CLANK! is the deafening sound as my tiny crow bar collides with MGM’s wrought iron fence. It did not make a dent… CLANK! CLUNK! CLANK! CLUNK! again, like banging random car parts together… This time I got it! Third strike is a charm.
Punctured holes are a blessing and they exist all over this fence. I can tell some have been here for decades. These magical portals allow us to see inside the backlot, it’s just like having our very own security cameras, or rather, spy viewers… for our reconnaissance and surveillance missions.
Jimmy and I are strategically placing these little slitted holes in very specific areas of this fenced lot, where it behooves us to see inside. This allows us to plan accordingly before entering. This compact 18″ tool is a perfect addition for any trespasser’s tool belt.
Pleased with our work, I hurry to take a peek inside the first set of holes. They are adjacent to the huge prop warehouse and the church, on Maple Street. We are currently standing on the side of the Southern Pacific train track line.
Unbeknownst to me, Red Ford Bronco is right there! As I peer inside, I see it right in front of me. Figures… this would be my first image, ever, through these new holes. The driver door is ajar, and I’m instantly baffled. Before I can think, a voice booms from atop the fence. Security guard Big Ron’s huge shadow covers me from above.
“So, you say you don’t vandalize this studio, don’t you John?” he says, in a deep voice that suits his Paul Bunyan size… I stand alone, embarrassed, realizing Jimmy is running away down these same train tracks. I stand my ground, with my crow bar in hand, speechless, staring upwards, trying to be innocent looking.
I silently realize… I know this looks bad, but I have nothing to say… so I also head west following the dust Jimmy just kicked up… I can’t talk my way out of this one, so it’s time for me to catch the next train to Santa Fe!
Above. train tracks and metal fence along Culver and Overland.
“John” is an alias I once gave to security, who now refer to me as “John Ordon.”
With tasks still at hand, and a crowbar latched to my belt, I make my way to the other side of the backlot, behind New York Street, on Montana Avenue. I have another set of holes to create; I target the metal fence behind New York Street, well aware that Big Ron is on the loose.
This time, I want to puncture this fence with one solid… BANG.
The last set of holes almost got me in trouble because it took multiple wallops to create the punctures. Repetition attracts attention. The metal fence on this side of the studio is older and already littered with some marvelous holes in the fence!
I psyche myself up while making myself gnarly looking with a tuff kid face. I envision my body’s movement before gaining momentum by taking two steps forward, towards the fence, then I unleash myself and all my fury, uncoiling my tool as if I were an Indian Chief with a tomahawk…
CRASH! I succeed in hitting the fence so hard this time, that one strike is all it takes. Presto! Two magic holes on one swing! Like christening an ocean liner. This time, no Bronco appears. My inaugural vision through these new spy holes is a magical sight. As I intrepidly look inside, I see filming taking place, off in the distant New York Street.
Arc lights triangulate around a shirtless, tanned, bald-headed, male actor. He is too far away to decipher, and he seems to be standing on a tipped-over car. My first ever vision through this kaleidoscope of holes is an actor filming a cool scene… nice!
These tiny holes in the fence open up to a gigantic entryway, transporting me to another dimension.
This compact little crow bar device is already paying off, like a back stage pass.
Whatever this show is… we will soon find out.
Planet of the Apes was cancelled and all the crumbled cement has been removed. This is a Warner Brothers film. All the trucks have the W.B. logo. I quickly go home, skipping right past Jimmy—who somehow managed NOT to tell me Big Ron was RIGHT above me—stopping instead, at Danny’s house.
My simple “they’re filming at MGM” is all that’s needed. It pulls him away from after-school TV, shows like Match Game with Gene Rayburn, and Tattletales, with Bert Convy. Danny veg’s out on these shows after school and has the hots for Elaine Joyce!
I quickly exchange my crowbar for a pot pipe as we head back over to MGM, by the same tracks I left on.
We climb up to a rooftop, above the lights and cameras. Quickly, we take it all in. Cars are flipped or vandalized and some are missing tires and parts. One vehicle sits on its side, as that man that was wearing only pants, stands on top of it.
A group of transients shout at him, but he does not respond to the mob’s hollering, at all. This set is exactly where the ground opened up for Planet of the Apes, capturing a human and an ape. But now… a robotic-looking guy stands above, looking down on his followers, much like Big Ron was looking down on me, just a short while ago.
Who is that guy?… we think, outloud. Danny nails it, it’s Yul Brynner.
I love this dude. Westworld is one of my favorite movies ever, it reminds me of how we play in MGM.
We see that catering has left. And with the sun about to set, this is probably the last scene of the day. Rule of thumb: when the food goes away, or shortly thereafter, the company goes away.
We need to get up as close as we can. And we do; MGM has security on the backlot, but not on this set.
I need to see this robot-looking, warrior guy… up close. We walk directly to the set, like we belong there, and as we correctly presumed, the martini shot is taking place. We stand right at camera, as crew starts rolling away anything with wheels on it.
We watch from up close, just out of frame, as this scene gets filmed several times. Yul listens almost comatosely while the survivors of a mysterious, mass human annihilation, offer incentives to join their club.
Yul comes to life only to talk to the director in between takes, then as the camera begins to roll again, he turns back into a statue.
Each time, each scene, Yul interacts with the director, who is right in front of us. We are right in Yul’s line of vision, and it’s as if we’re part of a directing team. He even looks at us, when interacting with the director.
One more take, then the director yells, “Check the Gates!”
That is movie terminology for… Checking for dust or debris that may be on the camera lens before saying “Cut or Wrap!”
Many scenes will be cut and edited to appear as a bigger New York Street, since this show has many exterior locations on Warner Brothers’ backlot, also.
You can probably tell how these are exactly the same sets, weeks later, from Planet of the Apes.
Not knowing this was scheduled today made this day a wonderful surprise. Being up close to this legendary movie star and watching him practice his craft will create memories for Danny and I to cherish forever.
All this, thanks to an 18″ crowbar and two-holes in the fence!
Below, other scenes filmed on MGM’s Lot 2:
Written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by DQ
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