On Deck-Pirates of the Caribbean

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

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

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

Where do we begin;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Pirates Life For Me too- Ahoy!

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden.

Warning-Flash Floods

Flash Flood attraction c.1970The Good old Pink and White Days

Same loaction many years later with added sets in the background. Universal Studios Hollywood, publicity photo.

The calm before the storm

Everything that moves has to reset, it takes 4 minutes to recycle the peril.
Every animation is tested before the public goes through.
You get a bit wet sometimes, especially the 3rd car of the tram.
Often, we get stuck in a major tram back-up here. This turn starts the descent toward our destination. It takes 4 minutes to recycle the flood from the previous tram. Five trams could back up here, at four minutes a pop, do the math. You could be stuck here 20 minutes, that’s when you find out how savvy your guide is. I could tell better stories, but they paid me to drive-not talk.
Stuff was added on this the-Appian Way, named from Spartacus to help draw your attention. Cages from Jurassic Park helped out. Originally, we had a plane crash from the Six Million Dollar Man as the focus of attention here.
Boneyard – Jurassic Park.
Trams can turn right here to enter Flash Flood. This is the road from Jaws shark to connect to the Flash Flood. It is the route when Prop Plaza is closed. Which is forever now, that guise is no longer in use, a movie set was built where we use to have force people to get off here. The lines to reboard are uninviting. Before expansion, Prop Plaza was a place to thin out the crowd in the park. Busy summer days in the park were somewhat alleviated by this forced exit few wanted off at.
This road was dirt when we did westerns, Alias Smith and Jones used this road in their quest for amnesty.
Trams stop here for this next scary thrill. Third car driver side best view…
We move on at the conclusion of the flood into Old Mexico. This was the Tortuga Bar set in Pirates of the Caribbean.
A music video…Escapade was made here.
This is the normal around here…
Come and join me on our... Escapades. The Queen of POP.
A soundtrack kicks in when the park opens, and trams get out on the backlot. Wind, thunder, then a rumbling Flash Flood cascades towards the tram. On busy summer days, this 10,000-gallon flood was lucky to hit 6000. It sometimes trickled towards the tram.
Reservoir catch basin, water gets pumped back up and is recycled for the next unsuspecting tram…
The cycle of life for a controlled flash flood. This creek surges as the animation reaches flood stage. There is a fragrance in this area, a blend of forest and water and chlorine. This is the oldest remaining area for standing sets and a wonderful escape on a hot day. It never gets real hot in this secluded section behind The Alamo set.
Control switches and pumps…this tech area separates Jaws, the animation, and the flood. You can watch trams on either animation from this little perch.
It’s fun to stand on the porch and watch this gush towards the trams.
I worked on all these films except Earthquake and The Shakiest Gun. I trespassed here also. We would watch Jaws, The Flood, and I replaced the engineer in our Runaway Train, around the corner from here. Quite the bold move, since I was trespassing. “I Can’t Stop” was belted out from an automated soundtrack, and I replaced the dummy.
Janet Jackson did a video on this set… Escapade.
Michael Jackson did several videos on our lot including his very last. I once gave Mr. J a tour. We did Kong, 10 times in a row. He rented the tram for himself and his posse- after hours. That’s when the best tours happen.

Another TV series was omitted off that list, Alfred Hitchcock Presents has an episode involving this little village. One more, Airwolf had a tank battle with the helicopter. Yes, this area was built for films, but kept alive for tours.

Don Adams has tram experience as it turns out…and-we’re both secret agents.
The Flood path is where this pachyderm is getting a feel for the set.
This Animal handler, Gary- was also in charge of elephants on Evan Almighty. He is one of the very best ever. Kind and gentle with all of his Animal Kingdom family.

Elephants used to be part of this studio. The huge sliding doors on sound stages are referred to as Elephant doors.

This was a commercial and supposed to be India.

A vintage brochure. Many thins have changed since then. #14 is the Flash Flood location.

Props of every shape and size are on display here to capture your imagination. A large shopping cart from The Incredible Shrinking Woman and a large phone tantalize you. Mr T’s Van is up here-that show was cancelled.

An arial view today showing the Flash Flood location left of the white roof.

Prop Plaza changed to Hollywood Terrace, trams now use the old Nursery Drive and visit The Fast and Furious animation. The road is named after our enormous greens department, where we could change barren landscape to a jungle setting fit for dinosaurs.Now plants get rented from vendors. Section 7271 and 7272 are building numbers, the flood is in their front door. This map lays out exactly as previous overview of same area.
Back when people had fun, rather than complain about heat, prices, and long lines. Prop Plaza in its glory days. It’s here, a tour guide and I would pick up a tram load for the second half of the guided tour. The next area we take you in is the Flash Flood... Welcome back inside The Glamour Tram.

1970’s postcard showing Flash Flood attraction

Prop Plaza -mid eighties…

We begin, once you’re seated;

In 1968 the Flash Flood set opened as the first special-effects attraction and proved to be a major hit for the theme park. 10,000 gallons of water would rush 200 feet down a narrow Mexican village street, uprooting an old tree and threatening to engulf the tram. From sunny California to a storm in a matter of moments, the weather would suddenly takes a turn for the worse. When I was a Glamour Tram Driver in the 80’s, this was one of the attractions that would get the most screams.

The area of Prop Plaza is where patrons would board the Glamour Tram for the second half of the guided tour. The tour guide and I often bond here, since there is down time involved with loading trams at this rest stop. It’s here, where we regroup and pick up 175 new passengers. The excitement begins when we close the tram gates. But as soon as we turn the corner, another back up tram greets you. It’s like an airport and you’re on a plane waiting for clearance to take-off.

So, after a small delay, I get my green light, signaling my turn to diagnose the 100-foot vehicle around a hairpin turn. The front of the tram can see the back off the tram for one brief moment, as this 16-wheel contraption moves along in serpentine fashion. The tour guide usually has run out of things to talk about, but whatever whispers are being directed through the microphone are soon overcome by the sound of rain, wind and thunder. Flood conditions and flash floods have tormented this area since trams replaced horses, back here. As I drive this tram down a sleepy Mexican village road, there’s a warning thunderclap, followed by a tropical downpour. Before you can react, a tree overhead cracks and up the road a wall of water rushes towards you in a monstrous wave. The tree is uprooted and the flash flood threatens to swamp the tram. At the last moment, the flood waters are diverted and the tree miraculously rights itself. The flood is a tribute to the ingenuity of Universal’s Special Effects Department.

I have had the privilege of doing VIP tours and one of my favorite moments at this spot involved a private tour for Don Adams and his kids inside our San Francisco trolley experience. Agent 86 being driven around by me. I love GET SMART, who doesn’t?

As the flood is about to charge us, I step off the tram because me being seated blocked the view of one of the kids on board. The wall of water is the full blown and spreads where I’m standing, soaking my shoes. Don Adams sees this and cleverly in his Get Smart voice says, “I ruin more shoe phones that way.”

As we all laugh- I take off my shoe and attempt to talk in it...Living the dream here, I watched this show of his every Saturday Night as a kid. I had goosebumps when I was told I was giving this tour to Mr. Adams.

It turns out, before I was a tram driver, Don Adams did a movie here involving trams, The Nude Bomb. They race the old pink and whites around our backlot. Agent 99 is replaced by Sylvia Kristel, most noted as a star in adult films. Any tour employee would enjoy this romp, and I must say, some of our tour guides have done adult films, but I digress. These are part of the spectrum of stories shared while waiting to pick up guests at Prop Plaza. If you ever wondered what gets discussed while we wait, it’s career stuff. Just tour guides looking for that big break!

Drivers make 5 times what guides make on the pay scale. We are Hollywood Teamsters, proud of it. Tour Guides rarely last more than a season or two. Some drivers call tramming a career. For culture, Universal cornered the market with top bands always booked at the quaint, acoustically sound, amphitheater. Movies, music, and a studio tour generated a large diverse income source that was second only to Disneyland for tourist dollars.

Tours always finish where they started, and we open the gates at the live action theater. The A-Team would be switched to Miami Vice. Crockett and Tubbs impersonators replaced Mr. T, or JJ as we knew him, and would greet guests to the thumping 80’s theme song playing over and over on the speaker system.

That’s Entertainment…Tram on the right-your turn-All aboard!

Written and lived by …Donnie Norden

From Tara to Stalag 13: 40 Acres Backlot History

An aerial view from 1965 showing current filming of Hogan’s Heroes (L) and Camp Henderson (R).

Once upon a time continues…

The little Luft Stalag we all grew up wanting to be inside, better known as Stalag 13 from the iconic T.V. Series-Hogan’s Heroes, is our subject on the table today;

This fairly simple build -known by TV Land as Stalag 13, has quite the tumultuous past. What many folks don’t realize is the history that took place prior to it being a German World War 2 prison camp.

Fires, giant monsters and Jesus himself preceded this 1965 build of a camp needed to expand on a prisoner of war narrative. You got to have a Stalag, and few exist. MGM Lot 3 had a couple you could dress, alter into a camp.” Dachu” was a Twilight Zone episode filmed right down the street from where this camp was built. So Culver City had one existing already- but it’s at MGM.

Why not build our own, so Bing Crosby Productions did just that early on in 1965. They had plenty of land and could fabricate exactly what they envisioned. I doubt they expected the success this series spun into. TV series are a crap shoot, literally. Some good one’s get canned due to cost to film/ ratings
ratio’s.Planet of the Apes TV series was as good as anything TV wise in the 70’s, but very costly to produce and was quickly disposed of. It broke my heart, but by that time I was getting use to Hollywood heartbreak and despair. Just beyond a line of eucalyptus trees, at this same time, another camp was being put up at
the for Gomer Pyle. Camp Henderson sits south of Stalag 13. Yes-they’re neighbors.

They were built for two TV series that became staples in American History. But no-one knew what they really had then. In some ways these series are more popular today, with folks who weren’t even alive yet. Now that’s Good-TV.

Almost daily for close to 7 years, these two shows filmed back-to-back, side by side. But the past is often more glorious than the present. No piece of land on any section of backlot anywhere rocked and rolled like this one did. Framed by rolling man made berms and eucalyptus trees, they were built to hide the industrial warehouses that sprout upwards beyond the fence line behind it. Those factories make other things, but this factory makes films and television.

It’s changed names and owners, RKO, Selznick, and Desilu all created magic that stood the test of time. What most people might not realize is how so much history is layered on top of one another. There is always someone working on these sets who can tell anecdotes of activities far backwards in time, stories
that are golden- fade to silence. Completely disappearing, much like these backlots themselves.

Stalag 13 first captivated me from the outside, when I would ride my bike around looking through the chain link fence that surrounded this lot. One of the guard towers tried to tempt any kid who set eyes on it. Tower three could be seen clearly from the outside and looked down on Marion Davies
Make-up room. This same fence threatened potential trespassers with Dogs on Duty warnings. Signs with viscous dogs you may run into –dare you try. So, a K-9 barrier existed and separating me from what would eventually become my backyard. It took a while for this kid wearing a Bat Cape
to stomach the fortitude necessary to take on this assignment. Call it if you will- Mission Impossible.

Where theirs a will the theirs a way. In my book, Hole in the Fence, you can make this trespass with me, I dare ya!

Speaking of Impossible Missions, that series used this stalag as a 3rd world prison in South America. Set decorations tried best to hide what is clearly evident Stalag 13. This episode of M.I would never have been able to double dip this camp had the producers all not been in cahoots with the same Paramount Gulf -Western hierarchy. This camp ended it’s longevity with an adult film and no –Bob Crane is not in it. That saidAuto Focus is a film about Bob during the time his series was filmed here,
it’s not exactly flattering, but accurate from most accounts of that time in his life. His death after Hogan’s Heroes was cancelled, in Scottsdale Arizona, is still unsolved. As is Thomas Ince’s, who built this lot in the first place.

Because of the wide-open distance these camps presented, getting in a the La Ballona creek to visit Stalag 13 was like crossing a mine field, of course the biggest concern was –the Dogs! So to cut out unnecessary crawling, ducking, and running, we climbed in through private property right behind that
tempting guard tower that watches over this street corner, like a street light. Yes, we hid behind a shed often, shed being-Marion Davies make up trailer. For us, it was a place to hide and catch our breath before climbing one more fence and being inside-Stalag 13.

Little did I know at that time what was inside this shed. This compound was used by Hogan’s Heroes and was the last show/series to set foot inside this area. The owner of this property once started up the TigerTank, (you know the one)-it was parked back in this corner right behind his house. His kitchen window looked right directly at Klink’s office. A few POW barracks doors ended up on this property.

No set ever has captivated me so much, it seemed real, abandoned and liberated, yet ready for occupancy. What happened next was a show wanting this section of the backlot did not want a prison camp. A south western village is what replaced Stalag 13. The movie The Fortune built an entire
community on this historic spot…

More, more, history to be made as Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson are now acting on that piece of land Stalag 13 just occupied. What saddened me most about losing Stalag 13 for this set was the fact I was on a photography mission to take pictures of Stalag 13 with my little Kodak Instamatic. That was my whole purpose, I hadn’t filmed that set and was going to use an entire roll of expensive to develop film. Times have changed in the picture taking world.

When I arrived after school, I could not believe my eyes, it was gone, the entire camp. But I was just here and explored it up and down, in towers, in little tunnels, under the dog house, all the cool stuff. I didn’t realize the urgency.

A work force was still moving and removing items. The three guard towers were moved from where they stood for 10 years, the dog houses were somewhere else. No more barracks, no more Klink’s office. Just a little yellow room, next to Klink’s office, would be retained. I watched in dismay from a hillside
that’s background in every episode. I wanted a dog house, but they were on back of a truck. The only thing left, kind of hidden, nestled below this hillside is the tree stump.

Well, with perseverance and assistance from my buddy Pat Rich, we wrestled this prop all the way across town to my house, on an ancient steel wheel cart. It was at that time my greatest accomplishment. It lasted a few years, it held up well in my bedroom, but it got moved outside, played with by anybody who saw it and finally the wood and composite material collapsed from one too many
escapes. The lid was hinged and that lasted decades more, just the lid.

This little Stalag, that looked and seamed so real to us kids, lasted 10 years…It was a set that was so unique no other facades came close. To be honest, this was my favorite set of all-time. And, it’s on TV Land six times a day!

That made it super fun, reruns, then on channel 11, bundled with Andy Griffith episodes, were extremely realistic for us kids, since we could go explore every piece of it, once again, like we were in the episodes…

Like the sets that preceded it, this entire area is shall we say Gone With the Wind

Written and lived by… Donnie Norden

This could easily be me. Colonel Hogan looks like he’s ready to play with us. I’ve been known to dress up like this…Bob was extremely nice to the neighborhood kids and often gave tours of Stalag 13

Angle a=bove looks reversed Mike heads up

 

                                                        40 Acres Showing Tara and the Atlanta Depot

                                                                            Desi Arnez at Tara

Stalag 13

The road being used is just east of Stalg 13

The Road to Stalag 13 Same highway-different day. A Mayberry Gold Shipment sped down this road with Barney locked in the back… 

                                                                                           Frenemies!

 

Family-coming to visit Gomer…

More 40 Acre backroads

This storage unit was one of the few items still around from Hogan’s Heroes when I arrived. The tool shed lasted the longest involving this camp. Besides my Hogan’s Heroes tree stump which ended up a mile away here.

The storage unit can be seen in this pictue I took in 1975. Those rope cots below were inside the barracks. The barracks roof tops lay along the right hand side in this picture. This is the strike of Stalag 13 taking place. The set still standing below can be seen in Hogan’s Heroes in certain camera angles, but was not part of the stalag. It’s in episodes of Andy Griffith. 

Hogan and crew wreaking havoc on a german bridge located on the 40 Acres Backlot

A picture I took of what’s left of the bridge in 1975

Keep on down this road and you’ve arrived at Stalag 13. The Mayberry Highway, one end is Stalag 13, the other is Andy Griffith’s Courthouse. The quasi hut on the right-hand side doubles as a set but is much more important, it’s the only bathrooms on the backlot. It’s center of the lot, but a long walk to get here. Shows brought in their own portables. This is side of the lot connects to utilities, sewer, etc. So, this is an oasis for some, and probably the most filmed -bathroom ever. A wall separates 6 stalls on each side, for women and men. The water is run off on this dirt road is from the sprinklers we controlled and often used to cool off. Plus, any guard would have run through powerful sprinklers to get us, like some castle mote.

This picture is on top of the hillside used as backdrop of this camp. One end looks down on the Atlanta Rail Depot. The other side looks upon Stalag 13. Jimmy is sitting in a spot we both spent a lot of time; this was a section of paradise and is absolutely impossible to get caught up here. We were up here so often, the bushes had the groove of our bodies in them, very comfortable space to discuss world issues that affect teenagers.
The grass is so deep, you could disappear. I literally did once, this mountain gobbled me up. It was accidental I’m sure. The film crew on The Fortune, rescued me, I’m forever grateful. “Oh, it’s you!” were the first words I heard climbing to safety. Mom always said as I walked out our front door “Just be careful Donnie please” She should have made T-Shirts sporting that line.

A path through these sand paper bushes connects the Ken Jones, Mayberry R.F.D farmhouse to Stalag 13. You could traverse a top this semi- artificial hill top. There was no-way to get caught up here- it was our sanctuary.

Sadness, it’s gone. But quickly, new sets would sprout up. That yellow shed was left up and was used as a tool room during the building of the newest village to my backlot. That’s a guard in that white truck who arrived as work crews left for the day. Desilu water tower, often seen in episodes of Hogan’s Heroes can be seen in the distant haze.

A view from the same spot different direction. We had hammocks tied to trees up here and spent all night just being boys, no clocks, no worries, and a huge bottle wine.

You can stay inside here- plenty of bathrooms. That’s because-this is the only bathroom on this Desilu backlot besides a private one at the main gate for security. The lot has little infrastructure, portable power and amenities get added when and where needed. 

Grab yourself a seat…

Back to Mayberry!

                                                                                        Signs!

Stuff I found in the Stalag itself. Match these names to the TV credits. Bruce Bilson is the director, right column, number 658. He is legendary at 40 acres, a toast to Bruce, everybody. His career is all about quality TV, from Get Smart to Love American Style, you watch his stuff daily. He started as an assistant director on Andy Griffith from 1960-63. He has so much history, just involving TV on this lot. I talked briefly with him last year on the phone. I wish I could spend 10 more minutes with him. He did like my Hogan’s Heroes tree stump story. His laugh validated my effort to share the unique story with him.

                      In the old days before computers, we made maps…This one is more accurate than you realize.

                                                                  I made maps too, more detailed!

 

LeBeau was waiting for these balloons…

 

                 This call sheet I found inside the barracks is the match for -this episode with the balloons.

                 Fireworks off the berm, back by where Marion Davies Make-up trailer is parked.

 

                                                           Mission Impossible filming on Stalag 13

Ironically, this would not be the last Adult Film to film here. My Harum Scarum fort set was taken over by topless, scantly glad women, which was necessary for plot development. The title escapes me-1976-on that one.

If you’re not paying attention, you think this General Burkholder.

She’s prettier than the last commandant in charge, who would want to escape now...

 

One of the last surviving cast members, Robert Clary (LeBeau) signing Books, Photographs and CD at a Hollywood Memorabilia Show in 2019.

Some Autographed Hardback books from Hogan’s Heroes

A picture looking down at Stalag 13 today

Today at ground level

The End

 

Marion Davies Portable Dressing Room is found 100 years later in a Culver City Backyard!

Left: A 1926 shot of the outside of the trailer Right: The trailer today

One of the oldest portable make-up trailers in Hollywood, once owned by Marion Davies, is found 100 years later in a backyard behind what was once….. the 40-Acre Backlot in Culver City.

Extra Extra…Read all about it!

Nearly a year ago, I posted a story about a make-up room which was loaned out for nearly 50 years to the RKO, Selznick and Desilu Studios, when they filmed on the 40-Acre Backlot. During that trip I visited a house, which I now believe was a movie studio bungalow, where this make-up room still stands today. Well at least partially, I’ll get to that later. While there, the current owner of 50+ years and I shared our personal stories of trespassing and he showed me the interior of this make-up room. When I saw the interior of this room all I could think about is, I want this mirror! At that time, my newly found friend was not interested in selling this because he was currently keeping his grandmas gardening tools in there and this 100-year-old structure was on the verge of collapsing.

Fast forward to this year, I receive a call from the owner of the house telling me they are selling the house and if I want the make-up mirror, come and get it. I couldn’t get over there fast enough!

I always wondered what was in this little room. Last time I gained entry I was only allowed to shoot a couple of pictures from afar of the crowded interior. But this time I get my wish.

As the door opens, again, an eerie presence resonated from the inside, like we opened the cork on a bottle with a genie inside. Behind some ancient gardening tools, I spot the mirror with lightbulbs adorning both sides. Not just any mirror, this is a set up for a movie star. The backside of the dressing room door also has a full body mirror from top to bottom. These two mirrors look at each other as a blue seat covered stool sits in between, where the star would sit for their make-up to be applied.

During filming of The Fair Co-ed, 1926. “Round as the world turns, the doorway and mirrors have soft, crescent shaped curves as do the ladies standing in front of these objects”...B -stands for billionaire

Vivien Leigh herself was rumored to have used this make-up room during early production, before she received her own portable trailer pictured above

Three of the four walls had fancy mirrors. The square mirror was replaced as changes were made inside over decade after decade. I have the round mirror reflected in the square mirror. Desi Arnaz would alter this room on his turn as owner. I would discover a Panatronic Radio inside whose manufacturer verifies was made specifically for Desi Arnaz.

A clear interior view of Marion Davies Dressing Room in 1926 Picture No. MGM-467

Marion Davies Dressing Room as it looks today. You can see some modifications were done over the 50 years it was in service

Marion Davies Make-up stool.

Behind all the rakes and fertilizer were shelves with items used by various star occupants and the make-up artist of the day. I realize something extraordinary, whoever was the last star to use this room left it thinking it would be used again. Half used make-up and items that wouldn’t have been left behind if this wasn’t the case. This star make-up room is still opulent over a 100 years later. Each item ties to a different era.

To my surprise, I notice this structure has a horse hitch attached to the front. And while searching under the trailer I noticed on each side there are two wheels cleverly concealed inside these mirrored walls! This is a trailer… A Mobile Star Trailer! At that moment I felt like a modern-day Indiana Jones. Holy Grail Batman!

Wheel Covers which hid these 1920s wooden spoke wheels

After talking to the owner of the house and validating it with pictures online, I was able to verify this make-up trailer was originally owned by Marion Davies, when she worked at MGM in 1926. And was moved to the backyard of this house in 1929/1930 when she replaced her original star trailer with one that had a refrigerator and running water. What use then, would she have for the outdated one? No use to her, but down the street, there was a great need to tend to actors out on the 40-Acre Backlot, for touch ups, since the Studio Main Lot was nearly a quarter of a mile away.

Marion Davies showing off her replacement “Dressing Room on Wheels” (1930). This coach was equipped with a radio, electric refrigerator, and hot and cold water. MGM Picture-1926

This is a significant historical find and one must wonder how it escaped being noticed for over 100 years, and how it got to this location.

Last year I tried to gather up stories from older residents who shared this street on Lucerne Avenue. I wanted history from other people who saw it first-hand or their parents. The most prevalent memory was the Burning of Atlanta fire sequence from Gone with the Wind. The towering inferno created havoc not only with the township, but all the critters that felt the need to escape the backlot and find a safe place on Lucerne. They also remembered their parents talking about the cast from GWTW using this room and Fay Wray during the backlot takes from King Kong.

Fay Wray looking scared

Filming of King Kong on the 40 Acres Backlot.

Same King Kong Gate being burned to the ground in 1938 to make room for future GWTW sets. SIP-108-386

Tara in ruins 1959, just before being sold and dismantled. Dressing room is barely visible in background

A Selznick International Pictures Make-up still showing Scarlett and Tara near Portable Make-up Trailer

An early Aerial view of Tara (Left) in relation to “the house with the white roof”. Arrow shows the dressing room.

A further shot of the Gone with the Wind sets- Streets of Atlanta (Left), The Train Station (Center), Tara (Right) and our house in the bottom right corner

During the TV revolution, Spock, Bruce Lee, Andy Griffith and Gomer Pyle are just some of the faces and characters who have been in and around here. The Batmobile was parked out front here, with witnesses’ having seen Batman drinking a can of beer from a brown paper bag. All these old homes are part of this film culture, inside and out. Many stories will eventually disappear, as so many pictures have- depicting all this. This corner in Culver City is as colorful as it gets. It’s centered between what was Desilu and Hal Roach studios. If TV Land has a neighborhood, this is it!

This backyard trailer was an active make up room up to the early 70’s. According to the family, the cast of Hogan’s Heroes would be the last show to use this dressing room in between takes.

As a kid, my passion to escape into Stalag 13 took me through this private yard, regularly starting in 1972. I had to first sneak into this yard before climbing a second fence that puts me right behind Stalag 13. In between the two fence climbs lies a unique structure covered with shingles. My initial encounter with this shed was just an observation as I climbed into Desilu. Etched there like every tree or obstacle in my backlot adventures was banked. The subconscious mapping of the brain is a marvelous tool, especially useful when on the run from the guards. In 1974, I was able to rescue the Hogan’s Heroes tree stump and rolled that iconic prop onto a steel wheeled cart and pushed cross town, to my home. So, I have previous history dating back half a century.

Similar view now occupied by Stalag 13, with the dressing room visible in the background. Front row seats!!!!!

Of all the amazing experiences I have had, both trespassing and in my long studio career, this is the most sensational item I have ever come across. Plus, it’s the ultimate studio game of CLUE. I get chills looking into the soul of these mirrors. They stare back with a depth and richness that only history can create. I feel it was my calling to save this unit from the claws of developers at this corner.

Post demolition of the 40 Acres Backlot shwoing the Dressing Room now with a white roof.

Another Post demolition of the 40 Acres Backlot showing the white roof of the Dressing Room.

A picture I took over the fence before I approached the owner of the house

Dressing room being used as a gardening shed

Additional interiors of this 100-year-old structure in decay

Original door handle, with upside-down lock and woodgrain

This is a photo shop picture of the Burning of Atlanta reflection in the door mirror. This room felt the heat and glowed orange as scared critters ran for cover…in December of 1938. Shingles would be added to preserve the exterior A koi pond and ornate statue separates the house from the Make-up trailer. Private gates existed behind the house backdoor and access to and from the Backlot studio itself. This was obviously set up as a star compound, if not the first, then one of the earliest in Hollywood history.  The things this door has seen and been part of will stagger your mind!

Marion Davies make-up mirror and stool, items inside still work including the light.

It’s all cleaned out Thora, time to go home.

An heirloom- full of heirlooms from movie history… Time to uncork some Phantom Wine

There is no doubt this trailer belonged to the marvelous Marion Davies. Firsthand accounts and pictures match up. Fifty years after my eventful sneak into Stalag 13- this room has discovered me! We’ve reunited, older but wiser. This time, we’re going to ride off into the sunset together!

Stay tuned next time for my post on the historical items found inside of this trailer.

For more backlot adventures, check out my new book on Amazon, Phantom of the Backlot Presents: Hole in the Fence.

Written and lived over the decades by Donnie Norden…

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Inceville Studios

Sunset Boulevard meets the ocean on this stretch now…
The first west coast studio built by Thomas Ince. The Ince family home sits off in the distance atop a hillside, overlooking his motion picture factory. Triangle Ranch precedes the Triangle Studio. He would organize yet another Triangle in his future Culver City film production facilities.
King of the Hill…The Ince Home
Transportation and picture coaches are parked along the right edge in this photo.
Inceville today, one of my favorite places to meditate, Elvis Presley was a regular at this fellowship.
Established in 1950…

Life at the beach isn’t all it appears when viewed through the eyes and lens of one of the most legendary film producer, directors in motion picture history. Mr. Thomas Ince is a pioneer, at a level comparable to George Washington. His vision took him from New York to the west coast. The land he arrived at was truly known as Hollywoodland.

Mr. Ince set up shop at the beach, 25 miles as the crow flies from the sign above. Inceville Studios was born. In the memoirs written by Thomas Ince, he expressed dissatisfaction with this selection. Weather is not always that sunny on the ocean. Gray skies, fog, wind are as natural shall we say as Earth, Wind, and Fire. It goes with the turf.

Ince biography- The General of film making.

This beach backlot proved to create more difficulties than Mr. Ince expected. Sand, wind and gray skies were turning into unforeseen issues. As fate would have it, Mr. Ince, in a chance meeting with Harry Culver on a set involving the La Ballona creek, developed a kinship. Mr. Culver was instrumental in luring all these studios to Culver City with sweetheart deals.

Mr. Ince first would develop Triangle Pictures, in what turned into MGM. But rather than be one of three– he built his very own studio on what was to be named Ince Blvd.

In 1924, big things were going to change Hollywoodland forever…

I share this story for the foundation of events soon to take place and to this day- has not been fully documented. I have discovered, on a corner once controlled by Thomas Ince, a piece of history that precedes the Hollywood we know today. It’s a major puzzle piece, a missing link to events culminating in 1924.

This is a series of groundbreaking stories dating back to the early twenties I’m about to share, I feel very honored to do so…

Written and lived by Donnie Norden

RKO/Selznick/Desilu/Amazon Intersect

Once upon a time:

Thomas Ince, Cecil B. DeMille, RKO, Selznick International, Desilu and Cinema General Studios all leased or owned this piece of land known as the 40 Acres Backlot in Culver City. In the center of this backlot sat an intersection, known as the 4-way-intersection, whose roots go back to the film Gone with the Wind. During this time, wagon after wagon sped through this section as the Civil War raged on through the streets of this backlot.

20 years later, this Backlot would see major renovations when Desi Arnaz took it over and it became Desilu Culver. That period kicked off the height of television history… Everyone who turned on their TVs in the 60’s dialed into this corner. That’s because most every TV series that was popular passed through this low profile yet highly iconic piece of real estate. Culver City has doubled for Mayberry, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, Berlin, Gotham City, or simply, The Metropolis, to name just a few cities.

No other studio backlot enjoyed such colorful costumes and figures, from both the ancient past- to the far-off future. This section saw it all.

As a kid growing up here, these temptations were too hard to resist, so I would enter these sets through a back entrance, then look out a window or doorway, and get the pulse of what was going on inside the lot. This is typically how my adventures began. The backside of this street was overgrown by 6-foot-tall licorice plants. The smell – intoxicating, would activate as you brushed up against these plants that also provide cover to maneuver around, after all, we are trespassing.

Old curtains sit behind filthy windows, the dust of a million TV shows gathers no moss. It’s dry and dirty here, all the buildings on this street are just fronts. The wallpaper was discolored and peeling, and from a different era, but just the same, bared witness to every scene ever filmed here. No backsides, so no protection, the decades took their toll, actually giving it more character. It smells old, it is old, and you can easily get hurt on certain rooftops that we shall deem, questionable at best. Film companies don’t care about what the camera doesn’t see. The dirt is romantic residue from past films, layered on top of previously kicked up dust. I was honored to wear much of it home-on my hands and clothing. At the end of the day, you should smell like dirt and have fun remembering how you got that way.

That’s what it takes to be a backlot explorer.

So, the inside of these sets reek of ancient film making. But outside these same windows I would look out of- is a TV Land. Pardon me Columbia Studio’s with Bewitched and Dennis the Menace, or the Partridge Family, or Paramount with the Brady Bunch and Love American Style. MGM was war TV like no other studio in existence. But Desilu was unique. This lot was built for Superheroes. Superman, Batman, Robin, KATO and The Green Hornet kept the crime rate low.

Next time you’re watching your favorite reruns, picture this intersection, it’s a representation of ancient sounds, and smells, mixed up with the TV generation. Our senses were presented with black and white reproductions. Color existing only on film sets, not TV sets. That changed in 1965 with the transition to color TV, if you were one of the lucky ones, that’s probably when your parents bought their first color TV. A big moment in households across the country.

From 1965 to 1971, this Desilu backlot was a kaleidoscope of imagery for your new fancy cathode ray tube box. Combined with an antenna on the roof, you should be able to pull in pictures from the sky. More than once, I’ve been on our steep roof adjusting the antenna for my dad. It takes two people. This is the cutting-edge science that brought this backlot to life in “living color

This intersection is a very simple set considering all the history that stepped foot here. My second book will have the stories involving the last films to be done on these sets. One was Lepke, starring Tony Curtis. The other was a wild one-day bazooka blast in a show titled Vigilante Force.

Yep, that’s how this intersection closed, with Jan-Michael Vincent and Kris Kristofferson running around like, … well trespassers!

I realize this post is long, but that’s because of all the movie magic that’s taken place here, you can’t hurry love… I just wanted to share some details and anecdotes of the craziest intersection in TV Land history.

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden.

We begin the picture story…in the center of town

Atlanta Railroad Depot

What was left of the Atlanta Railroad Depot when I arrived
This is the set the soldiers are marching down in Gone with the Wind. Atlanta Rail Depot was at end of this street…
My picture, 1976…The end is near, scorched earth extends towards the main gate on Ince Blvd and the Atlanta Railroad Depot is long gone.

Filming of Gone With The Wind. Nearly the same angle as the picture I took above.

In a scene from Star Trek “Where’s our ship… where did we park the damn Enterprise?” Atlanta Railroad Depot with facades coving it
King Kong and Gone with the Wind, the ultimate 40 acres double feature…
Let’s see Kong Pa, please can we”...
Sgt. Carter and Gomer running through the intersection, chasing after the Sarge’s car.

Mayberry

A trespassing pic I took a few years later

Star Trek even used this Backlot

My picture-1973 A wood plank extends from the two story brick building to the roof of the one story next to it. There is a potential fall space between the two structures. They connect by a gang plank. It’s that or just jump.
Good time to take a walk, traffic’s light.
Man in a Hurry” episode Andy Griffith. I was a boy in NO -Hurry-at all!
I saw a Colt 45 beer commercial filmed here in 1972 starring Redd Foxx. They built a 3 story hotel in this intersection that collapsed, just missing the star or… Stunt double

Same street as above 30 years before

The Untouchables…Bullet holes in glass were done with pellets with vaseline and a tiny cardboard disc. It would hit the glass and create the image of an actual round passed through. Then usually, the car crashes. Tell me you haven’t seen that on this show!
Land of the Giants…“Get lost you brat!”
Building 60 is the Mayberry Theater
Gomer Pyle-1967 …Looking for some good Chinese entertainment…I took car loads of real Marines to this lot, many of my older trespassing friends became Marines. We had some incredible moments on these backlots with real soldiers. Stories for my books two and three-real deal, mind blowing stuff. Security met its match. BB gun fights on the set of Combat were never so real. I dig Marines!….Oorah
Hogan’s Heroe’s

Mission Impossible…”sorryIf anyone’s hurt, we do have an ambulance.”
Kirk and Spock have seen enough of this world…
Crusader’s have arrived in style…
Love everything about this- especially the camera…I bought Bat stickers and stuck them everywhere. I have been told Mr. West was sometimes seen with a brown paper bag with a beer inside, say in-between Zaps and Pows.
I once was stopped by a guard on this lot while visiting the set of Capone and he had us write our names down on a pad. We all used alias’, I chose and wrote down-Adam West. Security seemed ok with that. I was ready to run if that became a problem. It was presented to Roger Corman, who allowed us to stay. Roger, laughed as he read the names. It was a crack-up moment… “Yes, Adam West and Bruce Lee can stay,” he looked at the guard in astonished bewilderment. “They’ve been following us around all week” we all stared at each other innocently.

Everyone’s favorite German

Gone with the Wind scene…The building on the left side of this picture would be replaced by the iconic church used in Frank Sinatra’s Miracle of the Bells…

The replacement church built for Frank Sinatra’s Miracle of the Bells…

My picture of this church-1973. This was how the backlot looked in TV Land era. The steeple looked over the entire backlot. A straight up, nailed to the wall ladder, will take you to the belfry. It’s a good climb, worth the risk. The church schedule is the B/W sign. An ancient RKO light stands to the left of the stairs leading to the front door.
This was the last day ever of filming on this street. Vigilante Force. Main street went out with a bang. Just like it came in…what a lot!
False Face and Shame and The Joker all villainized this intersection…
Batman, parked across from the Mayberry Courthouse, in front of the Mayberry post office, he must be mailing a letter…
Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara. “Gone with the wind” is often considered the most beloved enduring and popular film of all the time. Sidney Howard’s script was derived from Margaret Mitchell first and only published, best-selling Civil War and Recontruction Period novel. Producer David O’ Selznick had acquired the film rights to Margaret Mitchell’s novel in 1936 for $50 000, a record amount at the time to an unknown author for her first novel. At the time of the film’s release, the fictional book had supassed 1,5 million copies sold. More records were set when the film was first aired on television in two parts in late 1976, and controversy arose when it was restored and released theatrically in 1998. In 2003, in France, Gérard Presguric presents “Gone with the wind” as his new musical comédie at Paris
A harbinger of things to comeZombies, how our world looks today. We would watch filming from the top of the hill in this background. It was owned by Mr. Howard Hughes. He had a research facility hidden at the top. Notice how you see the sky through the upper window. These buildings had no backside. Drapes were important. Many curtains were so old, they were stuck, like pages in an old book. The older they were, the less likely they could be opened or shut.

A scene from Hogan’s Heroes

My picture, looking southward. Hogan’s Heroes used this area as downtown Berlin, Germany. The red brick building was a Hofbrau, raided by Major Hochstetter, looking for a traitor, Major Bonacelli.
1964- Gomer Pyle
This little intersection has seen it all…Gone with the Wind
This picture of mine is the backside of this iconic intersection, a couple old ships are parked in the weeds and licorice plants, one is full size, one is miniature. This backlot does not have a dock set, so I’m not sure the history of this grounded fleet. Walls from the ancient past lean against buildings that received modern face-lifts. A light, the only one on the entire street, illuminated from the roof downwards on the intersection. It was for security- set watch.
Richard B. Jewell, The RKO Story…This best describes what made this backlot the most unique of any in Hollywood. It’s as wild as the film pioneers who operated out of it. Lucy and Desi Arnez would change this culture. Finally, thanks largely to your television sets, this lot had continuity. One owner, set on one course, and made a lasting imprint like no other.
Somewhere in TV Land right now…Walter Winchell is narrating an opening, or there’s a whistling going on with fishing poles, Marines marching, maybe even a head popping out of a tree stump. Desilu ownership brought that identity 40 acres, and stability finally arrived. Desilu offered something for everyone’s taste. It’s not hard to find this place to this day-on TV. We really did all grow up here…
Camera man assignments-1960. Television’s beginnings. Desilu is a combination of three studios. TV shows shooting exteriors on the 40 acre backlot would film interiors often cross town due to stage space. Example, you will see Paramount on some Hogan’s Heroes credits, Gulf Western was on that lot. But the Stalag 13 exterior was in my backyard, so to speak. Star Trek was another example, as is The Untouchables and even Batman will say 20th Century Fox, not Desilu. But several episodes, including the somewhat fictitious Bioscope studio, where Batman pursued False Face all over the Desilu backlot, were done here. I found out that reference Bioscope Studios, refers to Thomas Ince. Nice job slipping that in Lorenzo Sample Jr, writer of many Bat episodes and the script writer for 1976 King Kong. Small world indeed. My point here is-the same owner Desilu means all these lots and sets are interchangeable. Think of them as one.
Me TV,,, 1965. Desilu- Culver City. Mary Tyler Moore would later own this place, with Grant Tinker.
Don’t use the door Robin- we’re in a hurry!…”But my cape’s stuckBatman”
She’s the owner, she can do what she wants…Desi was probably doing the same stuff.
The first cape appeared on the backlot on Superman, a smashing success!
Let’s take off- Actionjump higher, cut. Do it again... Mayberry Hotel in background
Can you buy us some beer sir, they won’t sell to us, we look too small ?
I worked this town in The Wizard of Oz, we were on top of the world in 1939. Then all of a sudden, parts were few and far between”.… “We got a 6 am call on Gomer Pyle-Monday, location, another alien part”

This is first ever Star Wagon.
This mobile make up trailer was built for a mega silent star, it continued on long after sound came into pictures. Wheels are built into the walls and it was towed by horses. Wonderful mirrors capture your every movement when you open the door and enter this time capsule, It has been an integral part of the 40 acre backlot ranch, forever. This room was part of everything mentioned in this post. King Kong, 1933, Gone with the Wind are just 2 films whose female leads were prepared inside this room for their roles. In the 60’s TV heros would be touched up inside. Don’t judge the book by the cover, this room is a hundred years old. Treasures exist from almost every decade, it sat locked for the last 50 years… I’m still researching this, it’s a fantastic adventure back in time, stay tuned…
I hope this was as nostalgic as it was fun…sure was for me. Nice having you on my tour…I love Desilu
For other backlot trespassing adventures, read my book available on Amazon

Adam-12 meets PT 73

More often this Patrol Boat just sits idle at Universal
PT 73 no longer is part of the Universal experience. It carried on – into much of the 80’s as part of the tour. Because of it being a noticeable iconic prop, it had to be removed when film companies shot the Red Sea. Tales from the Gold Monkey TV series took over this section and PT 73 was replaced by Cutter’s Goose. A water landing airplane replaced the old PT.
“Battle Stations”
This base is where the parting of the Red Sea would become a tour favorite. An Airplane replaced the old PT 73.
The natives are restless…they returned on Tale’s of the Gold Monkey
We can use this set…
PT 73 was replaced by a water taxi flying PT Boat
We moved the PT 73 when this set from Tales of the Gold Monkey TV series took over this section of the lake. The PT boat although no longer in use was kept around for its popularity with the Glamour tram tour. It lived in spirit long after Mchale’s Navy was canceled. Earnest Borgnine traded the PT boat in for an Airwolf helicopter. That TV series filmed at sets previously used in Mchale’s Navy. It’s a small world in TV Land.
I always wanted to make a board game about sneaking around studio backlots. Just security, trespassers, and a backlot to run around on. Complete with handcuffs and a get out of jail free card. Ages 10 and up…like Jumangi !
Just like The Munsters TV series, features spun off the success of these two TV series. Both shows overlapped production here at Revue Studio’s…Universal’s Television Division. These feature films based off television series started a new trend. Normally, TV series sprout up based on the success of a feature film. Alias Smith and Jones, for example, was created by Glen Larson based off the popularity of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. As a kid, to see The Munsters on the big screen and in color, was extremely satisfying.
By land or sea…PT 73 in a display in 6 points Texas, Universal. This picture looks like an accident waiting to happen. Engine 51, from Emergency TV series, sits in position.
Behind old buildings lie even older treasures…
Our main gate, truck gate on Lankershim. Across the street is Bluffside Park. Jimmy Stewart Drive takes you inside the studio. Bank of America is left of police cruiser. What was first an autograph seeker turned into a shots fired call for this episode. In 1988, this scenario played out in real life.
The Tower of London castle is towering over this police unit. This is now the tram entrance to the Earthquake animation.
A spider box as they are called in the trade with 3 cables feeding D.C. power to equipment on set, foreground bottom left.
This courtyard is known as the Court of Miracles. It was often used by catering for meals, tables and tents popped up when a full day of filming was to take place on these sets.
A sniper- autograph seeker is terrorizing the backlot.
One Adam-12, three studio employees have been shot.

Same spot as previous picture – decades apart
Sniper views…same street.
” Help me, I’m not on break, I’ve been shot! “
The crime scene…
Reverse angle, rooftop sniper view…
PT 73, parked in our Spartacus set, just a short tow from where it was based along side the Red Sea. It sits on a massive steel wheeled platform that back in the day was towed by elephants.
Transportation moves it this way.
Duct tape, glue, screws, and some gray paint…We’ll fix her back up in no-time.
This is the same balcony the snipers are on where the PT Boat was in dry dock in 1974. ” Reverse angle” This shoot was for the NFL Network. These are pro-football players.
Put your hands up!
What pro football players do in the off-season…
I’m on the wrong lot…
Not that you care, but, that is a D.C. “direct- current” set lighting can and breaker behind our star. That’s where the big studio movie lights get their power from. Every couple of buildings has power distribution hidden inside them. These electrical D.C. cans as they are referred to are the arteries to these sets coming to life.
This was a much used area and doorway in my career…often this area was basecamp and full of Star Waggons. That is the name of a popular studio rental created by Lyle Waggoner.
Remember this Hunk …On a show starring Tim Conway and Ms. Carol Burnett?
Lyle Waggoner‘s Star Waggon studio rentals have corned the business of movie star trailer rentals. The studios no longer have their own star and make-up trailers, like in the 60’s and prior. I have discovered the oldest one in existence. The Holy Grail, it still exists. The first one ever built, directly for a major movie actress. The trailer I have- access to- is where this idea first came about. More on that story to come…
Spartacus square- under attack. ” Clear the PT Boat-watch for crossfire”…
This area is jam packed with Star Waggons for very large base camps, there is room to park, and power to supply transportation needs.
What is now Jaws Lake -was Singapore Lake in Mchale’s Navy. PT 73 also filmed in this body of water. The ship would get moved around on that ancient wood flatbed cart.
Rusted corrugated steel would be placed over the wooden shingles changing this east coast fishing village to a more distant Pacific base for Mchale’s Navy. This set became Cabot Cove. PT 73 anchored here when need be.

One Adam-12

One Adam-12, we have a report of autograph seekers sneaking into Universal Studios. Meet security at the Lankershim truck gate. They will direct you from there…

Well, that’s how this episode rolls, and what was an autograph seeker turns into a shots fired sniper call. Employees are down in the backlot. As Reed and Malloy respond in their Dodge Valiant, a manhunt begins on our backlot. A tactical incident response is needed to rescue the fallen laborer and to apprehend the sniper. As I watched this episode, this iconic prop from a decade ago worked its way into another television episode. The PT 73 was sitting parked in Spartacus Square.

In need of a face lift, nothing a coat of paint and a little re-anchoring couldn’t fix. But PT boats aren’t much in demand after Mchale’s Navy fulfilled its obligations. So, this boat moved around more by land than by sea. Welcome to Hollywood’s biggest backlot. These two hit legendary TV series unite briefly in this episode.

Later on in the 80’s, PT 73 would return to the sea this series filmed at, as part of the tour. Honorable mention by every tram, as a submarine follows the Glamour Tram. Then sea mines explode by means of compressed air, and all that commotion leads to the parting of the Red Sea.

But once again, fiction would sync up with a factual event that took place sadly on our lot. The exact same gate that Adam-12 pulled up at to enter the lot had an autograph seeker pay it a visit. This tourist approached security wanting to meet Michael Landon. Highway to Heaven was a hit series at this time. But it was being filmed in Culver City, at the MGM main lot.

After being told “NO” by security, a short time later this fellow returned and opened fire on security. Two guards were killed.

Security is a mixed bag, many retired LAPD officers are corporate security, capable of carrying firearms. But the cheaper form of private security does not carry weapons. That is due to a major executive having a gun pulled on him by security. That changed the landscape. Walkie-talkies replaced firearms for the overall patrol of the studio. This coincided with the time frame of this episode, in the early 70’s.

Lo and behold, in 1988, this 1974 TV episode of Adam-12 rings many bells for anyone who experienced that afternoon at Universal Studios. Peace be with; Jeren and Armando….End of Watch!

Written and lived by… Donnie Norden

Tuesday is Soylent Green Day

2022 Well- it’s finally here. We made itsort of.
When Soylent Green came out in 1973, we all wondered what 2022 would really be like.
We can hide out here…
This is a matte painting. The bottom half is actual and located at MGM lot 1. Left to right- the scenic art building where the backdrops were painted. Next, recessed, is Stage 14. The building right of that is set lighting cable storage. The rooftop of each structure start the seam of this futuristic skyline. This looks like any current parking lot in L.A. Dysfunction everywhere you turn.
Same location of Matte painting-50 years after. Now it is –The Goldbergs -TV series base camp.
Follow the rules people”
The things I’ve seen...were better than they are now!
Thorn –on my favorite stairway on the backlot.
We’re standing where Chuck is- a few months later…
I used this stairway all the time, this is a strategic building, for all things NY street. Once inside, you can work your way around on rooftops. I lost a tooth in this building. I ran into a steel cable with my face, boys will be boys. My mom had to take me to emergency for stitches and a cap. One of my many backlot battle scars.
I relived this Thorn pose exactly, it’s what we do here, relive famous scenes, where they were created.
Medical Center filmed this set, Chad Everett, Dr Joe Gannon, used car jumper cables to kick start a victim of cardiac arrest. By gosh, it worked. Nowadays, people would walk right past that corpse.
1980 – Under those same stairs
I wanted this stairway so bad…the world’s falling apart.
A No-Fly Zone could protect us…
I love the 70’s van souped up to look 2022. The bike seen here is a studio work bike. I owned one for a brief time, but I was spotted on it and chased down public streets by MGM security. I had to abort. It had 3 wheels, and a big steel front basket to carry equipment. Mine had a sign- Drapery Department. Before you pass judgement, I felt I earned it and deserved it. I confessed to this shenanigan to a priest in a confessional booth and was issued a penance. One hundred Hail Mary’s later, the Lord exonerated meAmen.
1972 meet 2022
A 1973 Saturday afternoon right after a good rain, NY street with no one on the lot but me…It’s like I own it! Soylent Green could still be found in the theater when I took this picture.
The population was wearing masks for the movie in 1972- In 2022, so do we!
Something killed everybody…Covid, starvation, WW3 –who knows!
This looks like the Ukraine presently, but it’s good old MGM lot 2-“Get us out of here” …This is where my Soylent Green chase started, under the marquee. God bless our friends in Ukraine.
The world was a better place with the Apes in charge…
We’re now living in …The Twilight Zone, it seems. Cavender come save us!
These trays all got spilled in the riot scenes. This is where I captured my Soylent Green and the Call Sheet. These scenes were filmed the day before. Soon after grabbing this green lunch the guard showed up and this turned into a wild west chase. Security shot at my friend Pat as we were running to the fence. The fence is a long ways away from this theater district. I had a call sheet in my pocket and green and red painted Soylent in my hands.
These pieces lasted in my museum/ bedroom until I moved out. It’s then my parents threw so many cool items, I could cry. “Why do you want that stale green bread Donnie?“- “Because I earned it mother!”
“So this really happened…after all.” Logo at bottom says People Food
Tuesday is Soylent Green Day!
Same window as rioters are converging on, when the world was in better shape. Here -dressed for another George Cukor backlot scene.
The main rioting took place on this corner.
Don’t complain, this is the New World Order!”
Make Love -Not WAR is what we Hippies from the 60’s said…
There will be sanctions -I’m sure, for this conduct.
Sanctions- 1980
To this day, mankind hasn’t devised any better way to leave this realm.
I’m signing up for this method, watching old MGM reruns, till death do us part. Ironically SolEdward G. Robinson died after this film.
My puppy dog Thora watching Courage of Lassie...animals get it.
I had a fort in the top story of the building across the street, it lasted until the building was torn down. My longest surviving fort. Great views towards Vet’s Tower and the Baldwin Hills.
I ended up with the lamp shell round bulb, the one on the right. It was green with black identification, it said 56th Precinct.
I met Yul, right after this scene, we stood face to face, just me, Yul, and the director. He never talked, he just stared at me, he was in character- but so was I. I just wandered right up, like some young producer, it was the Martini scene– last shot before wrap. He looked like a robot, his eyes, his movements, straight out of Westworld….
Westworld... That’s one future idea I was looking forward to, an adult theme parkit never happened.
It was this silent, motionless, vacant expression that was staring me down, right in main intersection on 5th Avenue. You see this look a lot more these days…
This wheel is now a hit TV show filmed on this same lot…”Good Luck”
Wheel of Fortune-Logan’s Run style…1975. “Go ahead Vanna-spin it!”
This set burned down in the 1967 fire, American in Paris, starring Gene Kelly, filmed here. This is where the cemetery is set up in 1972 for Soylent Green
Cemetery- take this exit.
This cemetery was moved as far as it could and still stay on the backlot. These tombstones are where I hid the first ever time I entered a Hole in the Fence. I laid along side them, scared stiff. They would again move for the Phantom of Hollywood movie of the week, to the Tarzan Lake set. Then once again, for Logan’s Run. Like a traveling circus of dead people.
The biosphere balloon tent and cemetery were located here, where these stands and stairs are sitting. We lost this area in 1967 fire. Cameras and lights generally go on those platforms. The Blue MGM sign in the distance is promoting Logan’s Run.
Chuck has promo for Mt. Sinai at wrap. A star’s work is never done.
50 years later– the world is incredibly worse than this movie depicted. With no end in sight.

Go Green…

Let’s see, is it just me, or is this movie chillingly accurate. The masks, the living conditions, and methods used for compliance… “Get the Scoops!”

I wrote about sneaking on this set and went into detail on the scariest chase ever in my first book. But a look back 50 years is a bit, shall we say Sobering. We seem to have these same problems, plus we have World War. Take that 1972- we got it worse.

Logan’s Run filmed on this lot 4 years later, and also has a form of population control. A wheel of fortune is how your fate is determined, when you hit thirty, you may wish to run.

The Ultimate Warrior filmed on these same sets with yet another apocalypse, starring Yul Brynner. Then, A Planet full of Apes took over the street and things ran very well.

Another film, which is coming true- is Blade Runner. Robots with artificial intelligence. What was sci-fi, is now as real as it gets.

I wanted to share this 50 year old snapshot in time and compare our society as it is today. Submitted for your approvalSoylent Green 1972-2022

“Soylent Green is People”... a harbinger of things to come!

Written and lived by …Donnie Norden

A visit to Amblin Entertainment

Located close to where 1313 Mockingbird Lane once was, this company known as Amblin Entertainment took over this section of the lot. The old residential street that included the Leave it to Beaver House along with the Munsters was relocated farther back in the backlot.
Greetings…the wood entrance fence is behind the light post. Dog kennels allow for employees to have their dogs inside if you’re with this company. Animal friendly- as you would expect.
Steven has a deep appreciation for all things… Outer Space
This item is inside, nothing to do with film… Also inside, in cabinets, are E.T. and the arm piece used by Dustin Hoffman in Hook. Artwork from Norman Rockwell appear on the walls…
I hope he likes our script, Maureen“… “Hole in the Fence is right up his alley, they’re Amazing Stories, he’ll dig it”
AmblinWhere truly amazing stories happen…
Atta Boys!
No more Hawaii…it poured there!
L.A.’s the place, we can create the island here, at Universal.
A typical blockbuster from the bowels of this building.
This is not Amblin’s visitor center-Welcome to Jurassic Park.
Just outside the conference room and chef food preparation area next door…
Conference room…Steven Spielberg. Furnishings stay covered when not used.
I still have nightmares from that tanker in the desert
Mr. Steven SpielbergWe have something in common- we both set up shop in movie studio lots before we actually worked there.
He is so kind, a personal autograph for my daughter…talking marching band.
Beaver’s house was moved above the snow line to make room for Amblin…
A most wonderful set was the interior/exterior of a haunted house built on Stage 12 for Casper
This foam rubber Casper was used as focal point for actors in scenes with the computer generated ghost. CGI is post production. For the actors on set, this was the reference point for eye focus. This ghost moved by using a broom stick attached inside its backside.

Welcome:

Where the front lot stages meet the backlot perimeter. Producers row sits with offices of top award-winning film makers. Sidney Pollack had his office next door in refurbished bungalow. Michael J. Fox is next door to him. This was back in the day when I had full access to all things Universal…we were M.C.A. in the day. Music Corporation of America, yes- we rock and roll here!

Even the Beatles visited our studio 1965 and quickly became friends with the cast of The Munsters. Due to insurance issues involving the band’s exploding popularity, Lew Wasserman offered up some of our star dressing rooms for their visit before the Dodger stadium concert.

When you see a sign involving a bicycle flying with E.T. in the basket, you’re here. You’re greeted by a wood gate that will open if you belong here, it’s nestled in a southwestern style location of offices and bungalows. A Koi Pond, nestled below tall trees, provides a relaxation area outside. Inside, depending on your visit, is where many of your favorite all time films were negotiated and came to life. A rolling popcorn cart sits just inside from the patio. A quaint theater sits adjacent to entrance. Kathleen Kennedy has offices here. Several films were coproduced by these two.

This sloped agora area also has offices of several of the studio’s top bread winners, including Imagine Entertainment, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s company. Here is a list of doors to knock on in the 80’s and 90’s etc…

Dino De Laurentis had a bungalow adjacent to theirs while making Red Dragon with Anthony Hopkins. That complex was at one time Alfred Hitchcock’s.

Tom ShadyacShady Acres complex

Ivan Reitman maintained a very plush office just outside the Amblin fences. Kindergarten Cop and Twins were done at our facility.

This area is like the old New York Yankees, Murderer’s Row...Each office has the potential to produce the top film at this lot. Normally, just bet on Spielberg.

Films I have touched bases with him as lead man include;

Amazing Stories- TV

Back to the Future 1, 2 and 3

Jurassic Park 1,2 and 3

Casper– the feature.

Amistad– a prison set on Stage 12

Jaws: The Revenge

War of the Worlds -Starring Tom Cruise

Minority Report- Starring Tom Cruise

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull- starring Harrison Ford

One enormous benefit of production at Universal is the promotional end, trams talk all things Universal films. Especially his, then the hope is you go buy a dinosaur T-Shirt. Go ride Jurassic Park, or E.T. Films interact with promotional caveats to hoist profits upwards in ways no other studio can utilize.

Yes, this man practically lives on this lot during filming and Universal gave him the production office he’s in since they don’t ever want him to leave. It’s quite the marriage, win- win. Sidney Sheinberg is the man responsible for signing on this young director and gave him a project titled –Duel-1971. Lew Wasserman was the last movie mogul in Hollywood at this time. Sid was Lew’s right-hand man.

Steven directed Night Gallery as his starter at the studio in 1969. This episode stars Joan Crawford and also my friend Roddy McDowall. Roddy and I first met on Planet of the Apes, MGM. Then again at Universal on Tales of the Gold Monkey.

Two memorable episodes of Amazing Stories on the backlot were…

OneThe Daddy Mummy episode. A hospital bound daddy -to- be, mummified for his role in a horror film, grunts and stumbles his way through our backlot steeped in the Egyptian eerie legend of mummy Ra Amin Ka.

Daddy- Mummy

TwoYou Gotta Believe Me… Convinced the vivid nightmare of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet crashing into his house is more than a dream. Earl Sweet tries to alter the tale.

Ironically, this would not be the last full scale jumbo jet Mr. Spielberg would bring to our lot. War of the Worlds had a similar fate.

This set from War of the Worlds was the second of the two 747 Jumbo jets Mr. Spielberg has utilized in his backlot history at Universal.
The studio tours kept this set up rather than strike it, trams turn the corner by the Psycho house and drive through this carnage. The cost of this set is off set by the publicity it creates to each 175 person fully loaded tram. Jumbo trams touring Jumbo jets.
This pyramid overlooked the Hollywood Freeway-Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Fast forward to Indiana JonesKingdom of the Crystal Skull, the last feature I worked on of his. This show had sets on the backlot and on stages.

Universal’s ancient stage numbered 27 was used as a native jungle temple set. I was on set blowing a fan on our star Harrison Ford- to simulate a breeze.

Harrison is about to grab a blow dart gun from an Indian who is about to launch a poison dart. Indiana Jones blows into it, reversing the dart into the native ‘s mouth. Close-up stuff… all face to face. A pretty slick scene indeed…

Michael Bay happened to be on New York street filming Transformers at this same time.

It was then the A.D. tells Steven,”Michael Bay is here and about to enter inside Stage 27.” In a comic moment, Mr. Spielberg started yelling at his crew in a disrespectful way. That’s because Michael Bay is known to behave that way. So, Spielberg pretended to be rude and crude as Mr. Bay entered, that went on for a few seconds – expletives were being delivered left and right by our director before everyone split their gut in laughter.

Thanks for letting us visit Mr. Spielberg, and especially… for your magnificent film making!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Under the Rainbow

I’ve seen this movie before…
4 decades earlier…
Original surviving (Little People) returned for this sequel.
Selznick Studios at the time…in the 30’s.
After this show is over- you’re all going home!”– “This town’s not big enough for all of you troublemakers”
Look at those Munchskins go”
“I miss those little folk, already”
Van Buren AvenueBruce Lee lived half-way down this street while playing Kato in the Green Hornet series…”Let’s go to see Bruce!”
This is the funnest city in the Universe...
Security has its hands full…
The princess, born of a queen. How special it was to watch Carrie Fisher film downtown with Chevy Chase. Even more so -reflecting backwards.
A true princessPrincess Leia, swinging in- above. The Queen, Debbie Reynolds deserves a Culver City street named after her. Culver City has lost its roots and names of legendary actors, producers and directors should be added, especially around these backlot locals. Garland has a street, Debbie Reynolds deserves the same. This town should be all things studios – both the past and the present…The Heart of Screenland is like the Tin Man nowadays. It’s in need of a transplant.
Frank Sutton and Jim Nabors pushing the Sarge’s car to a gas station in this Gomer Pyle episode. This is now a theater in the center of downtown, in the hard to recognize, modern Culver City. Everyone from Laurel and Hardy to Starsky and Hutch filmed here. Amazon Studios is currently setting up future film making across the street. May I suggest to Amazon”Hole in the Fence,” submitted for your approval. We go way back-together, in these studios, long before you existed…
The Culver Hotel and the legendary Big Ed’s Bar, across the street. A tunnel connects the duet.
The Culver Hotel- official Hotel for Munchkin mania 1937.
The Magic BusThe Who’s Who of Little People

Almost exactly 41 years to the day have flown by- but it seems like just yesterday folks.
Notice Laird Studios on call sheet, that was the ownership group of the Culver Studios. This film uses some of the same stages as Gone With the Wind. The producers did a nice job on recreation of the craziest of all times in this city’s film history. The scenes involving Tara set recreated would have been done right here and not TBS had we kept up with the payments…Bankruptcy hit this entire corner. The hotel became low income, and the bar across the way with the checkered past sank to its lowest levels, surviving mainly as a dark movie location.
Today the bar is a distant fond memory for those of us old enough to remember and the hotel is luxury and wonderful place to stay, visit, eat, drink and listen to music. It still has charm that you feel as soon as you touch the door handles… back in time you go!
Judy Garland, in what appears to be- totally ignoring posture of the little troublemakers behind her. I wonder if LIFE magazine had a better article than what she happened to be working on…I’m going to leave this studio if it’s the last thing I do!“- I truly see dislike here! Picture taken December 23, 1937. This is one of my favorite photos all time, very rich in flavor. MGM Art Department still.
Judy’s read…1937 December 13, Life Magazine edition. Billions of dollars and Millions of men…featured story inside.
This recreation of the Tara Plantation in Gone With the Wind is on the backlot of TBS. Culver City allowed their backlots to disappear already, so the former Columbia Ranch became the featured backlot still standing.
Emerald City and Atlanta were a short distance apart, in Culver City anyways.
The Munchkins terrorized this film set. The fact is, both these movies, GWTW, and The Wizard of Oz, were in production at the same time in Culver City. That’s the tie in here.
Emerald City location. The TBS ranch, close to where Debbie Reynolds grew up.
The lovely Ms. Fisher on the backlot.
This truck was impeccable inside and out…
Emerald City…When I heard at the Culver Hotel advance locations would be at the TBS Ranch, I packed my things and headed to the valley.
Picture vehicle
Emerald City lies just beyond this old west street that was used in High Noon
One fine piece of machinery, 1930’s water truck. Behind it is scale size T-Rex
Our T-Rex doing a cameo…
I can’t stop-look out!
Same set as picture above this one.
The Gallows Pole…
This Gallow was put in for this scene.
Unfug…
Unfug Bros.
Emerald City...Columbia Ranch– setting up the runaway carriage scene.
The conclusion, a carriage crash, Chevy Chase just pulled Carrie Fisher to safety as the walls come tumbling down.

Roll credits...This show starts at The Queen Mary, moves to Culver City for the hotel and Culver Studio locations. For the backlot scenes, we switch to the Columbia Ranch-TBS. Scenes recreating Tara Plantation in Gone With the Wind were done at the TBS ranch. RKO/Desilu was the site of the original Tara Plantation. I have found an item of extreme interest from just beyond the original Plantation, on private property, that ties to these original films. A truly amazing discovery, a Hollywood heirloom to say the least. Coming soon…

Back entrance to Emerald City…TBS Ranch
That’s a wrap- bet you never forget this bus ride!”
Follow the Yellow Brick Road…For eternity.

Rainbows and Wizards;

When this feature was made back in 1981, I was aggressively applying to film companies and distributors of such around town. I was working for a company called Gilboy. We had movies that we shipped all over the U.S. usually six reels is the average length of a feature and they ship in metal cans. Our top movie was Star Wars. We couldn’t ship it fast enough, that’s when we all discovered for eternity Ms. Carrie Fisher.

She became bigger than life from that role of Princess Leia and most likely, bigger than Debbie Reynolds, the MGM matriarch. Once you’re a goddess from another Universe, you have reached your peak. So, this fun romp was just a throwback to a time when Culver City was overrun by dwarfs and little people. Debbie would eventually grace MGM in the fifties the way Carrie graced the Universe in the seventies onwards.

This story of the Munchkins arriving to make The Wizard of Oz had to touch a sentimental nerve in both Carrie and Debbie. Debbie would have worked with people involved with the making of the original Wizard of Oz. Carrie and Todd Fisher would grow up on these studio backlots that ringed the city.

What’s neat was all things existed in 1981 as they did in the years 37/38. Other than the backlots, which were all scorched earth by the time this recreation was made. Many of our our city landmarks still remained. The Culver Hotel being most centerpiece. A gate was built on the street named Van Buren for this film. It has Culver City Studios attached to it. The studio should be Selznick Studios and Gone With the Wind was taking up much of the studio located on Ince Blvd. The studio was Culver City Studios-in 1981, now Amazon Studios occupies this landmark.

The hotel that was described as Culver’s skyscraper looks down on all of this. It’s as rich in history as our studios themselves. They are directly tied together in fact. Previous owners besides the founder Harry Culver would include Charlie Chaplin and John Wayne. Legend has it Chaplin lost the hotel in a card game.

The Hotel opened September 4,1924, two months before the owner of the studio across the street-Thomas Ince mysteriously passed on- aboard the Hearst yacht. Way back when Hollywoodland sign glowed proudly, looking down upon its aspiring film making entrepreneurs.

Let’s just say- The party was just getting started as this corner was being developed 1918-1924. After Ince’s death, RKO and Joseph Kennedy took over and the studio took on a rogue toughness. The backlot was a wild ranch, not lined with structured game plans like were being designed by MGM. One studio had a master plan while the other – shot from the hip. Even though highly competitive, the hotel and this entire downtown was a place for studio execs to compare notes on who gets what perks and where this film business is headed.

This area came together during silent film days- The Golden Age of Hollywood.

From 1924 until the time Under the Rainbow came here in 1981, the history on this corner is second to none in all of Hollywood. 20th Century Fox, Universal, Warner Brothers are not built in a way that intersects so intimately with its potential audience. Many of our residents work on these films and movie stars are just par for the course. Paramount is centered in a way much like our Culver Studios.

A who’s who of guests have included Clark Gable, Mickey Rooney, Greta Garbo, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Red Skelton, Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks, Frank Sinatra, and Ronald Reagan. Dwight D. Eisenhower even had a campaign office inside in his run for office in 1952. Casts from Gone With the Wind and the Wizard of Oz both staying here including over a hundred Munchkins were lodged here. But entertainment was across the street, at Big Ed’s Bar

It’s famous for the likes of Desi Arnaz, Leonard Nimoy, Batman, and every studio mogul and actor in need of a stiff drink. A tunnel existed from this Culver Hotel to the bar across the street. This was a speak- easy during prohibition. Drinking never stopped around here and drastically increased during this original production. The bar had an escape route back to your hotel. From all accounts, this corner was wilder than this film portrays it.

Drinks were on hand during this remake, Chevy Chase parked his black 911 Turbo Porsche right outside its saloon doors. My dad has many stories inside Big Ed’s. The Bar is featured in the film Barfly. My dad became a member of SAG after some shrewd negotiations by me and the producer in front of this bar. I became an agent, I got my dad a trailer and healthy residuals, a huge upgrade from a box lunch and all the booze you can drink. Ohh the memories…

This corner is as iconic as any in Hollywood. Robert Stack and his Untouchables was never really able to clean up this section, since Studio execs need it to freshen up at lunch time. More than one episode has Tommy Gun’s a-blazing right across the street from this watering hole. I can only imagine Robert Stack coming in to order a drink… “No, no no alcohol here sir!”

It wouldn’t shock me to hear a booze tunnel extended into the studio administration building, but I digress.

Culver Studios was Selznick International Pictures and the Burning of Atlanta took place right down the street from the Culver Hotel and the Ince -Selznick Mt.Vernon style main offices.
What’s that title?- Hole in the Fence. “It’s true stories of kids growing up in all the cities backlots” Sounds fascinatingMaureen is proudly displaying our book in front of a building built by Thomas Ince. Now- Amazon Pictures.
I wonder if they discovered any secret tunnels headed to the bar while building their new facility. I know they overlooked an extremely legendary item over on Lucerne Ave. A silent film star dressing room of mega proportions. I’ll take you there soon enough, and you won’t believe what’s inside this time capsule of movie history…
Written and lived by Donnie Norden…