A Strike Zone from the Twilight Zone

Park Avenue Baseball at MGM

Number 444, those two columns next to the number was Home Plate. We used both when one or the other had stuff blocking it. We pitched from the sidewalk in section 461. Kids imagine cool stuff, this was a ballpark if I ever saw one.

From high above…center of picture. Park Avenue and Wimpole Street. That’s where you can find me, almost every day.

I never expected this place to provide so many activities…Heaven on Earth.

Wimpole Street became ‘The Green Monster” …Park Avenue became Fenway Park.

Just another day…

So much here, that Time Machine was stored in the large Airplane Hangar with cockpits and fuselages. It rolled and the door opened upwards. We had some wild parties using this prop. Picture two is an example of neon signs bringing this street to life. These were also stored on the backlot in a warehouse entirely devoted to neon signs. These neons get used over and over, just relocated to different locations. Pics 3, 4 and 5 are the front side of this building. 5th Avenue greets you when you take a short cut through this building. The theater marquee can barely be seen. I’m this last picture. Notice the movie is “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” starring Doris Day. MGM always put one of their shows as a feature…”now playing.” Selfless promoters- anytime you see this marquee, MGM features are displayed.

MGM Art Department photo of “The Swan” filmed in 1956 being promoted on marquee “now playing.” What better way to shamelessly promote your product…

That’s me”... Stanley had a blazing fastball. He idolized Ron Guidry of the Yankees and pitched like “Louisiana Lightning“…very tough to hit off.

In this picture-Stanley just hit an orange ball-very top of picture in flight… Stanley played for UCLA and became an engineer. He was always fascinated by the electronics in the old airplanes in our backlot airplane hangar. He was cut out to be an engineer and was hired by JPL…Jet Propulsion Laboratories. He calculated everything he did, especially involving angles and projection. I learned a lot from him. Long time friend from St. Augustine’s, we’re Catholic boys. His brother was named John Orden, which became my alias since John rarely trespassed and our names were very similar. Security thought that was my name for a long time.

The PhantomCHiPs. My strike zone chalked on wall can be seen just right of front tire. The paint is chipped off wall from all the pitches. We played practically everyday from 1978 to 1980. Yes we played with the transportation guys and laborers from that TV series. We had to ask them to not block our home plate with their crashed cars. They forklifted the cars out of the way so we could play. They cordially agreed if- they could hit a few balls themselves. I owned the place those final few years…

This could just as easily be Stanley, Maureen , and Myself. What’s real here and what isn’t?

Take Me Out to The Ball Game

When I met Mr. Gene Kelly, we talked baseball and he told us how he grew up loving the Pittsburgh Pirates. I had no idea of this man’s passion for this Grand Old Game. We immediately “Hit it off.” I talked about the Pirate Team in 1974, when this meeting took place. They were a powerhouse team back then. He told us his favorite movie was The Three Musketeers because of all the fencing involved. He loved “physical challenges.” The coolest guy I’ve ever met-as real as a star could be. Humble, friendly, asks question about myself and was in absolutely no hurry to leave. He leaned against his car as we could talk as long as we wanted. Our visit took place at the curb of the main doorway in The Irving Thalberg Building… The center of the MGM Universe. When I told him- “we dance where you performed Singing in The Rain on the backlot, ” he broke out the biggest white tooth Kelly smile he is famous for. “Actually we do more splashing than dancing.” My favorite memory of all things MGM.

“The Monster” in left field. Each set of windows had their own rules, some were outs, some were hits…

View from home plate looking toward “first base” which was a fire hydrant, just out of view.

This Twilight Zone episode titled “Execution” was filmed directly at Park Avenue. We always loved when this episode was rerun. We loved to see “our park” used. This is one of the best episodes of all.

You never know who or what can show up in this main backlot intersection…

“Home plate” is either column depending on obstructions. Jim Henry’s Paradise became my Paradise. We have relived this scene exactly as it appears. It gives me chills to this day… Very special to me. When I had no one to play with, I’d listen to games right here on my beaten up transistor radio…Vin Scully was part of this landscape.

Albert Salmi, “Joe Caswell” looks like Pete Rose sliding head first into 2nd. Where he hits the dirt would be where we pitch from. This man is one my all-time favorite actors. This episode was aired April 1, 1960. Written by Rod Serling, Directed by David McDearmon.

Repurposed sign used before in MGM’s 1943 “Cabin in the Sky” directed by Vincente Minnelli.

First base line, this is Park Avenue on Studio nomenclature. This is how the field looked in our first season of ball.

View from window on Wimpole Street. Balls often ended up inside this building and on the roof. Crashed cars from CHiPs turned into part of the landscape. We had them moved if they blocked our pitching mound or home plate. Not bad for being trespassers!

Rooftop was a homer, it was fun to retrieve the balls to see where they finally stopped.

I’ve hit a lot of tennis balls up here…Home plate is located where the middle worklight is situated. This is the top of the “Green Monster.” We pretended this was Fenway Park. A short porch but 4 stories high, just like Fenway. This is a 6 am picture after being on set all night for “Hero at Large.” 1980 MGM feature starring John Ritter. I actually was hired as security on this film. This story will be in my 3rd book. You won’t believe what happened here involving myself and MGM Security. They checked up on this set since MGM was renting their old lot back for the ‘Grand Finale” of MGM on lot 2. It’s a wonderful story with incredible pictures. Not everything went as planned but sure was fun.

I’m in a bit of trouble for playing baseball -of all things I’ve done on this backlot.

My day in court over trespassing. Stanley and I were detained by CCPD who randomly pulled up in the middle of a game. The evidence I brought to court was my MGM baseball pictures. The ones you see in this post. The D.A. asked” is there a fence with posted “No Trespassing” sign. I said the only fence is barely standing, nothing’s posted saying “We can’t!” As he looked at my pictures he said ‘Case Dismissed” followed by, “I would have played with you too, looks fun!” This was the very last few months with the lot being demolished completely in October 1980.

A couple years later, See…Im not a bad kid. I just love MGM...”My home away from home.

“The End” of MGM Baseball and my marvelous backlot, 5 months after court. Truckloads of useable lumber were salvaged and trucked off to Mexico.

MGM Backlot Two-Waterfront Street, which was where centerfield was. I retrieved tennis balls off this sidewalk and cobblestone road, exactly where this scene took place. Singing and splashing in the rain on a totally pouring rain day on the backlot. We always felt Gene’s spirit in this area...

Waterfront Street, pre Singing in Rain.That would happen 5 years later than my MGM Art Department photo. Also known by us kids as centerfield.

No truer words…this place changed my entire life. Had I not trespassed, my life would be incomplete. The cherry on top of a life in Motion Pictures and backlots

Hunting for Candlesticks...From an Emperor, No-Less.

I will conclude with this quest a follower of mine and great granddaughter of the designer jeweler/silversmith regarding candlesticks from the 1937 Film-“The Emperor’s Candlesticks” Their great- grandfather made these for that film. In case someone knows their whereabouts today…they certainly still exist. The mystery is where? Just in case we can help find this needle in a haystack, Contact me and I’ll pass it on. Thanks, sincerely Donnie.

I found the plaster faces located in Verona Square…Now the hunt is on for Candlesticks!

43 years ago this weekwe begin.

Batter up !

Games begin by tossing up the bat at home plate followed by hand after hand until the handle is reached. We play 9 innings at least. Often these days turn into double headers…18 innings of fun. Hours fly by, arguments ensue because we’re very competitive. At times we have players in the field, but usually it’s Stanley and me…one on one.

I’ve played against a truckload of Marines a couple of times. Talk about intense. Guys come together from all around our country to experience what I do-everyday!

Cold weather is not a factor either. December 24, 1979, it poured all day non-stop. Stanley and I played 18 full innings-under a black, wet and often pouring sky. We were completely drenched the entire afternoon, when you hit the ball, water splattered like a dog shaking off.

Our centerfield happens to be where Gene Kelly filmed Singing in the Rain. When I met Gene, we talked baseball. He grew up a Pirate fan. I would love to have played him, right in the center area where all his musicals were filmed. The classiest man I’ve met. I didn’t wash my hand for a week after saying our farewells. On this Christmas Eve, while retrieving hit balls, I took a time out to jump in puddles and Sing – in a very heavy rainfall. I had a mitt instead of an umbrella.

All these movie memories float through my mind like soap bubbles from a magic wand. I’m living my dreams. I was so fortunate to have grabbed hold of that MGM Comet as the lot was in its final years, and sailed off with all things MGM. They let me on board with all the Hollywood legends and craftsman. I’m a trespasser, but a real good one.

I will be forever grateful to Steven Bingen for putting me in his latest MGM book- The MGM Effect along with writing the foreword to my book. A fantastic read, I’m very honored.

Besides my love for BB gun fights on the Combat set, baseball is another activity that occupied our free time. This Park Avenue set combined with our teenage imagination turned into our own private Fenway Park, complete with a wall full of windows that towered up in left field. This is the closet field any kid could have to that wonderful iconic baseball field.

Let’s just say our own field was probably just as iconic, although Fenway is even older…1912 started construction in Boston. Our version of Fenway had the same nuances as the real field, even better. Windows came into play designating doubles in second story, triples in third story. Homers on roof often ended up on Copperfield Court. If you cleared the catwalks, that’s a monster, tape measure shot. It was fun collecting the balls after their journey.

Cables that were used for the black tarps to create night in day stretched above us. Blackbirds would sit on the wires looking down at us and sometimes these wires cut down balls headed to catwalks for a potential homer. That was always frustrating when a sure homer was erased…

In this post-I include a Twilight Zone episode pertinent to my ball field, titled ” Execution” it was always in the back of my mind as I toed the mound. This is where all the action occurred.

When MGM was in charge, we could only imagine playing games here. But when private security took over, the opportunity presented itself. “Instant addiction” This became the funnest field anywhere not only this city-but the world. I can’t watch a show using this area without baseball memories flooding through my brain. I’ve had multiple security issues at ‘home plate,” but I talked my way out of most. I was even hired to be security for the final two films on Lot 2, in the middle of a game.

Hero at Large and Being There would close out the backlot filming for all time. I was hired at ‘Home Plate” when the owner of the company “Ren,” who chased me several times finally gave in saying “You love this place-don’t you?”…”Of course” as I stood there holding a bat-ready to run once again. But this wasn’t that moment. I bonded with him-after all our chases. He said “Do you want to be security on these two shows?”

I’d be honored sir” …a couple weeks later I carried a badge. How’s that for evolution, from being Public Enemy # 1 to carrying a badge on my old backlot. There is a lot more that happens once I’m “employed” that is a story in itself.

I first met “Ren” when he caught me skating in Esther Williams’ pool. He was with a female guest and was giving a tour. He was as surprised to see me in the bottom of the pool as I was to see him at the top. He vehemently demanded me out of pool, his patrol station wagon was a parked a ways away and he held on to me as we walked toward his vehicle. There was no way I was getting inside. He was being extremely rude. As we got close to the car, I had enough. I knocked his arm off my stretched out T-shirt and took off running with my skateboard. Stopping just long enough to tell his pretty guest “I can give you a better tour than he can!” That’s how we met, he would see me a million more times.

After all this history, toward the end of the lots existence, once again I deal with law enforcement. It’s the police this time. The lot was basically a junkyard and no security was usually ever on lot. So when the Black and White pulled up between the mound and home plate, 2 officers exited, one on each side. I figured I could talk my way out of this, but it would not be the case that afternoon. But the courtroom was where I took charge, using pictures of baseball games on Park Avenue. After all my adventures in a decade on this backlot, this is the event that required me to appear before a District Attorney at the Santa Monica Courthouse.

His first question was “Is there a fence and a posted No Trespassing sign?”…”No there isn’t” and I provided picture evidence of fences barely standing and us playing baseball.

“CASE DISMISSED” was his immediate response. The room erupted into laughter. The D.A. continued, “I’d play you guys -that looks fun!”

My pictures get around to say the least…

R.I.P. Stanley…till we meet again!

Written and lived by…Stanley Orden and Donnie Norden.

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