An impromptu get together at Desilu has just developed after a series of phone calls with my spiraling network of friends. I’ve captured the imagination of kids who are just realizing what fun trespassing on these backlots-IS!
My old private school pals are being integrated into a public, very few rules…lifestyle. My friends encompass several schools now, Culver Jr High and High School, Venice, Loyola, St Bernard’s, and St Augustine’s. I even have several in the U.S.M.C. I’m prepared for anything when need be, but mostly, I enjoy showing newbies around. I love this place, formerly called Desilu Studios.
The phone call I just received was from an old Catholic school boy named Tim. He and I have known each other for many years, and he is in SAG. In fact, he often can be seen on the TV series Happy Days. His SAG family is made up of bit players on several films. When I stop by his house around 5 pm, Tim’s entire house and family comes to life, with all the ambiance of a cheap hotel. Betty, Tim’s mother, is a hardened veteran of the Screen Actors Guild and multi tasks during her roll call segment on the family rotary phone. In one side her mouth is a Lucky cigarette, on the other is the phone handle, cradled to her shoulder as she plays out her poker hand in the family card game. I’m watching a pro… she reminds me quite a bit of Popeye the Sailor, with her scruffy voice. On the other end is the Central Casting Hotline, each family member takes their turn “begging” for work on any film or TV show in need of talent. If you’re lucky, Uncle Carl of Central Casting will stick you in a make-up tent before the sun’s even up.
5 pm is when Hollywood gets ready for 5 am. It’s a feeding time for the piranha as the sun sets in the west…Welcome to Showbiz.
Betty’s a winner, she manages to puff smoke as she repeats her call time “7 am, Starsky and Hutch, at Venice Beach Pier”, she can’t celebrate fast enough, her horse, ridden by Willie Shoemaker crosses the finish line in the eighth race at Hollywood Park, another victory, in a lifestyle where money changes hands quickly.
Due to lack of work, many SAG folk need to supplement their income, and sometimes, fine Columbian Gold and Black Primo Hashish take center stage. It’s like you get high, then wait by the phone, watch reruns on TV, and embellish your last walk by scene-on screen performance. It seems like this entire Guild gets high, and what better place to do so than these old Hollywood backlots. Tonight, a special shipment has arrived, Black Primo Hashish. Culver High School has opened up the vast expanse of experimentation into mind altering drugs, for many of us. So far in my public school journey, my education involves street smarts and pretty girls. I still dislike math but do enjoy my education no longer being delivered at the end of a 12-inch ruler. I even have a crush on my English teacher…
Tonight, several boys meet up, according to plan, at my fort in the Spanish Cantina. One kid is here on business, and inside his jacket pocket are a handful of aluminum foil wrapped grams. He lays them out like hors d’oeuvres, on top of a box that says Explosives. Don’t fret, it’s just a prop ammo box we use as a table inside our upstairs fort… it’s from Hogan’s Heroes.
It’s night time on the old backlot and that means it’s pitch dark back here. Our fort only requires us to exit the creek, climb a slope like Batman and Robin do in those cheesy scenes as they tug on a rope and talk to cameo stars who open their windows to honor the caped crusaders. It looks like that until we get to the top, which is the backlot property line. Run across a simple dirt road and cut through a stable full of hay and you’re inside a Cantina style courtyard. An exterior staircase takes you up into an occupiable space we have trimmed out with props we’ve found all around the lot. All forts are a work in progress, we add stuff all the time.
Tonight, this is about the art of a deal, actually several. 7 grams, cut from a dark slab of a wonderful smelling oil-based import. Our ship has arrived! 7 grams for 7 brothers, sounds like a TV show. Yours to be had for a pricey-10 dollars a gram. We begin to take a test drive. A haze quickly envelopes our small, packed upper attic space. Each time the lighter ignites for the next drag-the smoke takes on different shapes. It’s how I imagine a Turkish Opium Den greets you.
Hashish, processed in some far off village that probably looked a lot like where we are sitting right now. We each pick a country of origin, Turkey, Pakistan, Morocco, or Afghanistan and laugh, since the maps we refer to are triangles for drug shipments. Well, all roads lead to Desilu, tonight anyways.
For most of us inside this fort tonight, this hash sample is our first Hookah party. I stand, because all the seats are taken, and since this is my fort, I am very hospitable. I’m entertaining, that’s what I’m good at. We are here to experience life, in a place that’s vacant and devoid of tribesmen and sheep herders. Like a revolution has cleansed our pitch-dark surroundings.
VROOM-SWISH…Our peace and tranquility have just been violated!
I’m the only one to see it. A police car just flew by, with his lights off. The black and white side panels stand out-even in the dark. Seconds later, an onslaught of vehicles speed by below us, kicking up dust that integrates with our thick clouds of hash smoke. As the second wave of law enforcement arrives, everyone’s attention has been captured. We all nervously observe as to calculate some escape. We quickly realize, this has nothing to do with us, Mayberry has trouble brewing!
Thin Lizzy moment…
Search lights scan rooftops and upper windows, moments later, a barrage of gunfire cuts loose…BAM, BAM, BAM, ZIP, ZING, POW, POW…HOLY SHIT!
Some really bad guy must be in here, and bad stuff’s happening all around Mayberry. We feel invincible, we realize it’s someone else being hunted, possibly killed, and we want to watch. Having recently experienced huge gun battles on this very street on the movie Capone, this isn’t our first powder keg rodeo. We advance from our fort to the Hogan’s Heroes bridge set. We reach our next observation point, and a hail of gunfire resumes after a small pause, the suspect must still be alive.
That’s great, because we are still trying to get close without being hit by friendly fire. Whoever this is, he must be on the rooftops, and is-very bad ass. What did this guy do to deserve all this attention? This is better than any old movie!
This is the view from the roof of the fort we are inside of. Hogan’s Heroes bridge is just off to the left side, surrounded by hills with dry vegetation.
Flashlights beaming in every direction are the only lights we see. We stay in a group rather than break ranks. We complete our crawl to the top of a hill full of dry grass and fox tails. This is as close as we can safely approach this tactical incident. We see in between buildings and around street corners that something is amiss. The police seem to be playing, there is a lack of intensity. They are pretending to be after people, it’s practice, and the backlot is a firing range. The Mayberry Hotel is not the place to be checked into tonight.
Above: Mayberry Hotel side door entrance…a suspect is in the doorway. This is not the place to be standing, take cover!
We lower our heads and think out loud, ” what if we had picked Mayberry instead of Mecca tonight, we could be dead!”
Well, now I’ve seen everything. At first, this was a buzz kill, but now it’s the buzz. We could look like ducks at the shooting gallery if we aren’t careful. Our line of heads could be targets, if spotted. The intensity levels off, both in Mayberry and in our minds. After an hour or so, peace restores itself in the quiet little town called Mayberry.
The police exit as they arrived, as a thundering herd and a cloud of dust. We retrace our steps and go back to our Turkish coffee shop set. We too, get back to business. As our special guest gets ready to do an exchange, of hashish- not guns, he realizes the contraband has fallen from his pockets. 7 little foil wrapped goodies are somewhere else on this lot. The night ends, a crescent moon is all that is left above us as we leave our Middle East consulate.
Our friend vows to return tomorrow to search in daylight for his stash. Well, let’s just say, we looked for him. The ground we crawled through last night was some rough terrain, we decide after a valiant salvage operation, to give up. We pay Mayberry a visit with our pockets empty, and to our amazement, shell casings are everywhere. We load those empty pockets with 38 and 45 caliber shells. Spent-red colored shot gun cartridges litter Mayberry’s gutters and sidewalks. We take a deep sniff of each shell as we load our pockets, it’s a smell you inhale and breath proudly, the smell of victory!
Good job officers…last night must have been one fun night to race your cars, shine your badge, fire your sidearms, and wear your Culver City cap proudly… in the Heart of Screenland.
The kids hiding behind you guys really had a good time too!
Written and lived by Donnie Norden…