As the decade of the seventies begins, MGM has six lots in Culver City, and one in England. The UK backlot is called “Pinewood Studios,” and is the site used for Dirty Dozen. The Chateau explosion at the show’s conclusion, as well as the bridge and pond shootouts, all took place there. James Bond has shot interior scenes on its enourmous stage, when massive sets are needed.
MGM, in Culver City, California, has six lots. Sadly, three of them are being torn down: Lots 3, 4, 5 and 6. There is enough real estate for a housing development, as well as a shopping center and more. Yippee.
20th Century Fox has already started tearing down backlots for real estate dough. And MGM is next in line. MGM Lot 3 is the best backlot of the 4 lots. The other lots are support lots for MGM’s main backlots: Lots 2 and 3. But, that’s not to say they are not fun.
Lot 5 was where I first tresspassed. The old worn out, rusty chain link fence allowed too much temptation and not much opposition. Just inside its reach is real WW2 aircraft used in the war. These planes, in this field, that is Lot 5, were my very first tresspassing experiences. Me and my pal Jimmy spent an entire Saturday playing inside them.
Normally, we would be home watching 12 o’clock high, or Combat, or Twilight Zone, or any cool reruns that may be on. But on that particular day, as it turns out, we began living our TV.
The same bomber plane graveyard/stable location today, is now a Denny’s restaurant and shopping mall on Overland, across from Tara Hill and Raintree… where Lot 3 proudly stood forever.
Lot 3 had one main entrance… this is it. Overland and Jefferson blvd.
The maps I show here are only a year apart. Mine was found on Lot 3 and is faded. The date 10/31/69.
The clean one is from Steven Bingen and the must-have book, MGM … Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot. It is a collector’s must. I highly recommend all of his books. The date is April ’68.
With that… Let us enter for the last time… shall we?
Can you find this village? It is in the bottom, right hand corner of the previous aerial shot.
Above: I was fortunate to slip below deck on this Pirate ship, Mayflower.
Below: The paddle ship, Cotton Blossom. A full size steam boat capable of navigating this partially jungled lake. This place is much like Disneyland, but with weapons. The entire lot is an E-ticket ride.
The sky backdrop… backside angle. Any citizen in Culver City, back in the day, will remember driving down Jefferson Blvd and seeing this humongous structure towering above the old green wooden fence. An image you do not forget. Changing weather patterns happen almost daily, depending on what show is filming directly in front of this massive screen.
The World, The Flesh, The Devil filmed behind this backing in 1959. It stars Harry Belafonte, and also uses Lot 2 extensively. The show includes wonderful NYC photography done early on a Sunday morning, to get the expansive, deserted shots needed.
The channel that cuts in a parallel direction here, allow water to stay even, in a seamless way, on camera, rather than flap against the side. Special effects is always involved in scenes that are filmed in this water basin. Scenic painters can create and paint any weather needed, then effects will blow or create wind from large airplane fan blades. Sound has to be recorded or dubbed later, due to the noise of these real WW2 aircraft. But, combined with water spray at the same time, violent storms can be recreated. For dialogue scenes on the waterfront, a large D.C. fan blade is used to create breeze. This direct current apparatus is silent, depending on the blade setting. The type of fan I just described is known in the business as a Ritter Fan.
They are operated by special effects and electricians.
Water or weather scenes always have some type of fan, or in most cases, many fans. Waves are created with heavily weighted rotary devices that spin and pound the water.
Today’s cheaper shows use Jet Skis to chop the water. Otherwise, you have a big flat pond, or lake. For oceans to behave like oceans, SPFX is on hand with all kinds of tricks. The backbone of the motion picture industry. When men were men. No CGI.
Ice Station Zebra Base Camp was shot on Lot 3 in the tank as it is called. European street also has a couple of scenes from one of Lot 3’s last movie productions… below
Above: The backside of the Church. Below: The frontside.
Combat has a thing about blowing up chuches. Both on Lot 3
Below: Lot … What a great TV show, and the most regular user of Lot 3’s backlot.
Same village, different angles… different years and decades!
Above: The Church steeple view of the surrounding sets. This cobblestone village is surrounded by the old west’s… DUST!
The foilage sticking up in the background is hiding the barb wire fence that separates those whotrespass from those who don’t.
Looks like a couple trespassers are headed our way now. Yep, thought so.
Always remember to carry your Magic Dust. It is proven to work… just ask them.
Let Rod introduce our next episode… Lance Mcgrew
What I like here is the truck driving around in the hills, in the background of this SHOWDOWN. It is the white dot center of pic.
This lot just makes me want to play HOOKIE all day with my dog.
Drummhead road on studio maps is eternity road for Mr Simpson and his dog RIP
Above: Brimstone blowing in the breeze.
RIP caught wind of it… this ain’t heaven
Finally, St Peter …or just a hard working angel. Here Mr Simpson says, “that otherplace down the road would seem like hell without RIP.”
He is told that otherplace is hell, and RIP was warning you when he caught a whiff on that brimstone…
“Mr Simpson, a man will walk into hell with both eyes wide open, but even the devil can’t fool a dog.”
I love this episode so much I have watched it with at least 8 dogs… seriously!
Just over the top side of the hill in the background is a really steep dirt bike incline. Locals know it as SUICIDE hill. It is legendary. It is also extremely difficult to ascend. The name SUICIDE was coined because if you lose traction going to the top, you fall backwards as does your motor bike. It usually ends with your bike nailing you a couple times.
Entrepreneurs, or bikers without mufflers, have been known to get paid cash for turning off their engines and leaving this site. Reason being, the engines can be picked up on sountrack. The old west can’t have an engine running amok on their sound tracks. Bribery became the effective and expected way to resolve this issue created by a small few dirt-riding teenagers.
I would say, “I’ll trade ya, my motor bike for that horse over yonder.”
These two photos above are Jerry Lewis in Family Jewels. 1967, the hills backdrop never change much. This is just outside Lot 3. Before WLA college.
Billie Rose’s Jumbo set starring Doris Day. I am amazed with all the oil derricks in background.
Below: Production still of the same area.
Below: Lot 3 is also Peaksville, Ohio.
Just keep thinking… happy thoughts!
Same set, Cloudy street…. above and below
Tony Vallone, a real life Boystown stow away, provided me with many of these production stills. He was an actual transplant from Boystown Nebraska. He got his foot into MGM while filming the classic movie at that location… He came back to Culver City with the company and was put to work in MGM’s Art Dept.
We two bad boys quickly became friends. He was much older yet… bad is bad no matter how you cut it. He did his time at Boystown, I did mine at St Augustine’s. Right across the street from the MGM Art Dept, ironically.
Sister Shielia was much more difficult than Father Flanigan could ever be. Maximum security parochial school… they will beat the right answere into you… no day dreaming here, fellas. But, Bless their heart actually… because they made me smart!
Speaking of terror…
This set is called Fort Scott on studio maps.
The pictures below are the same Dachau camp or Fort Scott
Screen clips next of… Mr. Denton on Doomsday, episode 3, 1959
All westerns start with a camera pan facing Baldwin Hills which is why these sets stand where they do.
So cool, Martin Landau… Bad ass
Lot 3 fake rocks set
Dan Duryea has seen better days… above
Back in the Saddle again… riding in to town by the light of the moon… here comes the posse
Enter… Doug Mclure
Below: Ooops, there is that mysterious silver bottle.
No winner here boys!
Just say this was a service call…from Henry J. Fate
This set is just walking distance to this set, episode 5, 1959
If you know Culver City, Marycrest Manor is nested up in the trees a top that mountain in picture below.
“Hi” little Ronnie Howard… Ron is one of three little boy icons of their time, the sixties, and all of them have scenes shot on Lot 3. The others… Billy Mummy and Kurt Russell. The latter appeared in a Man from Uncle episode. I worked with Kurt on Escape from LA, one of the cool guys in the business.
I was fortunate to work with Director Ron Howard on the Grinch movie. A gentlemen named Monty Menepeace was the best boy on this feature. He also worked with Ron on Andy Griffith, decades earlier. He knew my history on these backlots and told me to reminisce with Ron when the time is right.
Well that opportunity happened at the craft service table, one afternoon, during the shoot. It started with this line, by me… “Ron, did you have as much fun growing up in Desilu as I did?”
After a puzzled look on his face, I said,” yeah I snuck in all the time. After your show was cancelled, we turned the upstairs of Andy’s house into a fort.” Then, to keep momentum going, as he started to reflect, I told him about having Hogan’s Heroes tree stump story. It ended up at my house, by the way.
He told me how he used to love to ride his bicycle around the lot, and so did I…
He told me he was just there, at the industrial park that once was Mayberry. He wanted to share stories with his daughters on the section of land that they took place on.
So this huge star still reflects back on that simple, special time in history… when we were all innocent, and a place called Mayberry existed ….so, so cool!
By the way, this class act, Mr. Howard, threw a surprise party on a stage at Universal for that best boy Monty, who was to retire after this film. Mr Menepeace was so deeply moved, a perfect way to cap a marvelous career. I will never forget it. Class stuff!
Everyman wants to go home again!
Below: Kurt Russell in Man from Uncle.
Uncle helicopter taking off at Lot 3.
Man from Uncle, same set, different episode. Pyrotechniques happen all the time around here!
Same spot the helicopter is flying over. above/below
This is MGM Lot 3 property line and the fence seperating good and evil.
Tarzan filmed this jungle on Lot 3 and it starred Johnny Weissmuller. The elephants were kept at MGM. The problem was that they were Asian Elephants and the Africa location needs African ones. So cleverly, make up put prosthetic ears on these smaller eared pachyderms so they would look authentic.
Welcome to show buisness my massive 4 legged Asian friends.
Below: Overland, view looking east.
Below: Jefferson is the street on the left.
My remembrance… the sun was just setting as my pal Jimmy and I were riding all over, behind Lot 3 on our sting rays, staring through the chain link fence. It was a Sunday night, close to Holloween, as the clocks had just reset. It was rapidly getting dark and the decade of the seventies has just started.
We always observed this place from fence lines, streets, and knott holes in the fence. But tonight, this just looked to easy. So we hid our bikes in the flood control channel along the rusted, chain link fence side and easily climbed in.
It is dark now, and we use the darkness for cover as we run first to old trains that are stationed on tracks along the fence. We can see this part all the time, so we quickly ran through the old west, towards the church steeple.
There we are, on a cobblestone road that crosses over a little bridge, above a small lake. A pirate ship is docked in it. First, we just soak it all in. This church is in my show Combat, all the time. We stand in amazement and then peek inside, only to find it is open in the back. Not a complete set. It is pitch black outside now with zero lighting inside this place.
We carefully walk a plank and board this massive 3 sail ship. We go below quarters and feel our way around. As we climb up some rope rigging, we are blessed to see a huge full moon rising above the 3 story rooftops on St Louis street. Behind them oil derricks in the hills share this big moonlight.
We are not scared. There is nothing here to be afraid of. Plus, you can’t be scared on a pirate ship, mate. I was more like Peter Pan, climbing all over this ship’s rigging.
We climbed off board and walked down New Orleans street. It is an awesome feeling to see these dimly lit structures, as the moon shines inside the windows we are looking out of… oil wells can be heard slowly churning, as a couple of owls find interest in us.
This is like being in a candy factory after it is closed. I will never forget this magical night… a night that helped start it all in my passion for these backlots, in the years that are coming.
Lot 3 is gone now, but never forgotten. I hope you enjoy this remembrance, and stay tuned for the 70’s decade of studio backlotting.
All stories written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by DQ