The Twilight Zone-Combat Connection.

The only set on MGM lot 3 never in a Twilight Zone episode-Dutch Street.

This street on Lot 3 has been bombed, liberated and had three tanks in one episode race through here for Combat.

This train station was never in the Twilight Zone- but was in several Combats. This steeple was removed to change the landscape for Combat. 1963- for a few months and a few episodes, went topless. This steeple was removed, later reattached. Long ago, an entirely different steeple design was the original. There is a long-standing rule that when you alter sets, you must repair to original form.

Another view from the steeple toward the backside of the “Stopover in a Quiet Town” set

Yet another view from my steeple, we cut peek holes so we could see the lot in every direction. We would sneak in at the train station and run to the church tower, there we would try to figure out what guard is on duty. Everything viewed looking toward Verona Square is Combat country. Every set you see here was in Combat. It’s like a gated community just for Combat. The Twilight Zone used one set, just out of view to the right-out of frame. It was The Bewitchin’ Pool set, used in the final episode ever done. A true classic, you wonder how this show could get canceled.

This area here and distant is Combat territory -The Twilight Zone stay out….Used regularly in the series Combat. Verona Square yonder beyond train platform, another Combat set- never used by Rod Serling.

1978 picture-snow is spread around for a close up of the doorway for a quick insert shot.

The second to last battle ever at this church was used in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A machine gun is firing from that window as the explosion detonates. I walked into the middle of this battle, as I approached this church from behind, I was startled to run into German Soldiers, shooting out the front door, I could have captured them, it was extremely fun, I had more battles in this village than any show with Daisy BB rifles…The final battle would come the following year-The Stuntman with Steve Railsback and Peter O’Toole. The village gets beaten up pretty good in that film. There is a perch at the very top of the steeple that comfortably fits three kids!

This village was never seen in the Twilight Zone, but it’s safe to say Rod spent time walking these cobblestone streets.

Three roads enter this village, all have an archway

View from church second story window, a screen with a depiction of ‘Mother Mary’ partially remains. Machine guns and snipers are positioned up here. The spent shell casings litter the floor. This was a very special set for us- BB Gun fights carried on after Combat, Rat Patrol and Garrison’s Gorillas.

All my pictures are on sets not used in CBS ‘s Twilight Zone

Heads up-some crazy kid is after us”

That open door and platform a top the oversized prop warehouse is the ending credit camera angle.

This 1973 photo of this same set right before the TV series Hawkins filmed this entire street starring Jimmy Stewart for MGM TV. They cut the grass and painted it green. A filming short -cut. Jimmy’s last ever backlot acting moments.

Stopover in a Quiet Town…Combat’s extremely loud German Village lies behind this Quiet town. This overview photo used in the closing credits was shot from the Giant Prop Warehouse just behind our church on Maple Street, a very rare view. Inside the Warehouse is everything from Rocket ships and space capsules to submarines…big toys!

In between the far rooftop with 3 windows and the foreground rooftops is a church without its steeple, thanks to Combat. These episodes were going on at the same time. You see here how close WW 2 encroached upon this quiet street. There was nothing quiet about this street-when your neighbor is Sergeant Saunders. CBS aired The Twilight Zone-Combat was ABC.

No where else will you find pictures inside these legendary backlot steeples. I’m like Quasimodo… This exact 180 degree reverse angle from the German Village steeple towards Maple Street and the camera platform attached to the oversized prop warehouse. That’s the tall green building with the white curvature roof. I am hanging out steeple precariously to grab this picture in 1976.One thing missing is the Church used in “Stop Over in Quiet Town.” It burned down the year prior, I detail this in a poignant kid story in Hole in the Fence 2…”The Uninvited Guest” coming soon!

As a kid, pre VCR’s, I tried to freeze frame this image forever in my mind. There is so much to decipher for a Phantom like myself. I have stories in everything you see-and beyond.

This backlot roofless doorway is next to the steeple less church, just prior to yet another backlot battle.

It features James Coburn, titled The Masquerade, as the sunlight illuminates the windows from the wall less backside.

Through one of three archways leading to town, a battle begins that I could hear at my house.

Take Cover!”

Krauts !”

Nice shooting Saunders

This looks like one of my B.B gun fightsOne of the funnest thing to do on this backlot.

Your a great guest star, and you were great in The Twilight Zone “Old Man in a Cave” too…

The few, the proud, the Marines! A rare moment where my church has no steeple, while the Twilight Zone films Stop Over in a Quiet Town-just a stone’s throw away.

I did not realize the magnitude this Gentlemen, Gene Levitt had on my life, I played army on his Combat sets, often dying exactly where others proceeded me. I heard every battle on this backlot-from my house. I would cross paths with Gene on the Phantom of Lot 2 set. I stumbled onto their set at the Watermill House located alongside Tarzan’s Jungle. Gene was directing The Phantom- Jack Cassidy, in full Phantom costume. He was just about to kill a hard hatted helmeted construction worker when we made eye contact, the big Phantom in a leather mask, looking down on his understudy-me.

Right before Action is yelled by Mr Levitt, Jack Cassidy raises his non weaponed hand and waves approvingly to my astonished appearance. All while holding an iron ball on a chain. A lifelong bond is created on this set. MGM had security on this set close by so just like a true Phantom, I was here one minute- then vanished... The baton was passed on for the decade to come!

Only a Phantom would have this paperwork!

This Daily Schedule from December 6, 1973 is a snapshot of a typical day at MGM back in the day. I would visit with guards at there posts so I could read the information they use. The entire time I was visiting, I was gathering information. Every show on this sheet had episodes using the backlot.

In 1977, on the set of Fantasy Island being filmed in the MGM backlot, I would meet Gene Levitt, Burt Convey, Robert Clary, Herve, and Ricardo Montalban -Mr Rourke. Gene allowed me to watch a day of filming on his set, often right behind the camera an director.I sat in a folding chair with these actors. It was like I was crew on a show I knew nothing about. Episode 2, this series hadn’t aired on network TV yet yet. Gene directed Combat in this same Verona Square set that today served as a prison known as Devil’s Island. One of the funnest days of my life!In a large part to Gene’s letting me be the Phantom of this set-four years after that movie of the week was filmed. Gene would be a great trespasser- I can tell!

As it turns out, Gene worked with Rod Serling on several episodes of Night Gallery at Universal. He also directed Alias Smith and Jones on that lot. My favorite Army show of all time is Combat, my favorite cowboys are Smith and Jones...All Thanks to you Mr Gene Levitt and Mr Rod Serling.

In testament to the legacy of Rod and the Twilight Zone, each episode is so precious that reruns today are still as good as anything ever produced. I pretended with my friend Jimmy to be Rod, we both took turns imitating him with speech and mannerisms. We went as far as to sneak in a rabbit eared T.V to watch reruns in the sets used- 10 years later. Rod, Gene and my backlot will forever be alive in spirit and first class T.V.

This is a tail of two of the most legendary Hollywood Producer Writers in television history and their curious parallel path. The more I researched this, the more captivated I became…

I begin; A thought crossed my mind that involves T.V shows whose credits start with toy doll and a spinning out of control Grandfather Clock, while the other show starts with a helmet and a bayonet. They are MGM backlot neighborsHere’s my conundrum.

Getting my fix watching reruns of The Twilight Zone, as I have for the last 6 decades, a thought crossed my mind. Why did Rod Serling never do an episode in three sections, or villages on Lot 2? It’s then I realized there is one street on Lot 3 he never used. Understand, this show, The Twilight Zone, is almost entirely MGM backlot exteriors, with Culver City streets just outside the studio sprinkled in once in a while.

Dutch Street was never in any Twilight Zone episode. Yet, The Twilight Zone utilized every other set and jungle road on Lot 3, Even obscure sets like the stairway that was the represented library in Time Enough at Last. I cried when I first saw it as a kid, heartbreaking, when Burgess Meredith’s glasses break as he was finishing his reading list for eternity.

Every set could easily be an episode exterior for this show. I presume Rod adapted his writing to fit the locations he had at his disposal. With Rod being an Air Force vet, he produced deep story lines in his war episodes. Like the one that used the Rocks set on Lot 3, where the Japanese were held up in a cave and a snot nosed commander shows up to beat his soldiers down… A Quality of Mercy. Rod used every bit of both these lots.

Why not the French Villages, or Grand Central Station? Both lots have French Villages.

The answer is simple…Combat owned those streets and often left them in disarray. One series aired on CBS while the other aired on ABC. MGM doesn’t care who rents what sets, but the networks do. I would bet Rod would love to have done an episode using Combat’s war torn scenery. Nope can’t – as if the networks were countries at war. These series were filming in the same years with Combat continuing on after The Twilight Zone was canceled.

The other area never in a Twilight Zone is Verona Square on Lot 2. That sits adjacent to the Grand Central Station, and short walk to France. The original sets from Romeo and Juliet have turned into a Combat battlefield. Multiple Battles have been staged here at this village. Often these are the most outrageous battles ever in that series. The sets are the ones closest to my house and Maureen’s apartment window looked dead center into the eye of this hurricane. It’s as if MGM wanted them as far back as possible, plus trains are more important in war than in The Twilight Zone.

A Stop at Willoughby” is a train episode, on Lot 3’s railroad. A western coach, also used in The Harvey Girls. But Lot 2’s oldest sections were staples for White Rook and Check Mate King Two- to continually liberate.

I would imagine Gene Levitt of Combat and Rod were good friends, both veterans of WW 2 and they had stages on the front lot and exteriors on the backlot. I bet anything Rod, when he had a spare minute, witnessed more than one of these backlot battles.

Combat actually was a pain in the rear for studio operations. That said, it’s the best WW 2 series ever and lasted longer than the war itself. The soundtrack carried to every part of the backlot and far beyond. The first time I ever heard gunfire was from Lot 2, in my crib. By the time I was three years old- my antennas were sprouting. I used my own plastic soldiers and pretended Combat’s gunfire were my guys while playing in the dirt in my backyard.

I asked my mom once as all heck was breaking loose-“where is that noise coming from? “

“That’s Combat, they film it at MGM.” she said. That information shaped my life ahead. You can’t be too young to learn where battles on TV get made or live this close without MGM impacting your life. The size and beauty, and noise of this lot can’t be contained by a green, wooden, barbed-wire fence. If you’re a curious little boy like me, gunfire is an invitation for adventures…

Closing thought, CBS was where The Twilight Zone was first filmed in poor videotape quality, but when it shifted to MGM-you had endless possibilities with scripts and exteriors. Combat on the other hand moved to CBS Radford and the show declined. It was much too big for their lot, and much too loud, so most of the final color episodes ended up at Franklin Canyon reservoir. That was where the exteriors were often shot in the final season. CBS had a low bar ceiling and it showed – Long live MGM!

Written and Lived by…Donnie Norden.

Hey everybody, I’m pleased to announce The Phantom of the Backlots is now a YouTube channel of the same name. It will feature my life on the backlots through screen clips where I can break down scenes with my own pictures to compare with…I can take you inside these battles-up close and personal. The Marion Davies Make- Up trailer discovery, recovery will be documented through film- as it happened. We will jump backwards in time, to the Golden Age, to the present tense. Just getting started, stay tuned. Trespassing has never been so easy!

50th Anniversary of the USO

Time for some Patriotism

Working at a major movie studio, things happen around here, almost on a moment’s notice. Land, sea, or air-we here at Universal aim to please at the entertainment capital of the world…

In 1987, the Pope visited our lot. It was very memorable since I was a tram driver at that time and Pope John was going to tour Los Angeles, in a Glamour Tram.

His desire was simply to have Hollywood stop portraying evil in its films. The Pope visit climaxed at the Universal Amphitheater after mass at Dodger Stadium soon after, Universal released a feature titled The Last Temptation of Christ. The studio waited for the pontiff to go back home to Italy, while tuning out his heart felt message.

In 1991, we had another Royal Event. It involved Lou Wasserman and all his political clout. A few of his good friends, namely, U.S. Presidents, arrived for an event to honor the United States armed forces and fifty years of service by the USO.

The event was unfolding without a hitch. Every detail attended to except they forgot one important thing, air-conditioning.

This often taken for granted facet of Hollywood productions is just as necessary as any camera or lights would be at these red-carpet events. On shows, sets that are heavily lit with our large lighting packages need air conditioning to off-set the heat being created by all things taking place. Too much heat and the make-up will run on the face of the actors. every set, inside stages and on the backlot- gets some type of air unit for this reason alone.

We often get calls from shows who wait and see, then find out they want air. Problem with that is these take time to install and are twice as difficult when the event is already taking place. Normally, we pre- install AC units and temperature control is one of the very first items factored into a show budget. You might not want to have it, but you got to have it. Or you will melt.

This party overlooked this important detail.

America’s top brass along with a cavalcade of stars begin to sweat it out. The coordinators of this event were putting out the Bat Signal! One of Hollywood’s biggest events needs immediate electrical assistance. Who ya gonna call?

All hands-on deck

We need to fix this while the event is taking place –live! Installation requires a large power source, two air handlers and a chiller, with thick hoses attached. The air handlers will go inside the Big Top Tent that at first look appears like a Ringling Brothers Circus is taking place. But, inside this tent, aren’t clowns, but some of the World’s Most Powerful Men.

Our plan is simple, and we attack it from three directions. We drive up a Kenworth 12 speed tractor with a 1200-amp generator plant built into it, and park it just behind where all the Presidents are seated. Hoses get run underneath the skin of the tent along with power connections. All this is taking place while the panel of dignitaries looks on. We become the center of attention. This is quite the panel I’m working alongside: The Presidents, their entourage, Military families, celebrities from sports, movies, and television.  By all accounts, this would be considered a busy day- even at the White House.

Just keep cool

Our only delay was being searched by Marines and Federal Agents. They had me take apart the covers that are attached to these units, then after German Shepherd approval, we get the thumbs up.

With that, we simply do what we do, and we receive a round of applause and thanks from a history book of characters that helped change this country. All this while Apache helicopters sit locked and loaded, 100 yards away….

A WARM reception. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lew Wasserman and Nancy Reagan USO 50th Anniversary Salute April 5, 1991, Universal City, CA

Aw shucks, just doing my job. Some misspelled names, but a proud memento for me.
I’m melting… I’m melting… Unless you’re Rick Baker working on The Incredible Melting Man, you’ve got to factor air conditioning into any event.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the headliner here. Pictured with Colin Powell with jackets off. Most likely before we were called to bring in the air conditioning.
We never sweated like this at Warner Brothers!  
A worthwhile and noteworthy occasion.

Frank Sinatra would sing “What is America to Me?” a longtime favorite of USO audiences.
Bob Hope was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his USO work.
Two Apache helicopters were parked in what Universal calls (Z) lot. No tourists were allowed anywhere near this although – the tour must go on- and did. Just don’t park here.
Airwolf- Universal has its own helicopters…when needed!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

The Birds-1963

Inside- Bodega Bay facade…
6 Points Texas-post Birds. The Bodega Bay yellow sign removed as is entire upper balcony.

This is a hot corner on the backlot “literally”- every direction on the lot is available from this intersection.
“No- don’t cut yet- this is the look we want, let him squirm”
“I’m a busy guy,” Alfred also was making T.V at this time. The Alfred Hitchcock Hour ran from 1962 to 1965. Prior to that the more successful Alfred Hitchcock Presents T.V Series ran from 1955-62.
The fire is a real controlled fire- Birds added in post production.
Universal Backlot…
Take cover!
Trams would start driving down this same road in the following year -1964 The Glamour Tram Tour begins…Picture yourself in a pink and white being attacked by…BIRDS!
This adventure would make for a great animation on the tour…
The Universal Paddle Boat is just a false front that makes for a scenic backdrop and can enhance or block camera angles. Only one side is ship shape, the back-seen here-is an example of typical set construction.
Smashing Success Tour GuideJack”...Universal. “It can happen to you too!”
Tour Guide extraordinaire, turned big time director-Katy Garretson…
Bodega Bay background- Glamour Tram parting the Red Sea. Just another day at work.
Circa-1919…pre backlot lakes

West End Six Points Texas…we begin:

In Hitchcock’s The Birds, location filming cleverly blended in the Universal backlot. When chaos ensues, production usually prefers a backlot controlled setting. This film used real locations in San Francisco and two towns Bodega. One Bodega Bay, a large village on the bay.Two, Bodega Village, a small inland village.The two towns were made to appear as one.

Make that three towns when you include Bodega on the Universal backlot. The most action packed scenes of course were filmed on our backlot. Bodega shared the same pond as McHale’s Navy in 1963. The naval base area set up for McHale’s merry band of soldiers was named Taratupa. It’s a just a depth charge away from the Bodega Bay set, at Universal.

In all my tram driving years, little if no reference was ever made by tour guides involving Bodega Bay and The Birds. Trams do pass in front of the bungalow Mr. Hitchcock operated out of, so he is always mentioned, both in the front lot, then the backlot. The Psycho House is a picture stop memory for tourists. But this Bodega set is not part of the guides spiel. Perhaps it’s overlooked by younger eyes. Actually, to spot Universal in this film is an advanced backlot logistics test. Good job if you already identified this location prior to this installment.

Trams passed through this set after exiting the Flash Flood and then a brief Hoo Ray in Six Points, we curve around the old paddleboat for our approach to the Red Sea. We would sit parked in Bodega waiting for trams to enter and exit the Red Sea. Guides talked mostly westerns and how small doorways are around here to make Cowboys bigger and damsels look more distressed.

Murder She Wrote did an episode in this area and it was suppose to be a movie studio backlot. In the eighties, this street faded to black, so to speak and was rarely used except for parties and rock videos. Alias Smith and Jones was the last western series to saddle up on these streets.

This gas station set is located in the center of the backlot, all roads funnel at this area that connects Lankershim Blvd to Barham Blvd and all backlot roads in between. This set lies in close proximity to film vaults and our underwater tank. The buildings surrounding this area that still stand depict a different era inside, one that never changed. Old wall paper is peeling off the walls and the curtains are held together by caked on dust. The buildings inside take you back to the days of the westerns with cowboys sketched on walls by a talented artist-long ago.

Three things every tourist see’s from a tram is The Hitchcock Bungalow, Bodega Bay Station, and the Psycho House. Bodega Bay sets rarely gets pointed out. In 1963, McHale’s Navy jungle set was right ac across the way from this set. The pontoon boats, could be craned out when a naval base was undesirable in our Red Sea. The studio uses oversized props and structures to hide or block views of other sets. The Paddle Boat is a floating rode block, it can look real by blowing steam out the chutes and the paddle can spin with help by effects. Cover with extras in costumes and begin the hootenanny. Everything will move but the ship itself. One of our many illusionary devices. It was common place to move the PT. 73 around also, from the Red Sea and also Singapore Lake, better know as Cabot Cove, the water Jaws occupies.

The tram backup during busy summer days back through this entire 6 Points Texas western area. This area is like the 405 freeway at 5 P.M. Slow going due to animation time needing to reset, the Red Sea needs to refill after each parting creates what we call -A Tram Jam.

Each guide treading water, with a just microphone to keep them a float, earn their tiny bags of silver stalling in the old west. Guides desperately try to keep folks attention. They proudly say something while constantly peeking at the tram movement in front of us. ” I wasn’t trained to say this much,” is the truth to their befuddled facial expressions. Veteran guides don’t over react and stay in the moment, but new summer hires just cram stuff in with a petrified look. Rookie guides tend to shout nervously. Most guides are new in the summer, it becomes a match to drown out other guides doing the same spiels in other trams. This is where-brain cells die.

I have more fun watching the guests faces as the guides attempt to enlighten and entertain. These backups can last a half hour in sometimes brutal sun.

Most guides are here just to be discovered by some director, it’s not the pay that seals the deal. It’s stardom… O’k that rarely happens but it’s the dream come true of every face behind that microphone. I once did a private tour for Whoopi Goldberg, she pointed out to our guide, quote ‘I once applied for a tour guide position but was refused, do to my color.” -” But I ended up making quite a bit more money!” with a devilish laugh she exclaimed in all her bravado. My struggling tour guide was happy for her success, I could tell. Do say, She didn’t tip like she’s rich.

Jack Wagner is the biggest success story to move on from that backwards facing seat with the microphone.

Another guide named Katy Garretson moved on to directing from her front row seat on the tour. She has won achievement awards, you could tell she even on the tram she can run a show. These two former guides achieved high professional success and are now legendary in their previous world of tram tour guides. Role models if ever there was…

For us drivers, we’re Teamsters…life is good. We jump from shows- to tours, and vice a versa. I have so much fun on these 4 car contraptions, you meet the entire world and show them your small portion of your Universe. Especially on private nights when companies rent out a tram, driver-guide, we are a team after all, and do liquored up tours with folks letting their hair down. Spirits bring out the spirits. Not everybody has the cash to rent this place out, those who do sure have fun.

Bodega Bay is more than just a duplicated set on our backlot, it’s a way of life for us tour employees.Tour Guides pour their soul out in this area and it’s my job to listen, before driving to the next stall- backup for more of the same…

You can never have enough information when it comes to touring with 175 captive customers.

and on the drivers side of the tram that ditch was in Night Gallery”…”no it wasn’t” but if you say it on a microphone it happened. Make it up, yep-I’ve heard everything from my All American Good Looking Side Kicks!

Written and Lived by…Donnie Norden.

Desilu’s Lost Film Vaults-Revisited

Vaults circled, 1976. The Desilu Forgotten Vaults. A yellow water tower stands where the guard shack once was. The entire lot is gone except for this locked up storage facility. I was able to breech this fortress and we put tennis shoes on the cement floor inside this strange smelling bunker. We entered through the roof after hours of intense struggling through each security protective layer. Yes, this impervious and supposedly invincible facility was uncorked by a handful of determined teen-agers. That story can be enjoyed in my book….Hole in the Fence.
In this 1969 episode of Hogan’s Heroes, the film vaults provide the setting for this German gun installation. The episode, starred Vito Scotti. Previously, that role was played by Hans Conried. The red door is one of eight that enter these vaults. That’s a heavyweight solid steel door fleeced with fake snow.
Each vault has its own anti-aircraft gun. The shed at top of the picture is at the Main gate fence line on Ince Blvd. Hogan’s Heroes was a Paramount/Gulf Western Production in the final years of this series. I believe they secured their assets from this vault area. Probably one of the last withdrawals of film. The Lost Episodes of Lucy-were inside these vaults, uncatalogued. I have much more on the legendary editor Dann Cahn, to come. He was able to find cuts inside these vaults that became the Lost Episodes…
Dann Cahn-pictured center was given a career achievement award by the American Cinema Editors. He is also known for finding and putting together the Lost Lucy Episodes from the Desilu Vaults. He was the last surviving member of the original creative team for I Love Lucy.
Dann Cahn, center, at his bachelor party thrown by Danny Thomas and Desi Arnaz. He was the editor on- I Love Lucy. He recovered the lost episodes of that series from these vaults. What I want to know is… what’s in that tiny trinket box? Photos courtesy of his son-Danny.
Film Vaults-bottom left. Picture from Baldwin Hills. Hughes Tool Corporation, Hetzler Road.
Oil Production is taking place adjacent to these vaults. “There’s oil in them there hills!” In 1924, oil was discovered in the area surrounding these backlots. Oil and film came to Culver City at almost exactly the same time period.
This is where Ince Blvd terminates into various dirt roads at the 40-acre main gate. Those eight white squares are the roof of the film vaults. This is a cement bunker with 8 blast doors, one for each vault. Normally this area outside the blast doors is used for storage, in this picture, oil production is taking place outside, a derrick is positioned in front. It’s real, not a set. Standard Oil made the hills overlooking this studio a boom town- striking oil in 1924.
Main Lot -Two vaults off Ince Blvd. 8 more located out back.

MGM…A vault at MGM exploded, August 10th, 1965. An electrical short caused the nitrate to explode. One man died. The blast could be heard all the way to MGM Lots 1 and 2. The entire contents were destroyed including several silent films and only known originals. MGM Studio Manager Roger Mayer describes vaults as “concrete bunk houses.” He stated at the time it was good storage because the film couldn’t be stolen. MGM Lot 3 had their vaults spread out so fire could not spread between vaults. MGM never purposely destroyed their film catalog, starting in 1930, MGM gave prints and negatives of its silent films to The George Eastman House. Thus began the transformation by Mr. Louie B. Mayer to transfer nitrate prints to safety film. Despite this sad mishap, MGM has saved over 68% of its silent films, the highest percentage of all the major studios.

Silver/Nitrate…is what existed inside these vaults. Residence homes on Ince, and Van Buren, butt-end with this potential fire hazard. Movie theaters have been known to catch fire with this film stock.
The area highlighted is the Film Vaults in bunker form.
This is one of Universal’s vaults that was next to the New York Street fires –two fires! These buildings are air conditioned for film preservation and employees here wear coats. Firefighters on the ground and in helicopters – helped defend this vault in the two legendary blazes on New York Street. Inside these vaults-it’s cold, a bit damp and smells strongly of film.
Universal Vault, I add these because Desilu racks look quite like this, just more of a cryptic tomb setting, like it was aware of its fate. Bing Crosby has a film inside here…”Two for Tonight.” Bing Crosby BCP was on credits for Hogan’s Heroes episodes.
Bing Crosby ProductionsHogan’s Heroes call sheet. BCP on ending credits…
Stuff exists in these vaults that has little if anything to do with complete films. Fact is-anything film over decades gets stuck inside these enclaves. Everyday goings-on, when captured on film and deemed savable, end up in these temperature-controlled vaults…Universal
An organized film vault looks like this…this vault is active and many of these shows are in your TV line-up today.
Organized for generations to come, most these shows are airing in some TV Land near you.

The major studios have their own vaults. MGM and Universal listed, RKO/Desilu no mention. They need them to store their films. The construction of these old vaults is fairly identical in regard to the old bomb shelter construction.
Projection room in Theater 2…Universal.
A mixing console is covered in between these rows of seats. Films get worked on, if need be, in post-production but also get screened here for VIP’S.

The projector lens merges sprockets of spinning frames of film onto a theater screen. We had 3 theaters when I was at Universal and this area, located alongside Doc Goldstein’s Sound Department, was always extremely busy. This is where film post-production creates the final product.

Let’s first start with this announcement-If you don’t already possess Hollywood’s Lost Backlot, Steven Bingen’s sensational book on 40 Acres, Get It! It’s The Bible for pictures and facts about this legendary backlot. You will refer to it all the time, the perfect Desilu Rerun companion. Also, his latest book, The MGM Effect, has a story with yours truly featured. I’m extremely honored to be part of that legacy and will do all I can to keep that logo alive and breathing forever. Another must have book for your studio library shelf, which- is the best shelf in the bookcase. Finally, an audio bonus, check out the podcast by Greg Dyro on the making of The MGM Effect, available online.

Fade-in;

Because of all of the changes in ownership involving this studio, things got misplaced. In some cases, for decades. You still might still find an old make-up trailer just sitting around, covered with dust.

The very last structure to be bulldozed at 40-acres were the Film Vaults. In a land that once had sets from Stalag 13 to Mayberry, only a few trees and blowing tumbleweeds remained in August 1976. I shared previously my excursion inside these bomb shelters that are literally explosion proof. That’s because the contents inside are extremely volatile. Just recently I was contacted by a man named Barry, he happens to be the last handful of folks to see this place be excavated.

He contacted me because I’m one of the few folks still alive who has been inside. My entrance was about six months prior to the afternoon- I’m about to detail.

The Main Gate on Ince…

This is how you enter this backlot, you know you’ve arrived when pavement turns to dirt.

Welcome... A guard shack no longer exists just inside the chain link fence, it’s been replaced by an elevated industrial water tank to fill water trucks needed to help control blowing dirt. Yep, this lot is going, going, Gone With the Wind. Camp Henderson is the first missing set you notice and that hits you like a punch in the nose. To see this lot this barren, you would need to rewind over 50 years.

But the one thing that still stands was built for preservation, even in a war. Its appearance is that of a bomb shelter. Thick cement walls with heavy blast doors. The light switches inside can be used in an explosive gas atmosphere. That’s because this film is silver nitrate. This film has a nasty reputation. It’s been known to catch fire in movie theaters.

Nitrate was used from the late 1800’s to the 1940’s. These bunkers date back to that era. RKO probably built these, Desilu inherited them, and television made its way inside. Racks and racks and racks with enough film to stretch to New York are packed like a sardine can. The cans are labeled but little inventory can be diagnosed from the racks themselves. Basically, you just look, if it was a TV series, like everything I saw there was, then all these prints were stacked against each other. The more successful the series, the more cans it will have. Some film is 8mm, some is 16mm, the cans vary in thickness. One reel per can, some cans just contain cuttings. Strips of film frames captured in a roll held together by rubber bands.

Water then crept inside, so the bottom rack was inundated, and white calcium deposit levels show different water levels. This place seems to have been forgotten. Maybe no keys still exist. This studio has had several owners since Desilu sold it. Nothing seems to have been passed down from previous ownership. It’s like a sci-fi movie where everybody evacuated. I got in without keys and it was not easy. You can read my account in detail in my book Hole in the FenceThe Desilu Film Vaults.

Today, we will suffer together the twisted fate that was sealed in this tomb of chemicals and flammables and celluloid. We’re talking Hollywood’s most legendary stock TV series’.

Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, and Citizen Kane were recorded on nitrate, the earliest form of motion picture film. The latter two films were shot at this studio. As nitrate was phased out in the 40’s, many archives were destroyed intentionally, to eradicate the hazardous materials. Film archivists held nitrate in a different fiery light. Besides being an important ancestor to all forms of film to follow, nitrate is lauded for luminous contrast images resulting from emulsion rich in silver. It’s safe if handled properly.

As teenagers on the wild side, the word properly was misunderstood. Open the can lid and smell what is rolled tightly inside. If you want to see it, that requires unraveling the film, which I’m certain was EXREMELY DANGEROUS. Boys will be boys and we were looking for costumes and props- not film. I guess that’s why my mom always said ” Donnie-just be careful” every time I went out our front door.

I’m still alive so I did something right, plus I have a wonderful Guardian Angel that’s saved me numerous times.

What I describe on this day is through a different set of eyes, my pal Barry.

Ince Blvd– at the 40-acre backlot entrance a visitor arrives...

The main gate is wide open since there is no more backlot. Barry, a trespassing veteran himself, pulls in like he owns the place. Immediately, he sees a barren landscape, no more Camp Henderson, no more anything, except a claw on a huge tractor that’s parked in front of the film vaults. One door has been ripped off as he parks his car where he can observe. A huge dumpster sits precariously close to the action. A guard is with the operator and demolition crew.

Barry, during a lull in work, enters inside. The contents are about to be destroyed. He picks up a few cans and tucks them away in his car. That was easy, but as he returns, security this time says, “Stay Out!”

Following instructions, he stays out, but instead sneaks around to the blind side of this dumpster to grab film that’s been dumped. This time security is angry and asks for some I.D. He talks his way out and says he’s with the studio. Calm, cool and collected- but intensely frustrated, he exits just as the giant claw tears off the roof. This is a massive bucket doing the dirty work.

The items randomly recovered by our want to be hero turn out to be the Pilot of Star Trek, Captain Pike, not Captain Kirk. These are cuttings, not full reels. Other cutting tied by rubber band turn out to be Lucy, Ricky, and Bob Hope driving around in a convertible. These items were very close to being underwater as the bottom rack was at sea level.

Other films on the rack besides Star Trek included a pilot called The Sheriff of Cochise. Westinghouse Desilu Theater, and some I Love Lucy cans along with The Whirlybirds. Paramount had labels on film cans in the dumpster.

Edison-The All Electric House of the Future had film inside displaying futuristic homes.

We will never know exactly the depth of this catastrophe, but when you hear of lost episodes, this hand me down studio really did lose things. I imagine some recovery was made since there is enough vault space to handle decades of film. RKO has to have stuff inside here that was lost. I think they built it. Desilu took it over and TV filled the racks.

There is a comment I’ve heard researching what I still can from Desi Arnaz himself, dating back into the sale of Desilu on December 29, 1967 “Throw it all in the Santa Monica Bay” in regard to much of this film.

Back in the day, TV only had channels 2-13. Seven channels, if you’re lucky. This translates to tons of content with minimal ways to sell it. Quality shows, view outlets. Storage costs money, so if a product isn’t generating revenue, it costs money to store. Plus, liability, kids prior to this demolition accessed my entrance and film would be blowing down in the creek. It’s a miracle no kid met with a fiery fate.

The studio that brought you GWTW now is entirely blowing in the wind…ashes, dust, and celluloid make up this lost horizon.

Until 1962, Desilu was second to MCA’S Review Studios. When MCA bought Universal Pictures, Desilu became the number one independent production company until being sold in 1968.

That’s an update of an event that happened almost 50 years ago. No other studio mishandled their inventory like this Lost Backlot did.

Fade to Black

Written and lived by …Donnie Norden

Danny Thomas

Quality Television…

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz are the faces that come to mind whenever you see the Desilu title identified. Never was the label more proudly displayed than the signature a top the water tower that once overlooked this studio. It could be seen at ground level from every street on the backlot. Your not in Mayberry if you don’t see this water tower.

Lucy and Desi proudly claimed ownership in 1956 and the studio thrived unlike ever before. Thomas Ince once had a plan, but strange things happen around here. RKO, the next owner after DeMille, never had a plan, just do what you wish on this wild backlot ranch nicknamed 40 Acres.It actually gave the lot charm, comparable to some nice orphan kid growing up at Boystown.

Television was starting to taking off back in the mid 50’s and the landscape around this lot would end up in a majority of classic television series going forward. Lucy and Desi have a crystal ball. There’s a new sheriff in town and he smokes cuban cigars. Money is spent wisely, not foolishly, and efficiency is introduced to a studio that use to make decisions from the saddle of a horse.

Enter Danny Thomas:

One afternoon I was watching Andy Griffith reruns with my mom and I asked ‘Who is that Danny Thomas guy whose name is on the credits?”

My mom kicked into church mode and spoke in sincere heart warming terms, “Donnie, he is a Saint- he helps kids with serious needs” …My mom began tearing and choking up, for she also had a physical disability that handicapped her for her entire life. Because of a bad hip socket at birth, as a young child, she had some horrific and almost barbaric remedies performed on her. Forever, she walked with a metal, adjustable, heavy duty crutch. It often doubled as a machine gun when not in cane walking mode. It was a really cool looking- crutch/weapon in the hands of her young son. Best compared to Cage’s gun in Combat, the only thing missing from my mom’s crutch is a bayonet!

Bless her heart…Her ailment started long before St. Jude was founded by Danny Thomas on February 4th, 1962 in Memphis Tennessee.

My mom is my hero and Danny Thomas is her hero.

From that moment on- he had my stamp of approval and I soon noticed his name is involved in quality, both on TV screens and countless kids hearts…

1953-Danny obtained his own T.V program with posturing by his agent to a struggling ABC Network. To acquire the services of coveted Ray Bolger, ABC had to take on Danny Thomas. The network was skeptical of this throw-in due to previously low ratings in other endeavors. After some brainstorming, the network came up with a series for him titled Make Room for Daddy. In 1953, it was billed as the best new show on that TV in your living room.

In 1957, it shifted to CBS and slid into The Lucy Show time slot. That show finished off with 180 episodes, many that somehow became lost. “More on that in a future film vault post”

While working on Make Room for Daddy, Danny and aspiring producer/director Sheldon Leonard developed a bond and Sheldon became the shows executive producer. Thomas/Leonard Productions was born. A powerhouse merger that home based off the Desilu Lot.

It was responsible for :

The Real McCoy, The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle, The Joey Bishop Show, The Bill Dana Show, and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

The Bill Dana Show starred- Bill Dana, but Don Adams played Byron Flick, and Jonathan Harris, who would soon star in Lost in Space. This show ran from 1963 to 1965.

Sam Denoff, Bill Persky, Jerry Parris, Marlo and Danny Thomas produced…That Girl.

Desi Arnaz ran the Desilu Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse at this same time. Desilu had so much going on it occupied three movie lots, two in Hollywood and Culver City’s old Thomas Ince facility.

In 1965, Sheldon left the partnership to develop the series I Spy. In 1967, Mr. Thomas tried to buy Desilu from Lucille Ball, but was unsuccessful.

Andy Griffith was the first spin off on American television. It originated from a 1960 episode of Make Room for Daddy. Success poured Danny’s way as several of his TV shows reached Number One. He is also responsible for casting Mary Tyler Moore as Laura Petrie.

Andy Griffith was a spin off of No-Time for Sergeants and Gomer Pyle was a spin-off of the Andy Griffith series. All these shows could be found on the Desilu backlot. Gomer Pyle too became another huge success, In it’s 5 year run, it only fell under top three rated shows once. where it fell to tenth. NBC wanted to spruce up the ratings for Star Trek and was penciled in that Friday night 8;30 time slot, thinking Gomer was in decline. Not the case, Gomer zoomed back to the top and Star Trek got canceled.

All these iconic shows filmed on the Desilu backlot and the negatives ended up here also, in the film vaults that time forgot…more on that to come.

I had a Gomer Pyle lunch pale, I wanted it because it has the Gomer’s barracks in the background as Sgt. Carter gets splashed in the face by a water hose. I loved Frank Sutton. He was the perfect Sergeant. He was a W.W2 in the Army and saw combat in the Philippines. Frank was also a black belt in karate.

Much of this era- and decades before- ended up in film vaults on the backlot. Ironically, shows that filmed at this bunker would eventually end up inside this cement fortress with 8 blast doors. This vault area will be a topic of discussion in my next post.

I wish to thank Danny Thomas, Marlo Thomas, along with Terre and Tony for their effort in making St. Jude the place where kids can fulfill their lives. Let’s all say a prayer for these wonderful in need…

Outside the studio main gate…On Ince Blvd.

The surroundings of what was then Desilu were very simple and middle class. Neighborhood bungalows often provided shelter for the employees that worked inside this studio facility. A laundromat with the name Paramount engrained in the mortar sits across from the main gate. Industrial grade facility, uniforms and costumes get cleaned here from your all time favorite films. The building adjacent to it supplies ice. Ice is a big thing, and gets used in various ways. These commodities are extremely important yet go unnoticed, but not on Ince Blvd.

Next door to the Ice Company, across a tiny ally that looks like something that Elliott Ness would raid, is your last chance for gas. A legendary bar winks at you caddy corner and is across from The Plantation where all the studio executives create things. Things we watch on television. The mid 60’s was the peak for quality T.V. Roof antennas and rabbit ears pulled in shows being filmed in every backlot in Hollywood. The Culver Hotel looks down on all of this landscape.

The gas station that fueled your hasty exit was Richfield, back then. It was typical of any in the USA. Quarts of oil sit on display outside a tiny fix -it garage. Two cars could fit inside, like the two cells in Andy Griffith. In fact, the next closet gas station from here is Goobers, just down the road. He’s not always open, so don’t be that Man in a Hurry.

Soda machines stand side by side cigarette machines for the big spenders, and a last chance phone booth sits proudly along side some 55 gallon oil drums. Your having a good day if the soda is cold and you have enough coins to place your call. Collect calls sometimes work, if your mothers on the other end. The Herald Examiner also is interested in your quarters and displays its daily headlines proudly through a crusty yellow cover surface.

In 1965, my family bought color to keep up with those fancy silks Batman and Robin wear. A revolution on channels 2 through 13. Less content resulted in extremely High Quality T.V. We saw the same faces and actors on several of our television series and began to feel like we knew them. Who doesn’t feel they already know Gavin McCloud for example or Burt Mustin. Bruce Lee lived directly behind the studio on Van Buren street and neighborhood kids did know him. Color worked everywhere with The Dynamic Duo and The Green Hornet. Art directors and wardrobe had plenty to work with in our most colorful decades. Even That Girl produced 136 color episodes.

One afternoon I stopped with my sister to get gas for her candy apple red- GTO. My dad gave it to her since I’m still in single digits. Nancy gets out to pay while we receive a full service treatment. I fiddle with her 8 track, since I can’t drive yet, but I can rock. The band Cream begins to play White Room- at the station. I’m happy as I rock my head sideways, welcome to the 60’s – my sister interrupts points out a crowd that is looking and/or waiting to use the phone. My eyes pan like the lens of a camera, anxious women fidgeting, each dressed more colorfully that the next- block the folding glass door, it’s then who I realize who’s inside-Marlo Thomas.

It’s like a casting call and every actress wants to use this phone. They will have to wait there turn, Marlo Thomas is using it for something important. My sister and I love –That Girl. I role down the power windows and gawk.

Secretly, I had a crush on this woman before I was certain I even liked girls. There she is-as adorable as can be. She’s animated inside her booth and her mannerisms make this seem like the opening scene in an episode. We pick…That Girl!

Like the opening scenes yet this isn’t being filmed, it’s real. The only thing missing is the train speeding alongside the New York skyline, by with the irresistible jingle I grew up loving composed by Sam Denoff and Earl Hagen.

Diamonds, daisy’s, snow flakes and That Girl, chestnuts, rainbows, springtime That Girl…

This is coming from a boy who couldn’t get enough war and machine gun T.V, but spring must be in the air, this had a grab factor. It’s that girl with the umbrella, with the fancy Thursday night prime time slot.

Ms. Thomas wanted the show title to be-That Girl. The studio preferred The Marlo Thomas Show, every show at Desilu had the stars name attached, Marlo wanted a fictitious character, Ann Marie Henderson was born.

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden

Home BaseCulver City
Act alive-the owners are here”…
A Gentleman, Legend and Saint…
Marvelous…
Class attracts class!
Bravo!Two wonderful Saints
My mother Betty, “she knows a Saint when she see’s one.” What this picture can’t describe is all the hardship my mom had to overcome at child birth.
Picture this but in an old greasy gas station…
This call brings me back in time-not only is she cute, she’s funny.
Before cell phones, this was a place to meet movie stars.
Ted Bessell, or as Ann says it “Donald Hollinger” double dipped at Desilu, also appearing in several Gomer Pyle episodes.
I’m sharpening my crayons as we speak…
Thursday Night PrimetimeABC 1966-1971
Carl Reiner, seated.
I found this call sheet inside a barrack at Stalag 13 of all places.

The 20th Century Fox Studio Auction-1971

Hello Dolly sets at the 20th Century Fox entrance. Picture taken from rooftop on N.Y Street.
Not only is this land worth a bundle, there’s oil underneath it. Slant drilling takes place from the Beverly Hills High School Campus. The rich-get richer!
Oil wells surround this studio as well as MGM Lot 3. Backlots and oil fields work well together.
Hello Dolly set- Fox does their NFL Pre-game show where this section once stood.
This Auction Catalogue was provided to me by Mr. William Daly. My friend William is the oldest remaining MGM trespasser still around to tell tales. He was caught under the moonlight by MGM security with whistles, flashlights, and night sticks on MGM Lot 3 in the late 1950’s. I’m honored to have made his acquaintance.
Cleopatra Art
Custer’s Last Stand- Art
Planet of the Apes-Storyboard
Hello Dolly…
Bottle of Scotch in the hands of Humphrey Bogart.
Royalty sleeps here…1971 waterbeds became popular, times were changing.
This is what I want!
This is a full-scale glass-sleeps two “Where would you put this? It could double as a pool.”
Throne for sale...The King and I
Carved and painted Oval Chaise. Decorated with flowers and rococo foliage. “Let’s Make Love “starring Marilyn Monroe.
Bid won by Joe DiMaggio…Marilyn-not the camera boom. The Yankee Clipper was her best buddy. The original Mr. Coffee brought class to all his endeavors.
Chariot above- intricate details attached below.
Details around the rear wheels…
The dead traveled with windows…
Used in -Old Chicago
Old Chicago…
Wild Animals, Snakes, and Freaks- that often describes the scenery of movie backlots…

The Titanic doubled for The Queen Mary. Just remove a smokestack.
Lifeboat from-Titanic
The Tennessee
The Kaga-A model of a Japanese Aircraft Carrier.
The Tennessee Model Battleship
The Siranuhi-Model of Japanese Destroyer
The Kirishima Battleship
The Neosho
Galleon…

The Niagara…
River Queen from Swanee River
Von Ryan’s Express
German Tank-Desert Rats

The Seventies begin…

A year after MGM sold its soul to the devil-20th Century followed suit a year later. Never has there been more access to chariots, airplanes-full scale and miniature, and ships for sea. “Costumes needed, step right up. We’re giving them away.” “We’re going to build a modern city on this sacred ground,” that’s the pitch.

Groundbreaking started in the early 60’s and real estate was about to skyrocket. This entire city known as Century City was pure backlot. Its size rivaled MGM, which is a short trip down Motor Avenue. All the studios on the Westside succumbed to inflated real estate. Lot after lot was auctioned off to the highest bidder. The equipment and props used on these lots were no longer needed, and deals were everywhere.

MGM and 20th Century Fox decided to cash in their chips. Desilu would also succumb to this huge cash cow real estate is providing. I imagine the Hogan’s Heroes tree stump would have received bids. Or the dog houses, guard towers, and door handles from Stalag 13. The Mayberry Courthouse door handles should be in a catalog. The fuel pumps at the filling station and the soda ice box. Desilu/Culver gave their stuff away, or in some cases-forgot it was there. Such as my recent discovery of Marion Davies’ original Make-up trailer. You know the one I discovered in a backyard, that was pulled around by horses. Bunkers full of old TV shows were sat abandoned and neglected.

RKO/Desilu fizzled out…No auction, no mention-the land that time forgot!

Legendary items left to fend for themselves, ending up in the hands of kids with a keen eye. No bids required, yours for the taking.

But the big two players, Fox and MGM, couldn’t dump stuff fast enough. Bring your checkbook. This is where adults become kids again. These sales were once in a lifetime and closed the curtain on how the studio system once worked.

I started sneaking into the 20th Century lot in 1974, after about a year of scouting. It turns out, the Pico entrance had a climbable tall fence without any barb wire. The problem there is Stages surround you as you land inside. You’re boxed in with no hiding places, so running is an option, from point A, to point B. Point B is either a tiny little Western Street, used in an episode of Starsky and Hutch, also The Rookies, S.W.A.T. and Charlie’s Angels were in full swing.

Movies going on were The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and Young Frankenstein. These were shows that I semi- infiltrated in various locations on this lot. This isn’t like my studios; the main lot connects to backlot streets. Stages are dominant in the landscape. The main lot is a semi backlot. But this lot once had a backlot, and it was big enough to become home and office for thousands of residents.

I remember a Friday night Jimmy and I were on the 20th Century lot; we snuck in by climbing a chain link fence on Pico Blvd, right next to the L.A. Rams ticket office, across from Rancho Park Golf Course. This area is all stages with little or no hiding places. We felt like novices, we barely know this lot other than from the outside looking in through holes in the fence. We became alerted when we were looked at suspiciously by crew transmitting with walkie-talkies. Jimmy and I separated in two different directions. I turned a corner and chose a bush to hide behind that was exactly my size. No one saw me- so I’m safe if I never move. Trailers are parked outside the stages; it appears I may be here for a while… you know how these things go.

I’m pretty pinned down, but I’m protected in the shadows, just me and some spiders who probably wonder what I’m doing here. To my amazement, I see something hidden inside this bush that right now- is the center of my universe. There is a round reel of film inside a box that says –Young Frankenstein.

“I’ll be damned, that’s my show,” I think to myself pressed up against the stage wall. An actress in a western costume is talking to some guy on a bike as I peek through the branches that surround me. A red light spins every time filming commences on stage, like on a police car roof top. I’m not sure what I’m hiding from. No one is chasing me, I’m just a little scared is all. “I can’t believe there is an entire reel in this box”… I saw all the exteriors filmed at MGM, and now I’ve found a reel in this nicely manicured hedge at 20th Century Fox. So many thoughts cross my mind. “How, why, what… this has to be a theft and I’m sitting right next to it! It’s my favorite monster movie ever.

Someone was going to pirate this film or this reel anyway by all appearances, and this hedge I’m hiding in was involved in the plan. A drop off point maybe. This hiding place I’ve chosen, and the contents here could land me in prison. It’s one of those things- you want it- just can’t have it. I was just trying to hide during a perilous moment, and I end up in a bush with a soon to be released- box office hit.

Today on this lot in Century City, there are still reminders and some existing sections that date back to when all things glittered Gold, before they were all sold for cash…

Do I hear 100 dollars for this empty bottle-SOLD!”

Written and lived by Donnie Norden

The Love-Ins

Lysergic acid diethylamide...LSD
It’s time to get Psychedelicized…1967
This isn’t a show about the 60’s. It’s a real life culture experience made in the time it existed as such. But if you weren’t around at that time…Welcome to the land of Green Tamborine’s.
Often, this set on MGM’s backlot 2 is a police precinct. After this picture, it went from a public library in Soylent Green. It would change next into the 56th Precinct in a TV series MGM made called Popi.
56th Precinct…Popi
This depicts our young society back then… Tune in, turn on, and get out of Vietnam.
Girlstown, Boystown, MGM High-School, Reform School, call it what you wish…we lived the Love-In lifestyle here too.
Hey…. this is better than the Universal Tour!”
Hi-LSD tram”
Before drugs…James MacArthur takes a walk through the Formal Gardens
After drugs look…Formal Gardens. This overgrown path takes you from the Colonial Mansion to the Bewitching Pool. In the Twilight Zone episode-A Thing About Machines- Bartlett Finchley gets chased to his death by his Rolls Royce.
Checkmate...These chess pieces won’t stop laughing…
Susan Oliver gracing the stage. Esther Williams pool is located where the hut is in this photo.
The Magic Bus…
I’m feeling it…it’s fantastic Dr. Barnett
Go ask Alice- before she’s ten feet tall. This White Rabbit is leading another trip down the rabbit hole.
There’s 12 of me,,,enjoy”
Is the Mad Hatter -Jimi Hendrix?”
This area in front of Boystown is as big as a football field and doubles as any park U.S.A
In 1969, Elvis completed passes here in The Trouble with Girls
This was my balcony seat when filming was taking place on this street.
Another view from upstairs.A couple Dozen Twilight Zones used this Brownstone street. Try to name them…
A picture of a dressed set on the TV series Popi. I had a great adventure on the set of this short lived series starring Hector ElizondoHole in the Fence Book Two. Picture taken from window featured in story. My camera, a Minolta SRT 102, had a long and heavy telephoto lens on it. This enabled me to zoom in on guards or movie stars and all things in between. The size was a hindrance, bulky and awkward. So when I got chased, I cradled it in my right arm like a football, with my left arm free to straight arm any resistance. This was a major boost in my picture taking in these studios. This picture is taken from window our tripster sets flight from.
Reopening of the 3rd Eye- it’s cultivated by the power of drugs like Peyote, Mushrooms and LSD. All part of this belief system. It’s still a popular method to connect to everything, both seen and unseen.
San Francisco is the city of hippie origin – “How about a little Eric Burdon and the Animals about now.”
“I can fly baby-this brown windowpane gave me wings”
This has always been the social district.
Drugs didn’t kill him…the fall did !
The last ever picture of this window and building. It’s being pushed down by two bulldozers, seconds later a large cloud of dust would cover me…September 1980.

Amongst Rainbows and butterflies…

Having grown up in the 60’s, I lived this vibe. Compared to today, this was heaven. But in the the decade this film was made, Vietnam was a war our 18 year olds wanted nothing to do with. Down with War was the catch phrase. The counter drug culture developed and Make Love-Not War protests would become common place.

16 and 17 years olds commonly had long hair. At 18, you better be in college, As Creedence Clearwater put it, your either a Fortunate Son, or you have a Bad Moon Rising. But the song that fits this time zone narrative and that put Jefferson Airplane into the stratosphere was-White Rabbit.

It was released the same time this film was made-1967. The Summer of Love. This song was an invitation to feed your head. The psychedelic generation made this song their anthem.

Grace Slick, the band’s founder, says it this way…

“In all those children’s stories, you take some kind of chemical that leads you to a great adventure.”

The Lewis Carroll story- Alice in Wonderland, was way ahead of it’s time.

Grace continues” Alice in Wonderland is blatant. “Eat Me!” She gets so high she’s too big for the room. “Drink Me!” The caterpillar is sitting on a psychedelic mushroom smoking opium!”

Grace continues “This song was about the importance of education.” “Feed your head” the climax to White Rabbit, “was meant to liberate your brain and your senses.”

The 70’s culture retained much of this color, music and passion. Cocaine became prevalent, and all these drugs could easily be found in public school. Everything Jefferson Airplane sings about and more, carried over in another very colorful decade. On the MGM backlot-The sixties and seventies blended together. Sargeant Pepper would be made in 1977. Based off the Beatles album of the Sixties. The color, pageantry, and drugs continued like some Yellow Submarine trip.

This film-The Love-Ins was made by Columbia Pictures on the MGM backlot. Why they didn’t use their own backlot confuses me. They easily have backgrounds and a fancy park at The Columbia Ranch. What’s cool- is they didn’t.

Drugs and backlot adventures go together, hand in hand. It’s a wonderland weather Alice greets you or not. I have wonderful story called White Rabbit in part 2 of Hole in the Fence, second edition, coming later this year. It involves Magic Mushrooms and a chase by MGM security, the funny thing is-I was bare foot. It started in Tarzan’s Lake and I was doing my best Tom Sawyer impression. One of my fellow trespasser friends ended up in jail as everything that could go wrong-DID!

This backlot was so fun-drugs weren’t needed. MGM is a drug. But enhancement of the senses can manifest any illusion you can imagine. It’s as if these studio backlots were intelligently designed for just this reason.

You may see a White Rabbit or two, trying to lead you down a rabbit hole. You too can experience all this enchantment, simply by following me through my…Hole in the Fence!

Written and lived by….Donnie Norden

The Best Little Whorehouse…

Stage 12 Universal…From up in the perms where grips and electricians habitat.
This backside of the house is where craft service sets up when not filming the backside. People eat here more than they dance.
The stairway to all the bedrooms, it’s chicken ranch indeed…
“Well’ look who’s taking a nap upstairs in this…haunted Chicken Ranch.” Dad works long hours, I wear kids out! This upstairs bedroom in this house is dressed for Providence.
Jim Nabors ended up being a policeman after all- in Burt’s film. After all those years growing up in Mayberry, he knows the law enforcement. And-he was a Marine!
Wear Gold-That’s what this show will gross- over $90 million golden dollars.
Let the 80’s begin…what’s Burt thinking about I wonder, “watch that hand Mr.?”…He’s met his match. Other women Mr Cosmopolitan attracted were Tammy Wynette in the 70’s. Sally Field, in which time they appeared in 4 films including my all time favorite Hooper. That was the set I met him on at the Columbia Ranch. It was so fun as chariot races were being filmed on their western street. I was conversing with director Hal Needham, himself a legendary stuntman, when Burt interrupted as we talked stunts. As Hal bragged about having the record for 23 car tumbles in a cannon blasted car roll, Burt walked up, “tell him how long you were in the hospital” with his big mischievous smile. One of my favorite moments ever. Hal broke his back on that record car roll.
He was married to Judy Carne, then once again to Loni Anderson in 1988. They began dating in 1982, the time of Best Little Whorehouse.
Yipes, more extensive than I realized. He must have had a hard time getting names straight. Proof that the whole world loves- Hollywood Stuntmen.
Before the Chicken Ranch, another house occupied this tiny hill top.The Psycho House proceeded this change of address. Set lighting has two covered arc lights on this lighting platform, foreground. This angle shows just how frail that house is. It could blow down in a strong wind. Very little original fragments still exist. A sign just behind the light standard says “Sorry Folks-No Smoking-No Fires.” We never had a out of control fire in this canyon area, amazingly.

The original location of Hitchcock’s classic- moved in 1982 for The Chicken Ranch.
This area is an extreme fire risk, A “No Smoking” area. The fire department is investigating “something haunted,” most likely.
Our featured House…Pictured in this Billboard.
Green Acres is the place to be…
A family dinner inside The Chicken Ranch.
Rob and Sheri Moon Zombie…Just another successful Hollywood couple.They have such fun together. They would have enjoyed growing up with me.I often ran into stuff like this.
Great family picture…this show was so gruesome, Universal would not produce it with their logo, it had an X- Rating, for it’s macabre content. But finally it got cut enough to be a hard- R.
Rob giving direction to the sheriff. “nothing wrong going on here”
“What a cool backlot-let’s explore!”-“Not afraid are ya ?”
“Putting supper together- plenty to eat-make yourself at home!”
Your all a bunch of rejects“…Base camp was located on Elm Street for this group so these folk could be seen wondering around the backlot. Universal provided equipment and trailers, but our bottom end equipment. It was like a strange Film Academy. A show I can never forget.
Michael J. Pollard- This is the kid you see on every rerun of great T.V. He was Virgil, Barney’s nephew in the Andy Griffith Show. He was also in Mayberry in Star Trek…Probably best known for his role in Bonnie and Clyde. He has a trespasser look, I always liked this kid, he has a grown up look. He was the second biggest name attached with this film. Fay Dunaway and Mr Pollard reunited again. Pretty cool…
My daughter Christy, wearing safety gear for this adventure. She was a guest on the T.V series Providence, a Halloween episode. Inside this Chicken Ranch was a coffin brought in especially for this scene. It was close quarters inside this ranch set with make up and camera all stuffed at the base of the stairway. They put my daughter as close to the action as possible. The coffin was the focus, it opened slowly- an actor, playing a corpse, is standing in this upright coffin. As the lid squeaked open in this dimly lit room, the female star delivers her line to this corpse -“Is it night time already dear brother?”…
The show got a sample of the reaction they were hoping to create, I wish we had that on film. They put Christy as the center of the Universe…

We will never forget that fun Friday night on this set of a thousand faces…This was the show’s Halloween episode. Thanks again Providence for the hospitality.
Parenthood Halloween Episode set dressing.
Parenthood Halloween episode…
The Bravermans
The Nordens… sneaking around this haunted house.
Parenthood…
This is the Providence Halloween set dressing, inside is more spookier. My daughter and I were visitors on this night shoot at the Chicken ranch.
All the widows upstairs have their own bedrooms attached to them.
The Munsters remake decided to use false fronts around the Chicken Ranch rather than the original Munster House. Many scenes were filmed and lots of money spent.
The actors were under contract. Here is Herman Munster himself with yours truly. Jerry O’Connell on the Munsters set. This is costume Jerry is wearing. Jerry did three other series on this lot and was a fixture around Universal.
Herman and Lilly at dinner. Notice Jerry’s neck scar.
The mailbox should say…Munsters.This is 1313 Mockingbird Lane for this ill-fated attempt at redoing a classic.
This is the backside of the Chicken Ranch. You see its orange roof top beyond the false backing. The concept of this modern version was to be similar to True Blood. Grandpa could fly…
This attempt was canceled due to major legal issues with director Brian Singer. Millions of dollars were waisted. If you archive through all my posts to December 8th, 2020, I have more pictures of the inside of the Munsters House interiors, they are sensational. Ironically, Rob Zombie is now producing-The Munsters.
Soon to be released-Rob Zombie’s version of The Munsters, out later this month, September 27th, on Netflix. Jeff Daniel Phillips plays Herman Munster, Sheri Moon Zombie is now Lily Munster, and grandpa will be played by Daniel Roebuck. This should be interesting, small world when it comes to horror films. From the studio that brought us Boris Karloff and Frankenstein.
Salute the Flag…No studio makes Monster Movies like this one!
“Can someone please bring me a donut?-It’s not easy being me”
This picture is from 1973. I was on a pink and white Glamour Tram when I snapped it. No I wasn’t driving it, I was 13. Who could imagine then what was in store for me here at this studio 10 years later. This was before the Big Blue Super Trams existed. I was just perfecting trespassing at my studios in Culver City and this Universal lot was an untamed frontier. You could start exploring with a simple admission ticket. This was a test drive so to speak, within a couple years, I would infiltrate this studio and horse around their huge backlot. It was hard to cover all this space and you could get lost, but that’s the fun…kind of. My first tram ride ever-Yipeeee!
This was where the Psycho House stood until 1981. This area was completely altered as sets were moved upwards, backwards, and sideways. A key time in Universal Backlot history.

1982 Stage 12, Universal- we begin;

After all the hooting and hollering ended at this stage, Universal knew it had money in the bank on this feature. How could it not, Burt Reynolds was our Box Office King! Our Bandit traded in his Trans Am and ponied up with Dolly Parton to make a rip roaring, sometimes lewd, musical. Colin Higgins was signed on to direct what would be his final film. The budget was healthy enough at over 20 million dollars, of which Burt was paid $3.5 million. Dolly took second fiddle at $ 1.5. The filmed grossed over $ 90 million dollars. Dolly beat out stars such as Dyan Cannon and Shirley MacLaine for this role.

Mr Higgins prepared by watching old George Cukor MGM Musicals. The standard for musicals comes from MGM. Interestingly, another MGM icon was to be cast in this film, Mickey Rooney.But Burt suggested Charles Durning. “Everyone knows Mickey’s talents, but you will get credit for finding this star who can dance and sing” said Burt to his director.

The title created difficulties, in 1982- the word Whorehouse was obscene.so in several areas in this country the title changed to “Best Little Cathouse.” Whatever the title, opening weekend grossed just under $12 million. Burt had yet another smash hit. The studio, expecting sensational results, decided to keep this set that can be used inside and out. To promote the film further, it would get moved at an opportune time.

Universal was expanding on all fronts, the backlot was being redesigned. Not only houses, but streets became…on the move. Entire streets were relocated, including the Psycho House. It ended up by the ice tunnel as the last set on the Glamour Tram Tour. What replaced the Hitchcock set was this Chicken Ranch. Out with the old, in with the new. This house sits perched overlooking Jaws Lake, the same hill top that the Psycho House peered down from.

The Chicken Ranch would be our first backlot set that allowed interior filming as well as exterior. Being enclosed, it would maintain itself well over the decades to come. Every tram tour must pass this set do to the fact it’s the only road going up trams can use to complete the tour. So during filming, tram back ups can stretch a long ways. That creates a silent zone for guides as scenes and audio take place close by. Even the Shark at Jaws is silenced, when filming is close by. We still have trams go through it, and it still tries to bite ya, just silently. If you’ve been on the tour, you pass this house.

When not in production, this extra large driveway serves as a basecamp for shows filming on Elm street below and Colonial Street above. In summer, tents provide escape from the heat. This house had very limited power so generators are needed for extreme power demands. Air conditioning can be added for a costly installation fee. Those were the situations I dealt with everyday. This ranch kept me very busy, in needed attention almost daily.

1982 was truly a transition period on this backlot. I saw it with my own eyes, as a trespasser. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I didn’t begin my career until 1984 and most the changes were completed as far as relocation. I knew I had to work here as pretended to be the engineer on the famous Run Away Train. This lot was my new utopia, Culver City sold all it’s backlots. I trespassed all the valley studios heavy from 1981-to being hired in 1984.

My fondest memories almost always date back to trespasses. MGM prepared me well for these extremely busy backlots. In the mid- seventies, I had every backlot at my disposal, I captured every flag possible. As the pre- recorded audio from the Run Away train shouts to visitors aboard trams I can’t stop,” lets just say that could by my calling card.

Written and lived by… Donnie Norden.

Leo the Lion

You enter this rooftop through a trap door, a lion sits above you. “Ars Gratia Artis” (Art for art’s sake) proudly promulgated.
MGM Lot 1 … Culver City, CA
The more modern 70’s Lion, greets visitors here in 1974…
This picture of the Lion preceded Loew’s control…Leo actually sat on a different rooftop after this merger. This sign replaced the Triangle Sign. Stage 6 was still to be built. 3 film companies would soon combine ranks. Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures and Louie B. Mayer Pictures. Combined we have MGM studios. Marcus Loew had controlling interest.
Controlled by Loews Inc…
The Loew family estate in Long Island. (Pembroke) was torn down in 1968 by Arthur, who lived in a smaller house on the property in 1977.
Marcus Loew
Nick Schenk…
Another big-wig in the early days at MGM was Nick Schenck. This is his home also in Long Island. Purchased in 1942, this 20 acre estate has a 30 room main house. It included a private movie theater and a 200 ft dock. These insights were forwarded to me by a gentlemen named LeGrand Clark. I deeply appreciate his insight regarding this subject. He had the pleasure of having relatives who could see this estate from across the harbor. Thanks LeGrand, great name you have sir!.
My recall tells me there was a lion up here…My picture is from the iconic water tower looking down on stage 6. Yep, I’ve been on top of that water tank also.
This is the ladder up to the top of the sign…
This is the catwalk in between the MGM sign that stood above Stage 6. It now advertises for Columbia Pictures. Two different movies can be advertised at the same time.. One facing west, one facing east. This work platform is what you don’t see from the city below.
No matter how hard she tries, she can’t replace my Lion
Captain of the MGM Air Force, dead center with the white head. Some nights we would lay on the grass on Maple Street and just stare at the sky and stars, owls silently move about, until you hear a high pitch squeal. They always catch their “man.” Often, one stood a top the church steeple, silent, then an owl “Hoot Hoot” greeting. Truly part of this backlot. They still operate at the highest points of Lot 1-Sony.
One picture was all he allowed. He flies off towards MGM lot 1. You can see the wings spread open, gaining lift in center window-top. I’ve seen these owls fly up to LEO, with offerings. The owls long proceeded me and watched with me all things in all my MGM stories. I’m so happy this continues to this day. In my early morning excursions with my dog, I saw an owl hunt a possum and fly away towards the giant marquee. These owls must be included when we talk MGM history.
I belong on the roof!
The iconic stage 6 with the sign on the roof sits just beyond the water tower...
View from roof of 6…See what the Lion saw
Looking south, towards MGM lot 3
St Augustine’s church, going to school here, I always adored having the Lion watching down on me in the school yard. Leo and God.
South view again from 6…
See the watering hole- better known as the Backstage. It’s that Auburn colored building. It has poured drinks for all your favorite stars over the decades…
A door to adventure…
Where the Lion once perched…
Leo’s first move after his divorce was across the street from here, where he married again, briefly.
An old paper that would reflect on the movie studios fate in the years to come, get use to this sad tune…
The film corp removal, its exit from the city. It is not the original.

Marc Wanamaker shows frustration for the overall well being of this piece of MGM history. The founder of Bison Archives, the motion picture photo database he has put together is unrivaled. I donated several of mine to his preservation of priceless, timeless photos. He and I share the same thought process here, all the unfixable damage has already preceded this event.
Off in the distance is the water tower and MGM sign from a theater roof top on New York street, MGM lot 2. The square building is the scenic art department that blocks the view from the backlot. The water tower and sign are partially obstructed.
The MGM owls often traversed this skyline and flew to the water tower in the distance. Imagine seeing this area tarped over with black canvas for night shooting during daylight. That’s what took place up on these catwalks..
MGM sign in distance features the movie “Why Would I Lie ?”…1980 End is near. A few cars still sit in Park Avenue from Chips. The wood in this area is being salvaged and taken by truckload to Mexico, if you ever wondered what happened to New York Street on Lot 2.
The MGM sign silhouetted looking west from the roof of the Culver Hotel.
This picture of the iconic MGM sign at night is from the film Melinda
Unlike many stars, Leo follows simple direction…
The Historic Triangle Entrance built by Thomas Inc.
The same original-well maintained walkway, across from St Augustine school. “I was pretending to be in MGM” as I rode my bike to school everyday, until I crossed this street -and that’s where discipline begins. Let’s finish with a good prayer…I have even prayed while hiding from MGM security, on the backlot, I was running out of options and-it worked!
I love this place...A frequent expression of mine. My sister Nancy was taller than me then and her MGM moment involved meeting Elvis Presley at The Veteran’s Auditorium during the filming of Viva Las Vegas. Everybody’s got a story it seems...

Climbing some ladders today…we begin:

This is a salute to this iconic moniker that used to sit perched a top Stage 6 on the MGM main lot. This Lion illuminated at night and looked down not only on the MGM property, including their backlots, but this entire city. You could see it from the 405 freeway. That certain section of buildings exclusively captures MGM, past and present. The three iconic identifiers are the Scenic Arts building, The Water Tower, and the Lion on the tallest stage on the main lot.

I fell in love with this studio long before I started sneaking in MGM. In the sixties, on my way to elementary school at St. Augustines, I looked upwards at Leo in passing every day. The only thing changing it seemed was the calendar and the films promoted below Leo’s proud roar. By the time I made it to school, I roared into class.

How could I not, I left an hour early because I liked looking through Holes in the Fence all along my journey. My lunch pail was THE RAT PATROL. Lucky me, I passed by these desert squad vehicles often, often staged up by the main gate. I couldn’t drive yet, but I imagined myself not only behind the steering wheel, but also at the handles of the 50 caliber machine guns. It was an adventure for me just to get to school. I’d rather be “On Location”

At night, the lion was like a porch light from the backlot perspective. My life wishes eventually led me to the top of this sign on top of Stage 6, but also, The Water Tower, I was able get up on the very top with the help of scaffolding. For me, these were lifetime goals. Over the course of my life, I’ve made my own history in every iconic building or set on this property.

Legendary MGM security guard Ken Hollywood took special care of me. It was Ken who hooked me up with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire while filming That’s Entertainment.All this took place with the Lion looking down watching me, like my personal pet in neon form. Old MGM guards were very kind to me, sharing their studio experiences with me at the guard shacks I always stopped at on the way home from school.

In 1981, I was hired by MGM film labs as a reel router. My job was to get reels of film to various stops needed for laboratory processing. Six reels per film, Victor Victoria was our hit, starring James Garner. CHIPS was the hit Tv show along with Highway to Heaven. I met Michael Landon on the main lot. Lorimar Telepictures owned the studio, and the MGM sign was replaced, but my checks said MGM. It still had contract fulfillments.

MGM Film Labs was the last department to capitulate, and MGM was officially no more as this department faded to black. I was there, my dream job. Rumors persisted prior to this decision so I crossed my fingers, wore a rabbit’s foot, and prayed to God for this to never end. But God had other plans-bigger and better in the long run. You probably are already aware I had a long fascinating career at Universal Studios. Still today, I walk around the Sony lot as if it were 1972 again.

I want to graciously thank Mr. Steven Bingen for including me- of all people– to his latest latest work of art. It’s now available on Amazon. I’ve earned my MGM stripes along with couple scars to go with a knocked out tooth. MGM was that kind of place. Steven’s book is the type you see proudly displayed at Barnes and Noble, the kind of book you turn pages with white gloves on. Decadent to say the least.

It’s a complete contrast from my old green fence covered book topped off with barbed wire. You have to trespass to enter my book. Beware of splinters and yes- security. I can get you a helmet, their’s a room full.

I very much look forward to yet another fabulous Steven Bingen book, I can’t thank him enough for including ME. I wish his books existed when I was trespassing, that would have helped.So why don’t we all meet in the middle of the lot that will always be MGM. Beneath a lady holding a torch and a sign promoting Bullet Train– in a place where- A Lion Once Roared.

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden

Where dreams come true-Universal Studios

Anthony Perkins is best connected to this estate.
Up these stairs-adventure awaits...
The path connecting The Bates Motel to The Psycho House. Let’s follow the little girl...“Shall We?”
Grandma rocks in her chair as trams pass by underneath her second story window view.
My daughter Christy knocking at the front door…”Come-in please.”
If that expression doesn’t tell all…upstairs with grandma.
Recreation area…
Billy Idol…I gave Billy and the boys in the band a tour of Universal. Far and away, the most inspired the group became was when we arrived at the Psycho House. In fact, a member with an impressively strange set of rings on his hand exclaimed “Billy- let’s buy this house!”
This is a 5 star hotel– “We’ll leave a light on for you!”
Check out…noon
Customers or….suckers!
Plenty of affordable rooms…
Satellite television…
Pool…just out back. No lifeguard on duty, Beware of MONSTERS
The Psycho House from above, adjacent to the War of the Worlds 747 crash site.
Christy and Zeus, one of the friendlier stars on our lot. A few weeks after this picture, Zeus found himself in a pickle. It was dusk on the backlot, the animal trainers were working him in the wilderness area adjacent to the Bates Motel. No filming, just practicing and training was taking place. As day tilts toward night up here, critters come out. Several deer live up here, as do their predators. Those being several coyotes and a bob-cat. This area is like being in Topanga Canyon. You can get lost up here, especially at night.
Zeus, a star, is usually pampered, but wanting to let loose his inner K-9, Zeus took off after a coyote. Through thick brush and upwards to the top overview of this studio. Sun is setting and the trainers are in a panic. This is the wrong neighborhood for a star to frolic around.

So off to the rescue I go, with a friend and Universal Best Boy named Gene Duffy. We know every road on this lot and quickly drove up to the fire road that buffers the studio from private residences. Coyotes were howling and an attack was imminent. Like a scene from a movie, I pull up to the center of chaos. Zeus was surrounded and wanted our escort off this hilltop. No bribing needed, Zeus jumped in the passenger side and rode back to safety on Gene’s lap. He was safely returned to his handlers who were petrified. A quick examination showed no damage happened.
The thick brush Zeus took off through-animal country. If this wasn’t a backlot, it would be a canyon.
Seagram’s threw this party for Christmas on our entire backlot. Drinks, gourmet food, snow, petting zoos, Ferris wheel etc. Each section of the backlot was dressed as a theme. Seagram’s dumped 6 million dollars into this event. Let’s toast to Seagram’s, Their brief ownership was very memorable, and that company is first class, all the way. A special thanks to Mr. Edgar Bronfman, Jr. for some very fond memories. My kids would experience all our different owners after Mr. Lew Wasserman passed on, the last of Hollywood’s Movie Moguls.
Jingle All the Way set, New York Street. Downtown Minneapolis recreated at Universal City.
I see how my dad loves this place!”
Universal Studios location…son Jeff.
The Flintstones had sets at Universal and Aqua Dulce, Vasquez Rocks.
Vasquez Rocks
Wilma’s wedding ring
Our dog Thor visiting another set…
Hudson, always wanted to be an astronaut…
Here- he could be an astronaut…. Countdown is on 10/9/8/7-blastoff. Today, he sports an engineering degree from UC Davis. I saw it in him back then.
Beethoven’s House.
A dream come true- her absolute favorite movie dog.
Look close, you can see right through this house.
To this day, my daughter swears she will own a St. Bernard. A mechanical face exists for facial close-ups. It could move its eyes, ears and snout. It was a metal skeleton that was controlled with pneumatics, then just slip on the face of our star- made of fur and fabric.
Nice yards, trams can’t see these sets. LAPD trains up here now and then.
For Beethoven, interiors were filmed on stage. This is what it looks like up behind the exterior on the backlot.

Up here, where the Leave it to Beaver House was sent out to pasture has animals grazing. Deer replaced the Cleavers.
The Cleaver’s Home, right side angle. Beethoven’s complex is the closest neighbor.
This complex was built for Beethoven’s first film. The Beaver House is top left, yellowish with the orange roof. It ended up here, up the hill from Colonial Street when The Feature-Leave it to Beaver needed a house that could also film interior scenes inside. They built what still exists today on Colonial.
The Backstreet Boys helped “babysit” while I installed an air conditioner on their (Stage 3), a last-minute order. Ironically, after this, she met Steven Tyler on Stage 5, a holding area and costume stage supporting stage 17 and the Aerosmith Rock video “Sunshine.” Christy is wearing 2 different stage passes around her collar. Pretty good for a 6-year-old…
On this set, Magic Mushrooms and White Rabbits cast a spell.
Another dream come true – Mr. and Mrs. Tanzer, Hollywood Forever together…
Alaska dog sledding honeymoon…

Working here over 3 decades, I grew old here. But my kids grew up here. My boys, Hudson and Jeff would often accompany me when we had “must see” filming. While the boys preferred car chases and explosions, my daughter was partial to sets involving animals. To each their own because there’s plenty to go around. Each child is now a successful adult, but memories of Universal still linger on pleasantly.

Golf carts are how my children first learned to drive, and no one knows the backroads around here better than me. After the tour sends out its L.T.D, last tram of day, these same animations that thrill tourists get explored by kids on carts. While growing up myself at MGM, only security had carts. The only cart I got to drive in my day was a Football Helmet Cart with the Dallas Cowboy emblem on each side of plastic dome. It was in an airplane hangar storage area on the backlot, needless to say I drove the heck out of that prop…just a kid trespassing inside a motorized helmet. Eight is Enough was the show that built it as I digress…

Almost two decades later, my kids receive this perk, and they don’t have to trespass to do so. The power to drive around a backlot, usually off hours, with the wind in their face and the power to accelerate, honk a horn, or just slam on the brakes is all theirs. Much better than a sting-ray bicycle, pulling up to a set or stage on a golf cart is usually reserved for VIP’s. Being a Teamster, I have access to all sorts of transportation vehicles. You name it, I’ve driven it.

Nothing puts a larger smile on a kid’s face than handing over the keys to my underaged chauffeurs. Basically, skills used in the real world could be mentored here at the studio. We crafted the best Boy Scout projects with a little help from our studio machine shop. A wood car at an exact weight, no problem. Yes, this factory can create anything.

Past, present or future- around here –it’s just now. We are in the now when driving these carts, but they transport us from Ancient Spartacus to a future with Cowboys and Aliens, if we simply, press the gas pedal.

MTV Awards to Comic Relief Award shows began to thrive and appeared annually at the Universal Amphitheater. Audience tickets were given out to operations staff. My daughter got my tickets for all things MTV.

As you see in this pictorial, time best pastes itself with these captured moments. Years turn into decades, shows continue to come and go, and those who were once little kids, well now, they drive fancy cars and have lives of their own. But, in the deeper parts of their memories, they will always be cosmically connected to this Universal Studio Universe.

Written and lived by ….Donnie Norden.