From Tara to Stalag 13: 40 Acres Backlot History

An aerial view from 1965 showing current filming of Hogan’s Heroes (L) and Camp Henderson (R).

Once upon a time continues…

The little Luft Stalag we all grew up wanting to be inside, better known as Stalag 13 from the iconic T.V. Series-Hogan’s Heroes, is our subject on the table today;

This fairly simple build -known by TV Land as Stalag 13, has quite the tumultuous past. What many folks don’t realize is the history that took place prior to it being a German World War 2 prison camp.

Fires, giant monsters and Jesus himself preceded this 1965 build of a camp needed to expand on a prisoner of war narrative. You got to have a Stalag, and few exist. MGM Lot 3 had a couple you could dress, alter into a camp.” Dachu” was a Twilight Zone episode filmed right down the street from where this camp was built. So Culver City had one existing already- but it’s at MGM.

Why not build our own, so Bing Crosby Productions did just that early on in 1965. They had plenty of land and could fabricate exactly what they envisioned. I doubt they expected the success this series spun into. TV series are a crap shoot, literally. Some good one’s get canned due to cost to film/ ratings
ratio’s.Planet of the Apes TV series was as good as anything TV wise in the 70’s, but very costly to produce and was quickly disposed of. It broke my heart, but by that time I was getting use to Hollywood heartbreak and despair. Just beyond a line of eucalyptus trees, at this same time, another camp was being put up at
the for Gomer Pyle. Camp Henderson sits south of Stalag 13. Yes-they’re neighbors.

They were built for two TV series that became staples in American History. But no-one knew what they really had then. In some ways these series are more popular today, with folks who weren’t even alive yet. Now that’s Good-TV.

Almost daily for close to 7 years, these two shows filmed back-to-back, side by side. But the past is often more glorious than the present. No piece of land on any section of backlot anywhere rocked and rolled like this one did. Framed by rolling man made berms and eucalyptus trees, they were built to hide the industrial warehouses that sprout upwards beyond the fence line behind it. Those factories make other things, but this factory makes films and television.

It’s changed names and owners, RKO, Selznick, and Desilu all created magic that stood the test of time. What most people might not realize is how so much history is layered on top of one another. There is always someone working on these sets who can tell anecdotes of activities far backwards in time, stories
that are golden- fade to silence. Completely disappearing, much like these backlots themselves.

Stalag 13 first captivated me from the outside, when I would ride my bike around looking through the chain link fence that surrounded this lot. One of the guard towers tried to tempt any kid who set eyes on it. Tower three could be seen clearly from the outside and looked down on Marion Davies
Make-up room. This same fence threatened potential trespassers with Dogs on Duty warnings. Signs with viscous dogs you may run into –dare you try. So, a K-9 barrier existed and separating me from what would eventually become my backyard. It took a while for this kid wearing a Bat Cape
to stomach the fortitude necessary to take on this assignment. Call it if you will- Mission Impossible.

Where theirs a will the theirs a way. In my book, Hole in the Fence, you can make this trespass with me, I dare ya!

Speaking of Impossible Missions, that series used this stalag as a 3rd world prison in South America. Set decorations tried best to hide what is clearly evident Stalag 13. This episode of M.I would never have been able to double dip this camp had the producers all not been in cahoots with the same Paramount Gulf -Western hierarchy. This camp ended it’s longevity with an adult film and no –Bob Crane is not in it. That saidAuto Focus is a film about Bob during the time his series was filmed here,
it’s not exactly flattering, but accurate from most accounts of that time in his life. His death after Hogan’s Heroes was cancelled, in Scottsdale Arizona, is still unsolved. As is Thomas Ince’s, who built this lot in the first place.

Because of the wide-open distance these camps presented, getting in a the La Ballona creek to visit Stalag 13 was like crossing a mine field, of course the biggest concern was –the Dogs! So to cut out unnecessary crawling, ducking, and running, we climbed in through private property right behind that
tempting guard tower that watches over this street corner, like a street light. Yes, we hid behind a shed often, shed being-Marion Davies make up trailer. For us, it was a place to hide and catch our breath before climbing one more fence and being inside-Stalag 13.

Little did I know at that time what was inside this shed. This compound was used by Hogan’s Heroes and was the last show/series to set foot inside this area. The owner of this property once started up the TigerTank, (you know the one)-it was parked back in this corner right behind his house. His kitchen window looked right directly at Klink’s office. A few POW barracks doors ended up on this property.

No set ever has captivated me so much, it seemed real, abandoned and liberated, yet ready for occupancy. What happened next was a show wanting this section of the backlot did not want a prison camp. A south western village is what replaced Stalag 13. The movie The Fortune built an entire
community on this historic spot…

More, more, history to be made as Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson are now acting on that piece of land Stalag 13 just occupied. What saddened me most about losing Stalag 13 for this set was the fact I was on a photography mission to take pictures of Stalag 13 with my little Kodak Instamatic. That was my whole purpose, I hadn’t filmed that set and was going to use an entire roll of expensive to develop film. Times have changed in the picture taking world.

When I arrived after school, I could not believe my eyes, it was gone, the entire camp. But I was just here and explored it up and down, in towers, in little tunnels, under the dog house, all the cool stuff. I didn’t realize the urgency.

A work force was still moving and removing items. The three guard towers were moved from where they stood for 10 years, the dog houses were somewhere else. No more barracks, no more Klink’s office. Just a little yellow room, next to Klink’s office, would be retained. I watched in dismay from a hillside
that’s background in every episode. I wanted a dog house, but they were on back of a truck. The only thing left, kind of hidden, nestled below this hillside is the tree stump.

Well, with perseverance and assistance from my buddy Pat Rich, we wrestled this prop all the way across town to my house, on an ancient steel wheel cart. It was at that time my greatest accomplishment. It lasted a few years, it held up well in my bedroom, but it got moved outside, played with by anybody who saw it and finally the wood and composite material collapsed from one too many
escapes. The lid was hinged and that lasted decades more, just the lid.

This little Stalag, that looked and seamed so real to us kids, lasted 10 years…It was a set that was so unique no other facades came close. To be honest, this was my favorite set of all-time. And, it’s on TV Land six times a day!

That made it super fun, reruns, then on channel 11, bundled with Andy Griffith episodes, were extremely realistic for us kids, since we could go explore every piece of it, once again, like we were in the episodes…

Like the sets that preceded it, this entire area is shall we say Gone With the Wind

Written and lived by… Donnie Norden

This could easily be me. Colonel Hogan looks like he’s ready to play with us. I’ve been known to dress up like this…Bob was extremely nice to the neighborhood kids and often gave tours of Stalag 13

Angle a=bove looks reversed Mike heads up

 

                                                        40 Acres Showing Tara and the Atlanta Depot

                                                                            Desi Arnez at Tara

Stalag 13

The road being used is just east of Stalg 13

The Road to Stalag 13 Same highway-different day. A Mayberry Gold Shipment sped down this road with Barney locked in the back… 

                                                                                           Frenemies!

 

Family-coming to visit Gomer…

More 40 Acre backroads

This storage unit was one of the few items still around from Hogan’s Heroes when I arrived. The tool shed lasted the longest involving this camp. Besides my Hogan’s Heroes tree stump which ended up a mile away here.

The storage unit can be seen in this pictue I took in 1975. Those rope cots below were inside the barracks. The barracks roof tops lay along the right hand side in this picture. This is the strike of Stalag 13 taking place. The set still standing below can be seen in Hogan’s Heroes in certain camera angles, but was not part of the stalag. It’s in episodes of Andy Griffith. 

Hogan and crew wreaking havoc on a german bridge located on the 40 Acres Backlot

A picture I took of what’s left of the bridge in 1975

Keep on down this road and you’ve arrived at Stalag 13. The Mayberry Highway, one end is Stalag 13, the other is Andy Griffith’s Courthouse. The quasi hut on the right-hand side doubles as a set but is much more important, it’s the only bathrooms on the backlot. It’s center of the lot, but a long walk to get here. Shows brought in their own portables. This is side of the lot connects to utilities, sewer, etc. So, this is an oasis for some, and probably the most filmed -bathroom ever. A wall separates 6 stalls on each side, for women and men. The water is run off on this dirt road is from the sprinklers we controlled and often used to cool off. Plus, any guard would have run through powerful sprinklers to get us, like some castle mote.

This picture is on top of the hillside used as backdrop of this camp. One end looks down on the Atlanta Rail Depot. The other side looks upon Stalag 13. Jimmy is sitting in a spot we both spent a lot of time; this was a section of paradise and is absolutely impossible to get caught up here. We were up here so often, the bushes had the groove of our bodies in them, very comfortable space to discuss world issues that affect teenagers.
The grass is so deep, you could disappear. I literally did once, this mountain gobbled me up. It was accidental I’m sure. The film crew on The Fortune, rescued me, I’m forever grateful. “Oh, it’s you!” were the first words I heard climbing to safety. Mom always said as I walked out our front door “Just be careful Donnie please” She should have made T-Shirts sporting that line.

A path through these sand paper bushes connects the Ken Jones, Mayberry R.F.D farmhouse to Stalag 13. You could traverse a top this semi- artificial hill top. There was no-way to get caught up here- it was our sanctuary.

Sadness, it’s gone. But quickly, new sets would sprout up. That yellow shed was left up and was used as a tool room during the building of the newest village to my backlot. That’s a guard in that white truck who arrived as work crews left for the day. Desilu water tower, often seen in episodes of Hogan’s Heroes can be seen in the distant haze.

A view from the same spot different direction. We had hammocks tied to trees up here and spent all night just being boys, no clocks, no worries, and a huge bottle wine.

You can stay inside here- plenty of bathrooms. That’s because-this is the only bathroom on this Desilu backlot besides a private one at the main gate for security. The lot has little infrastructure, portable power and amenities get added when and where needed. 

Grab yourself a seat…

Back to Mayberry!

                                                                                        Signs!

Stuff I found in the Stalag itself. Match these names to the TV credits. Bruce Bilson is the director, right column, number 658. He is legendary at 40 acres, a toast to Bruce, everybody. His career is all about quality TV, from Get Smart to Love American Style, you watch his stuff daily. He started as an assistant director on Andy Griffith from 1960-63. He has so much history, just involving TV on this lot. I talked briefly with him last year on the phone. I wish I could spend 10 more minutes with him. He did like my Hogan’s Heroes tree stump story. His laugh validated my effort to share the unique story with him.

                      In the old days before computers, we made maps…This one is more accurate than you realize.

                                                                  I made maps too, more detailed!

 

LeBeau was waiting for these balloons…

 

                 This call sheet I found inside the barracks is the match for -this episode with the balloons.

                 Fireworks off the berm, back by where Marion Davies Make-up trailer is parked.

 

                                                           Mission Impossible filming on Stalag 13

Ironically, this would not be the last Adult Film to film here. My Harum Scarum fort set was taken over by topless, scantly glad women, which was necessary for plot development. The title escapes me-1976-on that one.

If you’re not paying attention, you think this General Burkholder.

She’s prettier than the last commandant in charge, who would want to escape now...

 

One of the last surviving cast members, Robert Clary (LeBeau) signing Books, Photographs and CD at a Hollywood Memorabilia Show in 2019.

Some Autographed Hardback books from Hogan’s Heroes

A picture looking down at Stalag 13 today

Today at ground level

The End

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s