Star Trek -The Final Frontier

Star Trek “The City on the Edge of Forever”. One of several episodes that galactic travelers materialize on the Desilu backlot.

Same angle-my friend Jimmy peeking out of the doorway in the same alley. He is aiming a laser weapon my direction. We recreate battle scenes from shows we see on T.V, The Untouchables was this backlots version of Combat. Tommy Guns were the preferred weapon on this street.

Star Trek episode  “The Cage”. Mr. Spock predates Captain Kirk.

A picture I snapped while trespassing in 1974, same location as the Star Trek episode above.

Star Trek episode “Errand of Mercy”…This village was built by Cecil B. DeMille for the “King of Kings” 1927.

My picture in 1974 showing a slightly different angle as the Star Trek episode. The stairway in the background leads upstairs to a fort I built that saw a whole lot of action and spirited times. Elvis Presley even graced that Harum Scarum.

Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons”. The Archons seen here enjoying a “night of violence and destruction” during “festival.” I’ve lived nights exactly like this. This was the look the backlot deteriorated to by late 1975. Trolley tracks through this 4 way intersection running north to south towards the La Ballona creek.

A picture I took ground level at the same location. This section was often Berlin in Hogan’s Heroes. Both series filmed during the same years and time on this backlot. Chicago is what we called it. The Untouchables,Capone-1974 and Lepke-1975 used this as The Windy City.

Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons”. Call it a night, the party’s over. Teen- age Zombies…towards the final frontier, this backlot became a hangout. Parties began to happen on the lot. If a party a local residence was broken up by police, often it shifted to this backlot location. Large groups fun seekers roamed these dark streets. This picture depicts the future of Desilu.

Another scene from the Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons”. A closer view. A cloaked and cowled “Lawgiver”. He looks scary but I’m more concerned of the Dogs on Duty. German Shepards go where no man has gone before-and that’s what guards this place.

Star Trek episode “Miri” This is Mayberry. Andy Griffith is the number one rated T.V show at this time and the courthouse is pictured here. A squad car from hell sits parked out front. Floyd’s Barber shop has it’s windows covered with wood so you don’t see Floyd’s name painted on it and Emmit’s Fix-it next to that.As soon as this show films it’s scenes, all this junk gets struck immediately so this town can return to Mayberry and it’s top ranking.

Pictures I took showing both buildings from the Star Trek episode above. Eat Moe’s Drink… also famous as Mayberry’s pharmacy/soda shop located on the bottom floor.

Notice here how busy Desilu can get on any given day in 1967. The top three rated shows are Desilu, farther down at 24 is Lassie, also a Desilu backlot series. Mission Impossible and Hogan’s Heroes round out a typical day at the backlot. Surprisingly, Hogan’s Heroes is sitting at #17 and would drop to #38 in 1968. Star Trek’s first year was triumphant with a 25.2 share compared to My Three Sons 9.4 rating in the same slot.Television audiences were branching out to…Outer Space.

Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons”. The cast is running towards The Mayberry Theater.

My picture taken in the same location as the Star Trek episode above.

Star Trek episode “Miri” Looks like The Who song-“Teenage Wasteland.” The largest building, farthest back is a soundstage on the main lot. The iconic Desilu water tower is just blocked by backlot sets.

This picture that I took in 1975 shows the same location as the episode above. Notice the Gone With The Wind train station is missing at the end of the street. Bill boards put up for Lepke, starring Tony Curtis. I will share that story in book two, “The Uninvited Guest.”

The Road to Freedom, few years later with tumbleweeds.

Star Trek episode “Miri”…”why did we come hereare there any good hotels?”

The Mayberry Hotel-I captured this photo in 1975, same location as the Star Trek episode above with the added Four Deuces sign used in Lepke. Miss Singing Nightly looks down ready to entertain. Otis Campbell had a still in a basement, under that sign.

Never Drink and Drive!

Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”. Little did we know that some years later, the backlot would be more like The city on the edge of destruction…Notice how the streets have no storm drains, There is no sewer/ drainage system here in the land of Mayberry. The roads slope towards the creek for gravity draining. Water travels down hill so slopes were how water runoff drained. The lot tapers towards the La Ballona creek.

Opposite angle showing the same 3 buildings from the Star Trek image above. Notice the fire escapes have been added to the building 4th from the left and the first floor of the shorter building received a red and white striped paint job. Capone starring Ben Gazzara just used this area followed by Lepke, the two final Chicago gangster films shot on a lot most famous for The Untouchables.

Camera assignments on Star Trek -1967. Interiors were shot cross town at Desilu/Gower. Backlot exteriors were usually 40 acres. Not enough stages at Desilu/Culver for all this production. Notice “The Monkees” at Columbia.In 1967 The Monkees outsold both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in 1967. In T.V ratings, “The Monkees” averaged 7.9. Series lasted two seasons. I was one of that 7.9, I loved The Monkees. Star Trek did 25.2 in season one. It lasted three seasons. It’s backlot neighbor, Gomer Pyle ended up knocking it off the air when matched against each other on Friday night when program shuffling took place.The Marines liberated our planet from outer space visitors…CANCELED!


To boldly go where Star Trek has gone before…

The iconic science-fiction television series Star Trek ran on NBC between 1966 and 1969. The show gave birth to a franchise that has become a defining aspect of American culture. Four years after completion of the T.V. series I would take my own adventure down these sets located in Culver City, where I would spend the next four years of my life exploring, making forts and shooting my own 8mm movies on this fantastic playground.

This section of the backlot was built for the movie Gone with the Wind, and it survived the “Civil War”. It was not built to be the focal point of the studio and survive the next forty years, even though it continued to thrive and survive.

These sets were presentable from the outside and hospitable inside. Inside, most sets had curtains from another era. Some are made of felt and some are dried out so bad the only thing holding them together is decades of dirt. Climbing up on the roof is where I drew the line; it was far too risky to walk on this top level. There are only partial floors surrounding these windows. The center of these buildings are like an elevator chute without an elevator. If something you’re standing on gives way, there’s a chance you can fall several stories to the ground floor.

40 acres sets had no plan for longevity. It’s a garage with leftover movie parts. Use what you need, if you can find it. In 1976, the lot was in shambles, the church had just burned; it’s as if all the wound up, wild spirits are letting you know they’re here. The demolition of these streets went out with no fanfare, no love, just tumbleweeds blowing everywhere through this wild west ranch.

The peek of all things 40 Acres was indeed the Era of the Sixties-despite the iconic legendary features. Television could not get enough of this backlot. Every day, often multiple T.V series coexisted along side each other as friends, but, depending on your network and time slot, the show next to you could be your competitor for ratings and survival. Gomer Pyle shifting to Friday nights all but killed Star Trek. Pyle dominated this low rated space series. This show is more popular now than it use to be.

Danny Thomas was a stamp of quality T.V in the Sixties. Desi Arnez’s vision with this backlot probably even surprised him. Every show with Desilu imprinted on it was successful. Legendary was made here on a daily basis. From a P.O.W Camp, to a tiny gas station and courthouse, this lot had just enough variety of sets to facilitate almost every T.V series being made. Most of which were using the same streets and sidewalks used sun Gone With the Wind.

Walk in a doorway and you will be transported back to 1938, from peeling wall paper to curtains turning to dust, rope tied up and used for rigging in some cases never became untied. Good job Grips…the vibe inside these sets still has the inner charm of yesterday.

It did not “Live long” but it did “prosper”; by producing some of the greatest movies and television of our time. I’d love to travel back in time and visit my playground once more before I too leave this world for the final frontier. So Scotty… Can you beam me up?

Written and lived by Donnie Norden

1 thought on “Star Trek -The Final Frontier”

  1. Donnie, this confirms my opinion: The Smithsonian needs to reserve a place for your extensive first hand collection of Hollywood history.
    What I would have given to have lived even a small part.


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