RKO/Selznick/Desilu/Amazon Intersect

Once upon a time:

Thomas Ince, Cecil B. DeMille, RKO, Selznick International, Desilu and Cinema General Studios all leased or owned this piece of land known as the 40 Acres Backlot in Culver City. In the center of this backlot sat an intersection, known as the 4-way-intersection, whose roots go back to the film Gone with the Wind. During this time, wagon after wagon sped through this section as the Civil War raged on through the streets of this backlot.

20 years later, this Backlot would see major renovations when Desi Arnaz took it over and it became Desilu Culver. That period kicked off the height of television history… Everyone who turned on their TVs in the 60’s dialed into this corner. That’s because most every TV series that was popular passed through this low profile yet highly iconic piece of real estate. Culver City has doubled for Mayberry, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, Berlin, Gotham City, or simply, The Metropolis, to name just a few cities.

No other studio backlot enjoyed such colorful costumes and figures, from both the ancient past- to the far-off future. This section saw it all.

As a kid growing up here, these temptations were too hard to resist, so I would enter these sets through a back entrance, then look out a window or doorway, and get the pulse of what was going on inside the lot. This is typically how my adventures began. The backside of this street was overgrown by 6-foot-tall licorice plants. The smell – intoxicating, would activate as you brushed up against these plants that also provide cover to maneuver around, after all, we are trespassing.

Old curtains sit behind filthy windows, the dust of a million TV shows gathers no moss. It’s dry and dirty here, all the buildings on this street are just fronts. The wallpaper was discolored and peeling, and from a different era, but just the same, bared witness to every scene ever filmed here. No backsides, so no protection, the decades took their toll, actually giving it more character. It smells old, it is old, and you can easily get hurt on certain rooftops that we shall deem, questionable at best. Film companies don’t care about what the camera doesn’t see. The dirt is romantic residue from past films, layered on top of previously kicked up dust. I was honored to wear much of it home-on my hands and clothing. At the end of the day, you should smell like dirt and have fun remembering how you got that way.

That’s what it takes to be a backlot explorer.

So, the inside of these sets reek of ancient film making. But outside these same windows I would look out of- is a TV Land. Pardon me Columbia Studio’s with Bewitched and Dennis the Menace, or the Partridge Family, or Paramount with the Brady Bunch and Love American Style. MGM was war TV like no other studio in existence. But Desilu was unique. This lot was built for Superheroes. Superman, Batman, Robin, KATO and The Green Hornet kept the crime rate low.

Next time you’re watching your favorite reruns, picture this intersection, it’s a representation of ancient sounds, and smells, mixed up with the TV generation. Our senses were presented with black and white reproductions. Color existing only on film sets, not TV sets. That changed in 1965 with the transition to color TV, if you were one of the lucky ones, that’s probably when your parents bought their first color TV. A big moment in households across the country.

From 1965 to 1971, this Desilu backlot was a kaleidoscope of imagery for your new fancy cathode ray tube box. Combined with an antenna on the roof, you should be able to pull in pictures from the sky. More than once, I’ve been on our steep roof adjusting the antenna for my dad. It takes two people. This is the cutting-edge science that brought this backlot to life in “living color

This intersection is a very simple set considering all the history that stepped foot here. My second book will have the stories involving the last films to be done on these sets. One was Lepke, starring Tony Curtis. The other was a wild one-day bazooka blast in a show titled Vigilante Force.

Yep, that’s how this intersection closed, with Jan-Michael Vincent and Kris Kristofferson running around like, … well trespassers!

I realize this post is long, but that’s because of all the movie magic that’s taken place here, you can’t hurry love… I just wanted to share some details and anecdotes of the craziest intersection in TV Land history.

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden.

We begin the picture story…in the center of town

Atlanta Railroad Depot

What was left of the Atlanta Railroad Depot when I arrived
This is the set the soldiers are marching down in Gone with the Wind. Atlanta Rail Depot was at end of this street…
My picture, 1976…The end is near, scorched earth extends towards the main gate on Ince Blvd and the Atlanta Railroad Depot is long gone.

Filming of Gone With The Wind. Nearly the same angle as the picture I took above.

In a scene from Star Trek “Where’s our ship… where did we park the damn Enterprise?” Atlanta Railroad Depot with facades coving it
King Kong and Gone with the Wind, the ultimate 40 acres double feature…
Let’s see Kong Pa, please can we”...
Sgt. Carter and Gomer running through the intersection, chasing after the Sarge’s car.

Mayberry

A trespassing pic I took a few years later

Star Trek even used this Backlot

My picture-1973 A wood plank extends from the two story brick building to the roof of the one story next to it. There is a potential fall space between the two structures. They connect by a gang plank. It’s that or just jump.
Good time to take a walk, traffic’s light.
Man in a Hurry” episode Andy Griffith. I was a boy in NO -Hurry-at all!
I saw a Colt 45 beer commercial filmed here in 1972 starring Redd Foxx. They built a 3 story hotel in this intersection that collapsed, just missing the star or… Stunt double

Same street as above 30 years before

The Untouchables…Bullet holes in glass were done with pellets with vaseline and a tiny cardboard disc. It would hit the glass and create the image of an actual round passed through. Then usually, the car crashes. Tell me you haven’t seen that on this show!
Land of the Giants…“Get lost you brat!”
Building 60 is the Mayberry Theater
Gomer Pyle-1967 …Looking for some good Chinese entertainment…I took car loads of real Marines to this lot, many of my older trespassing friends became Marines. We had some incredible moments on these backlots with real soldiers. Stories for my books two and three-real deal, mind blowing stuff. Security met its match. BB gun fights on the set of Combat were never so real. I dig Marines!….Oorah
Hogan’s Heroe’s

Mission Impossible…”sorryIf anyone’s hurt, we do have an ambulance.”
Kirk and Spock have seen enough of this world…
Crusader’s have arrived in style…
Love everything about this- especially the camera…I bought Bat stickers and stuck them everywhere. I have been told Mr. West was sometimes seen with a brown paper bag with a beer inside, say in-between Zaps and Pows.
I once was stopped by a guard on this lot while visiting the set of Capone and he had us write our names down on a pad. We all used alias’, I chose and wrote down-Adam West. Security seemed ok with that. I was ready to run if that became a problem. It was presented to Roger Corman, who allowed us to stay. Roger, laughed as he read the names. It was a crack-up moment… “Yes, Adam West and Bruce Lee can stay,” he looked at the guard in astonished bewilderment. “They’ve been following us around all week” we all stared at each other innocently.

Everyone’s favorite German

Gone with the Wind scene…The building on the left side of this picture would be replaced by the iconic church used in Frank Sinatra’s Miracle of the Bells…

The replacement church built for Frank Sinatra’s Miracle of the Bells…

My picture of this church-1973. This was how the backlot looked in TV Land era. The steeple looked over the entire backlot. A straight up, nailed to the wall ladder, will take you to the belfry. It’s a good climb, worth the risk. The church schedule is the B/W sign. An ancient RKO light stands to the left of the stairs leading to the front door.
This was the last day ever of filming on this street. Vigilante Force. Main street went out with a bang. Just like it came in…what a lot!
False Face and Shame and The Joker all villainized this intersection…
Batman, parked across from the Mayberry Courthouse, in front of the Mayberry post office, he must be mailing a letter…
Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara. “Gone with the wind” is often considered the most beloved enduring and popular film of all the time. Sidney Howard’s script was derived from Margaret Mitchell first and only published, best-selling Civil War and Recontruction Period novel. Producer David O’ Selznick had acquired the film rights to Margaret Mitchell’s novel in 1936 for $50 000, a record amount at the time to an unknown author for her first novel. At the time of the film’s release, the fictional book had supassed 1,5 million copies sold. More records were set when the film was first aired on television in two parts in late 1976, and controversy arose when it was restored and released theatrically in 1998. In 2003, in France, Gérard Presguric presents “Gone with the wind” as his new musical comédie at Paris
A harbinger of things to comeZombies, how our world looks today. We would watch filming from the top of the hill in this background. It was owned by Mr. Howard Hughes. He had a research facility hidden at the top. Notice how you see the sky through the upper window. These buildings had no backside. Drapes were important. Many curtains were so old, they were stuck, like pages in an old book. The older they were, the less likely they could be opened or shut.

A scene from Hogan’s Heroes

My picture, looking southward. Hogan’s Heroes used this area as downtown Berlin, Germany. The red brick building was a Hofbrau, raided by Major Hochstetter, looking for a traitor, Major Bonacelli.
1964- Gomer Pyle
This little intersection has seen it all…Gone with the Wind
This picture of mine is the backside of this iconic intersection, a couple old ships are parked in the weeds and licorice plants, one is full size, one is miniature. This backlot does not have a dock set, so I’m not sure the history of this grounded fleet. Walls from the ancient past lean against buildings that received modern face-lifts. A light, the only one on the entire street, illuminated from the roof downwards on the intersection. It was for security- set watch.
Richard B. Jewell, The RKO Story…This best describes what made this backlot the most unique of any in Hollywood. It’s as wild as the film pioneers who operated out of it. Lucy and Desi Arnez would change this culture. Finally, thanks largely to your television sets, this lot had continuity. One owner, set on one course, and made a lasting imprint like no other.
Somewhere in TV Land right now…Walter Winchell is narrating an opening, or there’s a whistling going on with fishing poles, Marines marching, maybe even a head popping out of a tree stump. Desilu ownership brought that identity 40 acres, and stability finally arrived. Desilu offered something for everyone’s taste. It’s not hard to find this place to this day-on TV. We really did all grow up here…
Camera man assignments-1960. Television’s beginnings. Desilu is a combination of three studios. TV shows shooting exteriors on the 40 acre backlot would film interiors often cross town due to stage space. Example, you will see Paramount on some Hogan’s Heroes credits, Gulf Western was on that lot. But the Stalag 13 exterior was in my backyard, so to speak. Star Trek was another example, as is The Untouchables and even Batman will say 20th Century Fox, not Desilu. But several episodes, including the somewhat fictitious Bioscope studio, where Batman pursued False Face all over the Desilu backlot, were done here. I found out that reference Bioscope Studios, refers to Thomas Ince. Nice job slipping that in Lorenzo Sample Jr, writer of many Bat episodes and the script writer for 1976 King Kong. Small world indeed. My point here is-the same owner Desilu means all these lots and sets are interchangeable. Think of them as one.
Me TV,,, 1965. Desilu- Culver City. Mary Tyler Moore would later own this place, with Grant Tinker.
Don’t use the door Robin- we’re in a hurry!…”But my cape’s stuckBatman”
She’s the owner, she can do what she wants…Desi was probably doing the same stuff.
The first cape appeared on the backlot on Superman, a smashing success!
Let’s take off- Actionjump higher, cut. Do it again... Mayberry Hotel in background
Can you buy us some beer sir, they won’t sell to us, we look too small ?
I worked this town in The Wizard of Oz, we were on top of the world in 1939. Then all of a sudden, parts were few and far between”.… “We got a 6 am call on Gomer Pyle-Monday, location, another alien part”

This is first ever Star Wagon.
This mobile make up trailer was built for a mega silent star, it continued on long after sound came into pictures. Wheels are built into the walls and it was towed by horses. Wonderful mirrors capture your every movement when you open the door and enter this time capsule, It has been an integral part of the 40 acre backlot ranch, forever. This room was part of everything mentioned in this post. King Kong, 1933, Gone with the Wind are just 2 films whose female leads were prepared inside this room for their roles. In the 60’s TV heros would be touched up inside. Don’t judge the book by the cover, this room is a hundred years old. Treasures exist from almost every decade, it sat locked for the last 50 years… I’m still researching this, it’s a fantastic adventure back in time, stay tuned…
I hope this was as nostalgic as it was fun…sure was for me. Nice having you on my tour…I love Desilu
For other backlot trespassing adventures, read my book available on Amazon

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