;

My diary-Fade in- March 6/1981…The Burbank Studios

My trespassing buddy Jimmy and I need a studio fix. The backlots in Culver City are all gone, so today we’re going mobile, where all the valley studios still stand. We exit the freeway on Barham Blvd and the selection process begins. We first pass Universal on this Friday work day morning. It’s very busy as we slow our volkswagen to a crawl. We decide to keep driving toward The Burbank Studios, whose stages can clearly be seen from the Universal employee parking lot.

We both fixate on our life back in 1975, when on New Years Day we drove around the lot in a Walton picture car. The former Warner Brothers lot is laid out wonderfully, the backlot completely separate from the stages up front.

Today we just want to re-explore this lot and check up on all the sets we have played on over here before. Nostalgia for Jim-Bob and Don-Boy. Ironically, the show The Waltons, is still on the air, this many years later.

We start our trespass from fences by the L.A. river on the studio’s south boundary. A big dog barks the entire time we climb this barb wire fence adjacent to a residential area just outside the studio fences. We’ve been had so to speak, but we finish a successful entrance while ignoring this four legged barking soul. We need to scoot and once inside, we run to the church set in the TBS small town set. This area is busy with set dressing going on.

We work our way around, deciding not to hide, but just act like we work here. Hide in plain site, now that we’re getting older and don’t look like we’re school ditching kids on the prowl anymore. Getting old is a good thing, when your under 21 and hang around adults. We stop inside the bank on Laramie Street, I look up to the roof and the hole that was created by my falling halfway through is fixed. You can no longer see the sky. We celebrate by lighting up one of three joints in my sock. I blow the smoke upwards , towards the roof. I stand where I would have landed had not my camera saved me.

As we head toward the Waltons House, we pass by a building that says Ike Godsey proprietor.. The Dukes of Hazzard are parked outside. Their car is anyway, the Duke boys are nowhere to be found. Just me, Jimmy, and General Lee, framed by Ike’s country store. Having driven a car here before, on the Waltons’ set, we can’t help but look inside this mean orange machine just to see if the keys are inside. Thankfully, they’re not, because driving this car would be the ultimate temptation for Donnie and Jimmy.

Next up, the pond. This small body of water is full today and it sits in a jungle in between Laramie Street and The Waltons House. Any TBS TV series in need of a pond films here. I snuck in here last year during the filming of Flamingo Road and stood next to Morgan Fairchild as Howard Duff pulled to shore in a Hydroplane. The big-fan boats used in the everglades. I appeared from the jungle as a scene was being filmed. This super loud engine is distracting and allows me to position myself with the pick of the litter, Ms. Fairchild herself. It’s then a mishap takes place, this boat flips, dunking Mr. Howard Duff head first into this pond. Although concerned, everyone is laughing their heads off. Especially Morgan!

Jimmy was with me then as we laugh at our previous escapade and as we finish off that first doobie. It’s cool that we are beginning to have a lot of adventures at our new hang outs in the San Fernando Valley, more pages for my diary, which has been on a diet since MGM was torn down.

As we stand in house built on the pond, workers on bikes come tearing through the jungle. All appear to have a post-buzz on from their lunch break, since the time is 12:30. Hot dogging in front of us, one guy crashes into the pond, completely submerged as every one else laughs.

Deja vu, last time I was here, Howard Duff ended up being fished out of here.

Next up in this Hollywood jungle is The Walton Home. Normally, this is where we get in at, but we couldn’t use this entrance this morning.

We climb up into the treehouse, armed with a doobie and a transistor radio. Elvin Bishop is singing “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” as we reach the top for the Walton family treehouse experience. We spark yet another joint as Steely Dan’s song Show Biz Kids comes across the FM dial on KMET.

Jimmy and I are fulfilling our craving for a backlot country club, TBS replaces MGM. TBS is very busy. We sit in a prebuilt professional fort. It’s on TV once a week! A stake bed truck slowly rolls under the jungle canopy and parks right in between the treehouse and the main house. Lighting equipment is getting unloaded. They’re doing a “company move” to this set is what Jimmy and I decipher peering from up above.

We cut the music and snuff out the joint, because we’re stuck up here. We watch as this set gets rigged, cables and boxes and lights get unloaded off the truck bed. We realize the longer we wait, the more chance we will have of being confronted. It would be embarrassing to run into John- Boy, up here. It’s his fort, he can have it. There was a time I had 5 forts between Desilu and MGM. Now we use other people’s, but today, we gladly hand over the keys. It’s for the Waltons to enjoy!

We just don’t want to be seen climbing down, once on the ground we’ll be ok. We pick a time and quickly exit through the chicken coops. We backtrack through the jungle, having avoided everyone and all involved on this series.

Next we filter over to New York Street, and sure enough, we are asked by two ladies what shows are going on here. This is interesting since we’re trespassers. Cordially we reply, “Dukes of Hazzard is over that way,” turning while pointing, “The Waltons is that way, and a big movie titled Blade Runner has its sets on New York Street, over there How’s that? You have a good day ladies!”

We’re getting hungry and we’re close to the main gate on Barham. Bob’s Big Boy is to the right and Universal is the the left. Jimmy and I agree to go to Bob’s first then double-back for more studio adventures at Universal.

It’s here we decide to- just walk out the front gate. Wave good-bye to TBS security, like you will see us again Monday. Walk out the gate like the free men we are. Screw climbing, keep it simple.

“Yes, two Big Boy combos and a couple ice cold Cokes.” We place our order sitting at the counter on the opposite side of the glass, from the oversized statue that welcomed us after our adventure at TBS.

In 1981, this lot was known as The Burbank Studios

An Aerial shot from the same time period of my uninvited visit

I fell through this rooftop back in 1975 when I took this picture, today we fire up our first doobie at the same spot. The roof has been fixed.
Laramie Street no longer stands here at Warner Brothers. This is the same angle of what was the old western streets…
This tire swings below a treehouse above-1975

The tree house and shed is just to the right hand side of this photo

This could just as well be Jim-Bob and Don-Boy, “I hope they’re not filming up here today, how do you want to escape?”
My tree house smells like Dope!
The General store – Ike Godsey proprietor.
General Lee– outside Ike Godsey’s Mercantile. It wants us to drive it! -the windows are even down.
Hazzard County, on a different day. Preparation for the Dukes of Hazzard was going on here when we arrived in town in March 1981.
We love churches, every studio has at least one. Desilu had far and away the best chuch ever. I’ll take you inside the old 40 Acres church in a future post, right up into the steeple.
After climbing in at the L.A. River, we took refuge inside the church as we gathered our bearings. A big dog kept barking at us as we climbed in someone’s yard bordering the studio.
This town was being prepped for Dukes of Hazzard
Small – Town, Warner Brothers, TBS in 1981

Its been lots more than just the Gilmore Girls

Gremlins also filmed snow scenes here, and at Universal’s courthouse square. It was summer and about 115 degrees out. Actors had to wear jackets and act cold.
115 degrees, one of the warmest days of the entire summer-I was at Universal for this show, this is an example of backlot locations at two studios working directly for the same cause and appearance-1984 Courthouse Square Universal. Same appearance exists at Warner Brothers, small town square, at this same time.
This is the pond, empty.

Empty pond… Before/after

The Pond-As hot set… potted plants and an electric patch box indicate ready to go here…
This pond is about four feet deep…
The cast of Flamingo Road TV series
I’m standing in the pond basin, I’d be up to my waist in water normally.
This lodge is located at the pond. A work crew tore through here on bicycles and one guy crashed into the fully filled pond. There was a different cabin here in 1981, we were inside when we saw workers horsing around.
The pipe that fills this lagoon…
It’s here where star trailers would park, at the jungle entrance. The Walton House was very close. The red light in this picture is on when filming takes place in the jungle. You are not to proceed until it stops spinning.
We were asked here by “ladies” who were looking around “what is filming ?” as we walked through this set. Which is interesting- since we’re trespassers! Just the regulars- The Waltons and Dukes of Hazzard” we politely oblige to any and all questions. “Blade Runner has the street over there”…
Gotham City in Batman TV series, in a few episodes not filmed at Desilu. The Caped Crusaders dashed down these same steps…
We’re getting hungry and Bob’s Big Boy is close by on Hollywood Way.

At the end of this street is the main gate, hang a left you’re at Universal, hang a right your at Bob’s Big Boy.

Blade Runner would spend 14 nights at this intersection at this same time in history

Call sheet for Blade Runner
TBS New York Street Exterior shot page…I was on New York Street when this scene was filmed, so surreal. The street atmosphere and the neon signs flashing against dark surroundings and rain. Spinners, air ships, would take off lifted by huge cranes as liquid nitrogen created plume lift off effect. Ostriches walked the sidewalk. Sadly, this description in this movie script could easily be any intersection in Hollywood!
“Ninety nights” of night shooting is what Harrison Ford signed on for. Vampire hours when we visited this set on the TBS backlot. Dinners at midnight on New York Street. An hour to wander the backlot in the middle of the night. One night I took a tray of food from catering and sat and ate it there instead of table chair area. Just like a raccoon would…

Fade in – page 1 script Blade Runner
Fade out – last page Blade Runner
Set watch, keeping visitors away from filming, but not me, He is explaining how difficult this job is, I just want his keys. His radio would be cool too…“Hey we’re over here, nope you’re going the wrong way, hurry I see trespassers”… Run !
Who were those guys- they were really nice… Pleasure meeting you too.”

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…