20th Century Fox… 1973 Chapter 39

This is the lot they named a city after… Century City. It is bikeable, which is good, since we don’t have driver’s licences. This is the farthest studio we can easily ride to. It is a Friday night in 1973. Jimmy and I ride our 10 speeds down Motor avenue with the intention of finding a way inside this studio. This starts with a perimeter search… which means, we  case the place, all along the studio fence lines. You see, we need to think like cops because we have to deal with cops in this line of work.

Right across from the Rancho Park golf course, in between some stages, we see a fence that we know we can get over. We take notes, but this is just a location scout visit; we will figure and implement a plan, later. The important thing is that it is possible.

We cover the entire outside of the studio, which includes the LA Rams ticket office on Pico. I often buy my game tickets here. My idol, Roman Gabriel, just made a movie on this lot with Merlin Olsen, Rock Hudson, and John Wayne, called The Undefeated. Gabriel also can be seen in an episode of Gilligan’s Island. I’m on the hunt for that island, which lies somewhere at CBS, in Studio City.

We’re satisfied with our findings and are just fixin’ to leave, but linger a bit, just because it’s 20th Century Fox. We peer at the guard shack that sits right next to the chain link fence. This is the same one that greets you, in the famous Hello Dolly entrance, on the lot’s New York Street.

We briefly say “Hello,” to security. His name tag says Charlie. This entrance is busy and serves as the hub of the studio.We stand and imagine… what is on the other side, hidden out of view! 

We are taking it all in, when a van pulls up behind us. Someone shouts my name… “Donnie!” We turn and the driver is none other than Bill, my sister’s on and off boyfriend. He is a Teamster in the movie business.

When he’s not driving stuffy movie people from set to set, he drives Goodhew ambulances. I guess you could say, he likes to drive stiffs around. My parents’ house often has an ambulance backed in the driveway. He makes out with Nancy in between hospital deliveries. A very stressful occupation, probably.

He says, “Park your bikes at the guard shack, here, and climb on in.”  His van is empty and has a cardboard show title in the window. He is driving for the TV show, called The Rookies, my favorite police show that is on right after Monday Night Football, on ABC, my new favorite day of the week… besides when the afternoon school bell rings on Fridays, and Sunday morning kickoffs.

Well, before we can get two words out, we are off. It is like being in an… ambulance. We turn a corner, practically sideways in the dirt, on a little western street, just as two costumed actresses jump from the road to the porch. They shout “Hey Billie,” as they smile broadly, waving in a familiar way, like this happens all the time. Various film trucks, makeup trailers, and movie equipment line this small Western street. Bill smiles and waves back, as we hold on for dear life.

This beats Friday nights in Santa Monica, cruising around in Pop’s Big Blue Bus.

What an introduction to this iconic lot. Bill’s father works as a stuntman on Hawaii 5-0 and Bill has craziness in his blood. He likes my sister and the steep, pitched roof of my house. He often practices rolling down the incline and falling onto a foam mattress, just like stuntmen do in jumps. I practice doing it with him… I find myself in this situation more than most kids, so I practice this stunt off of a very difficult roof. The rolling part is a bit of an overkill, but… I’ve gotta be prepared.

My dad tells me not to do this fall guy routine off of our roof. Lets just say, I broke my leg once on a miscalculation, just missing the safe zone. I love stuntmen and my dad works all the time, so… who knows what those thuds are on the roof?

We zip through this huge lot, like a movie on fast forward. Bill is driving a stand-by van. His job is to shuttle cast and crew back and forth, and everyone seems to know him. He said Kate Jackson was just sitting where I am now, which is shotgun in this van.

He brings us to his set, on what is called “New York Street,” on the lot. It is where Michael Ontkean is involved in a scene. He is the star of this series.

The area we are in is a slum that fits a crime show. It is the center of this small Street, which is actually Los Angeles in this series. Taking full advantage, we scout interiors of these five story buildings, as we make our way to the rooftops. It has a marvelous view of Century City and the New York Street, below. I just saw this same angle in the TV show S.W.A.T. A sniper was firing a rifle in that episode, which hit a van that exploded like the bomb at Hiroshima… lots of pyro, to say the least.


Above: same view, different night…

We missed a fire scene tonight, which involved a car, and the scenes being filmed now feature officers investigating this smoldering wreckage. Fire engine lights emit a red glow which flickers against the dark alley walls. Tall street lamps complete the sense of being on a real street. It is fun when we can match scenes to areas where we hang out. The martini shot is being filmed; that is the last scene of the night… hence martini. The crew is packing up the equipment as the show is wrapping out of this location.

There are many police cars to move and Bill will be involved. Right now, he is shuttling stars and crew back to makeup/wardrobe, and to the exit. We sit inside an LAPD cruiser, eating snacks from the fancy craft service table. That table rapidly disappears, right before our eyes, into a small trailer, for its next location early Monday morning. Good thing we loaded up and are wearing jackets with big pockets.

Free snacks… chips, candy bars, soda pop, popcorn and Cracker Jacks fill our pockets and stuff our tummies. The candies are all the extra big size. Everyone is so friendly around here. It’s the happiest place on earth.

Bill comes back an hour later and now drives us around in this police cruiser. We go around the lot much slower this time. Bill lets me turn on the flashing red lights. It’s a good thing he’s going slow, so we can map the place for future visits.

We take note of a water tank set where everything is miniature… miniature battles with miniature ships, miniature planes, and even a miniature submarine—probably from the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea series—along side it. The tank is empty at the moment. Full size actors act out water scenes here, also. The wood framed structure is very old and has probably been used a thousand times. MGM has one on Lot 1, next to the scenic arts building. But, the grand daddy of all water tanks was on MGM Lot 3… which was last used for the film, Ice Station Zebra. R.I.P!

We get dropped off in this police car at Fox’s main gate, which is where we started this whole night. We get out with prestige, in front of the security guard, Charlie. At our bicycles, we proudly say “Good bye” to Charlie, the guard, and Bill. Just hours earlier, we were looking for a way in… now we are leaving in a picture car… with 7/11 in our pockets

Bill was and now, more than ever, is, my favorite of all my sister’s boyfriends. Jimmy and I pedal back down Motor avenue towards home, with another stripe on our sleeves. The Few, the Proud, The Marines. We have a dignified arrogance about us. All the while, blowing bubbles, thanks to Crafty. Our pockets are jammed full of Dubble Bubble and Bazooka Joe’s… they even have grape!

I have enough for some to chew tomorrow, at one of my forts in one of my other studios.   

MGM, Desilu, Fox, “the big three” on the Westside, are all under our belt, and I’m only 13. The future looks bright.

The only thing holding us back from the Valley Studios is that no one can drive yet. That time will come… for now, these three icons take up all my time.

All stories written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by DQ

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