On a hill once controlled by Howard Hughes… We Begin.
Paramount Pictures uses a mountain for their Moniker. They had it built on their backlot. It’s most famous for the TV series Bonanza. The Mod Squad filmed their opening credits inside it. It had a storage area that could double for a strange set.
But RKO/Desilu had a real mountain bestowed above their backlot, and it’s as legendary as the studio below it. From up on top of this dirt playground you could watch Hollywoodland develop from its preliminary infancy to robust, viable, commodity. Plus, the Hollywood stares back at this Hughes Radar hilltop. You can even see the Paramount lot in the distance with its tiny little composite snow painted mountain.
In my desperation to explore the Desilu backlot, I used this hilltop to map what’s below me in the late 60’s and early 70’s. This was my private balcony that overlooked this legendary backlot. Baldwin Hills has horse stables up as does 40 acres backlot below. Horses are king here, and bulls make good beer commercials. Wildlife thrives along the old creek bed, which divides up two sections of Desilu.
It was from this hilltop I verified what the Desilu fences had warned against- “Dogs on Duty.”
This set me back, it was almost impossible to gather a group of trespassers bold enough to explore here since… after all “You could be eaten alive.” Eventually temptation won out, Robin Hood-myself, along with a group of Merry Men, banded up together to go where no kid has dared to challenge- the 40-acre plot of backlot land protected by these The Dogs on Duty!
We slowly progressed, almost inch by inch-in pitch dark landscape, towards the first Stalag 13 guard tower we could climb up in…
The genie was officially out of the bottle for all things Desilu going forward. Dogs on Duty must be Dogs Asleep, thankfully.
Normally I take you through old sets, but today let’s look at the POV of Desilu from both looking down on it- and looking up at it. It’s a fun hike and the top has views of the Hollywood sign one direction, the Pacific Ocean the other. Overhead, a continual parade of aircraft lining up to land at LAX. This mountain top is a strategic vector as planes begin descent. Radar experimentation takes place up here, and that facility is operated by The Hughes Tool Company.
Everything that ever took place on the Ince, RKO, Desilu backlot could be clearly viewed from up here, and I’ve been told by engineers who worked up top here that’s exactly what took place. The Backlot was a T.V. set and this radar facility was like an antenna connecting you to the Outer Limits.
I find it fascinating that Howard Hughes ended up choosing this area for this secret facility, these hills extend to his aviation plant and airport. That’s the place the Spruce Goose was built. The real estate controlled by Summa Corporation is where Playa Vista occupies today… What didn’t Mr. Hughes delve into?
Nicolas Cage would film 8MM up top here at the summit after the facility was abandoned. On Jefferson Blvd. below this hill top-CHIPS, The A-Team, and Hunter, starring Fred Dryer-followed up the The Andy GriffithShow with more street credits.
To sum this all up, this mountain appears attached to the 40-acre backlot and indeed it is. Just traverse a creek and highway that lies in between. My biggest all-time regret is not photographing all this area with the backlot still standing below. You felt as if you were part of the studio up here. The church tower and the Mayberry Hotel were the tallest sets on the backlot but they were easily looked down upon here. This view made Desilu look like a game board with actual moving game pieces making T.V. shows below.
This area was to become upscale homes but thanks to the Santa Monica conservancy, it was spared an unrecognizable fate. I think a studio shrine needs to be included at the visitor center that sits lost and unenlightened after climbing the mile high stairs. This hilltop needs a good tour guide…