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.
Atlanta Railroad Depot
Filming of Gone With The Wind. Nearly the same angle as the picture I took above.
A trespassing pic I took a few years later
Star Trek even used this Backlot
Same street as above 30 years before
Everyone’s favorite German
The replacement church built for Frank Sinatra’s Miracle of the Bells…