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.
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…
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.
Atlanta Railroad Depot
Filming of Gone With The Wind. Nearly the same angle as the picture I took above.
A trespassing pic I took a few years later
Star Trek even used this Backlot
Same street as above 30 years before
Everyone’s favorite German
The replacement church built for Frank Sinatra’s Miracle of the Bells…
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!
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 approval– Soylent Green 1972-2022
“Soylent Green is People”... a harbinger of things to come!
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 Shadyac– Shady 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…
One–The 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.
Two–You 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 theWorlds had a similar fate.
Fast forward to Indiana Jones– Kingdom 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!
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-ThomasInce 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.
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!
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…
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 Shadyacand 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.
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.
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!
SpartacusSquare 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…