Leo the Lion

You enter this rooftop through a trap door, a lion sits above you. “Ars Gratia Artis” (Art for art’s sake) proudly promulgated.
MGM Lot 1 … Culver City, CA
The more modern 70’s Lion, greets visitors here in 1974…
This picture of the Lion preceded Loew’s control…Leo actually sat on a different rooftop after this merger. This sign replaced the Triangle Sign. Stage 6 was still to be built. 3 film companies would soon combine ranks. Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures and Louie B. Mayer Pictures. Combined we have MGM studios. Marcus Loew had controlling interest.
Controlled by Loews Inc…
The Loew family estate in Long Island. (Pembroke) was torn down in 1968 by Arthur, who lived in a smaller house on the property in 1977.
Marcus Loew
Nick Schenk…
Another big-wig in the early days at MGM was Nick Schenck. This is his home also in Long Island. Purchased in 1942, this 20 acre estate has a 30 room main house. It included a private movie theater and a 200 ft dock. These insights were forwarded to me by a gentlemen named LeGrand Clark. I deeply appreciate his insight regarding this subject. He had the pleasure of having relatives who could see this estate from across the harbor. Thanks LeGrand, great name you have sir!.
My recall tells me there was a lion up here…My picture is from the iconic water tower looking down on stage 6. Yep, I’ve been on top of that water tank also.
This is the ladder up to the top of the sign…
This is the catwalk in between the MGM sign that stood above Stage 6. It now advertises for Columbia Pictures. Two different movies can be advertised at the same time.. One facing west, one facing east. This work platform is what you don’t see from the city below.
No matter how hard she tries, she can’t replace my Lion
Captain of the MGM Air Force, dead center with the white head. Some nights we would lay on the grass on Maple Street and just stare at the sky and stars, owls silently move about, until you hear a high pitch squeal. They always catch their “man.” Often, one stood a top the church steeple, silent, then an owl “Hoot Hoot” greeting. Truly part of this backlot. They still operate at the highest points of Lot 1-Sony.
One picture was all he allowed. He flies off towards MGM lot 1. You can see the wings spread open, gaining lift in center window-top. I’ve seen these owls fly up to LEO, with offerings. The owls long proceeded me and watched with me all things in all my MGM stories. I’m so happy this continues to this day. In my early morning excursions with my dog, I saw an owl hunt a possum and fly away towards the giant marquee. These owls must be included when we talk MGM history.
I belong on the roof!
The iconic stage 6 with the sign on the roof sits just beyond the water tower...
View from roof of 6…See what the Lion saw
Looking south, towards MGM lot 3
St Augustine’s church, going to school here, I always adored having the Lion watching down on me in the school yard. Leo and God.
South view again from 6…
See the watering hole- better known as the Backstage. It’s that Auburn colored building. It has poured drinks for all your favorite stars over the decades…
A door to adventure…
Where the Lion once perched…
Leo’s first move after his divorce was across the street from here, where he married again, briefly.
An old paper that would reflect on the movie studios fate in the years to come, get use to this sad tune…
The film corp removal, its exit from the city. It is not the original.

Marc Wanamaker shows frustration for the overall well being of this piece of MGM history. The founder of Bison Archives, the motion picture photo database he has put together is unrivaled. I donated several of mine to his preservation of priceless, timeless photos. He and I share the same thought process here, all the unfixable damage has already preceded this event.
Off in the distance is the water tower and MGM sign from a theater roof top on New York street, MGM lot 2. The square building is the scenic art department that blocks the view from the backlot. The water tower and sign are partially obstructed.
The MGM owls often traversed this skyline and flew to the water tower in the distance. Imagine seeing this area tarped over with black canvas for night shooting during daylight. That’s what took place up on these catwalks..
MGM sign in distance features the movie “Why Would I Lie ?”…1980 End is near. A few cars still sit in Park Avenue from Chips. The wood in this area is being salvaged and taken by truckload to Mexico, if you ever wondered what happened to New York Street on Lot 2.
The MGM sign silhouetted looking west from the roof of the Culver Hotel.
This picture of the iconic MGM sign at night is from the film Melinda
Unlike many stars, Leo follows simple direction…
The Historic Triangle Entrance built by Thomas Inc.
The same original-well maintained walkway, across from St Augustine school. “I was pretending to be in MGM” as I rode my bike to school everyday, until I crossed this street -and that’s where discipline begins. Let’s finish with a good prayer…I have even prayed while hiding from MGM security, on the backlot, I was running out of options and-it worked!
I love this place...A frequent expression of mine. My sister Nancy was taller than me then and her MGM moment involved meeting Elvis Presley at The Veteran’s Auditorium during the filming of Viva Las Vegas. Everybody’s got a story it seems...

Climbing some ladders today…we begin:

This is a salute to this iconic moniker that used to sit perched a top Stage 6 on the MGM main lot. This Lion illuminated at night and looked down not only on the MGM property, including their backlots, but this entire city. You could see it from the 405 freeway. That certain section of buildings exclusively captures MGM, past and present. The three iconic identifiers are the Scenic Arts building, The Water Tower, and the Lion on the tallest stage on the main lot.

I fell in love with this studio long before I started sneaking in MGM. In the sixties, on my way to elementary school at St. Augustines, I looked upwards at Leo in passing every day. The only thing changing it seemed was the calendar and the films promoted below Leo’s proud roar. By the time I made it to school, I roared into class.

How could I not, I left an hour early because I liked looking through Holes in the Fence all along my journey. My lunch pail was THE RAT PATROL. Lucky me, I passed by these desert squad vehicles often, often staged up by the main gate. I couldn’t drive yet, but I imagined myself not only behind the steering wheel, but also at the handles of the 50 caliber machine guns. It was an adventure for me just to get to school. I’d rather be “On Location”

At night, the lion was like a porch light from the backlot perspective. My life wishes eventually led me to the top of this sign on top of Stage 6, but also, The Water Tower, I was able get up on the very top with the help of scaffolding. For me, these were lifetime goals. Over the course of my life, I’ve made my own history in every iconic building or set on this property.

Legendary MGM security guard Ken Hollywood took special care of me. It was Ken who hooked me up with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire while filming That’s Entertainment.All this took place with the Lion looking down watching me, like my personal pet in neon form. Old MGM guards were very kind to me, sharing their studio experiences with me at the guard shacks I always stopped at on the way home from school.

In 1981, I was hired by MGM film labs as a reel router. My job was to get reels of film to various stops needed for laboratory processing. Six reels per film, Victor Victoria was our hit, starring James Garner. CHIPS was the hit Tv show along with Highway to Heaven. I met Michael Landon on the main lot. Lorimar Telepictures owned the studio, and the MGM sign was replaced, but my checks said MGM. It still had contract fulfillments.

MGM Film Labs was the last department to capitulate, and MGM was officially no more as this department faded to black. I was there, my dream job. Rumors persisted prior to this decision so I crossed my fingers, wore a rabbit’s foot, and prayed to God for this to never end. But God had other plans-bigger and better in the long run. You probably are already aware I had a long fascinating career at Universal Studios. Still today, I walk around the Sony lot as if it were 1972 again.

I want to graciously thank Mr. Steven Bingen for including me- of all people– to his latest latest work of art. It’s now available on Amazon. I’ve earned my MGM stripes along with couple scars to go with a knocked out tooth. MGM was that kind of place. Steven’s book is the type you see proudly displayed at Barnes and Noble, the kind of book you turn pages with white gloves on. Decadent to say the least.

It’s a complete contrast from my old green fence covered book topped off with barbed wire. You have to trespass to enter my book. Beware of splinters and yes- security. I can get you a helmet, their’s a room full.

I very much look forward to yet another fabulous Steven Bingen book, I can’t thank him enough for including ME. I wish his books existed when I was trespassing, that would have helped.So why don’t we all meet in the middle of the lot that will always be MGM. Beneath a lady holding a torch and a sign promoting Bullet Train– in a place where- A Lion Once Roared.

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden

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