20th Century Fox has returned to MGM again. The same rail depot that was recently used in Young Frankenstein and Planet of the Apes is all fancied up, for another show. This Fox production is a feature entitled Capone and stars Ben Gazzara as the king of the underworld.
I just can’t get enough of the Tommy Gun world. I have a toy Tommy Gun that shoots sparks—it’s the envy of every kid on the block. Guns are part of my birthright, as a boy, I suppose. But, we’re not talking cops and robbers here. A Tommy Gun, is THE choice weapon for gangsters. Real gangsters, like John Dillinger. They don’t call it the Chicago Organ Grinder for nothin’. This thing can wipe out a whole gang in seconds. The very same ones used in Capone’s infamous Valentines Day Massacre.
This will be the first 30’s era gangster show I’ve had the pleasure to witness. The Untouchables TV series has filmed classic episodes on both the Desilu and MGM backlots.
Security officer Al Marioenzi has already told me about the schedule at MGM’s backlot and I’m all over it. But Al only knows the MGM advance; I found out on my own that Desilu will be integrated into many action scenes, also… this will be like a color version of the Untouchables, but through the eyes of Al Capone.
I arrive late to the set, due to an unforseen task at school, which squandered my valuable MGM time. It appears that production is putting the finishing touches on this train set just as we arrive… I would’ve preferred to get here earlier. What a nuisance the whole school thing is… with all its boring busywork!
I am with Brian, my older friend, who just enlisted in the Marines, and Danny, my next door neighbor drummer pal. I build up the story line… “It’s a show about Al Capone, you know there will be tremendous shootouts! With Tommy Guns! I am talking at a great speed, while loping along the train tracks leading into MGM. I kick up dirt with my excitement, then glance back to see their reactions. Danny is playing air drums to a song no one else can hear and Brian is eating Taco flavored Doritos from a snack size bag. Yep, I think they’re into it just as much as I am.
These guys are two of my toughest friends and their favorite thing to do is have BB gun fights where Combat used to battle. That’s even better than filming.
Thinking they are filming at this depot, we are extra careful as we climb in.
But, I’m disappointed as I survey this area… there is nothing here!
They’re gone… no equipment, no filming, no cast, no action, no nothing. Even the set dressers are rolling away the period props that a 1930’s train station would have had, right before our eyes.
It’s like they’ve canceled the show that we’ve paid good money to see! We are indignant. In two seconds, we go from carefully peeking around corners to moving about with long strides, like we own the place. We expected better entertainment! Who’s making decisions around here?! We become crotchety old men, demanding to see the manager… and storm out in a huff.
We consider that perhaps the company simply disembarked for the day, and so we go explore on our own. Low and behold, as we enter Small Town Square, we see a small splinter crew setting up in front of a bakery that they just dressed…
The unmistakable smell of rubber cement permeates this tiny main street. It is being applied on a car that is being cut, basted, and stuffed, just like a turkey. Special effects is setting up for a blast of large proportions. As this car goes through its final preparations, we pick a vantage point that has a balcony to witness what is ahead.
The three of us sit perched inside what used to be Andy Hardy’s house. We stand in front of the upstairs windows, gawking at all the goings on. We’re pretty pleased with ourselves—we have just as good a vantage point as anyone here.
A sign attached to the building we’re in, says Phil’s Bakery. One side of Andy Hardy’s house is a residential entrance, while the backside is a commercial store front… Welcome to Hollywood.
Ironically, the buiding with the movie camera facing it is a Bakery also… Aiello’s.
Tasty pastries adorn the front of Aiello’s bakery while musty old drapes enclose dirty glass windows, suggesting that a few holidays have passed since this bakery did any baking here.
The proprietor is leaving his shop in this scene; while it is being shot, he locks the shop door and then takes a seat inside his old sedan.
As fast as the actor steps into the car, he is quickly replaced by a rubber dummy wearing exactly the same clothing. Rubber cement is poured all over this mannequin as Effects deattaches the car doors. This final step will make the next scene even more spectacular.
The doors appear to be functionable, but they are free-wheeling now—nothing is connected. They just sit in place with out restraints, like a toy car. After a thumbs up by FX that everything is ready, a large perimeter gets set up.
The effects coordinator yells out in a booming voice, “We need everyone to push back!” The unmanned camera is in the blast zone, surrounded by plexiglass to protect it.
The scene shot just prior to this one was of Mr. Aiello leaving his business, locking his front door, then getting into his car… unbeknownst to him, when he turns on his ignition, bad things will happen!
We anxiously hold our breath, as we lean against each other for the countdown… 3, 2, 1…
Our excitement settles into calmness. We made it on time to see something cool take place. I sure brought the right two friends for this escapade!
There is a stunned silence that follows the explosions and destruction of what we just witnessed. We felt the heat blast like a nucleaur bomb shock wave. The smell of burning rubber cement is everywhere… Special Effects fights its own fire. They douse this car with water and foam, quickly putting out the burning corpse that was Mr. Aiello.
The car doors blew off as planned and we climb down to approach this smoldering vehicle. The dummy is sitting cocked and leaning out of the car; he continues to burn, since he is rubber and soaked in flammables. His head takes an extra blast of a fire extinguisher to finally stop burning.
The whole unit is now headed towards New York Street. No sooner had they captured the scene, than everyone moved on. The next time we return, it will be like like nothing ever happened. Hollywood magic… now you see it, now you don’t. You can create entire worlds and then destroy them in seconds.
While there are still smoldering remains, we decide to make the most of our time, especially since we are now the only ones left. So we play around a bit in the aftermath. Naturally, I need to grab something for my museum, so I decide on the dummy’s head… Mr. Aiello will be coming home with me!
Severely disfigured from the blast, any resemblace to a live human being no longer exists. Just a rubber head that is easily removed from its body, like the doors that were on this car. This place creates illusions on a grand scale… we just got a dose of how to blow up a car for a movie.
Little do we know yet, this is just the start of something much more crazy. New York Street has several scenes still to be filmed here. It’s always a good sign when I can grab a souvenir right off the bat. It must make quite a vision… me walking home with Mr Aiello’s head under my arm.
(Which turned out to be questionable choice as a souvenir, by the way, as it smells terrible! Years later, that putrid smell would be just as strong, as if all this had just happened yesterday!)
Above: site of Aiello Bakery ambush… Below: view from upstairs of Aiello bakery looking across at Phil’s Bakery, where Danny, Brian and I are hiding. We are in the second floor looking out windows. This structure was Andy Hardy’s house. We would feel the heat from this blast across this town square.
More nights ahead on this film… Stay tuned!
Written and lived by Donnie Norden…
Edited by Donna Quesada