Today I’m ditching school. This was decided last night. My mom will write me an excuse, since my grades are above average. My catholic school prepared me well. So, I get cocky and begin to treat this whole public school thing like a country club. I can auto-pilot this stuff. At Noon, my Dodgers play the Pirates in a playoff game, right here at home. This all-day school schedule is just too cumbersome.
Dodger Stadium is downtown and I don’t have a ride. Heck, I don’t even have tickets! And it’s not on T.V. But, I love Vin Scully, so, the radio will be my ditching pal today. My parents don’t know it yet, but my day will be spent at Desilu, just day-dreaming and relaxing in my own world. The Fortune is just finishing striking the village that took so long to build.
It’s early in the afternoon, on a sunny October day, as I slump into one of the two hammocks that are hanging from two giant trees. There is soft grass below and a gentle breeze cooling my skin. Life is good… I look on, as laborers load up the last remnants of a village that will never be seen again, except on film. I have seen this area get stripped clean before… when it was Stalag 13. That’s life at a big studio!
My hammock gently sways like I’m on some magic carpet ride. I’m floating through the sky… and the overstuffed cotton ball clouds seem to drift right by me… and my mind also begins to drift… I remember a night, earlier this year, when me and the Sullivans spent the night here, in these very same hammocks, drinking Gallo wine. And after finishing off a whole gallon between us, we took an intoxicated walk around the entire lot at 3am… like Otis Cambell.
My reveries must’ve lulled me into a nap… I awake to this fond memory and quaint setting, all the while checking to see if I’m in a dream. When I go to sleep at night, I focus my mind on these studio backlots, attempting to steer my subconcious into specific dreams. Sometimes, guards chase me, awakening me… I often have one foot on the floor… ready to run… just as I wake up. The dream police are inside of my head!
My AM radio is tuned to KFI for Dodger Baseball and the pregame show is on… perfect timing. Every kid needs a day like this. I carry what’s left in my little lunch bag, a can of chocolate pudding and half a PB and J sandwich and a pocketful of Bazooka Joe bubble gum. I’m set. I begin my walk from this hilltop paradise to the creaky old sets in the town of Mayberry.
I pause for more Bazooka Joe… pretending I’m getting free gum. Gee Thanks, Mr Dave.
Below, one of my doodling pictures drawn while day dreaming at school…
Just like Opie Taylor did, I walk the entire length of Mayberry, looking in every window and opening every door, while popping bubbles and going over today’s line-ups. I even stop by the courthouse to see if Andy and Barney are in.
First pitch is coming up, so I decide between either hanging out in the church or hanging out in the fort we built in Andy Griffith’s house. I choose the fort.
This iconic set is just half a house. The backside can be easily viewed from Higuera Street. A simple, two story home with a stairway built on the backside, going up to Opie’s room, which is now my fort. I’m Opie Taylor today…
I walk down the driveway, past the garage that is just an illusion wall, and straight up to my room. The porch roof just outside the upstairs windows allows for a hasty exit, if necessary. That would mean jumping, of course, but it’s not bad at all; most my friends who have been here with me have already jumped off of it.
There are some explosive boxes from Stalag 13, which we brought up before, to use as seats. And a cot-bed made from rope has been brought up here by someone. I wonder… who!
Drapes cover the backside of this set. I put those up with Jimmy one day to block the view from the backside; We grabbed random fabrics from the neighbors’ houses and then we hooked them on various protruding nails.
There is only a simple, chain link fence just behind this house that others often stumble over to use my forts. It’s like an underground community. This house has a roof, of course, and the side walls, which extend farther along the side, than the roof does.
I light the joint that I’ve been carrying around all morning, as the first pitch is delivered. I gaze out the upstairs windows… the enormous church is in the foreground and beyond that, I see the Baldwin Hills, which frame my wonderful vision. I’m barely halfway through my doobie, and Pittsburgh has dropped three runs on L.A., and it’s still the first inning!
A car drives slowly in front of Andy’s house; it’s some fancy, purple, two seater sports car. It stops and the driver stares at this set, as I flatten myself against the wall. I see he has a pretty lady sitting beside him.
Probably some producer, I reckon!
Thought he’d never leave. The score is now 5-0. My day has been perfect, except for this score. I can see why the Pirates are known as “the lumber company,” as Willie Stargell goes deep on Doug Rau. An interesting fact pointed out by annoucer Ross Porter: only one player has ever hit a ball outside of Dodger Stadium. It is Willie Stargell, and amazingly, he has done it TWICE!
I was hoping for a World Series celebration today, but now it’ll come down to Game 5 to decide the NL Crown.
I have my sling shot and I shoot into the wind, from this upstairs vantage point, using random objects as projectiles. The tree in front of this house is famous for the episode where Opie shoots his sling shot at it, accidentally killing a mother bird. Opie must then raise Winkin, Blinkin and Nod on his own. I cried watching that episode; it’s actually the sadest episode, ever.
I fire away… Pow, Pow, Pow… figuring lighting can’t strike twice. It’s fun to daydream about all the stuff that has happened here, while being here. This is a museum; relics lay untouched behind old buidings, decades later. Signs are the most prevalent. A Mayberry Courthouse sign sits behind the courthouse, alongside a dilapidated miniature military boat.
Above: Behind the courthouse.
Both the sign and the boat have seen better days. I want this boat. If I can get it to the creek, I can float it half-way home. It will be a project for another day, when I have reinforcements. This ship is twice the size of the Hogan’s Heroes tree stump that Pat and I rolled out of here, a while back. But it sure would be fun to play with, in the creek!
It’s fun to go through buildings from top to bottom, to see what kind of views lie beyond every window. Graffiti, done by various laborers, from shows long ago, is scribbled on the walls. Today is all about exploring… just being me.
Whether I’m shooting sling shots, chewing bubble gum, listening to baseball, or just being a Lone Ranger kid, an adventure awaits around every turn!
As a side bar to this story, I was on the Grinch movie set, on Stage 27 at Universal, and was able to meet Ron Howard. We chatted briefly, since he was the director. He took a break, as we hung out at craft service, snacking. I asked him, “what was it like for you, growing up in Desilu?”
His response was delayed, “funny you should ask… I just was walking the the (Hayden Tract) with my daughters, showing them where the sets were located.”
I responded, “Did you ever go inside the Hogan’s Heroes tree stump?” He shook his head YES and smiled. My response was, “I ended up taking it when Stalag 13 was torn down…and I had a fort in the upstairs of your house!”
He smiled. “It was as much my home, as my Burbank home was. Very special place and time!”
No truer words were ever spoken, Mr Howard!
Many of my buddies on the Universal crew watched this brief exchange, from a short distance away, as they knew very well, my history on that lot. For weeks they wanted me to approach him and were thrilled about how he reacted… a super moment with a Hollywood icon, who I always felt a kinship with. People always told me I could “work as a double for Richie Cunningham.” And in a way, I literally walked his Opie footsteps…
At the wrap party, Ron shared a special moment, when he stood to toast Monty Menapiece, the Universal Best Boy, who was working on his last show and was retiring. He was the one who really wanted me to approach Ron about this stuff.
Monty was an electrician on the Andy Griffith show and Ron presented Monty will his moment in the sun. Monty cried in appreciation.
Class all the way… both men. Remembering fondly a different time in space…