101 Hollywood Freeway- 1982
At 55 MPH-We Begin…
Our thirst for a backlot adventure has taken Jimmy and me out to Burbank this Friday afternoon. We pass Universal Studios after exiting the 101 freeway onto a street named Barham. It intersects with The Burbank Studios, and another road called Hollywood Way, where Columbia Pictures backlot ranch is located. Our destination is any one of these studio backlots. Just to see studio backlots again is refreshing.
Culver City officially destructed every set ever built on their backlots. Townhomes, estates, and industrial warehouses have replaced 5th Avenue, New York City, Tarzan’s Lake, Mayberry, Stalag 13 and on and on. No morals, scruples or guilt seemed on display. A pure money grab, I barely recognize the city I grew up in.
Now a days, we drive to the valley to get our fix of Hollywood. We never know what shows we will run into and that will depend on what lot we choose to scale the fences at. Our decision is sometimes made and based off the challenges of being seen by homeowners living on the streets we park on. We try not to display ourselves as unusual, so we kind of read the tea leaves, so to speak.
But today we grab parking just outside a rusted old ivy-covered chain-link fence with the typical 3 strands of barb wire on top. On the other side is a thick jungle with a berm blocking a rooftop. We are entering the TBS lot behind The Waltons house, and the shed is where we take cover, next to some empty chicken coops and farm tools.
Since this area is deserted, we swing for a bit, on the Waltons tire swing. Pumping feverishly, taking turns, trying to reach higher heights on each leg kick. The treehouse sits vacant above us- no sign of any Walton family today.
The beauty of the valley is we never know what to expect show wise, and these Hollywood lots are always busy. This is like climbing into your TV set. Look over there- it’s Richard Thomas or John Boy, wait there’s the General Lee with Bo Duke. Is that Mr. Roarke and Tattoo? That’s how trespassing at a place like this works.
Flamingo Road let us watch them film last time we were here, they were filming at the lagoon up yonder. We watched as Howard Duff was attempting to dock a hydrofoil. As simple as that may sound, it didn’t go well. This large fan that looks like a studio wind machine was a bit tricky at low speed and suddenly flipped, tossing Mr. Duff headfirst into the swamp. I was standing next to Morgan Fairchild who was watching this scene with us.
At first, there was some concern, but as his head popped out of the shallow pond, laughter erupted. Morgan Fairchild, who was sipping tea, turned and stuck her head in my shoulder, trying to hide her laughter. Like I’m crew or something, I’m trespassing, but the star of the show is trying to control her laughter by putting her head on my shoulder.
Right place-right time is how the magic works. MGM, over the last decade, trained me for this very proficiently.
Every road here can lead to its own adventure and in four weeks or so, you can watch and relive this day as the show gets aired on network television. In many cases, we see scenes that get cut or go afoul. Such as this Hydrofoil, that outtake will be cut out and only lived or remembered by those working…or trespassing!
From a tire swing hanging from a tree house, we begin foraging through the jungle. No one is home today at The Waltons House. We pass by the lagoon that is full of water and go inside a cabin that overlooks this pond. We smoke a victory joint in a location today void of human life. We christen this moment with a billowing cloud of happiness. These evolve into shapes like figures as the sun highlights different patterns as these plumes travel slowly along hugging the green water. We sit on the porch relaxing, before we head over to Laramie Street, our next location. At this point-I feel like Grandpa Walton.
In front of Ike Godsey’s Country Store, we are greeted by horses with saddles, tied to a large horse trailer. Jimmy and I exchange “Hellos” to these 4-legged actors. We scratch their snouts as they kick at the dirt. Lots of action is taking place over at Laramie Street, we see cowboys riding and kicking up dust. The western street is off-limits, and we could accidentally walk into a camera shot. The town bank is where most of the activity is. The side streets surrounding Laramie Street have trailers for make-up and transportation equipment. We peek inside each trailer door that is wide open while walking along the wooden sidewalks that lead to the saloon. We go upstairs to get the feel for what’s taking place on the street below.
Bingo, we see the star just across the way- It’s James Garner. The cardboard show identifiers in the vehicles indicate what we now have verified, this is the TV series Maverick.
We watch James messing around off camera, as my mind races. I love cowboy TV, I want to go meet him. Jimmy my friend, and I are plotting our next move. I tell Jimmy-“He loves the Oakland Raiders.” Our eyes follow his every move. ” Let me break the ice, we will talk Raiders football…follow me!
Out of the saloon we go and cross the dirt road like we belong here- casually positioning ourselves within speaking distance. We sit on chairs that are part of set decorations. Barrels, boxes and benches line the wooden gang planks. James is standing alongside an elevated arc light, with one hand bracing against the crank- evator that lifts the 10-k light and housing. A lamp operator wearing leather gloves stands on an A-frame ladder. He too chimes in on Raider talk.
Knowing timing is everything and his time is valuable, I act like I know him. “It’s so nice to see the Raiders dominate again.” I get out of my stool and stand directly side by side of- Maverick!
“Jim Plunkett turned that team around” is his response as he wipes his brow under his cowboy hat.
“Al Davis added that key piece- he’s the guru of football” I try to impress…
“No-one scouts talent better than Al, all the misfits from other teams put us over the top” Mr Garner replies.
“Big John Matuszak is a great example, my favorite player is Jack Tatum” I pump Raider knowledge. “This is a team full of Mavericks– I work that in cleverly, I’m so excited right now…
“The Snake is one Raider I miss, but Jim got us the trophy” answers Maverick himself.
This conversation is progressing well, here I am, trespassing, standing with the legendary star who I first saw at MGM on a show titled-They Only Kill Their Masters- 10 years ago.
Jimmy is still seated listening to James and I talk football when all of the sudden…
The smoking dragon that we are standing under just exploded! The fresnel, or glass lens just blew up. Broken glass narrowly misses our star. Maverick and I jump for cover, it’s like I’ve trespassed into my own scene with James Garner.
This arc light is now the center of attention and is fittingly how this visit to The Burbank Studios ended on this Friday, March 12, 1982.
Through the smoke of a damaged Arc light-we disappear...all in a days work.
Written and lived by…Donnie Norden.