The Seventies begin…
A year after MGM sold its soul to the devil-20th Century followed suit a year later. Never has there been more access to chariots, airplanes-full scale and miniature, and ships for sea. “Costumes needed, step right up. We’re giving them away.” “We’re going to build a modern city on this sacred ground,” that’s the pitch.
Groundbreaking started in the early 60’s and real estate was about to skyrocket. This entire city known as Century City was pure backlot. Its size rivaled MGM, which is a short trip down Motor Avenue. All the studios on the Westside succumbed to inflated real estate. Lot after lot was auctioned off to the highest bidder. The equipment and props used on these lots were no longer needed, and deals were everywhere.
MGM and 20th Century Fox decided to cash in their chips. Desilu would also succumb to this huge cash cow real estate is providing. I imagine the Hogan’s Heroes tree stump would have received bids. Or the dog houses, guard towers, and door handles from Stalag 13. The Mayberry Courthouse door handles should be in a catalog. The fuel pumps at the filling station and the soda ice box. Desilu/Culver gave their stuff away, or in some cases-forgot it was there. Such as my recent discovery of Marion Davies’ original Make-up trailer. You know the one I discovered in a backyard, that was pulled around by horses. Bunkers full of old TV shows were sat abandoned and neglected.
RKO/Desilu fizzled out…No auction, no mention-the land that time forgot!
Legendary items left to fend for themselves, ending up in the hands of kids with a keen eye. No bids required, yours for the taking.
But the big two players, Fox and MGM, couldn’t dump stuff fast enough. Bring your checkbook. This is where adults become kids again. These sales were once in a lifetime and closed the curtain on how the studio system once worked.
I started sneaking into the 20th Century lot in 1974, after about a year of scouting. It turns out, the Pico entrance had a climbable tall fence without any barb wire. The problem there is Stages surround you as you land inside. You’re boxed in with no hiding places, so running is an option, from point A, to point B. Point B is either a tiny little Western Street, used in an episode of Starsky and Hutch, also The Rookies, S.W.A.T. and Charlie’s Angels were in full swing.
Movies going on were The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and Young Frankenstein. These were shows that I semi- infiltrated in various locations on this lot. This isn’t like my studios; the main lot connects to backlot streets. Stages are dominant in the landscape. The main lot is a semi backlot. But this lot once had a backlot, and it was big enough to become home and office for thousands of residents.
I remember a Friday night Jimmy and I were on the 20th Century lot; we snuck in by climbing a chain link fence on Pico Blvd, right next to the L.A. Rams ticket office, across from Rancho Park Golf Course. This area is all stages with little or no hiding places. We felt like novices, we barely know this lot other than from the outside looking in through holes in the fence. We became alerted when we were looked at suspiciously by crew transmitting with walkie-talkies. Jimmy and I separated in two different directions. I turned a corner and chose a bush to hide behind that was exactly my size. No one saw me- so I’m safe if I never move. Trailers are parked outside the stages; it appears I may be here for a while… you know how these things go.
I’m pretty pinned down, but I’m protected in the shadows, just me and some spiders who probably wonder what I’m doing here. To my amazement, I see something hidden inside this bush that right now- is the center of my universe. There is a round reel of film inside a box that says –Young Frankenstein.
“I’ll be damned, that’s my show,” I think to myself pressed up against the stage wall. An actress in a western costume is talking to some guy on a bike as I peek through the branches that surround me. A red light spins every time filming commences on stage, like on a police car roof top. I’m not sure what I’m hiding from. No one is chasing me, I’m just a little scared is all. “I can’t believe there is an entire reel in this box”… I saw all the exteriors filmed at MGM, and now I’ve found a reel in this nicely manicured hedge at 20th Century Fox. So many thoughts cross my mind. “How, why, what… this has to be a theft and I’m sitting right next to it! It’s my favorite monster movie ever.
Someone was going to pirate this film or this reel anyway by all appearances, and this hedge I’m hiding in was involved in the plan. A drop off point maybe. This hiding place I’ve chosen, and the contents here could land me in prison. It’s one of those things- you want it- just can’t have it. I was just trying to hide during a perilous moment, and I end up in a bush with a soon to be released- box office hit.
Today on this lot in Century City, there are still reminders and some existing sections that date back to when all things glittered Gold, before they were all sold for cash…
“Do I hear 100 dollars for this empty bottle-SOLD!”
Written and lived by Donnie Norden