Phantom of the Backlot… The Real Story

I ride around the outside of MGM constantly, always doing my due dilligence. Since I have now been captured, I’m a bit gun-shy. I was told by Captain Jolly, head of MGM security, I would end up in jail if I fail to comply. I now save trespasses for cool stuff, so when filming takes place, I will punch that ticket. Even this speck of compliance will eventually diminish, I’m sure.

Probably sooner than later because I have just obtained a shooting schedule indicating that a made for TV movie, with the working title of The Phantom of Lot 2, is in production.

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All the studio entrances now say World Wide Studios …

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It is being directed by my hero, Gene Levitt, who produced Combat on these same MGM backlots. I still play in the craters and bombed out villages desolated by that TV series. The same show whose gunfire I could hear all day long at my house. Combat was my inspiration!

I had to see what really takes place behind the studio fences. I had to see the devastation. What is this place that plays war with real army stuff all day long? It will be an honor to sneak onto his set. So much for compliance.

The amazing thing about this Phantom of Lot 2 show are the similarities to my own “shenanigans” taking place right now, on these back lots. We watch, as the show starts with two teenagers who look like dead ringers for me and Jimmy! They climb into MGM exactly where we climb in, right across the street from Maureen, my girlfriend, and her bedroom. Her window looks directly at this scene from across the way. We continue to watch, as we stand on her bed, peering out of the top of her bedroom window, which is practically in the framed shot. We joke in amazement, “look at those guys, they look like us!”

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MGM often positions a guard at exactly this spot because they know this is our frequent entry point. (And that’s because it’s a sling shot away from our houses). And yes, we often fire sling shots at the Bronco when it parks right there…

It gets stranger. There is a a building that a teenager falls and dies from. It’s Boystown, my fort, which was recently involved in a huge police search involving me.

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Readers, please read Right Place Wrong Time from a previous post, for reference.

Check this out… The teenagers in this show begin their trespass at the same place where we sneak in… regularly. They look like us. One dies falling from the top of Boystown, where my fort exists. I am nicknamed the Phantom by MGM security… “Here one minute, gone the next,” they say… So, I already had the nickname. I reckon the show is all about me!

This lot is only big enough for one Phantom… Me!

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World Wide Security wants this rogue individual much in the same way MGM wants me. It is the focus of this show and parallels my own reality on these Hollywood Lots. Who better than Broderick Crawford, former star of the television series The Highway Patrol to play head of security? Rough and gruff, he reminds me of my dad. I’m glad he is not the one in charge here, for real.

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Set decorations are actually attempting to make all their sets more dilapidated than they actually are, as if this old place is no longer a major player in movies and TV.

The reality is that the future would have plenty of huge blockbuster movies ahead… 

Scenes with wind machines blow dust in the background to emphasize desolation and abandonment. The back lot now gives the impression that it’s only fit for phantoms.

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In another scene… Me and Maureen’s old row boat… making its last TV appearance

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After school, I immediately go to the back lot to catch up with this film. I start by peeking through holes in the fence to figure out what sets are in use today. That way, I can sneak in, yet not have to cross vast open expanses. Since my capture, efficiency is priority number one.

This Friday afternoon, I’m doing just that… I’m outside the lot, casing the joint on my bike, peering in at times, at every crack and hole. I’m on the corner of Montana and Midway, in the residential neighborhood just beyond the fence. I look up and at exactly the spot where I hit Big George with lemons, just a year before, I see the Phantom!

And he is looking at me. He is filming, 10 feet away, in full costume, with his metal spiked weapon in hand. He just killed a man who was involved with tearing down Lot 2.

We stare in amazement at each other. He is masked, but I know it’s Jack Cassidy. I’m excited, as well as flabbergasted. It seems so surreal. He waves with his non-weapon hand. I could not be closer if I was on the lot. I wave back!

I like the fact that his goal is to protect these sets from decimation. I try to do the same thing. He refuses to let this place die. Like me.

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My view from the fence, as The Phantom attacks the man on top of this stairway

 

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Nightime brings out a different energy on this grand play ground

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Care to enter? …Please shut the gate behind you

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Make yourself comfortable, you’re in a special place that warps time… sugar plum ferries live under this bridge, so they say!

Below, The Phantom protecting his castle

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Below, If this worklight could talk, the stories it could tell…

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Below,  I’ve seen this pose before!

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Spirits do exist in the night here, all night… just let them run through you

Nightime is mysterious, but yet magical on the backlot. Like sparks rising from a wood fire into the night sky, spirits seem to rise up out of the cobblestones themselves… These spirits aren’t scary, so don’t be afraid. Just let them be the spirits they are. I often come here by myself, but I’m never alone. Louis B. Mayer himself walked these pathways… Scarlett O’Hara and Clark Cable emerge from the deep south… Judy Garland sings clang clang clang went the trolley… A caped Rudolph Valentino drinks wine while serenading ladies from balconies… costumed acrobats skip and cartwheel about… French waiters and can-can dancers and the sound of accordions bring Parisian villages to life… Gypsies, tramps and thieves band together, while fog camouflages their movements. The smell of incense fills the air. I visit beings that only reveal themselves on their terms. Not everyone will see them, but ohhh how they exist

Whether you were a larger than life movie star, a famous director, a movie mogul, such as Louie B. Mayer, or a bottom of the barrel security guard, we are all welcome here. We are all kindred spirits. We all share the same passions… that’s why we’re here. And these backlots are truly the stars, anyway. We’re just guests here. All these ghosts will tell you that. No egos allowed at this party…

Doors open and close all around us, by themselves. Spirits dance whimsically about…  curtains blow with no wind and windows suddenly shut… it just happens. Don’t be afraid. Owls hoot endlessly, making music for us, as the moon shines through the windows of hollow buidings. Bull frogs croak with joy. Nothing is real, yet everything is real, its all perspective…

All these wonderful entities are celebrating both the past with the present, amongst these deserted cities of the heart. I am suddenly struck by a need to keep this legacy alive…  Stories for future generations to share… stories that celluloid can only capture visually. Yes… a passing of a torch will happen… The spirits were waiting for someone like me to carry it on.

Somewhere in my bones, I decide… right then and there, that these stories—stories from people who lived, worked and dreamed inside the boundaries of the backlots—shall live on… 

Spirits will let you exist in their inner magical circle, and in my case, help me escape capture, so that I can be with them,… so I, too, can experience this wonderful place. I draw on these spirits when I’m boxed into a tight situation, like when I’m outrunning security or police… Or, like the chimney escape that I relayed most recently, when I got away, against all odds. They grab my hand invisibly, and lead me to safety.

My passion for this movie studio is as deep as the passion that exists within these magical flying embers that surround me, like a bunch of happy fireflies…

It’s like I’ve been here before, in another carriage… Your spirit will never die, if you wish to believe. No one can take it… it’s yours forever. So, dance, drink and be merry, with all the spirits in the night… just like that ride at Pirates of the Carribean.

Life is a one take affair, all or nothing… so don’t blow it!

I truly feel the TV Phantoms’ frustration, as the developers start knocking down the sets.

Every picture tells the story…

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Below, I myself have experienced running along these catwalks…

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In scenes to follow, all over the backlot, especially on New York street, the chase by security and the local police takes place. They must capture him. The TV phantom kills a tractor operator with an arrow, at the base of the Great Wall of China set. I watch from the Montana Lot, where the crew parks, as the chase along the catwalks takes place. It’s like I’m watching my own movie.

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This accident can easily happen, it’s part of the danger of being a Phantom..

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The TV Phantom is running out of time

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You will notice Febuary 12, 1974 this show first aired on TV, almost exactly 46 years to this day I now share this memory with you…

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World Wide Security finally finished off this Phantom… MGM knows there is still a young Phantom laying in the weeds. This one won’t go away.

Below: Me… escaping like the Phantom of the Backlot… That’s how you do it—right way up!

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My hair works as a parachute…

As this show wraps up, it will air on CBS in the upcoming weeks. I tell everyone to watch.  I walk home with a spear that is fake, but looks so real. I found it at the graveyard (shown below) that this show put together, alongside Tarzan’s Lake. I promote the other Phantom… as my spear gets passed around by all the neighborhood kids. Everyone will stay home that night to see what they’ve been missing over at Lot 2.

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Above: Most kids carry school books home, but I carry spears, weapons, and movie props.

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Notice that the call sheet says “Phantom of Lot 2″… CBS TV wanted to use “Hollywood” in the title, instead of “Lot 2,” so, they changed it prior to airing!

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Coming soon, Young Frankenstein… Don’t turn this channel!

All stories written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by DQ

 

 

 

 

 

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