Once Upon a Time in Hollywood… July 4- Chapter 20

Once upon a time … early 1970’s July 4th—

There is a firework stand in a vacant lot on my corner. My pal, Jimmy and I, visit it everyday, multiple times a day. Pyro addicts, you could say. All that fancy Red Devil packaging is quite the charm. Kinda lures kids in to a vice they can barely afford.

Just like those fake cigarettes that taste like chalk, that get sold to kids at the new 7/11, that just opened up. The tips of these candy Winstons are even orange. My dad and I talk man stuff as he smokes a Marlboro, and I suck on a candy Winston.

I need money for my fireworks… so, Jimmy and I pick a crop of pear shaped avocados from the two trees in my yard, and load them in a red wagon flyer to begin sales… door to door. This becomes lucrative, very quickly. A buck a piece is the going rate and we can’t fill this wagon up fast enough, as customers are thrilled at this new delivery service.

The empty wagon then pulls up to the firework stand as we pay cash for bigger fireworks. We are quickly becoming entrepreneurs. The Red Wagon Flyer goes out with avocados and returns with bigger and bigger firework displays. Cash paid on the spot. Business men indeed. Time for another candy cigarette.

Today is July 4th. I want to go into MGM today. We have been busy buying and selling, all week, and have neglected our backlot. That is not the place to play with fireworks. Jimmy is gone this morning, so I turn to Maureen – she lives across the the street from Jimmy, and is just a sling shot away from me.

I tap, tap, tap on her window pane until she finally peeks her head out from under her covers. I whisper, since it’s early… “want to go to MGM with me today?”

The next thing you know, she is running out the front door, “I left a note for my mom… I told her we were going jogging at the beach, on the city bus.”

Nice job, I think to myself… notes are the way to go… that way NO never comes up.

Off we go, skipping and hopping along the tracks, as we get to the regular climb-in spot. I enter first. And it is apparent Maureen has become very efficient at climbing barb wire and sharp metal. She is better than many of the boys I roll with.

Immediately, we see the fire marshal as we tuck inside a Pullman train. We are lucky he did not hear us climbing in. He drives a red Ford Falcon that is complete with a siren and a red flashing cone light on top. The Bronco doesn’t even have those emergency gadgets.

His car door is open and he now walks out of our snow room storage area. His job is to look for hazards, rather than trespassers. But, he does wear a badge and I’ve been called a hazard before.

He gets in and leaves, and we quickly follow suit, as we try to see where he is going.


He drives past Boystown, so we feel safe that he is done around these parts. We make the crazy climb up to a vantage point that Jimmy and I found while exploring. It is the top of the building, where an overhang exists. We can see most of the backlot from up here, and conclude that Fireman Fernald has left the lot.

I have been thinking about making a fort, and today, I concluded… just might be the right day for that. And this is the best spot on the lot. It fits all the criteria needed: Views of the entire lot (including the main gate, so we can see at a distance when any vehicles roll in), and escape routes. And by the by, it’s extremely difficult to reach this spot. I can also see my house from here.

At night, if you’re not familiar with the climb… good luck. Even with a flashlight!

I mention to Maureen about my fort idea and that I know where furnishings are… and then, I ask her if she wants to build a fort with me. With a big smile, she nods approvingly, and we head over to Maple street to shop for needed furnishings.

Many homes here have courtesy set dressing in each doorway. That is because when the camera faces an open front door, furniture needs to exist. All the basics… coffee table, carpet, and paintings convince the audience that these are real homes.

I grab a bench that has a tag hidden on the bottom, indicating that it was used in They Only Kill their Masters, starring James Garner. Maureen grabs a rolled up carpet and we now head back to Boystown. Slowly, we inch along because with my bench in tow, it’s awkward to move any faster. We stay on the sidewalk as we walk down Small Town Square, just in case we need to escape through a back door.

The only problem with Boystown is that access requires crossing very open expanses. In other words, we could be seen, very easily. A dirt road circles this large buiding and the Bronco repeatedly patrols this spot. But once you’re inside, all is well.

Getting this large bench through this maze is hard enough, but now it has to go up a hidden, narrow ladder. We manage to point the bench lengthwise, just like the ladder, and that requires me pulling it up, while Maureen steers the stern. We have one bench up here from our initial occupation, but we need more…

The hardest part is over as we reach basecamp. Maureen unrolls her carpet, as I put the bench on top of it. We step back with joy and finally sit down proudly on our new furniture. Like a young couple starting out.

After catching our breath, we decide to go get some more stuff for our condo penthouse.

Stuff exists practically everywhere on this lot and we go shopping again, armed with unlimited Blue Chip stamps.

This next trip brings us to Andy Hardy’s house.


This house provides us with a coffee table with wheels… perfect! I can roll it and I don’t have to carry it. In the meantime, Maureen has grabbed a large tin Pepsi sign, and we are on the move again. Just as we walk towards the front door walkway, I spot a large Foster’s Lager beer can, unopened. I grab that, also. It doesn’t fit in my pocket, so it must ride on top of my vibrating table that is being pushed along, down the street.


Boystown tower peeks over the Harmony sign. This road is where we traversed back and forth.

I’m pushing a table that becomes much more difficult to handle, when the paved road we are on turns to dirt. The good news is that we are getting close to Boystown at that point. Once again, we muscle it up to the top story. Proudly, this pad is coming together.


The two pictures above, are both Andy Hardy’s house. The backside, above, faces a different street than the front side does. You would not know this is the same place.

Below, the overhang on the building below is our fort location


Below, front side of Boystown… where fort exists.


This building in the very near future will come under tremendous scrutiny by MGM security. This includes uniformed city police raids. 

A movie will be shot here soon that involves a Phantom, played by Jack Cassidy. Two teenagers fall to their death from my fort. Coincidence? … I think not.

This lot is only big enough for one Phantom.


Above: Pat sitting on the bench, in the fort that Maureen and I put together on this 4th of July.  

Below, reverse camera angle of fort from bench. The water cooler was snagged later from a construction crew working the backlot. The little orange sign next to it states: You are tardy if you are not in your seat when the bell rings.

Don’t forget, I am Catholic school trained. You have to know the rules to break the rules!

Below: That little table is the one from Andy Hardy’s house. When this picture was taken, two empty Orange Crush bottles, a Mickey’s Big Mouth, also found on the lot, and an ammo clip from Combat, are also on the table. A coat from Combat hangs on the wall.

Typical fort stuff!



Maureen’s Pepsi sign can partially be seen in the picture above.

Below, pictures of the view from our pad… every angle.









To celebrate, we open that extra large metal can with the Foster’s Lager on the label. Cheers!… Our very first adult beverage, in our very first fort. I pop the top and… ooops, beer is shooting out all over us.

Okay, I got it under control…  I drink it as fast as it sprouts out, handing it over to her when I need a breath. The dirt that covers us now, is a soft, stinky mud. Messy, yet.. tantalizing.

It’s warm and we both become slightly intoxicated, quickly. Probably because we have to guzzle the alcohol waterfall. It’s hot, we are filthy, and so, we decide to exit our pad for now and cool off at Tarzan’s lake, which sits right across from our back steps.



I am still carrying this can from the Australian outback, as we approach the paddle wheel. I look at the can I am about to finish off and kiddingly joke: “The beer from the Outback is being finished on Backlot… how fitting!” We take our last sips and drop the empty can into the lake, where it is met with interest by carp and crawfish.

Slowly, it sinks out of view.

“I wonder if Tarzan was from the Outback?” I continue on with this Outback theme. “Ahh, the Outback has nothing on this old backlot.”

“Jane,” I now call Maureen, “jump up on that paddle wheel! I’ll spin ya fast.”

There she is, spinning like a lumberjack on a log. 

“Tarzan get up here! Let’s do it together,” Jane beckons.

Yipes, I’m a bit buzzed, but Tarzan never turns down a challenge.

I climb up with a degree of difficulty because I need to freshly spin the wheel and jump on as fast as possible. I do it, and after nearly falling off, we develop a nice rhythm, Jane and I.

Slowly, we roll to a stop, like a roulette wheel.

We better go check in, we have been here all day. Notes only last so long.

Huron bound we march… after waving goodbye, we agree to meet again at dusk to go to the Cuver High firework show.  This will be the first Firework night ever spent with a girl. I really am starting to like this girl, I think!

Dusk arrives and down the street we march, but at the corner, we hang a left rather than the straight path to Culver High. This can mean only one thing… we are going back to MGM. That’s right. In this short walk, we decide we will watch the fireworks from MGM. Not from Boystown, but from the Combat church with it’s marvelous south bay views, towards LAX and beyond.

I am a music guy, and of course I am armed with a transistor radio – state of the art, AM/FM, with a rotary dials. We climb up another precarious, narrow maze to the  top of the steeple.


We reach the very top, which only fits two comfortably, side by side, really close. Lucky for me!

I break out the transistor and tune back and forth from KMET, KLOS, KROQ and AM (favorite KHJ). We compare music tastes. She likes Steely Dan as we hear Reeling in the Years on one station. Next, “We’re an American Band” by Grand Funk, “Horse with No Name” by America… all the hits… as the fireworks begin…


If I only had a Winston to suck on….

This story happened on…

The 4th of July ….  Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

All stories written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by DQ

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