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

How the West Was Won 60 years later

Gregory Peck as Cleve Van Valen with Debbie Reynolds as Lily Prescott. Frank Sinatra was originally intended for the Gregory Peck role.

How the West Was Won 60 years later…..

First of all, I love this movie. How the West Was Won gives a courageous account of westward expansion from the 1830s to the 1890s. The story is conveyed through the eyes of multiple generations of a driven pioneer family. The rugged landscape of the era is spectacularly captured in this film and the statement “They don’t make them like this anymore” rings true.

There are five interrelated segments directed by three of Hollywood’s most renowned directors who coordinated and shared the zealous vision of making the first full length feature film using the Cinerama process. “The Rivers”, “The Plains” and “The Outlaws”, was directed by Henry Hathaway, “The Civil War”, was directed by John Ford and George Marshall did, “The Railroad”. They were assisted by four top cinematographers, a cast of 24 stars, more than 12,000 extras, including several Indian tribes and a roster of over 50 actors and stunt men.

The movie had an All-Star cast which includes three of Hollywood’s greatest Western stars; John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda, appearing together for the first and only time, although none share scenes together. The rest of the cast includes Carroll Baker, Walter Brennan, Lee J Cobb, Carolyn Jones, Karl Malden, Raymond Massey, Agnes Moorehead, Harry Morgan, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Robert Preston, Debbie Reynolds, Thelma Ritter, Russ Tamblyn, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, and Richard Widmark.

The movie ends in present-day America with aerial shots of L.A. freeways (with very little traffic) as an illustration of the inevitable progress and the price it takes to achieve it.

How the West Was Won is widely considered one of Hollywood’s greatest epics. The film received widespread critical acclaim and was a box office success, grossing $50 million on a budget of $15 million. At the 36th Academy Awards, it earned eight nominations, including Best Picture, and won three, for Best Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Sound and Best Film Editing. In 1997, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

If you ever want to see this movie on an 86ft curved screen, How the West Was Won is played at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood during the Cinerama festivals which seem to take place every 4 years. Around 15 years ago, Cinerama projecters were finally installed at the Dome. This theater, which shares it’s name, only showed single-lens Cinerama which is basically Ultra Panavision and never used the 3-Strip film process until recently.

Written and lived by… Donnie Norden

James Stewart as Linus Rawlings with Carroll Baker as Eve Prescott Rawlings. Although James Stewart’s character was only supposed to be 28 in the movie, Stewart was actually 53 at the time of filming.

Karl Malden questions Carroll Baker about her night with a fur trapper while sister Debbie Reynolds looks on. During filming in June 1961, Karl Malden had to be rushed to hospital to have an emergency appendectomy.

Henry Fonda as Jethro Stuart, scout for the railroad with George Peppard as Zeb Rawlings. Henry Fonda’s part was originally much bigger, but was gradually scaled down.

The adult Donnie…protecting his horses on the Universal backlot.

Lee J. Cobb and Mickey Shaughnessy are seen here with “my train”! This train was moved back to MGM Studios after filming and I played on it as a kid.There goes that long haired horse thief, again,”

Wanted -Dead or AliveThe younger horse thief Donnie, on the same train during my days of trespassing, MGM Backlot 2!

Director Hathaway (in white hat) confers with cinematographers for the runaway train sequence. Bob Morgan who was married to Yvonne De Carlo was seriously injured, and almost died, while performing a stunt in this scene. Toward the end of the film, there is a gunfight on a moving train between the sheriff and a gang of train robbers. Morgan was one of the stuntmen playing a robber and was crouched next to a pile of logs on a flatcar. The chains holding the logs together snapped, and Morgan was crushed by the falling logs and lost his leg.

The movie includes three of Hollywood’s greatest Western stars; John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda, appearing together for the first and only time, although none share scenes together.

A scene from How the West Was Won filmed in Culver City, Ca. MGM Backlot #3.

Same Mansion years later in 1970

Another shot taken during the MGM Auction 1970, prior to demolition

The lyrics for “Home in the Meadow”, sung by many characters throughout the movie, was written by Sammy Cahn. The music, however, is the old English ballad “Greensleeves” from the 15th century.

John Wayne had intended to play a character in a part directed by Henry Hathaway, but John Ford insisted he appear in the Civil War sequence. John Ford’s habit was to always sit beside the camera while it was filming, so he could watch the action intently. Unfortunately, because of the triple lens on the Cinerama camera, he kept appearing in shots until director of photography Joseph LaShelle hit on the idea of building a rig that allowed Ford to sit above the camera.

Carroll Baker plays George Peppard’s mother in the film, but George was actually three years older than Baker in real life!

Debbie Reynolds and George Peppard are the only cast members who appear in three of the five sequences in the film. According to Ms. Reynolds her character of Lilith was originally supposed to have drowned in the river. However, it was decided that Lilith would best tie the generations of Prescotts together, so, she remained in the story to become an elderly lady in the film’s conclusion.

This river-rafting sequence was filmed over a period of seven days.

Gary Cooper had been offered the role of Linus Rawlings but died before filming began. James Stewart then accepted the part despite feeling miscast and too old for Carroll Baker.

Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda appeared in five movies together. In addition, they were both married to the same woman, the socialite Susan Blanchard.

It’s hard to beat the All-Star Casts from the Epic movies of the 60’s.

Hollywood Warner Theater, was the only theater in the LA area, able to show 3-Strip Cinerama.

How the West Was Won played there for 92 weeks straight!

The curved Cinerama screen gives it a 3-D effect

This is impressive on the Big Screen, everything appears larger than life.

HTWWW shown in 3-Strip Cinerama to a packed house at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood (2012).

Ancient Relics and Heirlooms from a 100 year old Makeup Trailer

An Aerial view with Gone With the Wind sets from when David O. Selznick was leasing out the Studio and backlot. Sudio compound and Makeup trailer is located in the bottom right corner of the intersection of Lucerne and Higuera.

Lets take a drive to this corner studio compound! The Studio Compound can be seen here in the show The Real McCoys. Notice the water tower which will later be used in the television series Hogan’s Heroes. This barn was also in early episodes of Andy Griffith.

We’ll keep that water tank!

We arrive at the compound. The Batmoblie has been seen parked in front of this house, Hogan’s Heroes camp, Stalag 13 was built behind this estate that had two private walkway fences into the 40 acres backlot. Hal Roach Studios is a short walk. An Our Gang relic was inside..

We enter the backyard and arrive at the Marion Davies Makeup Trailer, which was farmed out to RKO, then Desilu Studios-for 40 years.

Let’s see what’s inside.

A camera dating to 1933. King Kong was made at RKO here in Culver City in 1933. Also in this picture is a Star Home Electric Massage Vibrator. The owners tell us Fay Wray once used this room for make-up.

1921-stuff was built to last.

Yes, I plugged it in”…I plugged it in and it purrs and reverberates like it’s suppose too.

Ideal indeed! Best 5$ ever spent! A way to relax during long hours in the chair…

The stories this item overheard…

1937 American Magazine Advertizement for the Scott Atwater Photopal Camera with camera found in trailer.

Like the trailer, this camera succumbed to the elements. For all I know there’s still a roll of film inside. The lever on the side of the housing is the shutter. It works- click!

This camera most likely used in King Kong for Fay Wray continuity in make-up. This room and compound is a very short walk to the Skull Island Sets.

8″ by 10″ Kodak film paper was kept inside. This could double as a dark room and probably did. A make up artist needs a visual to work off and create the desired look and style.

This appears to be an Our Gang (Spanky) light. This series was filmed a short walk from here at Hal Roach Studios.

Reflection in the make up mirror. Extremely old item. Everything inside here works.

A sample of stuff…the lights are original and color tones can be adjusted with red and blue bulbs. A soap bar sits waiting to clean off the next star. A Star Maker Massager . Wine bottles imported from Italy and mints from England are part of the ambiance inside…

This chair was centered between 3 mirrors. One left of chair was square mirror, the main mirror was canter and wide oval for wide dress costumes, the thirds mirror on the door to see backside.

Marion Davies entertainment was this music box mounted on the wall inside her trailer entrance.
Marion’s music…
Tonight You Belong to Me…

Panatron Radio-custom built inside this trailer by Desi Arnez. This trailer became a T.V show make-up factory when television began. The cast of Hogan’s Heroes was the last to receive make-up inside. Batman was seen by neighbors going back and forth to this room and the Batmobile.

This trailer had waterlines and gas lines installed linking it to shore power. Electric power ties to the house panel. Shingles were added at this point to the exterior to preserve longevity. Had not a tree branch busted through the roof- this would still be in immaculate condition…Ready for use!

Ince’s 3rd Triangle beholding produced this resting place, the room sits at the crux of yet another triangle... “Notice”– the pathways leading inside the studio from this compound.
Below the red arrow tucked behind The Tara Plantation. The corner of Higuera and Lucerne. This make up room continued on in this star compound after Marion moved to MGM. The owners said this room was loaned out during the production of Gone With the Wind. A camera dating to 1933 is inside. Fay Wray used this dressing room for King Kong. Gone With The Wind would also use this entire compound behind the Tara set.

In this picture taken in 1959, you can see the telephone poles and palm trees located on the corner of the intersection of Lucerne and Higuera, which are ocassionally seen in the background of the TV series Hogan’s Heroes.

100 hundred years later, disguised as a gardening shed. The roof and trailer sit beneath an avocado tree, that lived and died in the presence of this ancient mobile Hollywood dressing room. It’s that old. It sat locked, tucked away, in a corner where spirits could frolic. As a kid, I played here, I think Mr. Ince had his eyes on me. We think the same, we’re movie Pioneers!

Mirror, mirror on wall…The top of the mirror winked at me to be save her, a lot of gardening supplies hid the the prize inside.

If this room could talk- it’s ground zero for legendary film stars.

Pages Silver Mints- indigestion was the thing that we hear killed…Thomas Ince.

Green Paint is the signal you’ve arrived at R.K.O.
RKO -Pathe’…The studio went into receivership as a result of the depression, even the box office success of King Kong couldn’t pull it through.
The backside of the living room looks squarely inside 40 acres. It was connected with two pathways with its own gated fences. One connects the house, the other the make-up trailer.
Fountain for pond…fit for a mega star
A statue from antiquity, sat center of Koi Pond.
Not your average art piece…

Statue from antiquity relocated to my Star Compound…I absolutely adore this extremely heavy item. I would speculate this was one of Randolph Hearst’s ornaments, and it was stationed in the Koi Pond.

This pond and statue are original to the house completion in 1924. Just beyond the Ivy covered fence are two palm trees often talked about in several episodes of Hogan’s Heroes. “Why are there palm trees outside a Luft Stalag?”…The corner house was once occupied by a squatter named- Charles Manson. Three neighbors shared that same memory. Tex Watson provided transportation. This is -“that corner.”

Koi existed inside this pond when this property changed hands when annexed. Earthquakes cracked the lining and it’s sat dry for decades.
Koi Pond tiles…
This flagpole monument dates pre-Gone With the Wind and all the activity that took place in the year 1938/39. If we could only ID these prints…This is a Hollywood history puzzle I’m determined to connect these dots. This was done in the David O. Selznick era when Gone With The Wind took over this entire lot. Whose dogs, whose hands and initials-we need to connect these dots…

Make-up is right behind Scarlett in this legendary photo…

Stills are needed for make -up artists to be consistent.

Filming GWTW- This dress could barely fit in this room. Most likely put on after the make-up. Costumes could be stored inside the home. Here is a matching scene to test.

40 acre backlotThe bungalow structure on the left, behind Vivien, -is the backlot bathrooms.You could watch this movie filmed and probably met some actors along the fence lines that look straight inside.

Out of frame“-Expand the background and you will see parked cars- that section would be- in the futureGomer Pyle’s Camp Henderson.

Everything needed to make a movie is present in this scene…

This room was busier than a phone booth outside Central Casting.

Clark Gable looking dapper as ever, Rhett Butler not needed in this scene…

Clarke Gable had his own bungalow on this film on the RKO main lot. But backlot “star make-up” would make this trailer and compound extremely active.

This star is my mother…Betty Lou Norden.I wish she could have seen this discovery herself.Photo-shopped image into the mirror of course. My moms all time favorite actor is Clarke Gable.

Top of entry door, the outside used to say Marion Davies on it, the interior of this door is entirely mirrored. The green on this door includes the entire compound. It’s the color of choice by RKO. It was not green when used only by Marion. A cloth is attached around the door entrance as an insulator to repel the cold air. The nails securing it are exquisitely installed.
The Green Connection…
RKO, Paramount, Desilu and Laird International are all represented in the history green studio lineage.
Quiet please!….

Knock -first…

The floor these ladies are standing on is pictured below…

This pattern is the floor as you enter inside our star chamber…

Wipe your shoes off before entering…

Shelves were added everywhere.

The history continued long after Marion relocated to MGM. Shelves, a sink, and a modern Panatron Stereo would be added when Desilu took over from RKO. I got that on record from Panatron Corporation. It still exists. The biggest films ever made used this trailer…

Every bulb is a different style including blue and red bulbs to dial in skin tones.

The mirror and original bulbs came to life when power was applied.

The porcelain fixture hung overhead the make- up chair.

Cornucopia of history…

Yet another can of indigestion mints-loaded with fasteners. This would be to hang the trinkets alongside the mirror when that phase of make-up is ready. Also pictures are put up for the artist to match up. Not a lot is available information wise on old Hollywood location make up artists.

This rigid brush most likely was to remove debris of thick coats used often in the day.

Ancient cabinet handles, My guess on the disconnected switch is that could be activated to signal the star inside. Tape measure from the Desilu era.

These are curtain rods that cover shelfs with jar after jar of solutions.

Imported wine from Italy.

Who drank these?…

Reflections of the way life use to be. The moon- as it’s done for a hundred years, adds calmness with its reflection.

This wonderful photo shopped photo captures what this room was part of. The glass door was as close to this blaze as the horses and carriages. Animals and rodents of every kind hastily exited the backlot during the filming of this scene. I adore this picture just because of it’s realism to the events that took place here.

Pioneers...My goal is to produce the best TV series ever, Hole in the Fence. We will go back and forth through time, giving credit to top film makers. I played where they worked. I learned to love film making from these very studios I write about. It’s all I ever lived.
Quality is my number one goal, I truly feel my stories would be sensational as both content and visual experience.
Wait until you give book 2 a ride…The Uninvited Visitor. “It’s a movie inside a movie” –Coming Soon!
Wish me Luck- I have lofty goals!

Going mobile!This room has it’s wheels hidden inside the trailer walls, for this discovery-checkout my YouTube posting. We spin the wheel for the first time many decades.

The Patsy...Three stars with director King Vidor, seated right. Mr. Vidor felt strongly Marion should be in comedies-Like Lucille Ball long before Lucy. Some clowning going on here. Randolph Hearst had other ideas.

Go west young man!…

That was the path chosen by film pioneer Thomas Ince when he arrived in Southern California. He first set up shop at the beach at Inceville. Unfavorable weather conditions brought him inland, where the La Ballona creek and the Baldwin Hills provided rustic locations perfect for his westerns, without constant windy, gray skies. It was while filming at the tree lined natural creek he met Mr. Harry Culver. Mr. Culver was all about luring business to a city that was just becoming incorporated with his name attached.

Harry offered Thomas Ince a deal of a lifetime, and soon Ince’s Studio sprung up on a short street named after him. The properties are surrounded by Hollywood bungalows, many of which will house the city of technicians and craftsmen needed for the state-of-the-art studio to operate. All this coincided while two homes were being built on the corner of Lucerne and Higuera. The yards are connected to the studio’s backlot.

Research is indicating that this property was a studio compound for actors making films. Luxuries exist such as a Koi Pond, push button switches and glass door knobs are inside the home. These same luxuries existed in the make-up rooms that sat at the top of the stages used in classics such as Gone with the Wind. Room after room were lined up like an assembly line. The door handles were glass, push button switches, a mirror, a toilet, a place to sit or lay. Amazon tore all this down. These rooms no longer exist, but they did, similar to what exists on this corner. But the home attached to this room and koi pond are for Hollywood’s elite, when filming in this area. Once Opulent sliding stain glass doors sit covered yet discarded. Everything to do with this property has a lime green color attached. Even the door of this ancient Make -Up room has green tint.

It seems apparent that green was the identifier for RKO. Even the walk path to the front door of Chris’ home has green.

Please understand, this is a work in progress for me, connecting dots, intelligently. Over one- hundred years of film history has evolved since this star-make up room rolled into town. It was making movies before Culver City was incorporated. The sign on the hill overlooking this future film community dates back to Hollywoodland.

I find it possibly more than coincidence that each Ince Property involving studios was a Triangle.

Triangle Ranch greeted you at Inceville. The name Triangle carried on to Culver City was the studio name before it became MGM. Finally, this make-up trailer ended up being parked at the hypotenuse of a property shaped like a triangle. Ince’s world was all about…Triangles

Inside this house, glass handles and push button switches are what you touch. Two gates once attached to this Triangle from the rustic backlot ranch just outside the homes back doors. One gate was dedicated to this dressing room. In 1964, Stalag 13 was built where the Tara Plantation from Gone With the Wind once stood. The kitchen window of this house once looked at the King Kong’s Skull Island walls, the the Tara Plantation. Then finally Stalag 13 from Hogan’s Heroes.

You could pop corn and watch actual filming take place as the corn pops. It’s that house, like a Twilight Zone. You could be in the movie depending on what door you exit. Reality shape shifters…

Watch a rerun of Hogan’s Heroes here, you can still hear Klink and Schultz call roll call. It’s here, I snuck into this Stalag, just like Bob Crane leading his merry men in and out of this camp by means of a tree stump. Well, I picked up that stump 50 years ago and rolled it cross town on a steel wheel cart.

50 years later, I’ve discovered another heirloom that attaches as a horse drawn trailer, by means of a steel wheeled hitch.

I’m honored to take you inside to explore inside this ultimate- Hollywoodland– time capsule. Mr. Ince and Marion want the world to see and experience this heirloom-a hundred years later…

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

The Real Spider Man-Bud Collins

The only exterior sets at Sony Studios. This no longer exists; this area is now basecamp for…The Goldbergs. The vent on the stage roof beyond is a ventilator. It sucks hot air off the stage and out the roof. It can also be used to clear the air of sawdust during a set build. Because of the noise, these ventilators must be “off on red light” otherwise-the sound guy will complain. The contraption that looks like a trailer is a chiller unit. It feeds air handlers inside the stages. These old stages were not built with air conditioning so pre planning for air conditioning is critical especially for shows this size.

Base-camp Spider-Man 3.

For Stars Catering set -up. This company is operated by two of the nicest, hardest working, most professional, chefs -Frank and Peter. Hats off to this entire crew. Frank’s lovely wife specializes in fancy desserts. When California has large wildfires, this rig heads towards the inferno, to feed firemen. This company is capable of feeding the entire studio and practically did at Universal Studios during filming of The Grinch.

You need a map to find your trailer…

A typical Spider-Man set on stage at Sony.

The tunnel curves to appear it goes on forever…

DNA experimentation begins here…

I think I’m understanding the formula!

Are you ready for the test class?

Stuff we might need to use

One of several stages used in this feature…

The hut on the left barely visible is a dimmer room. Set-Lighting controls lighting in these overly-amped, usually very warm rooms. The output is cabled over the top of the stage door to prevent trip hazards, then through the easement separating the two stages and enters through tiny cable holes that raccoons use to sneak into the stages. Often, I’m first on a set to get the power going and more than once I’ve met a family of raccoons picking over any food left out overnight. This is a generational happening. Raccoons adapted very well to show biz!

Interior Stage 22. The ducting coming off the air handler, left side of picture, is the other part of installing Air Conditioning Units. Some stages use up to eight of these 30 tons of refrigeration units to offset the heat of the lighting equipment.

Rooftops and sewers have a place in this show.

This stage is rooftops, there is not a complete structure here…Built from roof up.

A poster for the premier in Paris…very rare.

From the perms looking down like a real Spider -Man.

Careful up here, the fall will kill ya!

Studio Graffiti on the top of stage perms or catwalks – priceless.

A nicely done ledger of history written by Grips and Electricians.

My man –Bud Collins. This man is a legendary… His name was the first I learned at MGM, on the backlot. It’s chalked inside every single backlot set on New York Street. In places unreachable by kids that climb. We were fascinated by this guy- his name anyway. To this day, no other name turns up more than Bud Collins’ inside Sony’s Lot 1. Bud was not only the king of the backlot- but it turns out – the main lot also.

I Love This! Imagine how shocked I was to relive Bud Collins all over the Main lot. It triggered my childhood memories of this guy we always wondered about. He took claim to all things MGM. He was there when Combat, The Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, Dr Kildare were filming. He saw so much. He was like our childhood idol. He did everything in white chalk and how he reached certain areas defies physics. He must be part Spider ManR.I.P. -You live on forever at MGM Bud, Great Job!

Bud Collins probably visited here too-The bar closest to MGM is legendary and is called appropriately, The Backstage. Combat cast tipped a few shots after a hard day’s night as legend has it. Larry Hagman, better known as J.R., found his way across the street for some spirits. MGM organized a sting operation in the 70’s searching for employees and drugs. The TV series CHiPs was scrutinized I’ve heard from a reliable source, MGM Security guard Dan Stein, who is still alive and well. Security had binoculars on the goings on across Culver Blvd that was taking place- Backstage.

“Keep an eye on that bar-there’s drug dealing going on”…George Barner, MGM Security, the big guy. Fire Marshal Fernald accompanying the very unpopular- Big George.

I had a fort on the top floor of this building that lasted from 1974 until the backlot was demolished. It was located on the top floor behind those two tiny square windows.

The view from the fort, we would open or shut the two swinging doors depending on security around us. Vets’ auditorium used to decorate like a Christmas tree, and we would sit and listen to music while enjoying all the lights that shined down on the backlot. Just a bench to sit on with signs and props from the street below. Most of this area below was warehouses that were removed prior to this picture. Below us, on the cement pad, was the Airplane Room. One of the funnest hangers you would ever want to see. Bud’s name is just above these doors.

Bud Collins- The Real Spider Man

If there was ever a guy that preceded the comic book character Spider Man, it is a man who was a grip at MGM and left his mark-everywhere. “Kilroy Was Here” can be attached to-Bud Collins. His was a name that kept reappearing in the strangest places on my old backlot. I hung out in those same hard to reach places as a trespasser, but his name caught everyone’s attention. Often because of where it was written. As if he was a spider, his name shows up in the most difficult places to access. Constantly just his name and a date, written in white chalk, like a ghost that left his mark then just disappeared.

As time went by, I figured it was just a backlot thing, so imagine how my mind shifted to reverse when I saw his name in several areas, once again, up top of the most difficult places to access on Stage this time. Bud the Ghost is at it again. I got chills seeing his name again- in all these areas I frequent. Then I saw the R.I.P. remembrance, written of course up in the top of the perms. WowMy heart skipped a beat!

I never met this man in a physical realm, but damn if we aren’t the same guy. He started earlier than me, so he saw the stuff get filmed whereas I just got to play with the left-over props. His name was in my fort, a hard-to-reach place on New York Street. Bud found it-that was a great fort by the way, made better by a man and legend, named Bud Collins.

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden

Please check out my YouTube channel for more insight and thrills…Phantom of the Backlots, Happy New Year everyone!

Ince-Cosmopolitan Headquarters-“Quiet on the Set”

Aerial view of the Goldwyn Studios in Culver City, California, 1918

Aerial view of the Goldwyn Studios in Culver City, California, 1918
Big Things indeed!

Indulge me as I quote facts and steer you in a direction of genuine possibility, perhaps probability.
The Players: Thomas H. Ince, Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies
The Scene: Negotiating the deal “Ince-Cosmopolitan” Pictures
The Location: Remote Triangle on Ince Culver City property
The year: 1924- One of the most significant years in motion picture factory history…

Goldwyn-Ince Triangle studio would become MGM and Ince would leave the Triangle studios for his own brand-new studio cross town, thanks to city founder Harry Culver. Mr. Hearst and his mistress Marion were not your normal Hollywoodland players. They dictate what they want and get it. When Louie B. Mayer took charge, a new set of rules took place. Louie B. is a star maker, he runs a factory that can create them. Dancing lessons, singing, make up, all the bells and whistles- hence you and I become stars.

Hearst and Mayer were alpha-dogs and Hearst did not want any friction from someone else when it came to Marion Davies and what she would star in. Therefore, an alternate plan was being woven just a few blocks away. A period of time not fully accounted for in Hollywood history,

Thomas Ince’s 3rd Triangle was taking shape. Ince was battening down the hatches and nearly on board with Randolph Hearst to incorporate a cash infusion.

Picture if you will…

By 1924, Ince was said to be close to bankruptcy and began to discuss a merger with Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. The deal would focus on production and distribution of the films of Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies. Davies was currently at MGM under the management of Louis B. Mayer. Hearst wanted control of Marion’s career and had the money to make this happen with Ince.

Fact – Hearst began negotiations for Cosmopolitan to occupy the Thomas H. Ince lot in late 1924. The part no one may know, but given the facts can easily speculate is, since the time this merger had been in the making, comfortable quarters were already being constructed on a tiny corner of Ince’s Culver City Studio. The star (Marion Davies) was treated as such on this little corner and was adorned with her own make-up trailer and bungalow complete with a koi pond, ornate statue, and patio that looked out on the lot. A refuge, office, and most likely love nest for Marion and Hearst (or Chaplin as you might suppose).

The famous mansion, headqurters of Ince Studios.

Aerial view of Ince Studios

A porcelain street sign once located at the corner of Ince and Washington Blvd.

The crux of this tract triangle on the left side of this picture would become a star compound. Private gates existed behind the house backdoor into the studio itself. Had this merger gone through, Lucerne Ave. most likely would become Cosmopolitan Blvd, where it would intersect with Ince Blvd.

Aerial shot of the same location

Ince-Cosmopolitan, the merger that never happened…

A signing party to seal the deal and celebrate Ince’s 42nd birthday was arranged on Hearst’s yacht. Guests would include Hearst, Davies, Ince, Chaplin, and Louella Parsons, Hearst’s publicist, who was paid handsomely to write complimentary columns on Davies. Her catch line was sometimes ridiculed “and Marion never looked lovelier”. It is unclear the events that unfolded on this yacht. The merger was never announced as Ince had to be taken away from the cruise in a stretcher and died just days later. First newspaper account said that Ince was shot in the head and swiftly, Hearst’s papers ran an entirely different account, stating Ince died of heart failure. “Silence” on the set. It was speculated that Hearst paid handsome hush money to Parsons and Chaplin for their silence as to what happened on that yacht.

Hearst’s yacht, the Oneida. Ince was dead at age 42. Quickly rumors circulated that Hearst had shot Ince in a jealous fit of anger—though not at the producer but at Chaplin, whom Hearst suspected was having inappropriate relations with his beloved mistress, Davies. In this whispered version of the events, Hearst stormed around the yacht late at night seeking out Chaplin, stumbled across Ince, and shot him in a case of mistaken identity.

It has been commonly accepted that Ince died of heart failure but elatedly, the popular view is that Hearst shot Ince in the head, a bullet intended for Chaplin, who he suspected of having a fling with Marion. Yet, what we know for sure is that Ince died at home a few days later and Hearst remained friends with Chaplin for years to come. Whether accidental or on purpose, the Ince-Cosmopolitan merger would never be.

The alternate ending that changed film history…

So, what became of Marion’s make-up trailer? I’ll tell you what happened! I discovered it where it has been sitting for over a hundred years. When you connect the dots, there leaves little doubt that the make-up trailer I have discovered belonged to Marion Davies, as it can be matched up in pictures.

A colorized photo of Marion’s make-up trailer

One of the oldest picture found thus far of this trailer is dated 1926, with Marion in an MGM costume. One may assume the picture was taken on the MGM lot, but it could very well have been taken a few blocks away. This is no further from MGM lot 1 than the MGM backlot is, in other words, keep me away from the cattle.

During filming of The Fair Co-ed. The B could stand for-Billionaire… One of the oldest picture found thus far of this trailer is dated 1926, with Marion in an MGM costume. One may assume the picture was taken on the MGM lot, but it could very well have been taken a few blocks away. This is no further from MGM lot 1 than the MGM backlot is, in other words, keep me away from the cattle.
Shingles would be added to preserve the exterior, plumbing for a sink and electricity came from the house on this compound. A koi pond separates the house from the Make-up trailer. Not only is this the first star trailer, it’s the first star compound. The things this door has seen and been part of will stagger your mind!
Hollywood’s first mobile star trailer…

Was the trailer moved to MGM with the horse hitch that was attached? Was it built at MGM and then moved to this little corner of Ince’s studio property to spend the rest of its days? And if so, why?

MGM built her second trailer, with a refrigerator. My research leads me to this trailer was built at Paramount before MGM existed. 

This room could be towed around by horses. The same horses could then be unhitched, throw a cowboy on the saddle, and that same horse is now in front of the camera. Yesterday’s version of 399/SAG. A horse that can act, but doubles as a driver…before unions and guilds. Mr. Ince was known to travel from set to set directing his films while sitting atop a horse. The “General” of filmmaking.

One of the two back wheels… This is a horse hitch for this make-up trailer

A souvenier token from the movie “When Knighthood was in Flower” recently shown on TCM.

Connecting the dots…

For me, and until proven otherwise, I stick to the more romantic theory that the make-up trailer has never moved from this unassuming spot and that Marion frequented this private, comfortable home away from the set perhaps in between shots, for a few years at least. And who could blame her? At MGM, just a few short blocks away, she was thrown into communal make-up rooms of all the stars of the day, like cattle if you will.

Big stars don’t work as cattle, the bigger the star, the more perks. But, you gotta be big to put your nose in the air. Marion could call her shots prior to MGM. This compound allowed Marion to be Marion, she is not part of a herd.

This star make-up trailer is opulent, still, over a 100 years later. I will share with you going forward the heirlooms that were hidden inside this make up trailer. Each item ties to a different era. This was an active make up room up to the early 70’s, Hogan’s Heroes cast was often in this yard since Stalag 13 was next door. A guard tower – number 3 inside the camp looked down into this yard.

Sneaking into Stalag 13 in 1972 is when I first became aware of this peculiar structure. It disguised itself as a garden shed and has remained hidden in plain sight…for close to a hundred years.

50 years later, after my eventful sneak into Stalag 13- this room discovered me! We’ve reunited, older but wiser.

The Phantom will personally take you inside this room in future posts as we try to connect dots and salvage as much as we can from what is probably the first ever Make-up trailer in…Hollywoodland !

An heirloom- full of heirlooms from movie history…Follow each discovery on YouTube, Phantomofthebacklots...
Common’ inwe’ve been waiting for ya!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden and Maureen Miller…

Visit us on YouTube for much more…

Mini-Souvenir Folder of Universal Studios

“Water Symphony of Children at Play”…Sculptured in Bronze by Augosto Escobedo.

The Tram Route for today’s tour. It can change hourly when production needs to use an area and needs room for all the equipment. Before each tour, recheck the route for changes. Driver responsibility, and failure to keep up has deposited fully loaded trams into filming sets. Trams can’t simply back out of their mistakes. It’s a process of disconnecting cars and loading guests on another tram headed in the right direction. This mistake happens as tours and productions fight for space.

Behind the screen of “movie rain” A mock naval battle is fought between McHale’s Navy destroyer and a submarine cruising the lagoon in Universal’s Entertainment Area-upper lot tours. Customers use this pond to toss coins and make wishes that will most likely- never come true!…

A panoramic view from up at the top of the hill, upper lot is tours, lower lot is Universal Film Production. Warner Brothers Studios is the large factory off in the distance.

The Entertainment Center of The World…”Follow Me”

Visitors see themselves on color T.V monitors as guest stars in ADAM-12 and Emergency at “Stage 70”

Stuntmen perform live action falls and fire their weapons along the way.

Yours truly-horsing around on the backlot in 6 Points Texas. As a kid, I did this all over the MGM backlot. Absolutely one of the funnest things to do on these old sets. At MGM, ammo from Combat was everywhere in the war torn villages.

These Cylons are protecting their Space Craft. This is the first animation on our tour.

Once inside, this Laser Show takes place, kinda like Laserium at the Griffith Park Observatory, without the music. This concept was ahead of its time for tourism. This is one of the first Laser Shows anywhere. The Glamour Tram is part of the battle.

Burning Building…Hollywood Style. This set, or fire is triggered by a garage Genie and is right after the tram exits BattleStar Galactica.

Preparing for an exterior shot, The camera man is on the boom of that old blue camera truck. Chapman cornered the market on more modern versions of this rig.

A tram is just about to attempt a crossing.

There are two drops this bridge performs, one for each two cars. If you speed up as it drops, the wind can be knocked out of your tummy as you scream in funny terror. It enhances the effect of the drop when you –step on the gas.

Are we suppose to be up here” is the standard tour guide driver spiel. Many drivers don’t want to be included in the tour guide jive, not me, Tours is Fun!

Prop Plaza-No Longer in service for tours, used by production and sets now exist up top here. Part of the problem was the wear and tear on trams going up the hill. People have had weddings up here and you must hire a tram to get the guests to this location.

After leaving Prop Plaza, the tram travels down Appian Way arriving back into the lower lot. This is the original section of Universal’s Backlot.

At this stop , Thunder and Lighting warn you a storm is near. The tour guide will say, “When it rains, we get Flash Floods in this location” …start the rain from overhead sprinklers.

This area above the village below is fenced because 10,000 Gallons of water are released through these two chutes to create the Flash Flood. You don’t want to be- down stream on this slippery cobblestone road when released.

The water arrives in mass and is deflected away from the trams with the stone retaining wall. In summer, on busy days, this old animation can barely keep up. Sometimes it’s trickle. It takes about 4 minutes to pump back up the hill.

It arrives in mass and is deflected away from the trams with the stone retaining wall. In summer, on busy days, this old animation can barely keep up. Sometimes it’s trickle. It takes about 4 minutes to pump back up the hill.The water is recycled into the drinking fountains at prop plaza…”tour guide joke”

We exit the flood and end up in Little Mexico, The Alamo is located here.

Turn the corner and “Yea-Haw” your in 6 Points Texas.

My favorite Western was Alias Smith and Jones-filmed here. The sunlit saloon across the way was built for a movie titled Wild Bill, starring Jeff Bridges.We pass through the old west to head to the Red Sea. It’s here our guide points out the doors being a bit smaller to make our “Cowboys Appear Bigger”. Also the “outer wall” of the hotel I took the picture from is rubber padded for fight scenes.

I met Jeff at MGM as a kid on a film “Hearts of the West.” He would return a year later at MGM for the filming of King Kong. Funny to see him here-twenty years later.

Once again, a Genie operates the Red Sea parting. Tour Guides ask guests to ‘Part the Waters”-like Charlton Heston has done here. We often are followed at sea side by a submarine -as depth charges go off, shooting water into the summer breezes that carry the spray on to the guests.

The water is simply pumped into a catch basin hidden behind bushes and trees, this channel operates like a drain. The smaller Glamour Trams struggle to get traction on this slippery sloped exit. This Super Tram plows through without the same issues. 175 people in Blue Trams. 125 in Pink and White versions.

We exit and next traverse the cobblestone streets of Little Europe.

Out of the bushes comes Mr Heston himself!

1974 meets 2010-the curbs take a beating by the fourth car of these trams rubbing on the edge.

The legendary Spartacus set is where the tram does a u-turn…

These exterior sets have been replaced by 4 spanking new sound stages, taking over what was our Barham parking lot.

As we start to double back from the lower lot, we experience a near miss by a… run away train.

Here she sits to this day…as if wanting and waiting for more tram terror.

The train faced the opposite way as it points in my previous picture. It stopped alongside the barn, the oldest building on the backlot.

Watch out-I can’t stop!” is a looped sound track on this remote control train that has a mannequin as a engineer.

You can see the train at the station on Denver street. The tracks use to run through this gap where this cart sits now. It backed into this spot alongside the old barn after each tram attack. It’s here, as a trespassing teen ager, I climbed into the engine as it sits waiting, and became the engineer for a few “can’t stop rides.” Like a train robber, this was where it happened. These tracks terminate behind Spartacus at a small depot, that can be disguised as the old west or Transylvania.

Denver Street Red Gap Station takes you here-“Transylvania Last Stop!”

The lazy town know as Cabot Cove from Murder She Wrote.

A quiet morning on the pond…”Please don’t wake up Bruce, he’s temperamental.” The Blue House is from To Kill a Mockingbird, Elm Street. Back porch overlooks this. Airwolf once hovered here as low as it could get, blowing the water in every direction. My favorite series on the lot in my career.

A lot of tours past by this film set while filming on the backlot.

Cabot Cove, the dock entrance to experience the Shark Attack. It triggers through limit switches and a garage Genie opener sends signals to activate rides here. You too can trigger animations if you carry a genie in your purse, that would be a fun distraction. “I’m not triggering this, it’s the lady in the third row” she’s good!

We added fire years back to create a bit more mayhem, this ride is best experienced at night, drunk! V.I.P Tours thrown by private companies are very relaxed visitations, we do the driving, sit back and relax.

Ramping up for another attack of an innocent tram full of guests…

I start at 9 AM, can I get some sleep around here !”

“I had a rough night”…Bruce the Shark visiting guests.

We’re headed up the hill now to The Entertainment Area at Tours, but on the way let’s hang a left here, at The Pyscho House…

There’s mother upstairs having tea with my daughter Christy.” Don’t let her read your tea leaves my precious, just say No!”

Nobody drives this Ice Tunnel like Donnie Norden. I back-up, speed forward, back up a touch again, sit and listen to screams as the tunnel spins, and depending how the audience is holding up, may stay parked for a bit as the wolfs howl in this spinning tube. It takes getting use to this to drive through here, the company would frown on my backing up. Especially if anyone gags. That’s happened in here. The standard tour can be boring, I give you more for your buck!…”Let’s Have A Big Round of Applause for our Driver-who does this 6 times a day!” says our wonderful guides…is how this menagerie ends.

We Beginwith a simple admission...

First to park, then to get on board a tram. Just follow the endless lines of orange cones, a friendly parking lot attendant will greet you. It may be a long walk on a hot day but- so what. We have two restaurants, Whompoppers and Victoria Station, centered between the Flag Pole where you purchase admission. These filling stations are the same one’s you will find many guides and drivers after a long day of tourism.

Telly Savalas also owns a popular waterhole in the hotel area…called Telly’s. He likes to hang with tour guides, who doesn’t?

That’s afterwork stuff, but mornings, we shine brightly. Tour Guides and drivers get dispatched from different trailers and meet up on a fully loaded- ready to tour tram. A comfort level exists with certain flight crew members since we often unite after work. After a million brief safety rules, we begin our journey. Our first Que spot is behind The Universal Amphitheater, sometimes, on show nights, limousines pull up alongside red carpets to drop off artists and VIP’S for parties going on backstage. We wait here for clearance to proceed to BattleStar Galactica.

Only one tram can fit in the spaceship at a time. My tour guide has already introduced us, as we begin our tour. The Laser Show is a good way to start your day. We exit the craft and proceed down a steep grade, past a Burning House that is suspiciously located next to Fire Station 51. Our real fire department that has the Emergency television series connection. It’s located next to house …on fire.

Continue into our movie magic demonstration area, located in bungalows. You will exit the tram here to watch videos featuring Lucille Ball and Robert Wagner. Twenty minutes later we reunite on The Glamour Tram. From here, we drive you through a narrow warehouse full of props. Rod Serling’s Night Gallery Art stares at you as we slowly roll through. Accidents can happen here and do, some involve guests reaching out to touch props. A Ming Dynasty vase was broken that was worth a small fortune inside by a non compliant guest. I can’t understand why such an item was that close to any tram.

We continue into the front lot by where stage 41-44 our located, along with the shops and mill. We pass by Amblin Entertainment, then Alfred Hitchcock’s bungalow before cruising the backlot, after exploring New York Street and The Courthouse Square set used often in Leave It To Beaver, we work our way up a hill, first going over a bridge that creeks as you look at it. It is our Collapsing Bridge set built especially for tours but used in TV shows like The Six Million Dollar Man and WonderWoman.

From here we will increase our altitude and proceed upwards along pavement that is heavily grooved for traction. Tram often struggle here, you can’t let your foot off the gas or that’s it, you will start bouncing up and down rather than going forward. Your finished, pull the “Jake Brake.” Air locks up your tires so you don’t roll backwards while you radio for help.

This is so common we custom built a truck with a oversized front end and dual axles in the back. It’s operated by a Gentlemen named “Wild Bill.” He loves his job, he’s a tram mechanic. The only fix needed here is a push upwards, so on his command as he positions his front end on my fourth car, I let off the air brakes. Now we have rodeo, the tram needs to overcome it’s lack of inertia and it wan’t to bounce as the tire spool a white rubber smoke. The tourists had no idea this problem fix is -so fun.

We pull into Prop Plaza with na wing and a prayer. We drop off the guests to spin around a horseshoe to reload our tram. Interestingly, once Wild Bill made an appearance up here and started looking under seat cushions. When I asked “What are you doing?’-He said “Looking for Bombs,” “We received a bomb threat, not sure which tram.””Oh, that’s all this is, a simple bomb threat”

No bomb here, we continue, down towards the Flash Flood. It’s all backlot from here, and the rest of the journey is in all my pictures. Many of these tour stops and rides no longer exist, but they all did at one time or another. King Kong and EarthQuake would later be added and the backlot tour shortened. Besides our 400-plus acre backlot, it’s the iconic Glamour Tram that sparks the most fun and creates the most memories…

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden.

Air Raid Wardens

My picture-1973 Same spot…

1977, remodeled for Sgt. Pepper.

Here’s a picture of the Church on what we called it “Andy Hardy Street” . You’ll see it in the background below.

The Town of Huxton, In my picture, I captured this exact area thirty years later that graced these scenes, Church is barely visible to the right.

Our Heroes on the MGM backlot in a town called Huxton.

This is the actual costume worn in this feature, bought by Ron Wolf, at the MGM Auction. This man has a collection items practically second to none. It’s wonderful he shares his collection with all of us. Great job on all your MGM history, it inspired this post- Ron possesses many MGM treasures,

Interior collar-Mr. Stan Laurel

Oliver Hardy’s pants worn in this feature.

Oliver Hardy wardrobe…

1941 version.

Same set 1973 used in 1941, This building is the one the flyers are being pasted on.

Laurel and Hardy make friends with a cute little pooch.

1946-5 years later same sets in the town called Huxton in Air Raid Wardens. My personal MGM Art Department Collection.

L&H about to enter the Courthouse.

The courthouse across the way is where the dog scene was done.

Sgt. Pepper 1977, Courthouse replaced for a modern one. Buildings/street behind courthouse exactly the same…

Company moveNew York Street, MGM Lot 2. This building allows interior scenes to be utilized.

Same interior, same building, 1979. This interior can also be seen in The Blackboard Jungle, starring Glen Ford and Sidney Pottier.The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre happened inside here- Roger Corman, 1967. Mr Corman returned to this very set in 1975, for another Al Capone. The first starred George Segal, the second-Ben Gazzara.

In this scene, a dump truck narrowly misses running over the man attached to this sled, but does drop dirt all over him.

Interesting fact, both George Segal and Ben Gazzara star in MGM’s The Bridge of Remagen, both played the role of Al Capone for Roger Corman at different times in this building.

A picture I took of the outside of the building. The inside of this building has stories to tell. The TV Series Our Gang, when MGM took over the series, filmed the kids board a open air bus with fishing poles in tow at a Bus Stop located out front.

Same set-17 years after L&H.

Once again, same building in 1955. Eastside Side Street, MGM Art Collection. I wish I had those swinging saloon doors. Just across the cobblestone street shown but out of frame is The Filmways Building. Also known as Cartoon Building.

A rainy day on Lot 2, 1978. Logan’s Run is a top the Blue MGM Studio sign, farthest back in picture.The area was all sets that’s pictured above. The area in this picture burned down in 1967. That included Singing in the Rain- dance sequence was done on street that is now surrounded by grass and stairway storage in this picture. Between the white fence and those platforms-Gene Kelly danced in that all time classic, done a decade after Air Raid Wardens.

!978, My dog Tashka, A Siberian Husky rescue. This dog loved me to so much.It came with to MGM often.The all time trespassing dog ever. It so loved this lot, when it escaped my yard, which happened often, it would go to MGM looking for me. Once on the lot, playing with my friends, my dog came on the lot like a trespasser and found me. Lassie Come Home…Husky Style.

Fantastic angle for this film, You can see the New York Street Set and beyond that, Stages 27 and 29. Those stages are in this film as a matte painting-Ajax Magnesium Corporation. I was watching a Lemon Up commercial being filmed on that same corner L&H used in their film.

Stage 27, MGM. This emergency response convoy is in alignment with the Sony Studio Overland Gate today. Office buildings and a large parking structure now fill in this ground level past tense.This is live action/ matte painting. All things above the stage roof painted to look like an industrial factory.

Magnesium Corp-Stages 27/29

This area has changed significantly as land is valuable. When Air Raid Wardens was filmed, this set existed here at the Dock Tank. MGM Lot 1 used to be loaded with exterior sets, but as more stages were added, exteriors shifted to the backlots 2/3.The stage towering over the smoke stacks is -The Magnesium Corporation.

Grand Hotel is on the billboard bottom-1932. This was the backlot, on the front lot mostly. Stages would eventually fill in much of this area later.

This is where the rubber meets the road. The stages bottom left corner have been built, 27,28,29,30. AJAX Magnesium Corporation is located here. The emergency vehicles arriving use the road just left of the dock tank. This angle would allow you to see the entire concluding scenes.

A salute is in order for all those who served our country, and for those who provided entertainment in a time of war.

Check out my YouTube Channel…PhantomoftheBacklots

We Begin;

My Favorite Laurel and Hardy film is this one!…As a kid we retraced every step, rehearsed every scene as if Jimmy and I were Laurel and Hardy. New did our best to be- just that! These two stars main body of work was not at MGM, so little backlot filming took place involving these two. But this show loaded up on the backlot, from Huxton, located at Small Town Square, to New York Street, and finally the backlot located on the front lot.

My Dad was Laurel and Hardy’s biggest fan, he laughed at everything they did. So whenever it was on TV, it was on at my house. Interestingly, this film was made at the height of World War 2 , at a time when comedy was needed the most. The world was in disarray, with no for sure knowing what the output would be. Tumultuous times for sure.

With much of their work being done local, at Hal Roach Studios, MGM was musicals in the Forty’s and Fifty’s, their staple. The Marx Brothers, in 1941, did a classic backlot feature, The Big Store.

Our Gang, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers didn’t start at MGM, but finished there. They even housed Buster in a trailer in the backlot as his career fizzled out. Some of their best work, all be it the tail end of each’s career, happened at MGM. A studio packed with resources like no other, it sprinkled ferry dust on these comedic giants and squeezed some sensational work from each.

That’s Louie B Mayer for you, you dream it, we can make it. For eternity, MGM will be the studio known for extravagantly lavish musicals. But whatever it set it’s sights on production wise-always worked. When television came in to play, MGM retooled and made T.V….WAR TV.

Trust me, I heard every gun shot, explosion and battle. The place was nuts by the time the 60’s rolled in. Musicals phased out, and sensational war films, the best ever were made by MGM. From The Dirty Dozen, Kelly’s Heroes, Where Eagles Dare, to The Bridge at Remagen, MGM made the war last for decades.

MGM could deliver the goods on whatever the studio chose as its” lead face.”

Backwards in time…Nicholas Schenck- Marcus Loew were the financial backbone this mighty studio. Marcus ran the East Coast Theater chain while Louie B Mayer ran the Culver City Studio with head of production Irving Thalberg.

Irving began his career at age 24…By the end of “The Golden Age” in the Thirty’s, MGM was the industry leader, averaging one new feature a week. In the Forties, economics changed due to World War 2. Many customers are now fighting in the war. MGM slashed production in half and cut the five most expensive contracts, all women. They still produced lavishly staged, high budget musicals.

The war ends and law suits begin, Loews Theaters were attacked in 1952, the money source for MGM, and by 1957 became fully divested from MGM. In 1960, MGM fired all their contract players. Through the 60’s, MGM was a shell of itself. It’s physical assets became more appealing than film making itself.

Sadly, a villain enters the scene known as Kirk Kerkorian and the demise of the greatest studio of all time was completed. He refused to sell to Debbie Reynolds who lobbied with all her heart and soul to save this historic, enchanted wonderland.

One thing Kirk can’t ruin was all the films in the can MGM produced. Ted Turner snatched those and Amazon owns this mighty name now for the price of 8.5 billion…for a logo.

Not just any logo, the mighty Lion that once roared overlooking this city. We will see if Amazon becomes a prince on a white horse to the rescue, restoring MGM to their past level off glory. Or, just a package delivering company with a double parked truck, blocking my driveway with its “emergency flashers” on.

It’s time to relight that wonderful MGM Lion Sign- 8.5 billion dollars later.

Louie B. Mayer and all the top brass would roll in their graves if they heard the numbers at play today in the hands of questionable film makers.

Written and lived by… Donnie Norden

Christmas Stage 12 Style

A Christmas Department Store Commercial…

A tiny commercial on a big stage…

Whoville, pictured here, was moved from Stage 12 to the backlot to promote the film for Christmas at the tour. Here it is outside although originally built as an interior set on stage.

My tailbone still hurts, my make up takes 4 hours to put onI hate Christmas!

How long did your make-up take to apply?”-“I’ve been here since 3 AM, Frank”

Employee I.D. Badges…in the thirties.

I’m glad this Count Dracula part has little make-up prep”…

That oughta hold him for sure-“Just a little more time in the make-up chair. Can I get you something to drink?”

A sugar cube please…

Happy Holidays Everybody

Here is a festive set located at the largest soundstage at Universal Stage 12. Today, this is where you will find The Voice. Before NBC changed the lot around to fit their television needs, this stage was reserved for the biggest features in Hollywood. It’s one of the first stages built here at Universal. Back in the day, monsters roamed freely in and out of the massive elephant stage doors that raise, then travel by chains to open and close. A well engineered process, today the doors open with an electric motor which sometimes is overwhelmed. For the film Seabiscuit, we had a racetrack mock up inside with horses and a big cast. The door got stuck in the open position, and that motor could not overcome the hang up. The chains were no longer operable, so we filmed all night with the elephant door open…

Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, and Bela Lugosi haunted this old stage as Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Dracula, and The Phantom of the Opera.

Not much inside this old dinosaur of a stage has changed. It remained a popular shooting stage for some of the biggest films ever made. Almost every Steven Spielberg film ever done at Universal ended up inside Stage 12. That would include Jurassic Park, where a full-scale T-Rex displayed itself as a ferocious Predator. This stage is just as prehistoric-almost…

The Grinch production built Whoville inside this stage and this was a large build. A village with sidewalks, tiny streets, and small shops glistened in set lighting’s magical illumination, thanks to Best Boy Montey Menapace, who Universal assigned specifically to this high budget Christmas tale, made by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, the director. Montey has history with Ron Howard, he was part of set lighting on the Andy Griffith Show, hence the connection to Opie Taylor. Montey retired at the conclusion of this film and Ron threw him an elaborate party, how’s that for class!

On Christmas Eve, 1999, we filmed late into the night at this Whoville set on the Grinch. Snowflakes cascaded down from the perms above as families huddled inside the shops watching Ron and Jim Carrey do their thing. It was family night on a set that was as Christmas as you can get.

One funny outtake occurred as Jim, The Grinch, was being carried on a throne to his perch overlooking this village. The throne was being carried like a coffin with the fully made-up Jim Carrey, Grinch on top. But the seat caved in, dropping Jim to the snow-covered floor. That scene brought a round of laughter and applause once Jim was done struggling to get back up…

The Grinch, got GrinchedHo, Ho, HoLong Live Santa Claus!

A Very Merry Christmas to each and all of you…

Written and lived by… Donnie Norden

To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee won a Pulitzer Prize for her 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded in 2007 for her contribution to literature.

Mr. Gregory Peck on Southern Street, Universal Studios. – 1962

The original house was moved along with the entire street of homes, new location just above Jaws Lake. The back door and backside windows view Cabot Cove. Original location was by Mayfield, Leave it to Beaver area.

To Kill a Mockingbird was released Christmas Day 1962

This street has been used by Adam-12, Cheech and Chong, and by LAPD...for tactical training.

As it sits today, it remains a very busy set for NBC Television Shows.

This street angle no longer exists, original Southern Street location.

When kids stand still-something’s up.

Jean Louise “Scout” and Atticus Finch…

Front porch of this house a few years ago…

Interior of home as you enter front door. We leave it generic, set decorations give it that homey feel.

There is a stairway for upstairs window access. For night shots on street, set lighting may put fixtures in any and all windows.

The back porch of this home looks at Cabot Cove. Seagulls and foghorns constantly chime, then Jaws’ mesmerizing soundtrack builds up as Glamour Trams approach this tiny community. On a busy day, a hundred shark attacks can be witnessed here. A never-ending stream of trams pass below this area. “On my side of the tram is Bruce, named after Steven Spielberg’s lawyer” says one tour guide after another.

Another Lawyer in attack mode…”Bruce-The Shark”

A leaded glass view out a side window…

Another stained glass interior window…

The house was that yellow color completely, but most of this house was repainted blue. Behind this door is a view of Jaws…

From behind the house that sits on an embankment, Denver Street and the old west can be accessed from a back stairway.

Elm Street-this is today’s version of Southern Street. Shaved ice was sprayed all down the street for a commercial in this image.

Elm Street- The house blocking the end of the street was built for the movie Hancock, starring Will Smith. It has interior rooms to film in. Complete set with a backyard even.

Southern Street became a much more opulent neighborhood as Elm Street.

Yours truly, facing the To Kill a Mockingbird House.

Watch out Boys- LAPD trains here!”

Southern Street, Industrial Street, now Elm StreetCall it what you wish

This home has been located in two locations that are identified with three different street names. From its original location, this street had several houses moved here from Elysian Park. A few were moved again to what was Industrial Street, located just above Denver Street and Cabot Cove, and just below Colonial Street.

What is special with the homes moved from where Dodger Stadium now lies, is that families once lived inside. They have bathrooms, kitchens, etc. Real houses turned into sets. Nothing works, plumbing is not connected, when power is needed, we ran auxiliary power from shooting stations.

Trams can’t drive down this street directly due to a severe grade at the back end of the street. One of our few streets not tram-able. You can imagine its appeal to train police officers in tactics “clearing a house.” LAPD not only practices here, but they also did a TV Series that used this street at times…Adam -12.

Amazing Stories did the most extravagant of all sets on this street in the episode “You Gotta Believe Me.”…Convinced by a nightmare of a Boeing 747 crashing into his house is a horrific premonition, Earl Sweet desperately tries to alter his fate.

Well, it happened at Universal Studios on Industrial Street, back in 1986. Two houses down from The Mockingbird Home, parts of a 747 were brought in and airplane parts littered Earl’s House and yard. A tail fin, engines, wheels, wings, and seats created a ghoulish setting in this quiet little neighborhood where normally all you hear are tour guides.

Today, the studio identifies this as Elm Street. The old Elysian Park homes were removed and destroyed, once and for all for complete modern rebuilds. This is a popular street to film on, but one home still links to the past-it’s Boo Radley’s house on the corner.

On the front porch, Gregory Peck can still quietly read his law books. But on the back porch, trams are being attacked about every four minutes by a Great White Shark named after Steven Spielberg’s lawyer…”Bruce”

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden

Check out my YouTube Channel...Phantom of the Backlots. It’s quite the adventure.

You Drive

I’m 13- I’d love to”

So, I was on my way to work when”…

This kid came out of nowhere”Paper Boys A thing of the past!

I’m not sure what happened next”


Props needed- A bicycle, 4 newspapers, and a phone booth. Interesting culture shift, no longer do phone booths or paper boys still exist.

Same location today without the props…

The boy looks fine, I need to get to work!”

“I’m Late for work lady”Vet’s Tower top right corner.

Typical traffic on Braddock at rush hour…

Same intersection, less congestion.

The house is now yellow across the street…

Is that him, you gotta be sure?“…”I’m sure that’s the killer” says the witness…”He’s all mine!” says the motor officer.

I’m walking to work today honey, I doubt it will rain”

Here it is today-exactly the same. Every stone, every bush, the light, the rain gutter and the address placard.

I knocked on their door, but no one answered. They must know where they are living, as original as it gets!

Have a good day Ed!”

Where did Ed go?”

Arc lights reflecting off the car window and tail piece.

I would love to see the driver who has to be laying down.

Nothing has changed in six decades, the car might still be inside…

Same spot- way different today. The manhole lid is the constant. Sony added parking structures that blocked the stages and the Scenic Art Building on Le Bourget Ave.

The hills in the background is where MGM Lot 3 is located. Good old fashioned metal trash cans were how refuse was collected, and cool cars had paneling.

“Just get in! “

This car knows where the actual Police Station is located. It’s pulling up at C.C.P.D Headquarters located on Duquesne and Braddock.The vintage police sign is much cooler that what exists today.Nice squad car at curb.

Same location today-Notice the modern Police sign on light post.

Same spot-Sixty Years Later…

Hey-I’ve been inside there too!”

What a fun day this was…

I live close by here and grew up playing in this park. St Augustines, my old school, practiced football here.Dr Paul Carlson is its name and it’s located in between MGM and Desilu studios. Both studios used this park in various T.V series. Everything from Gomer Pyle, The Twilight Zone, to The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, and Chips, The Wonder Years, and The Goldbergs- used this park setting.

My favorite is You Drive. Every time I’m here my mind turns into a view master of memorable television. Being a kid, me and my bike have relived this scene more than once, it’s what kids do. This episode is the oldest of any series, narrowly preceding Gomer Pyle in 1964. This park has not changed, nor has the neighborhood for the most part. This episode is a wonderful time capsule that can still be retraced. The house that is the centerpiece is exact. It wouldn’t shock me if the car was in the garage.

From the looks of the gray sky and wet streets, this was filmed on a rainy day.Special Effects added their own for dramatic cause as the car picks up Ed off the streets to be turned in to authorities. This location is just outside MGM Studios and its Culver Blvd gate. This set is just a hop, skip, and jump away from The Twilight Zone stages at MGM. Back in the day, MGM had a West, East, and South Gate. Sony added a North Gate on Washington Blvd. When shows go “On Location”-they hate to travel very far.Especially television with its tight schedules tighter budgets.

This episode lives on for eternity and I would love to watch this again…in their garage!

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden