Bootleggers, Tommy Guns, and LSD

The movie continues24 hours later, Desilu Backlot

Finally!… the school bell rings. But, despite my intense focus on getting to MGM as quickly as possible today, my attempt at making an undeterred exit is undermined by one kid after another… “are you headed back to MGM to see Capone?”… “Are they filming today?” They are practically tugging at my pant legs. I just want to get the hell out of school!

I side step the questions with little bites, “I believe Desilu is the show’s location today.” As I continue to get yanked at, I receive an interesting proposition…

A kid named Caffrey pulls out a sheet of what looks like a film negative and offers to share a tab of Brown Windowpain, otherwise known as LSD. I have tried it a couple of times before and it is one of the more colorful, hilarious, and mind altering experiences I have ever had. Doing it on the backlot would be quite the escapade. Always one for adventure, I accept his trade offer—this sheet for a couple of Fedora hats that we snatched from the set last night.

Now armed with a pocketful of craziness, I organize my trespassing buddies. Danny, my drummer friend from next door; Brian, the soon-to-be Marine recruit; Joey, my Gemini buddy, whose birthday is two days before mine; and finally, Gerald, who drives a Zamboni at the LA Kings’ games.

As we roll up, I mention that besides the fine Columbian doobies, I also have “a little something extra” for tonight’s entertainment. We agree that this will be ingested later, once we’re settled into this set. After all, we never know when we might run into trouble… we don’t wanna be seeing trails in case we need to get away…

Who, Me?… “Adam West”—

It’s now 4PM. My troupe and I arrive at the the creek that flows alongside the backlot. We peek through the trees and see a film crew passing us by on a dirt road, just in front of the old Hogan’s Heroes bridge. Each vehicle that goes by kicks up a little dust. We are in synchronicity with the show’s arrival. School didn’t conflict with filming today, like it did the last two days at MGM. The stars are aligned and we are off to a smooth start.

That is… until we are stopped dead in our tracks by some unknown man with a badge, who claims to be security. But, I know better… this lot seldom has security. Production vehicles that are still trickling in, witness this encounter. Super cop immediately wants us to write down our names “for approval, in order to go forward.” By the time it’s my turn, I can barely contain myself. My mouth is quivering and I’m sure my face is turning red from holding in my laughter.

The names I see written so far, are Sherlock Holmes, GI Joe, and Joey. Other than Joey, I see that my guys have broken into aliases. So, I follow suit and I jot down Adam West. Then I pass the paper down to Gerald, who scribbles Bruce Lee. We outnumber this clown and we know this place inside out, so we are hardly discouraged.

Right at this moment, a brown station wagon with Roger Corman inside, pulls alongside this investigation. Our super trooper turns and hands him the list of names. But, he didn’t read it before proudly handing it over. Roger looks it over as the guard asks him if we are with the show…

Then, to our thorough pleasure and delight, Roger replies… “Mr Holmes, GI joe and Adam West have been with us all week. They’re fine.” He snickers and glances at us as he drives off to the set. Permission granted… by the big cheese himself. We are beyond the moon with glee.

Shooting the First Scene—

So, we strut on into Mayberry, which is now the city of Chicago. Old cars are driving back and forth, as the sound of vintage horns creates the feeling of being back in time.

As we watch some actors rehearse their scenes in front of a cigar store, we spark up a victory doobie. They are ready to shoot the first scene of the night. The director yells out directions. A black Cadillac Town Sedan comes to a stop and almost simultaneously, a sawed off shot gun blast sends a gangster flying through the window of a tobacco shop. Nice… we are barely half way through our joint and we have already seen a guy get blown away. As the next set gets prepared, we examine the broken glass, the briar pipes and all the miscellaneous paraphernalia from this first scene. We grab some rolling papers and cigars for later on.

Below, exactly the scenes we just saw as we arrived…

A Real Trip—

Realizing this opportunity is off to a perfect start, we step inside and divvy up the LSD; one tab for each of us. At first I don’t feel anything. But as seamless as the sunset itself, I begin to feel as if the colors encircling the sun are somehow more real than the actual sun. I catch a glimmer of the idea that I may be experiencing the effects of the magical morsel, but then I lose that idea and I disappear into the experience. It is like layers of reality… which appear as layers of cake in my mind. There’s me having the experience… then… just the experience itself, with no “me.”

It is as if I’m seeing the sunset and the colors left behind, in the sky, without my sunglasses on. Funny, how people say that these kinds of drugs remove you from reality… when everything is actually more real. The “ordinary” world is the false world! Similar to when you look real close at a newspaper image, and you see those individual colored dots… then, when you back up and look at it the regular way, the colors are not that vivid. Perhaps looking close like that, you see the colors as they really are. The “trip” experience is the true reality… like a secret that has been revealed.

But as quickly as I have that thought, it breaks up and I lose it, the way dreams dissolve after being awake for a moment… and you try to recollect it, but it’s… just gone… like a distant memory of something that may or may not have happened. Was it a dream, or did that really happen? Then poof… it’s gone. Then you get a wave of it again. And at certain moments, I lose myself, too. Or, at least, the sense that I am watching myself. And then the very word “me” becomes so funny. What is “me?” It’s such a strange thought! And I am laughing again…

The backlot rooftops are glowing bright yellow under the sunset, while arc lights cast strange shadows. For a moment, I want to tell the crew that there are shadows in the set! And it feels very important to alert them. I must alert them! Then, one of my buddies says that Effects is preparing mutiple sets for “rapid fire filming.” We all start to laugh, as if that was the funniest thing anyone has ever said, EVER.

This is perfect for the rapid fire sensations taking place in our brains. The darker the night becomes, the more colorful this street becomes.

Splatter—

Next up: A drive-by hit. Sylvester Stallone delivers a bloody blow with his Tommy Gun… from the moving vehicle. Then the Pony Inn is next up. As a drunken group of Irishmen stagger out of a doorway, a burst of gunfire kills all three… in slow motion. The sign itself (Pony Inn) is littered with bullet holes. A light above the door gets blown off as squibs are placed everywhere. We are as close as can be to all of this, compliments of Mr Corman.

Bodies twist and turn, as blood packets under their coats explode and splatter everywhere. The gunfire is blaring, as orange fire protrudes from this old car.

Picture above… the doorway that was the Pony Inn; the location of this scene. Jimmy is in the doorway peeking through and pointing a pretend gun...

Below is the hit at the Pony Inn… Frank Nitti and Al Capone have a score to settle…

School Is Good for One Thing—

Well, this is mind boggling… it’s like a time machine back to the Dirty Thirties. Everything is so real… down to every detail. We soak it all in… We are as close or closer than the director. We smell the gun powder and the explosive residue. Our ears are still ringing from multiple Tommy Gun blasts… it is all so surreal, but yet, so real. If we were any closer, you would see us in these shots. School should be so interesting!

Well, school still a good place to score drugs!

Another shot is being prepared across from the church, two houses down from Andy Griffith’s house… Meanwhile, we enjoy ourselves by touching the bloody clothing. It still has wires and detonated blood packs attached to the interior lining. We follow up on each set as the company moves to the next scene; we trip out on all the destruction and we simply… trip out.

Above: The next shot will blow up this house…

Everything Is So Real and Also So Funny—

Every 10 minutes or so, we experience more intense sensations and journey deeper into the recesses of our minds. We are here in 1974, but we also are in the 1930s. I see everything to its core, as if that little tab of magic opened up the curtains to the sunlight. As if before… everything was covered in dust. Everything is simultaneously new, but yet familiar. I am visiting an old dream.

We step inside a building just to smoke. Our eyes are still bulging out from this ambush we just witnessed. GI Joe, better known as Brian, is eating this Tommy Gun stuff up, as we all are. He takes a hit and then pretends to shoot at us. We laugh so hard it hurts. Danny is air drumming again, but it’s the strangest thing… as he moves his hand up to hit the invisible cymbal, his arm seems to move in spurts, like when you slow down a movie and see each individual frame. Especially when he moves fast, it’s as if his hands are blurring. So I tell him to do a drum roll and we all laugh even harder.

Yes… we are higher than any kite!

Not everyone is laughing—

Al Capone is pissed off and lets the director know it… in full costume and make-up. Mr Gazzara is upset that he is still on set. He has one more scene—a fight, and thinks it should be done before this house gets blown up. Apparently, the director disagrees.

Tension takes over, as the crew works in silence. We are the happiest people on this set. We are the happiest people alive… anywhere. Anywhere happens to be standing in front of Andy Griffith’s courthouse, which is the half way point in between what was just filmed and what will be.

As fate would have it, Ben, or Al Capone at this moment, walks over to us and stands right in the middle of the six of us. I am right next to him on his cigar-hand side. I’m sure of this because he keeps puffing a stogie that I keep inhaling. He is like our best friend.

We are in a crescent line with each head staggered by just a couple of degrees. I casually peek down this conga line, with Capone in the middle of all my friends. He is still madly puffing on that cigar, almost like he’s ready to eat it. I miraculously control my urge to laugh at that. What if he eats his cigar?

Brian is on Capone’s right side, we book-end Capone. I stare at the scar make up put on Al’s face… Scarface Al Capone. This time, I let out a guffaw. I imagine everyone knows what I am laughing about and expect them to laugh with me. But they look so serious and I wonder why.

Brian seems to understand. I know this because he smirks at me. He will soon be a Marine and I wonder if he will lose his sense of humor. I then look at Danny and Brian to see if they see what I see, as Capone chomps and blows smoke. Danny’s mouth tightens as he tries to hold back his laughter. It makes me want to laugh even more, so I look away.

The next scene is being rehearsed; a car pulls up in front of the house and a gangster steps off the running board with dynamite. Set decorators work on the fly, adding a lamp, a picture and a chair inside the home. Next, they add some kid toys to the front porch to make it look “homey.”

Soon another green light from effects…

3, 2, 1… ACTION!

A cars rolls up, tosses the TNT. KABOOM!

Ben goes back to his trailer before this shot culminates, but he better stick around because he is in the next scene. There will be a fight at the end of the street.

Before we go there, we check out all the damage done to this house, which is just two houses away from Andy Griffith’s house. Al Capone, meet Sheriff Taylor… Only in Hollywood!

Inside is a smoldering living room. The front door has been blown off; this effects crew likes to see doors fly. Second one I’ve seen, so far.

Finally, Ben gets his last scene of the night in, and is tossed through a sugar glass window by two police types. Capone is picked up and thrown, so as to explain that scar on his face.

The window Capone is thrown through was Atlanta in this iconic scene from Gone With the Wind… it is the red brick building. A stairway existed there in 1938, but the structure is original.

The fight sequence actually starts in the alley at MGM and concludes here at Desilu. The fake bricks of each set on each lot match-up in style. It allows for continuity.

Postscript—

The company moved from Lot 2 at MGM, to Desilu, at around 4pm, and we all arrived at Desilu together… one big happy, Italian mafia family. And… although I was too young to see the Untouchables film here, this was just as cool.

I always wanted to see a gangster film being made and good old Roger Corman returned to the sites that he used to film The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre on, back in late 1967.

In that classic, MGM, Desilu, and Fox backlots were used… this film returned to the scene of the crime, eight years later. Thanks to one of Hollywood’s top producers and directors, I got to experience what I just shared with you.

Think twice before you start your car next time…. and,

Happy Trails to You!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by Donna Quesada

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