My Dog’s House – MGM Lot 2

Come on in…

You could easily hear movies being made, and the wildest ones filmed on this end of the backlot…by my house. Combat blasted me out of my crib and I hit the ground running -at a very young age. I heard every lot 2 episode, every shot fired…ever. The war lasted TEN years, ratings were good. No one did war TV, and movies for that matter, like MGM in the 60’s. The gold bar standard to this day.

The Rat Patrol picked up where Combat left off, followed by Garrison’s Gorillas. Gunfire was the normal around here. In the seventies, chants of natives yelling “Kong Kong” could be heard. And yes, more gunfire. Even more spectacular, was to see these torched lit walls from outside the fences. This film was quite the operation. Of all the thousands of sets I’ve been on, Kong was the most special of all.

But wait… there’s more, Sgt Pepper followed and sweet rock tunes flowed through my window screens. Is that Billy Preston? yeah- thats him!

Earth, Wind & Fire- yep, that’s them.

Peter Frampton, Bee Gees…it’s like I’m backstage at my own home.

Heavy metal describes music, not machine guns, in the seventies….Finally, No More Vietnam War!

Protest music, such as Ten Years After “I’d Love to Change the World” was replaced by Disco. Alvin Lee and Peter Frampton were friends and their music is sensational. T.Y.A. stole Woodstock…

The bands behind the two biggest selling albums of all time are spending the summer on lot 2. Chips, the TV series, begins in this same year and films 3 episodes on my street. Officers Baker and Ponch have sped down this street several times, including the orangutan episode.

The house my dad is crouched with that dog later became our second home. We rented it out to a couple who both worked at MGM on Chips and we had MGM vehicles parked up and down the street, like my home is part of the studio. It was very cool.

I was on set for Hero at Large for the final ever grand explosion on the backlot, when I got home my mom said,” Donnie – did your hear that explosion- it shook the whole house?”

“I was there mom, it was at MGM, it’s a John Ritter movie…the guy in Three’s Company”

Lets just say this house has seen a lot of this studio’s history.

In the picture of my dad with that dog, there is a lot to talk about. Off in the distance are tall eucalyptus trees. To be precise, that’s where Esther Williams pool is located and the site of the fallen tree that created A Hole in The Fence. Yes the same hole my soon to come book is titled after.

You would see Kong’s walls in 1976. In 1976/77 I saw helicopters fly in on one set and hot air balloons exit the other. With Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees inside. Needless to say, this backlot was far from dead and I owned it. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. This lot could never have been busier!

The backlot was the sight of the hit video- Staying Alive, by the Bee Gees.

The top song, on the top lot, sung by the top band in record sales. A seventies Fred Astaire Band Wagon, but with hippies.

Wait, there’s more…As we pull back from lot 2 past my dad’s- 57 Chevy, he has a dog clutched. My father’s name is Don, but the dog is the star. The four legged one is in a TV series, so take a close look at the dog. It’s a star in a series in this 1961 photo. You’re an expert if you can I.D. this dog to its series. I met another K-9 star at that same driveway. Frank Inn stopped by from LAX airport on a trip back from Paris, France. Glen, his assistant called me over to meet Frank and Benji.

This dog is the biggest thing in Hollywood!

It just got off a jet, not just any jet, a Concord SST. Frank jubilantly praised his curly, quick to lick prize, “This little fella just got us a ride back into the USA in that off-set nose cone cockpit of a plane that creates sonic booms.” “The plane ride from New York to L.A. took more time than Paris to NY.” So, the first jet setter I ever met was a dog named Benji. No ego whatsoever…imagine his little face with a scarf and goggles, looking out the window of a rocket ship.

This overall kaleidoscope of time through Donnie’s eyes gives you an idea of all the stories and stuff I have from these films.

Jimmy’s house is 4 houses up the street from mine circled. As we pan right toward the studio, the driveway that sits behind my house on the next street over is George Barner’s house, the MGM guard hired as the bounty hunter to keep me out of the studio. He lived so close I could throw stuff at him. Maureen’s apartment is not built yet in this photo. Her view was unmatched and it looked right inside the train station. One direction- she’s in her laundry room, the other, she’s in the MGM snow room.
My pop hanging out with a dog in a TV series, Lassie…picture taken 1961. MGM is in the distance, my house is directly across the street. This is exactly the spot I met Benji, the jet-setting terrier, with Frank Inn, his trainer, later in the seventies.
Jet setting mega-star…”I can fly an S.S.T” !….
“Clear for take-off Benji”

Benji was the box office Lassie of the 70’s….

Me and my vagabond mutt Pebbles, across the street, on my front porch. Well, my dog had to sneak around to see Hollywood! Yep, she’s been in a cockpit too. A plane used in the Twilight Zone. She got dirty, like me. We had nothing but fun…
She snuck in MGM with me one Saturday and I had to leave her in Esther Williams’ pool, which was empty of water. I wanted to go up in Boystown and she would not be able to do the climb. I heard her barks from my fort, so I had to go back, afraid a guard would find her in the bottom of the pool…my first dog that trespassed with me. I have that story in depth, coming soon!
A view from my avocado tree of MGM off in the distance. Dead center, a white steeple can be seen-it’s from the church on Maple Street. The Vets tower can be seen to the right of the steeple.
The MGM sign advertises Telefon, a Charles Bronson movie. To the right of the water tower, you can see an edge of the Kong Walls.
The sky burned orange for these Kong scenes, which could be seen and heard beyond the old green fences…Director John Guillermin could be heard commanding his troops on his megaphone, when not smoking his briar pipe.
This train depot was the closest set to my house…
The Band Wagon
The Bee Gees lip syncing- Stayin Alive!
He’s over there!

Get Back to where you once belonged!…Billy Preston was lifted by a crane for this scene, he had on a wire harness under that jacket. You could hear the song in my bedroom, so that’s all the invitation we needed. I’m hiding in the bushes for this shot.

The Lonely Hearts Club Band, doing close-ups in a hot-air balloon basket, suspended by a crane. Frampton and his blonde hair is surrounded by the Bee Gees. Welcome to film… boys. A hot-air balloon with huge red hearts on it would finish off this scene while fireworks went off…I have lots of cool pictures when I share my summer in 1977 on this Blockbuster…
The Phantom Cycle episode…Chips. On the gray column to the right of the tire is my strike zone, yes, we played strike out in the park set. The home run wall was like Fenway Park. A four story building across the way was the target. Chips crew played with us when they saw us hitting balls.. They were nice enough to fork lift cars out of the way so we could all play. Home run balls over the roof landed on Filby’s department store’s sidewalk, famous from the Time Machine.
Strike one- me pitching!
I dig Phantoms!
Fun and games…Chips TV…pardon my knees, I wanted a ground level shot.
My dog Tashka, would replace Pebbles as life carried on on this old backlot! Here, she can be seen exiting a car fresh off the TV series Chips.

This blue tractor-trailer is part of the transportation on Chips. Blue was the fleet colors. On the passenger door you see where the lion logo and MGM are blacked out. We didn’t want MGM on vehicles that are involved in crashes.

This picture is a typical day on this show. Paul Knuckles was the stunt coordinator and no TV series ever had more car crashes. At the end of a day of filming, a car carrier would show up on the backlot to dump off the cars they crashed that afternoon. This was standard procedure. Lot 2 became a pick-a-part for crashed picture cars. We couldn’t wait to climb in these modified wrecks. Roll bars are usually added inside for safety of the stunt driver. As little gas as possible is used in these cars, just enough to do the scene. This was on going until the backlot was torn down.

My street- episode -MUTE

More Chips cars...
John Ritter- before the building blows up

All this adventure awaited me and my dogs, right outside my backdoor…

Today with Lot 2 gone…
Before the Vets Park Tower existed…

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…such fun!

2 thoughts on “My Dog’s House – MGM Lot 2”

  1. I love your memories and pictures. I remember hearing King Kong being filmed! I was on La Fayette pl. now I live in Schaefer St

    1. Thanks Cynthia, much appreciated. I have a story soon of me and my dog trespassing back in 1975 Titled Me and my Dog you will enjoy I just finished. We retrace Lassie’s steps from the film Lassie Come Home … I loved writing about my first dog ever in the studio. Happy Mother’s Day 🙂

      Sent from my iPhone

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