Inceville Studios

Sunset Boulevard meets the ocean on this stretch now…
The first west coast studio built by Thomas Ince. The Ince family home sits off in the distance atop a hillside, overlooking his motion picture factory. Triangle Ranch precedes the Triangle Studio. He would organize yet another Triangle in his future Culver City film production facilities.
King of the Hill…The Ince Home
Transportation and picture coaches are parked along the right edge in this photo.
Inceville today, one of my favorite places to meditate, Elvis Presley was a regular at this fellowship.
Established in 1950…

Life at the beach isn’t all it appears when viewed through the eyes and lens of one of the most legendary film producer, directors in motion picture history. Mr. Thomas Ince is a pioneer, at a level comparable to George Washington. His vision took him from New York to the west coast. The land he arrived at was truly known as Hollywoodland.

Mr. Ince set up shop at the beach, 25 miles as the crow flies from the sign above. Inceville Studios was born. In the memoirs written by Thomas Ince, he expressed dissatisfaction with this selection. Weather is not always that sunny on the ocean. Gray skies, fog, wind are as natural shall we say as Earth, Wind, and Fire. It goes with the turf.

Ince biography- The General of film making.

This beach backlot proved to create more difficulties than Mr. Ince expected. Sand, wind and gray skies were turning into unforeseen issues. As fate would have it, Mr. Ince, in a chance meeting with Harry Culver on a set involving the La Ballona creek, developed a kinship. Mr. Culver was instrumental in luring all these studios to Culver City with sweetheart deals.

Mr. Ince first would develop Triangle Pictures, in what turned into MGM. But rather than be one of three– he built his very own studio on what was to be named Ince Blvd.

In 1924, big things were going to change Hollywoodland forever…

I share this story for the foundation of events soon to take place and to this day- has not been fully documented. I have discovered, on a corner once controlled by Thomas Ince, a piece of history that precedes the Hollywood we know today. It’s a major puzzle piece, a missing link to events culminating in 1924.

This is a series of groundbreaking stories dating back to the early twenties I’m about to share, I feel very honored to do so…

Written and lived by Donnie Norden

RKO/Selznick/Desilu/Amazon Intersect

Once upon a time:

Thomas Ince, Cecil B. DeMille, RKO, Selznick International, Desilu and Cinema General Studios all leased or owned this piece of land known as the 40 Acres Backlot in Culver City. In the center of this backlot sat an intersection, known as the 4-way-intersection, whose roots go back to the film Gone with the Wind. During this time, wagon after wagon sped through this section as the Civil War raged on through the streets of this backlot.

20 years later, this Backlot would see major renovations when Desi Arnaz took it over and it became Desilu Culver. That period kicked off the height of television history… Everyone who turned on their TVs in the 60’s dialed into this corner. That’s because most every TV series that was popular passed through this low profile yet highly iconic piece of real estate. Culver City has doubled for Mayberry, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, Berlin, Gotham City, or simply, The Metropolis, to name just a few cities.

No other studio backlot enjoyed such colorful costumes and figures, from both the ancient past- to the far-off future. This section saw it all.

As a kid growing up here, these temptations were too hard to resist, so I would enter these sets through a back entrance, then look out a window or doorway, and get the pulse of what was going on inside the lot. This is typically how my adventures began. The backside of this street was overgrown by 6-foot-tall licorice plants. The smell – intoxicating, would activate as you brushed up against these plants that also provide cover to maneuver around, after all, we are trespassing.

Old curtains sit behind filthy windows, the dust of a million TV shows gathers no moss. It’s dry and dirty here, all the buildings on this street are just fronts. The wallpaper was discolored and peeling, and from a different era, but just the same, bared witness to every scene ever filmed here. No backsides, so no protection, the decades took their toll, actually giving it more character. It smells old, it is old, and you can easily get hurt on certain rooftops that we shall deem, questionable at best. Film companies don’t care about what the camera doesn’t see. The dirt is romantic residue from past films, layered on top of previously kicked up dust. I was honored to wear much of it home-on my hands and clothing. At the end of the day, you should smell like dirt and have fun remembering how you got that way.

That’s what it takes to be a backlot explorer.

So, the inside of these sets reek of ancient film making. But outside these same windows I would look out of- is a TV Land. Pardon me Columbia Studio’s with Bewitched and Dennis the Menace, or the Partridge Family, or Paramount with the Brady Bunch and Love American Style. MGM was war TV like no other studio in existence. But Desilu was unique. This lot was built for Superheroes. Superman, Batman, Robin, KATO and The Green Hornet kept the crime rate low.

Next time you’re watching your favorite reruns, picture this intersection, it’s a representation of ancient sounds, and smells, mixed up with the TV generation. Our senses were presented with black and white reproductions. Color existing only on film sets, not TV sets. That changed in 1965 with the transition to color TV, if you were one of the lucky ones, that’s probably when your parents bought their first color TV. A big moment in households across the country.

From 1965 to 1971, this Desilu backlot was a kaleidoscope of imagery for your new fancy cathode ray tube box. Combined with an antenna on the roof, you should be able to pull in pictures from the sky. More than once, I’ve been on our steep roof adjusting the antenna for my dad. It takes two people. This is the cutting-edge science that brought this backlot to life in “living color

This intersection is a very simple set considering all the history that stepped foot here. My second book will have the stories involving the last films to be done on these sets. One was Lepke, starring Tony Curtis. The other was a wild one-day bazooka blast in a show titled Vigilante Force.

Yep, that’s how this intersection closed, with Jan-Michael Vincent and Kris Kristofferson running around like, … well trespassers!

I realize this post is long, but that’s because of all the movie magic that’s taken place here, you can’t hurry love… I just wanted to share some details and anecdotes of the craziest intersection in TV Land history.

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden.

We begin the picture story…in the center of town

Atlanta Railroad Depot

What was left of the Atlanta Railroad Depot when I arrived
This is the set the soldiers are marching down in Gone with the Wind. Atlanta Rail Depot was at end of this street…
My picture, 1976…The end is near, scorched earth extends towards the main gate on Ince Blvd and the Atlanta Railroad Depot is long gone.

Filming of Gone With The Wind. Nearly the same angle as the picture I took above.

In a scene from Star Trek “Where’s our ship… where did we park the damn Enterprise?” Atlanta Railroad Depot with facades coving it
King Kong and Gone with the Wind, the ultimate 40 acres double feature…
Let’s see Kong Pa, please can we”...
Sgt. Carter and Gomer running through the intersection, chasing after the Sarge’s car.


A trespassing pic I took a few years later

Star Trek even used this Backlot

My picture-1973 A wood plank extends from the two story brick building to the roof of the one story next to it. There is a potential fall space between the two structures. They connect by a gang plank. It’s that or just jump.
Good time to take a walk, traffic’s light.
Man in a Hurry” episode Andy Griffith. I was a boy in NO -Hurry-at all!
I saw a Colt 45 beer commercial filmed here in 1972 starring Redd Foxx. They built a 3 story hotel in this intersection that collapsed, just missing the star or… Stunt double

Same street as above 30 years before

The Untouchables…Bullet holes in glass were done with pellets with vaseline and a tiny cardboard disc. It would hit the glass and create the image of an actual round passed through. Then usually, the car crashes. Tell me you haven’t seen that on this show!
Land of the Giants…“Get lost you brat!”
Building 60 is the Mayberry Theater
Gomer Pyle-1967 …Looking for some good Chinese entertainment…I took car loads of real Marines to this lot, many of my older trespassing friends became Marines. We had some incredible moments on these backlots with real soldiers. Stories for my books two and three-real deal, mind blowing stuff. Security met its match. BB gun fights on the set of Combat were never so real. I dig Marines!….Oorah
Hogan’s Heroe’s

Mission Impossible…”sorryIf anyone’s hurt, we do have an ambulance.”
Kirk and Spock have seen enough of this world…
Crusader’s have arrived in style…
Love everything about this- especially the camera…I bought Bat stickers and stuck them everywhere. I have been told Mr. West was sometimes seen with a brown paper bag with a beer inside, say in-between Zaps and Pows.
I once was stopped by a guard on this lot while visiting the set of Capone and he had us write our names down on a pad. We all used alias’, I chose and wrote down-Adam West. Security seemed ok with that. I was ready to run if that became a problem. It was presented to Roger Corman, who allowed us to stay. Roger, laughed as he read the names. It was a crack-up moment… “Yes, Adam West and Bruce Lee can stay,” he looked at the guard in astonished bewilderment. “They’ve been following us around all week” we all stared at each other innocently.

Everyone’s favorite German

Gone with the Wind scene…The building on the left side of this picture would be replaced by the iconic church used in Frank Sinatra’s Miracle of the Bells…

The replacement church built for Frank Sinatra’s Miracle of the Bells…

My picture of this church-1973. This was how the backlot looked in TV Land era. The steeple looked over the entire backlot. A straight up, nailed to the wall ladder, will take you to the belfry. It’s a good climb, worth the risk. The church schedule is the B/W sign. An ancient RKO light stands to the left of the stairs leading to the front door.
This was the last day ever of filming on this street. Vigilante Force. Main street went out with a bang. Just like it came in…what a lot!
False Face and Shame and The Joker all villainized this intersection…
Batman, parked across from the Mayberry Courthouse, in front of the Mayberry post office, he must be mailing a letter…
Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara. “Gone with the wind” is often considered the most beloved enduring and popular film of all the time. Sidney Howard’s script was derived from Margaret Mitchell first and only published, best-selling Civil War and Recontruction Period novel. Producer David O’ Selznick had acquired the film rights to Margaret Mitchell’s novel in 1936 for $50 000, a record amount at the time to an unknown author for her first novel. At the time of the film’s release, the fictional book had supassed 1,5 million copies sold. More records were set when the film was first aired on television in two parts in late 1976, and controversy arose when it was restored and released theatrically in 1998. In 2003, in France, Gérard Presguric presents “Gone with the wind” as his new musical comédie at Paris
A harbinger of things to comeZombies, how our world looks today. We would watch filming from the top of the hill in this background. It was owned by Mr. Howard Hughes. He had a research facility hidden at the top. Notice how you see the sky through the upper window. These buildings had no backside. Drapes were important. Many curtains were so old, they were stuck, like pages in an old book. The older they were, the less likely they could be opened or shut.

A scene from Hogan’s Heroes

My picture, looking southward. Hogan’s Heroes used this area as downtown Berlin, Germany. The red brick building was a Hofbrau, raided by Major Hochstetter, looking for a traitor, Major Bonacelli.
1964- Gomer Pyle
This little intersection has seen it all…Gone with the Wind
This picture of mine is the backside of this iconic intersection, a couple old ships are parked in the weeds and licorice plants, one is full size, one is miniature. This backlot does not have a dock set, so I’m not sure the history of this grounded fleet. Walls from the ancient past lean against buildings that received modern face-lifts. A light, the only one on the entire street, illuminated from the roof downwards on the intersection. It was for security- set watch.
Richard B. Jewell, The RKO Story…This best describes what made this backlot the most unique of any in Hollywood. It’s as wild as the film pioneers who operated out of it. Lucy and Desi Arnez would change this culture. Finally, thanks largely to your television sets, this lot had continuity. One owner, set on one course, and made a lasting imprint like no other.
Somewhere in TV Land right now…Walter Winchell is narrating an opening, or there’s a whistling going on with fishing poles, Marines marching, maybe even a head popping out of a tree stump. Desilu ownership brought that identity 40 acres, and stability finally arrived. Desilu offered something for everyone’s taste. It’s not hard to find this place to this day-on TV. We really did all grow up here…
Camera man assignments-1960. Television’s beginnings. Desilu is a combination of three studios. TV shows shooting exteriors on the 40 acre backlot would film interiors often cross town due to stage space. Example, you will see Paramount on some Hogan’s Heroes credits, Gulf Western was on that lot. But the Stalag 13 exterior was in my backyard, so to speak. Star Trek was another example, as is The Untouchables and even Batman will say 20th Century Fox, not Desilu. But several episodes, including the somewhat fictitious Bioscope studio, where Batman pursued False Face all over the Desilu backlot, were done here. I found out that reference Bioscope Studios, refers to Thomas Ince. Nice job slipping that in Lorenzo Sample Jr, writer of many Bat episodes and the script writer for 1976 King Kong. Small world indeed. My point here is-the same owner Desilu means all these lots and sets are interchangeable. Think of them as one.
Me TV,,, 1965. Desilu- Culver City. Mary Tyler Moore would later own this place, with Grant Tinker.
Don’t use the door Robin- we’re in a hurry!…”But my cape’s stuckBatman”
She’s the owner, she can do what she wants…Desi was probably doing the same stuff.
The first cape appeared on the backlot on Superman, a smashing success!
Let’s take off- Actionjump higher, cut. Do it again... Mayberry Hotel in background
Can you buy us some beer sir, they won’t sell to us, we look too small ?
I worked this town in The Wizard of Oz, we were on top of the world in 1939. Then all of a sudden, parts were few and far between”.… “We got a 6 am call on Gomer Pyle-Monday, location, another alien part”

This is first ever Star Wagon.
This mobile make up trailer was built for a mega silent star, it continued on long after sound came into pictures. Wheels are built into the walls and it was towed by horses. Wonderful mirrors capture your every movement when you open the door and enter this time capsule, It has been an integral part of the 40 acre backlot ranch, forever. This room was part of everything mentioned in this post. King Kong, 1933, Gone with the Wind are just 2 films whose female leads were prepared inside this room for their roles. In the 60’s TV heros would be touched up inside. Don’t judge the book by the cover, this room is a hundred years old. Treasures exist from almost every decade, it sat locked for the last 50 years… I’m still researching this, it’s a fantastic adventure back in time, stay tuned…
I hope this was as nostalgic as it was fun…sure was for me. Nice having you on my tour…I love Desilu
For other backlot trespassing adventures, read my book available on Amazon

Adam-12 meets PT 73

More often this Patrol Boat just sits idle at Universal
PT 73 no longer is part of the Universal experience. It carried on – into much of the 80’s as part of the tour. Because of it being a noticeable iconic prop, it had to be removed when film companies shot the Red Sea. Tales from the Gold Monkey TV series took over this section and PT 73 was replaced by Cutter’s Goose. A water landing airplane replaced the old PT.
“Battle Stations”
This base is where the parting of the Red Sea would become a tour favorite. An Airplane replaced the old PT 73.
The natives are restless…they returned on Tale’s of the Gold Monkey
We can use this set…
PT 73 was replaced by a water taxi flying PT Boat
We moved the PT 73 when this set from Tales of the Gold Monkey TV series took over this section of the lake. The PT boat although no longer in use was kept around for its popularity with the Glamour tram tour. It lived in spirit long after Mchale’s Navy was canceled. Earnest Borgnine traded the PT boat in for an Airwolf helicopter. That TV series filmed at sets previously used in Mchale’s Navy. It’s a small world in TV Land.
I always wanted to make a board game about sneaking around studio backlots. Just security, trespassers, and a backlot to run around on. Complete with handcuffs and a get out of jail free card. Ages 10 and up…like Jumangi !
Just like The Munsters TV series, features spun off the success of these two TV series. Both shows overlapped production here at Revue Studio’s…Universal’s Television Division. These feature films based off television series started a new trend. Normally, TV series sprout up based on the success of a feature film. Alias Smith and Jones, for example, was created by Glen Larson based off the popularity of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. As a kid, to see The Munsters on the big screen and in color, was extremely satisfying.
By land or sea…PT 73 in a display in 6 points Texas, Universal. This picture looks like an accident waiting to happen. Engine 51, from Emergency TV series, sits in position.
Behind old buildings lie even older treasures…
Our main gate, truck gate on Lankershim. Across the street is Bluffside Park. Jimmy Stewart Drive takes you inside the studio. Bank of America is left of police cruiser. What was first an autograph seeker turned into a shots fired call for this episode. In 1988, this scenario played out in real life.
The Tower of London castle is towering over this police unit. This is now the tram entrance to the Earthquake animation.
A spider box as they are called in the trade with 3 cables feeding D.C. power to equipment on set, foreground bottom left.
This courtyard is known as the Court of Miracles. It was often used by catering for meals, tables and tents popped up when a full day of filming was to take place on these sets.
A sniper- autograph seeker is terrorizing the backlot.
One Adam-12, three studio employees have been shot.

Same spot as previous picture – decades apart
Sniper views…same street.
” Help me, I’m not on break, I’ve been shot! “
The crime scene…
Reverse angle, rooftop sniper view…
PT 73, parked in our Spartacus set, just a short tow from where it was based along side the Red Sea. It sits on a massive steel wheeled platform that back in the day was towed by elephants.
Transportation moves it this way.
Duct tape, glue, screws, and some gray paint…We’ll fix her back up in no-time.
This is the same balcony the snipers are on where the PT Boat was in dry dock in 1974. ” Reverse angle” This shoot was for the NFL Network. These are pro-football players.
Put your hands up!
What pro football players do in the off-season…
I’m on the wrong lot…
Not that you care, but, that is a D.C. “direct- current” set lighting can and breaker behind our star. That’s where the big studio movie lights get their power from. Every couple of buildings has power distribution hidden inside them. These electrical D.C. cans as they are referred to are the arteries to these sets coming to life.
This was a much used area and doorway in my career…often this area was basecamp and full of Star Waggons. That is the name of a popular studio rental created by Lyle Waggoner.
Remember this Hunk …On a show starring Tim Conway and Ms. Carol Burnett?
Lyle Waggoner‘s Star Waggon studio rentals have corned the business of movie star trailer rentals. The studios no longer have their own star and make-up trailers, like in the 60’s and prior. I have discovered the oldest one in existence. The Holy Grail, it still exists. The first one ever built, directly for a major movie actress. The trailer I have- access to- is where this idea first came about. More on that story to come…
Spartacus square- under attack. ” Clear the PT Boat-watch for crossfire”…
This area is jam packed with Star Waggons for very large base camps, there is room to park, and power to supply transportation needs.
What is now Jaws Lake -was Singapore Lake in Mchale’s Navy. PT 73 also filmed in this body of water. The ship would get moved around on that ancient wood flatbed cart.
Rusted corrugated steel would be placed over the wooden shingles changing this east coast fishing village to a more distant Pacific base for Mchale’s Navy. This set became Cabot Cove. PT 73 anchored here when need be.

One Adam-12

One Adam-12, we have a report of autograph seekers sneaking into Universal Studios. Meet security at the Lankershim truck gate. They will direct you from there…

Well, that’s how this episode rolls, and what was an autograph seeker turns into a shots fired sniper call. Employees are down in the backlot. As Reed and Malloy respond in their Dodge Valiant, a manhunt begins on our backlot. A tactical incident response is needed to rescue the fallen laborer and to apprehend the sniper. As I watched this episode, this iconic prop from a decade ago worked its way into another television episode. The PT 73 was sitting parked in Spartacus Square.

In need of a face lift, nothing a coat of paint and a little re-anchoring couldn’t fix. But PT boats aren’t much in demand after Mchale’s Navy fulfilled its obligations. So, this boat moved around more by land than by sea. Welcome to Hollywood’s biggest backlot. These two hit legendary TV series unite briefly in this episode.

Later on in the 80’s, PT 73 would return to the sea this series filmed at, as part of the tour. Honorable mention by every tram, as a submarine follows the Glamour Tram. Then sea mines explode by means of compressed air, and all that commotion leads to the parting of the Red Sea.

But once again, fiction would sync up with a factual event that took place sadly on our lot. The exact same gate that Adam-12 pulled up at to enter the lot had an autograph seeker pay it a visit. This tourist approached security wanting to meet Michael Landon. Highway to Heaven was a hit series at this time. But it was being filmed in Culver City, at the MGM main lot.

After being told “NO” by security, a short time later this fellow returned and opened fire on security. Two guards were killed.

Security is a mixed bag, many retired LAPD officers are corporate security, capable of carrying firearms. But the cheaper form of private security does not carry weapons. That is due to a major executive having a gun pulled on him by security. That changed the landscape. Walkie-talkies replaced firearms for the overall patrol of the studio. This coincided with the time frame of this episode, in the early 70’s.

Lo and behold, in 1988, this 1974 TV episode of Adam-12 rings many bells for anyone who experienced that afternoon at Universal Studios. Peace be with; Jeren and Armando….End of Watch!

Written and lived by… Donnie Norden

Tuesday is Soylent Green Day

2022 Well- it’s finally here. We made itsort of.
When Soylent Green came out in 1973, we all wondered what 2022 would really be like.
We can hide out here…
This is a matte painting. The bottom half is actual and located at MGM lot 1. Left to right- the scenic art building where the backdrops were painted. Next, recessed, is Stage 14. The building right of that is set lighting cable storage. The rooftop of each structure start the seam of this futuristic skyline. This looks like any current parking lot in L.A. Dysfunction everywhere you turn.
Same location of Matte painting-50 years after. Now it is –The Goldbergs -TV series base camp.
Follow the rules people”
The things I’ve seen...were better than they are now!
Thorn –on my favorite stairway on the backlot.
We’re standing where Chuck is- a few months later…
I used this stairway all the time, this is a strategic building, for all things NY street. Once inside, you can work your way around on rooftops. I lost a tooth in this building. I ran into a steel cable with my face, boys will be boys. My mom had to take me to emergency for stitches and a cap. One of my many backlot battle scars.
I relived this Thorn pose exactly, it’s what we do here, relive famous scenes, where they were created.
Medical Center filmed this set, Chad Everett, Dr Joe Gannon, used car jumper cables to kick start a victim of cardiac arrest. By gosh, it worked. Nowadays, people would walk right past that corpse.
1980 – Under those same stairs
I wanted this stairway so bad…the world’s falling apart.
A No-Fly Zone could protect us…
I love the 70’s van souped up to look 2022. The bike seen here is a studio work bike. I owned one for a brief time, but I was spotted on it and chased down public streets by MGM security. I had to abort. It had 3 wheels, and a big steel front basket to carry equipment. Mine had a sign- Drapery Department. Before you pass judgement, I felt I earned it and deserved it. I confessed to this shenanigan to a priest in a confessional booth and was issued a penance. One hundred Hail Mary’s later, the Lord exonerated meAmen.
1972 meet 2022
A 1973 Saturday afternoon right after a good rain, NY street with no one on the lot but me…It’s like I own it! Soylent Green could still be found in the theater when I took this picture.
The population was wearing masks for the movie in 1972- In 2022, so do we!
Something killed everybody…Covid, starvation, WW3 –who knows!
This looks like the Ukraine presently, but it’s good old MGM lot 2-“Get us out of here” …This is where my Soylent Green chase started, under the marquee. God bless our friends in Ukraine.
The world was a better place with the Apes in charge…
We’re now living in …The Twilight Zone, it seems. Cavender come save us!
These trays all got spilled in the riot scenes. This is where I captured my Soylent Green and the Call Sheet. These scenes were filmed the day before. Soon after grabbing this green lunch the guard showed up and this turned into a wild west chase. Security shot at my friend Pat as we were running to the fence. The fence is a long ways away from this theater district. I had a call sheet in my pocket and green and red painted Soylent in my hands.
These pieces lasted in my museum/ bedroom until I moved out. It’s then my parents threw so many cool items, I could cry. “Why do you want that stale green bread Donnie?“- “Because I earned it mother!”
“So this really happened…after all.” Logo at bottom says People Food
Tuesday is Soylent Green Day!
Same window as rioters are converging on, when the world was in better shape. Here -dressed for another George Cukor backlot scene.
The main rioting took place on this corner.
Don’t complain, this is the New World Order!”
Make Love -Not WAR is what we Hippies from the 60’s said…
There will be sanctions -I’m sure, for this conduct.
Sanctions- 1980
To this day, mankind hasn’t devised any better way to leave this realm.
I’m signing up for this method, watching old MGM reruns, till death do us part. Ironically SolEdward G. Robinson died after this film.
My puppy dog Thora watching Courage of Lassie...animals get it.
I had a fort in the top story of the building across the street, it lasted until the building was torn down. My longest surviving fort. Great views towards Vet’s Tower and the Baldwin Hills.
I ended up with the lamp shell round bulb, the one on the right. It was green with black identification, it said 56th Precinct.
I met Yul, right after this scene, we stood face to face, just me, Yul, and the director. He never talked, he just stared at me, he was in character- but so was I. I just wandered right up, like some young producer, it was the Martini scene– last shot before wrap. He looked like a robot, his eyes, his movements, straight out of Westworld….
Westworld... That’s one future idea I was looking forward to, an adult theme parkit never happened.
It was this silent, motionless, vacant expression that was staring me down, right in main intersection on 5th Avenue. You see this look a lot more these days…
This wheel is now a hit TV show filmed on this same lot…”Good Luck”
Wheel of Fortune-Logan’s Run style…1975. “Go ahead Vanna-spin it!”
This set burned down in the 1967 fire, American in Paris, starring Gene Kelly, filmed here. This is where the cemetery is set up in 1972 for Soylent Green
Cemetery- take this exit.
This cemetery was moved as far as it could and still stay on the backlot. These tombstones are where I hid the first ever time I entered a Hole in the Fence. I laid along side them, scared stiff. They would again move for the Phantom of Hollywood movie of the week, to the Tarzan Lake set. Then once again, for Logan’s Run. Like a traveling circus of dead people.
The biosphere balloon tent and cemetery were located here, where these stands and stairs are sitting. We lost this area in 1967 fire. Cameras and lights generally go on those platforms. The Blue MGM sign in the distance is promoting Logan’s Run.
Chuck has promo for Mt. Sinai at wrap. A star’s work is never done.
50 years later– the world is incredibly worse than this movie depicted. With no end in sight.

Go Green…

Let’s see, is it just me, or is this movie chillingly accurate. The masks, the living conditions, and methods used for compliance… “Get the Scoops!”

I wrote about sneaking on this set and went into detail on the scariest chase ever in my first book. But a look back 50 years is a bit, shall we say Sobering. We seem to have these same problems, plus we have World War. Take that 1972- we got it worse.

Logan’s Run filmed on this lot 4 years later, and also has a form of population control. A wheel of fortune is how your fate is determined, when you hit thirty, you may wish to run.

The Ultimate Warrior filmed on these same sets with yet another apocalypse, starring Yul Brynner. Then, A Planet full of Apes took over the street and things ran very well.

Another film, which is coming true- is Blade Runner. Robots with artificial intelligence. What was sci-fi, is now as real as it gets.

I wanted to share this 50 year old snapshot in time and compare our society as it is today. Submitted for your approvalSoylent Green 1972-2022

“Soylent Green is People”... a harbinger of things to come!

Written and lived by …Donnie Norden

A visit to Amblin Entertainment

Located close to where 1313 Mockingbird Lane once was, this company known as Amblin Entertainment took over this section of the lot. The old residential street that included the Leave it to Beaver House along with the Munsters was relocated farther back in the backlot.
Greetings…the wood entrance fence is behind the light post. Dog kennels allow for employees to have their dogs inside if you’re with this company. Animal friendly- as you would expect.
Steven has a deep appreciation for all things… Outer Space
This item is inside, nothing to do with film… Also inside, in cabinets, are E.T. and the arm piece used by Dustin Hoffman in Hook. Artwork from Norman Rockwell appear on the walls…
I hope he likes our script, Maureen“… “Hole in the Fence is right up his alley, they’re Amazing Stories, he’ll dig it”
AmblinWhere truly amazing stories happen…
Atta Boys!
No more Hawaii…it poured there!
L.A.’s the place, we can create the island here, at Universal.
A typical blockbuster from the bowels of this building.
This is not Amblin’s visitor center-Welcome to Jurassic Park.
Just outside the conference room and chef food preparation area next door…
Conference room…Steven Spielberg. Furnishings stay covered when not used.
I still have nightmares from that tanker in the desert
Mr. Steven SpielbergWe have something in common- we both set up shop in movie studio lots before we actually worked there.
He is so kind, a personal autograph for my daughter…talking marching band.
Beaver’s house was moved above the snow line to make room for Amblin…
A most wonderful set was the interior/exterior of a haunted house built on Stage 12 for Casper
This foam rubber Casper was used as focal point for actors in scenes with the computer generated ghost. CGI is post production. For the actors on set, this was the reference point for eye focus. This ghost moved by using a broom stick attached inside its backside.


Where the front lot stages meet the backlot perimeter. Producers row sits with offices of top award-winning film makers. Sidney Pollack had his office next door in refurbished bungalow. Michael J. Fox is next door to him. This was back in the day when I had full access to all things Universal…we were M.C.A. in the day. Music Corporation of America, yes- we rock and roll here!

Even the Beatles visited our studio 1965 and quickly became friends with the cast of The Munsters. Due to insurance issues involving the band’s exploding popularity, Lew Wasserman offered up some of our star dressing rooms for their visit before the Dodger stadium concert.

When you see a sign involving a bicycle flying with E.T. in the basket, you’re here. You’re greeted by a wood gate that will open if you belong here, it’s nestled in a southwestern style location of offices and bungalows. A Koi Pond, nestled below tall trees, provides a relaxation area outside. Inside, depending on your visit, is where many of your favorite all time films were negotiated and came to life. A rolling popcorn cart sits just inside from the patio. A quaint theater sits adjacent to entrance. Kathleen Kennedy has offices here. Several films were coproduced by these two.

This sloped agora area also has offices of several of the studio’s top bread winners, including Imagine Entertainment, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s company. Here is a list of doors to knock on in the 80’s and 90’s etc…

Dino De Laurentis had a bungalow adjacent to theirs while making Red Dragon with Anthony Hopkins. That complex was at one time Alfred Hitchcock’s.

Tom ShadyacShady Acres complex

Ivan Reitman maintained a very plush office just outside the Amblin fences. Kindergarten Cop and Twins were done at our facility.

This area is like the old New York Yankees, Murderer’s Row...Each office has the potential to produce the top film at this lot. Normally, just bet on Spielberg.

Films I have touched bases with him as lead man include;

Amazing Stories- TV

Back to the Future 1, 2 and 3

Jurassic Park 1,2 and 3

Casper– the feature.

Amistad– a prison set on Stage 12

Jaws: The Revenge

War of the Worlds -Starring Tom Cruise

Minority Report- Starring Tom Cruise

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull- starring Harrison Ford

One enormous benefit of production at Universal is the promotional end, trams talk all things Universal films. Especially his, then the hope is you go buy a dinosaur T-Shirt. Go ride Jurassic Park, or E.T. Films interact with promotional caveats to hoist profits upwards in ways no other studio can utilize.

Yes, this man practically lives on this lot during filming and Universal gave him the production office he’s in since they don’t ever want him to leave. It’s quite the marriage, win- win. Sidney Sheinberg is the man responsible for signing on this young director and gave him a project titled –Duel-1971. Lew Wasserman was the last movie mogul in Hollywood at this time. Sid was Lew’s right-hand man.

Steven directed Night Gallery as his starter at the studio in 1969. This episode stars Joan Crawford and also my friend Roddy McDowall. Roddy and I first met on Planet of the Apes, MGM. Then again at Universal on Tales of the Gold Monkey.

Two memorable episodes of Amazing Stories on the backlot were…

OneThe Daddy Mummy episode. A hospital bound daddy -to- be, mummified for his role in a horror film, grunts and stumbles his way through our backlot steeped in the Egyptian eerie legend of mummy Ra Amin Ka.

Daddy- Mummy

TwoYou Gotta Believe Me… Convinced the vivid nightmare of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet crashing into his house is more than a dream. Earl Sweet tries to alter the tale.

Ironically, this would not be the last full scale jumbo jet Mr. Spielberg would bring to our lot. War of the Worlds had a similar fate.

This set from War of the Worlds was the second of the two 747 Jumbo jets Mr. Spielberg has utilized in his backlot history at Universal.
The studio tours kept this set up rather than strike it, trams turn the corner by the Psycho house and drive through this carnage. The cost of this set is off set by the publicity it creates to each 175 person fully loaded tram. Jumbo trams touring Jumbo jets.
This pyramid overlooked the Hollywood Freeway-Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Fast forward to Indiana JonesKingdom of the Crystal Skull, the last feature I worked on of his. This show had sets on the backlot and on stages.

Universal’s ancient stage numbered 27 was used as a native jungle temple set. I was on set blowing a fan on our star Harrison Ford- to simulate a breeze.

Harrison is about to grab a blow dart gun from an Indian who is about to launch a poison dart. Indiana Jones blows into it, reversing the dart into the native ‘s mouth. Close-up stuff… all face to face. A pretty slick scene indeed…

Michael Bay happened to be on New York street filming Transformers at this same time.

It was then the A.D. tells Steven,”Michael Bay is here and about to enter inside Stage 27.” In a comic moment, Mr. Spielberg started yelling at his crew in a disrespectful way. That’s because Michael Bay is known to behave that way. So, Spielberg pretended to be rude and crude as Mr. Bay entered, that went on for a few seconds – expletives were being delivered left and right by our director before everyone split their gut in laughter.

Thanks for letting us visit Mr. Spielberg, and especially… for your magnificent film making!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Under the Rainbow

I’ve seen this movie before…
4 decades earlier…
Original surviving (Little People) returned for this sequel.
Selznick Studios at the time…in the 30’s.
After this show is over- you’re all going home!”– “This town’s not big enough for all of you troublemakers”
Look at those Munchskins go”
“I miss those little folk, already”
Van Buren AvenueBruce Lee lived half-way down this street while playing Kato in the Green Hornet series…”Let’s go to see Bruce!”
This is the funnest city in the Universe...
Security has its hands full…
The princess, born of a queen. How special it was to watch Carrie Fisher film downtown with Chevy Chase. Even more so -reflecting backwards.
A true princessPrincess Leia, swinging in- above. The Queen, Debbie Reynolds deserves a Culver City street named after her. Culver City has lost its roots and names of legendary actors, producers and directors should be added, especially around these backlot locals. Garland has a street, Debbie Reynolds deserves the same. This town should be all things studios – both the past and the present…The Heart of Screenland is like the Tin Man nowadays. It’s in need of a transplant.
Frank Sutton and Jim Nabors pushing the Sarge’s car to a gas station in this Gomer Pyle episode. This is now a theater in the center of downtown, in the hard to recognize, modern Culver City. Everyone from Laurel and Hardy to Starsky and Hutch filmed here. Amazon Studios is currently setting up future film making across the street. May I suggest to Amazon”Hole in the Fence,” submitted for your approval. We go way back-together, in these studios, long before you existed…
The Culver Hotel and the legendary Big Ed’s Bar, across the street. A tunnel connects the duet.
The Culver Hotel- official Hotel for Munchkin mania 1937.
The Magic BusThe Who’s Who of Little People

Almost exactly 41 years to the day have flown by- but it seems like just yesterday folks.
Notice Laird Studios on call sheet, that was the ownership group of the Culver Studios. This film uses some of the same stages as Gone With the Wind. The producers did a nice job on recreation of the craziest of all times in this city’s film history. The scenes involving Tara set recreated would have been done right here and not TBS had we kept up with the payments…Bankruptcy hit this entire corner. The hotel became low income, and the bar across the way with the checkered past sank to its lowest levels, surviving mainly as a dark movie location.
Today the bar is a distant fond memory for those of us old enough to remember and the hotel is luxury and wonderful place to stay, visit, eat, drink and listen to music. It still has charm that you feel as soon as you touch the door handles… back in time you go!
Judy Garland, in what appears to be- totally ignoring posture of the little troublemakers behind her. I wonder if LIFE magazine had a better article than what she happened to be working on…I’m going to leave this studio if it’s the last thing I do!“- I truly see dislike here! Picture taken December 23, 1937. This is one of my favorite photos all time, very rich in flavor. MGM Art Department still.
Judy’s read…1937 December 13, Life Magazine edition. Billions of dollars and Millions of men…featured story inside.
This recreation of the Tara Plantation in Gone With the Wind is on the backlot of TBS. Culver City allowed their backlots to disappear already, so the former Columbia Ranch became the featured backlot still standing.
Emerald City and Atlanta were a short distance apart, in Culver City anyways.
The Munchkins terrorized this film set. The fact is, both these movies, GWTW, and The Wizard of Oz, were in production at the same time in Culver City. That’s the tie in here.
Emerald City location. The TBS ranch, close to where Debbie Reynolds grew up.
The lovely Ms. Fisher on the backlot.
This truck was impeccable inside and out…
Emerald City…When I heard at the Culver Hotel advance locations would be at the TBS Ranch, I packed my things and headed to the valley.
Picture vehicle
Emerald City lies just beyond this old west street that was used in High Noon
One fine piece of machinery, 1930’s water truck. Behind it is scale size T-Rex
Our T-Rex doing a cameo…
I can’t stop-look out!
Same set as picture above this one.
The Gallows Pole…
This Gallow was put in for this scene.
Unfug Bros.
Emerald City...Columbia Ranch– setting up the runaway carriage scene.
The conclusion, a carriage crash, Chevy Chase just pulled Carrie Fisher to safety as the walls come tumbling down.

Roll credits...This show starts at The Queen Mary, moves to Culver City for the hotel and Culver Studio locations. For the backlot scenes, we switch to the Columbia Ranch-TBS. Scenes recreating Tara Plantation in Gone With the Wind were done at the TBS ranch. RKO/Desilu was the site of the original Tara Plantation. I have found an item of extreme interest from just beyond the original Plantation, on private property, that ties to these original films. A truly amazing discovery, a Hollywood heirloom to say the least. Coming soon…

Back entrance to Emerald City…TBS Ranch
That’s a wrap- bet you never forget this bus ride!”
Follow the Yellow Brick Road…For eternity.

Rainbows and Wizards;

When this feature was made back in 1981, I was aggressively applying to film companies and distributors of such around town. I was working for a company called Gilboy. We had movies that we shipped all over the U.S. usually six reels is the average length of a feature and they ship in metal cans. Our top movie was Star Wars. We couldn’t ship it fast enough, that’s when we all discovered for eternity Ms. Carrie Fisher.

She became bigger than life from that role of Princess Leia and most likely, bigger than Debbie Reynolds, the MGM matriarch. Once you’re a goddess from another Universe, you have reached your peak. So, this fun romp was just a throwback to a time when Culver City was overrun by dwarfs and little people. Debbie would eventually grace MGM in the fifties the way Carrie graced the Universe in the seventies onwards.

This story of the Munchkins arriving to make The Wizard of Oz had to touch a sentimental nerve in both Carrie and Debbie. Debbie would have worked with people involved with the making of the original Wizard of Oz. Carrie and Todd Fisher would grow up on these studio backlots that ringed the city.

What’s neat was all things existed in 1981 as they did in the years 37/38. Other than the backlots, which were all scorched earth by the time this recreation was made. Many of our our city landmarks still remained. The Culver Hotel being most centerpiece. A gate was built on the street named Van Buren for this film. It has Culver City Studios attached to it. The studio should be Selznick Studios and Gone With the Wind was taking up much of the studio located on Ince Blvd. The studio was Culver City Studios-in 1981, now Amazon Studios occupies this landmark.

The hotel that was described as Culver’s skyscraper looks down on all of this. It’s as rich in history as our studios themselves. They are directly tied together in fact. Previous owners besides the founder Harry Culver would include Charlie Chaplin and John Wayne. Legend has it Chaplin lost the hotel in a card game.

The Hotel opened September 4,1924, two months before the owner of the studio across the street-Thomas Ince mysteriously passed on- aboard the Hearst yacht. Way back when Hollywoodland sign glowed proudly, looking down upon its aspiring film making entrepreneurs.

Let’s just say- The party was just getting started as this corner was being developed 1918-1924. After Ince’s death, RKO and Joseph Kennedy took over and the studio took on a rogue toughness. The backlot was a wild ranch, not lined with structured game plans like were being designed by MGM. One studio had a master plan while the other – shot from the hip. Even though highly competitive, the hotel and this entire downtown was a place for studio execs to compare notes on who gets what perks and where this film business is headed.

This area came together during silent film days- The Golden Age of Hollywood.

From 1924 until the time Under the Rainbow came here in 1981, the history on this corner is second to none in all of Hollywood. 20th Century Fox, Universal, Warner Brothers are not built in a way that intersects so intimately with its potential audience. Many of our residents work on these films and movie stars are just par for the course. Paramount is centered in a way much like our Culver Studios.

A who’s who of guests have included Clark Gable, Mickey Rooney, Greta Garbo, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Red Skelton, Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks, Frank Sinatra, and Ronald Reagan. Dwight D. Eisenhower even had a campaign office inside in his run for office in 1952. Casts from Gone With the Wind and the Wizard of Oz both staying here including over a hundred Munchkins were lodged here. But entertainment was across the street, at Big Ed’s Bar

It’s famous for the likes of Desi Arnaz, Leonard Nimoy, Batman, and every studio mogul and actor in need of a stiff drink. A tunnel existed from this Culver Hotel to the bar across the street. This was a speak- easy during prohibition. Drinking never stopped around here and drastically increased during this original production. The bar had an escape route back to your hotel. From all accounts, this corner was wilder than this film portrays it.

Drinks were on hand during this remake, Chevy Chase parked his black 911 Turbo Porsche right outside its saloon doors. My dad has many stories inside Big Ed’s. The Bar is featured in the film Barfly. My dad became a member of SAG after some shrewd negotiations by me and the producer in front of this bar. I became an agent, I got my dad a trailer and healthy residuals, a huge upgrade from a box lunch and all the booze you can drink. Ohh the memories…

This corner is as iconic as any in Hollywood. Robert Stack and his Untouchables was never really able to clean up this section, since Studio execs need it to freshen up at lunch time. More than one episode has Tommy Gun’s a-blazing right across the street from this watering hole. I can only imagine Robert Stack coming in to order a drink… “No, no no alcohol here sir!”

It wouldn’t shock me to hear a booze tunnel extended into the studio administration building, but I digress.

Culver Studios was Selznick International Pictures and the Burning of Atlanta took place right down the street from the Culver Hotel and the Ince -Selznick Mt.Vernon style main offices.
What’s that title?- Hole in the Fence. “It’s true stories of kids growing up in all the cities backlots” Sounds fascinatingMaureen is proudly displaying our book in front of a building built by Thomas Ince. Now- Amazon Pictures.
I wonder if they discovered any secret tunnels headed to the bar while building their new facility. I know they overlooked an extremely legendary item over on Lucerne Ave. A silent film star dressing room of mega proportions. I’ll take you there soon enough, and you won’t believe what’s inside this time capsule of movie history…
Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Black Lagoon or Red Sea

A calm morning on our lake at Universal. The Tower of London use to look down upon this quadrant, across the way. The castle gave this area a more monsterish feel…fact is, this is a monster lot.
This picture is from a jungle from across the Red Sea– it is Skull Island at this time.
This is the Black Lagoon. A cottage use to be standing here that was full of fake snow. It was called the Snow House…
These streets and sets are covered with trams during tourist season.
The Red Sea parts where the road goes under water. (bottom of photo)
Good old PT 73 docked here for McHale’s Navy 1962-66. The tour started in 1964.
How fun is this!Mr Borgnine would return in the 80’s for the series Airwolf.
This is how the Red Sea parts, it drains into a catch basin. In a matter of roughly 25 seconds, this basin gets cycled from empty- to full for the next unsuspecting tram.
Part the waters-on the driver’s side of the tram is the Black Lagoon, and on my side is the Red Sea” says the Tour Guide.
It was my job to actually part this sea, Charlton Heston too busy to stand here all day. A genie exactly like what you open your garage with triggers these animations. I’m handed a genie, and the tour guide a microphone as we begin our day. Then, just go have fun!
Back in the Glamour Tram sir!“…Next destination European street.
Keep this lane clear!
Park Lake Bridge, behind drain.
This car was not suppose to flip over on the TV series Desperate Housewives. The engine was removed prior to this stunt. The car has two stunt doubles, one for Mike and one for Terry Hatcher. It was being pushed from behind since the vehicle had no engine. That made the front end too light causing it to flip over. It was suppose to float, not capsize, upside down. The female double had to free herself while under water. This stunt is alongside the Red Sea. The P.T 73 to the rescue…
This is- under the bridge with the Red Sea completely full, waiting to be parted by the next tram. The backside of this bridge is hauntedThe Creature from the Black Lagoon lurks here.
This is not an easy outfit to swim in…where’s Johnny Weismuller?
The Creature could be hiding here -anywhere!
I have hydraulic oil all over me…darn trams!
Lady, Get back in the stinking tram, quick!
The tall mountain beyond our aquatic villain is the backside of the Hollywood sign. The tan smaller mountain is part of the Universal lot, off Barham blvd.
This tram didn’t quite make it, hope the driver’s all-right. I’m sure he ran away rather than go down with the ship-Teamsters hate accident reports.
We’re just having fun...GULPI drive home in this outfit !
What a gentle creature and such a iconic Universal legend…Florida, the perfect retirement community for a creature in need of water.
The parting of… Skull Island
Here to promote King Kong…The Universal Version.

Where’s the girl?”
I’ seem to be stuck- under this large foot!”
“I’m getting too old for this theme park stuff!

Part the Waters;

This was always a fun animation to drive through. My job depended on successful completion of challenges these animations provided. Each mechanical interaction between tram and animation required skill and training. A whole weeks worth of training, that’s it-40 hours. Pass or fail.

Just need a Class A license and look good in polyester.

This animation was half-way through the backlot tour. We would cruise out of the old west, 6 points Texas, cruise around the paddleboat, only to be followed by a submarine as we creep towards a road that disappears under water like Atlantis. If you’re into this, you will shout “Part the waters” on the tour guide’s command. She’s the eye candy, I trigger the ride.

An average summer day takes us through here 6 to 7 times a day.

The pink and white trams hold 125 passengers, while the Blue Super Trams beef up to 175 cash paying guests. As for driving through this animation, factors come in to play. First, Super Tram or Mar Tram, big one or small. The big trams are able to complete the task under almost all conditions. But the smaller ones ( Mar Trams) are sensitive. They lack torque and the tires start sliding, if you go too slow, you won’t be able to exit, you will have the last trailer stuck inside the crossing. A service truck then swoops in behind you to push your trailer out. It’s the funnest way to exit actually. We’re a well oiled machine around here.

Remember these words; The Tour Must Go ON- Paying Customers Await!

Business was so good- a 4th car was added to each tram !

Picture the backlot tour like the Indy 500. It’s a big circle, while one tram gets unloaded of passengers, another tram starts yet another tour, loaded with smiling and happy faces, most of the time. On busy days, we had 30 trams. That would include all summer days, then the holidays. 21 trams are Super, while 9 others are less than super, but funner to drive. I prefer the old pink and whites, you get a nice summer breeze and the throttle response is much better. But either way, you’re listening to a tour guide, let’s hope they’re good.

Most guides are here to be discovered, which seldom if ever happens. Many have jobs elsewhere at night, like bars and strip clubs. Yes, the guide you have today may have danced for you last night. Does she look familiar?…

It was a different time in the 80’s. We had shows such as the A-Team, which turned into Miami Vice in the entertainment center. But the driven part of the backlot tour is most people’s favorite adventure.

That’s because not only are the tram animations exciting, but filming coexists when operations has no choice but to interrupt a set for tram passage.

Crossing the Red Sea with a high tide-so to speak creates its own obstacles. Tremendous drag, like one of Kong’s hands has a hold of you, is created if the water level is not low enough. That also will overflow along the floor of the tram, wetting shoes and washing out purses. I remember pulling up to cue the Red Sea, but animations were busy fishing. A purse washed out on a tram prior to my tram’s arrival and several hundred-dollar bills were sent floating in the Red Sea.

Another memory is when a Rolls Royce with a record producer inside-accidentally drove into the Red Sea one night. Julian Lennon was doing a video, the tour was closed, I was an electrician now at this time. The road leading to the sea is pitch dark at night and nothing exists to warn you this road is for tours to use only. So, this poor guy just trying to go home after a long day, ends up driving into the sea.

He forgot to yell part the waters”…so they didn’t.

Worse-his car started floating away and was starting to tilt downwards- he needed a rescue. We have a fire department close by and they arrived with lawyers in tow, taking pictures. A fire engine boomed across the water to hoist our record producer to safety.

This was not your same old song and dance rock video.

Just a couple of fun memories when Glamour Trams ruled the world…

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Bruce Almighty-Courthouse Square

Mr Exclusive-weeknights – 7 eye witness News
Savoy Theater, very first Twilight Zone episode with Earl Holliman, Where is Everybody?
New York Street number Two-all this would burn down-again. Somehow, the brown building at the end of the street and the courthouse survived all these fires- they have 9 lives!
The train car diner on the right hand side was added for this show.
A diner car in Buffalo…
Same set – 40 years earlier…
This was the Savoy Theater in the Twilight Zone episodeWhere is everybody?
Press play to see the sign tumble down...So the story goes -as follows in this storyboard.
The following 11 pictures are the storyboard for scenes to be done that memorable Friday evening at Universal’s Courthouse Square.
This square is set- decorated to appear to be Buffalo, N.Y
The big bill board is coming down…
This is our featured set-as a storyboard
This hall is also the former schoolhouse for the Cleavers in Leave It To Beaver
Hill Valley preceded this film and the T.V series Ghost Whisperer would take over this town square for the popular Jennifer Love Hewitt T.V series…
Bruce AlmightyJim Carrey can fix all of this…

Before it was Buffalo, it was Hill Valley in Back to the Future…
Where is everybody is the first episode of the Twilight Zone ever filmed and the only one at Universal, it features this courthouse square and specifically this corner set.
Where did all these people come from?
I’d like to report a riot going on!

At the time this feature was filmed, Jim Carrey was a top box office magnet. He had already starred in Liar-Liar and The Grinch and would return to do Mr Majestic up at our lake set. He was at the zenith of his film career…so big in fact-he often flew to Universal from Malibu by helicopter. A few days started with Jim delays getting to work late, due to fog at the beach and the copter being grounded.

James Brubaker was a co-producer and his early career takes him back to the days of Combat. He was involved with transportation back then but since moved high up the power ladder. Jim Carrey also produced this film besides being the star. Tom Shadyac is producer and the director.

This show pulled in so much money that a clause in Tom Shadyac’s contract made him have to direct a sequel, Evan Almighty. Jim got out of the sequel and was replaced by Steve Carrol for the part of Evan.

Tom Shadyac and his Shady Acres production company felt forced in to doing the sequel by Universal. The remake spiraled in runaway costs. Large Arks were built in Virginia and Universal. Virginia is Tom’s home down, that’s why he chose that location. It was on Evan Almighty I became friends with Tom, who has a Buddhist background. He is a special human being not motivated by the boat loads of money he was generating. He took pleasure in relationships developed on these sets.

I watched him spend the day with real Monks and share Eastern Philosophy, which he is very involved with. His love for animals is unsurpassed and I spent and hour being checked out by the trunk of a elephant along side Tom. Two elephants, two human examinations by the end of elephant trunks. It was like a communion of man and beast. It’s actually hard to call these loving, caring, respectful animals- beasts. Good old Pachyderm’s is a better description.

Once this large friend is done with it’s head to toe examination, it will have you as pre-approved for life. Tom went from not wanting to due this sequel to doing it on his terms. The show sky rocketed over budget, largely do to animal after animal close ups for all the Ark scenes. We were having fun on Stage 29, that stage was set aside for the animals needed for whatever the next scene calls for.

Evan Almighty would never had been made if Bruce Almighty didn’t rip up at the box office. Universal would do business differently going forward, not investing in high budget features that that might not make a return on the dollars spent, such as Evan Almighty, which struggled at the box office.

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

War TV-MGM Lot 3

Dutch Street, MGM lot 3. This is one of three large size bodies of water in the backlot fairyland. Art Dept. photo from The Wreck of the Mary Deare-1959. This street is best remembered for war, and lots of it!
The Wreck of the Mary Deare….1959. This film stars Gary Cooper and Charlton Heston. This is the same scene in living color.
The Mary Deare, this show used Dutch street and this magnificent backdrop.
Backside of this church and village. The church steeple had no back and the Overland guard shack was right behind it. I never got up in this steeple since you would be seen. The blue painted backdrop is the famous MGM Gillespie ocean and is where so many nautical effects by legendary genius Arnold Gillespie, The Wizard of MGM, were created. Listen close, you may still hear the the sound of airplane propellors creating wind effects in Arnold’s ocean.
Glad I didn’t hide up there!
But I almost hid up top here…
I ended up in the middle of this battle-MGM lot 2. Sgt Pepper-1977. Opening scenes…My intention was to go up in the steeple, but it turns out it was rigged to blow up. I was in the middle of a war scene in the tiny French village- FLEU ‘de COUP, with pyro everywhere. I’m not suppose to be here, especially with a camera. It was like Christmas day when my pictures came back from the developer. Magical…I earned them!
Phil Cory, Special Effects...loading a squib gun with blasting putty. Little slabs are put in projectiles and fired by an air-compressed effects gun. This is a war scene- a very active one. I found myself in a church with two Germans at the front door and a machine gun one floor up. A tank was on the street in the middle of this battle. To top it off, an explosion in the steeple was to take place. I snuck right into the middle of this war- my heart skipped a few beats when I realized I was dead center-of – All Hell- breaking lose.

We gotta start somewhere;

Lets start with ear protection, this is a loud remembrance of typical MGM Lot 3 day in the 60’s. I can’t use protection, I gotta know what’s going on…

The way I approach sets is often through buildings, so this can be a dangerous method on war shows. As I work my way around, I have found myself in proximity of explosives that will be going off, more than once. My problem is I’m not at the safety meetings as a trespasser so I have to figure out what’s safe myself. It starts with what is the Panavision camera is looking at, then how is this set being prepared?

With explosives, many safety precautions are necessary, so kids sneaking through buildings is especially dangerous. Fire extinguishers are always present as well as fire hoses. Depending how big the detonation, the fire department may be there. Loose debris, such as cork, that’s light-weight, gets thrown on top of the charges and wood framing is precut to blow apart easy. Special Effects people build things to look real but break easy, prop building is a prerequisite for this job, along with powder license. Welding is also a key component, for blast muzzles to direct the explosions. Combined, this creates the mass of flying timbers with smoke and flash, and noise for absolute realism.

This Dutch Street is often used with sets on lot 2 -when a quaint european atmosphere is needed. But in the 60’s, these sets were purposely bombed, burned, and riddled with bullets from effects legends such as A.D. Flowers. This effects legend has passed on but we will forever be able to watch his work on not only Combat but also on Tora, Tora, Tora, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now and so much more. He was considered the top (Powder Guy) in the business. That is short for –Gun Powder.

I had the pleasure of meeting him at Universal. While running set power on a small shoot I was told see what Special Effects needs, and as we began talking, I found out I was talking to my HERO… It’s Flowers- Combat-it’s him. I quickly realized…

“You’re him, you’re Flowers from Combat?” I exclaim.

I turned into a little kid at that moment, ” I heard every one of your detonations at MGM, I lived right behind the backlot, it was non stop war”

It’s funny when you’re around someone famous what you say or ask when you get your moment, and I chose Combat for my reflections with him. He had no problem reflecting backwards and we shared something …we both grew up loving MGM!

Meeting Vic Morrow was a bucket list experience, especially since he passed on a week later. But this effects legend extraordinaire is who kept these weapons locked and loaded. Real deal professionalism in an extremely dangerous occupation. It was quite apparent-he lived for this stuff. So do I.

This was one of my most cherished memories and connected dots back to my childhood, I’ve been very blessed. I live my lunch-pails as I liked to say.

Combat- Telly Savalas…Pre- his role in The Dirty Dozen. The actual view from the church tower.
The little bridge that saw more action than The Bridge at Remagen did. It crossed the pond that was located at the base of church-Lot 3.
Telly as a French resistance fighter assisting Saunders squad.
A typical day on Dutch street.
Only the guest stars die on this show-Combat!
I had this game, how could I not-I lived it. My pal Jimmy and I played this IDEAL game on the backlot in German Village-MGM lot 2. We actually played this board game in the battered backlot war torn village. It’s like being in the Twilight Zone, whats real, what’s not. The board I would have designed would have had streets and buildings, more of a backlot board battle zone. As we grew older, we recreated Combat with BB gun battles and fought exactly where our heroes fought so valiantly.
Ron Harper, he starred in the short lived Planet of the Apes -T.V series in the 70’s at MGM. We met there. I feel bad for those male models on TV. It must be awful. Try working with tools all day fellas!
This cover photo was taken on the bridge in front of this church on lot 3.
Bridge-Lot 3…Quality backlot comics. You could say after this show was cancelled, my friends and I became the Rat Patrol.
Quality reading while sitting around the backlot or even… in the back of a classroom.
This show looks good!- Channel 7, your station and network for WAR -TV

Same angle, press picture day…
Dutch Street…
Time to go over the script…

Dutch Street- night scene-Jericho
Into the river we go!
It doesn’t get much realer than this…
The stairs lead up to the church front door… I recommend-stay hidden!
This tiny bridge has seen more action than any bridge in any Hollywood studio.
You can fit a small craft underneath but the water stops there going that direction.
Ooops…I dropped my hand grenade. At night, the sky glowed orange around this backlot…
A typical episode has all its exteriors on one of the two main MGM backlots.
A nice reflection off the pond of the steeple.
The calm before the storm…Jericho
The bridge over troubled waters...Jericho TV
I wouldn’t fish here, there’s a safer pond over yonder…
Get me outta here!
This film uses Dutch Street and The Giant Sky Backdrop. The water was drained out and fake snow added in front of the Scenic Backing. They have a scene driving over Dutch street bridge up to a guard shack, at night. The last war film at the Big Sky and Dutch Street sets.
This coning tower ended up on Lot 2 after the auction, no one bought it. Just a tower, not a complete sub.
The Venetian Affair-1966
Area 63 is where our village lies…Across from Overland our lots 5 and 6. Downed bombers laid in a desolate field, used in an episode of 12 O’Clock High. This 20th Century Fox TV show did some episodes involving Lot 3.
Bombs away!
MGM lot 5 had a downed real WW2 bomber sitting in a field of sagebrush, with the wind trying to start up the propellors as the flight crew arrived, which would be Jimmy and I. It was the very first set we explored at that section of MGM. Exactly like this…
Stay out- you will be shot or blown up!…Never will there ever again be an auction like the one described on this public banner. We are not talking toys, full scale, big boy stuff. The beginning of the end of MGM…
I also had a Gomer Pyle lunch can- but that show never blew anything up-except Sgt Carter’s car. That was the best episode ever, by the way, of that series.

WW2 on the MGM backlots lasted over a decade, all through the 60’s before disappearing as the 70’s began. The villages wore their battle scars proudly long after. Craters and shell casings appear as if a full fledged retreat just occurred. The battle torn landscape sits silent, just an occasional door or window slamming in the wind…

I feel privileged to have seen this stuff, met these people, and still be alive and well to share these memories that include legends not only found in front of the screen but also…just out of frame!

3,2,1 ACTION!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Berlin or Universal?

This Porcelain has “the look”

Cate Blanchett in a scene from the movie

The Third Reich or Imperial Rome?

Same set as above from the film

Spartacus Square is what is on studio maps and it is the first mention off the tour guides lips as the Glamour Tram spins a tight U-turn in this area. The area often has camels and horses scattered about and lies just beyond the studio transportation department. Currently, Eight sound stages are sprouting up nearby, where we used to park our trucks and trailers.

The pictures used in set dressing take you to a place in time of Nazi Germany, 1945. Berlin lays in ruins. This was the most elaborate build I ever saw take place in over 3 decades at Universal’s backlot. It was rebuilt to look bombed-out for the film, The Good German. In an interview with Cate Blanchett, she describes in detail how spectacular it was to walk on this set. Like the Fall of Berlin, this film crashed in the box office, by grossing only 6 million dollars in the theaters against its 32-million-dollar budget.

Not long before Berlin, this was Persia for the movie Scorpion King. The wars most fought here were that of the Roman Empire and Persia. Swords and chariots dominated the landscape. Scorpion King restored this area. It’s amazing just how well all the artists and crafts come together seamlessly, or so it appears, to create anyplace and anything. If you can dream it, we can make it, for a cost mind you.

This is why I love show business. It’s the behind-the-scenes attention to detail and research that goes into setting up the reality attempting to be portrayed like you’re the one living it. These bombed out sets put you smack dab into WW2. My favorite TV series growing up was Combat. At MGM, the European backlot Vic Morrow was used to seeing, looked just like this, all blown up.

Vietnam raised its ugly head here, and Vic Morrow, “Sgt- Saunders” from Combat, graced this set making it official for war. I met Vic Morrow in this same village on Twilight Zone: The Movie. Unfortunately, his next location would be his last location, where the helicopter mishap played out in Indian Dunes.

I didn’t get to meet Mr. Clooney on this shoot, but I did on his next appearance on the lot. A Nespresso commercial that he is the pitch man for was filming bright and early. They had three locations, being set up for this commercial at the Red Sea, Falls Lake and New York Street. Base camp was on New York Street. As I was powering up trailers, I look up and Clooney is pulling into our camp. But everyone was at the other sets and the star did not know exactly where everybody was at this deserted base camp. Since I was servicing all three sets with electric power, I said, “How do you do?”, and took him for a ride around the studio so he could be on the same page with all of us who start work before there is daylight…

Needless to say, there was no shortage of Nespresso on that set…

Spartacus Square

My little Cleopatra, take your daughter to work day…Christy!
Fun place to work you got here…

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…