Mini-Souvenir Folder of Universal Studios

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

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

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

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

The Entertainment Center of The World…”Follow Me”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A tram is just about to attempt a crossing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out of the bushes comes Mr Heston himself!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Beginwith a simple admission...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden.

Air Raid Wardens

My picture-1973 Same spot…

1977, remodeled for Sgt. Pepper.

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

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

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

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

Interior collar-Mr. Stan Laurel

Oliver Hardy’s pants worn in this feature.

Oliver Hardy wardrobe…

1941 version.

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

Laurel and Hardy make friends with a cute little pooch.

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

L&H about to enter the Courthouse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same set-17 years after L&H.

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

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

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

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

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

Magnesium Corp-Stages 27/29

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

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

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

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

Check out my YouTube Channel…PhantomoftheBacklots

We Begin;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written and lived by… Donnie Norden

Christmas Stage 12 Style

A Christmas Department Store Commercial…

A tiny commercial on a big stage…

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

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

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

Employee I.D. Badges…in the thirties.

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

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

A sugar cube please…

Happy Holidays Everybody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Very Merry Christmas to each and all of you…

Written and lived by… Donnie Norden

To Kill a Mockingbird

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

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

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

To Kill a Mockingbird was released Christmas Day 1962

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

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

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

When kids stand still-something’s up.

Jean Louise “Scout” and Atticus Finch…

Front porch of this house a few years ago…

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

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

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

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

A leaded glass view out a side window…

Another stained glass interior window…

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

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

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

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

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

Yours truly, facing the To Kill a Mockingbird House.

Watch out Boys- LAPD trains here!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden

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

You Drive

I’m 13- I’d love to”

So, I was on my way to work when”…

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

I’m not sure what happened next”


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

Same location today without the props…

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

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

Typical traffic on Braddock at rush hour…

Same intersection, less congestion.

The house is now yellow across the street…

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

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

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

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

Have a good day Ed!”

Where did Ed go?”

Arc lights reflecting off the car window and tail piece.

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

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

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

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

“Just get in! “

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

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

Same spot-Sixty Years Later…

Hey-I’ve been inside there too!”

What a fun day this was…

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

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

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

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

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden


The Feuding Pyles

Season One-Episode 18. Air date January 22, 1965

“I’m from Carolina too”…

The Champion of Ripshaw Ridge right here tossing horse shoes…

Exact spot our troops are tossing shoes, hedges removed long ago.

Not every tree still exists-most do.

I’ve been kicked out of this park too”…as a teenager.

Can’t you read -The Rules!”

The Main Gate of the Desilu Backlot doubles as the camp entrance. Once past the M.P, all roads other than in Mayberry turn to dirt… Dr. Paul Carlson is 5 minutes from here, turn left off Ince on Lucerne, another left on Braddock, and you will run right into it. It is the closest park to Desilu Studios.

Keep practicing…

Practice at Dr. Paul Carlson Park.

No fighting in the park-Go back to base!”

“I could never kill you cousin”…

No Horse Shoes allowed in the park fellas, read the signs!”

Same spot gentlemen are playing horse shoes.Bench was alongside that nearest tree.

Same house, above and below picture...Also featured in Chips-episode “MUTE”

As our troops arrive for battle, notice that large 5 ton box truck parked behind that utility vehicle. It’s there to block the camera’s view of…Goober’s Gas Station, the official filling station of Camp Henderson. Those Pyles got quite a racket going on.

Where I took this picture is right behind the first row of barracks on the dirt road that hugs the La Ballona Creek. This is where we sneak in at. I have a fort in The King of Kings Set that is hidden the Eucalyptus trees behind Goobers. This is usually where trespassing begins around here.

Notice the house on the hill looking down on the 40 acres backlot. It still stands on Hetzler Road. It’s connected to The Baldwin Hills overview and stairway up the side of the hill that overlooks old Desilu. I always was fascinated by that house. The best view of Desilu is from right there-front row seat into-T.V Land.

Have at it boys…

It figures-that was easy!

I’d yell too Sgt. Carter-“I feel your pain.

Ripshaw Ridge wins again!

Even President Clinton has appeared here…The same year Dr. Paul was killed, this Gomer Pyle episode was filmed at Victory Park.

Our park was once a race track…

This oval section of Culver City has seen a bit everything…

Get your paper here- 3 cents “December 10th, 1924…Bennie Hill smashes a world record preparing for the biggest attended sporting event ever in this city.

Victory Park / Dr Paul- to you and me…

Culver City was an entrepreneur’s dream in 1924. Studios were being constructed, not only sound stages but the backlots were just beginning. Thomas Ince and Randolph Hearst had ambitious plans to merge Cosmopolitan Pictures with Thomas Ince productions on Culver City’s East End. Hal Roach Studios was also up and producing the Our Gang Series. The mysterious death of Mr Ince forever changed the Hollywood landscape.

On the west side, MGM and its large parcels of cheap real estate would begin to carve out its destiny.Ben Hur was on location in Italy only to return home after difficulties in filming in that far off land. Culver City becomes a hub and claims itself as “The Heart of Screenland.”

Howard Hughes gobbles up real estate up in Baldwin Hills with the intention of building his mansion on top of what is now another park-Baldwin Hills scenic overlook. But that changed when oil was discovered by Standard Oil, also in 1924. Derricks popped up everywhere, like a gold rush. Black Gold/Texas Tea. Howard changed his mind and sold a large section to Charlie Wright. The street, Wrightcrest, was named after Charlie, a most fascinating man himself. Howard told Charlie, ‘The last thing I want is my mansion looking over oil derricks!”

Charlie built his own mansion-facing opposite the oil fields and I’ve been in it. All glass features- like a ball room dance studio overlooking L.A. A really well landscaped pool level existed, under the glassed in dance floor. It looked down at the 40 acre backlot. If only this place could’s Gone With the Wind now. I use that term since it was removed but there was a party up here when Atlanta Burned below- from what I’m told.

I will take you there in future posts, a fascinating place with a hidden or just forgotten past. I digress…

Dog racing, horse racing, car racing all took place around these movie studios. We even had a rollerdrome and as time progressed, a Studio Drive-In. Almost every business in Culver City started with the prefix “studio.” People knew a good thing when they saw it, and the roots of Culver City are all things studios. Actors occupied homes close to the studios, Ronald Coleman owned a couple homes on the street I live on named Huron Ave. My dad bought Ronald Coleman’s car after his passing, a Facel Vega. Custom built, kangaroo skin upholstery and a bar in the backseat. I had a lot of fun in that car.

As we move forward, this park is built and the name is changed to Dr Paul from the old Victory Park. This park is the oldest a centrally located to all the studios surrounding it. When T.V was just starting to take off, TV series found their way onto this quaint, charming piece of land. The two shows I most cherished here are The Feuding Pyles and You DriveGomer Pyle and Twilight Zone, respectively.

Even today you can stumble across The Goldbergs grabbing park scenes a short walk from Sony. As for this park, I attempted to match the Pyle scenes to their exact location 58 years later. The trees are much larger in the park, but the original palm trees still frame the outer edge.The center of the park has a stone, circular rose planter, or it was anyways. Now it’s got a stone art piece as the center replacing the roses. Hedges surrounding this centerpiece have been removed.The houses as you may expect have been modified or completely torn down for more opulent structures. This is considered an expensive area so remodels happen often. But the park itself has not changed hardly at all. It’s a park I grew up in and still frequent.

Dr. Paul would be honored and proud to know that he would be the namesake on a park that has captured extremely popular and legendary American Television Episodes. Still, if you listen closely, you may hear-“Gentlemen, start your engines”….

Written and lived by… Donnie Norden

The Twilight Zone-Combat Connection.

The only set on MGM lot 3 never in a Twilight Zone episode-Dutch Street.

This street on Lot 3 has been bombed, liberated and had three tanks in one episode race through here for Combat.

This train station was never in the Twilight Zone- but was in several Combats. This steeple was removed to change the landscape for Combat. 1963- for a few months and a few episodes, went topless. This steeple was removed, later reattached. Long ago, an entirely different steeple design was the original. There is a long-standing rule that when you alter sets, you must repair to original form.

Another view from the steeple toward the backside of the “Stopover in a Quiet Town” set

Yet another view from my steeple, we cut peek holes so we could see the lot in every direction. We would sneak in at the train station and run to the church tower, there we would try to figure out what guard is on duty. Everything viewed looking toward Verona Square is Combat country. Every set you see here was in Combat. It’s like a gated community just for Combat. The Twilight Zone used one set, just out of view to the right-out of frame. It was The Bewitchin’ Pool set, used in the final episode ever done. A true classic, you wonder how this show could get canceled.

This area here and distant is Combat territory -The Twilight Zone stay out….Used regularly in the series Combat. Verona Square yonder beyond train platform, another Combat set- never used by Rod Serling.

1978 picture-snow is spread around for a close up of the doorway for a quick insert shot.

The second to last battle ever at this church was used in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A machine gun is firing from that window as the explosion detonates. I walked into the middle of this battle, as I approached this church from behind, I was startled to run into German Soldiers, shooting out the front door, I could have captured them, it was extremely fun, I had more battles in this village than any show with Daisy BB rifles…The final battle would come the following year-The Stuntman with Steve Railsback and Peter O’Toole. The village gets beaten up pretty good in that film. There is a perch at the very top of the steeple that comfortably fits three kids!

This village was never seen in the Twilight Zone, but it’s safe to say Rod spent time walking these cobblestone streets.

Three roads enter this village, all have an archway

View from church second story window, a screen with a depiction of ‘Mother Mary’ partially remains. Machine guns and snipers are positioned up here. The spent shell casings litter the floor. This was a very special set for us- BB Gun fights carried on after Combat, Rat Patrol and Garrison’s Gorillas.

All my pictures are on sets not used in CBS ‘s Twilight Zone

Heads up-some crazy kid is after us”

That open door and platform a top the oversized prop warehouse is the ending credit camera angle.

This 1973 photo of this same set right before the TV series Hawkins filmed this entire street starring Jimmy Stewart for MGM TV. They cut the grass and painted it green. A filming short -cut. Jimmy’s last ever backlot acting moments.

Stopover in a Quiet Town…Combat’s extremely loud German Village lies behind this Quiet town. This overview photo used in the closing credits was shot from the Giant Prop Warehouse just behind our church on Maple Street, a very rare view. Inside the Warehouse is everything from Rocket ships and space capsules to submarines…big toys!

In between the far rooftop with 3 windows and the foreground rooftops is a church without its steeple, thanks to Combat. These episodes were going on at the same time. You see here how close WW 2 encroached upon this quiet street. There was nothing quiet about this street-when your neighbor is Sergeant Saunders. CBS aired The Twilight Zone-Combat was ABC.

No where else will you find pictures inside these legendary backlot steeples. I’m like Quasimodo… This exact 180 degree reverse angle from the German Village steeple towards Maple Street and the camera platform attached to the oversized prop warehouse. That’s the tall green building with the white curvature roof. I am hanging out steeple precariously to grab this picture in 1976.One thing missing is the Church used in “Stop Over in Quiet Town.” It burned down the year prior, I detail this in a poignant kid story in Hole in the Fence 2…”The Uninvited Guest” coming soon!

As a kid, pre VCR’s, I tried to freeze frame this image forever in my mind. There is so much to decipher for a Phantom like myself. I have stories in everything you see-and beyond.

This backlot roofless doorway is next to the steeple less church, just prior to yet another backlot battle.

It features James Coburn, titled The Masquerade, as the sunlight illuminates the windows from the wall less backside.

Through one of three archways leading to town, a battle begins that I could hear at my house.

Take Cover!”

Krauts !”

Nice shooting Saunders

This looks like one of my B.B gun fightsOne of the funnest thing to do on this backlot.

Your a great guest star, and you were great in The Twilight Zone “Old Man in a Cave” too…

The few, the proud, the Marines! A rare moment where my church has no steeple, while the Twilight Zone films Stop Over in a Quiet Town-just a stone’s throw away.

I did not realize the magnitude this Gentlemen, Gene Levitt had on my life, I played army on his Combat sets, often dying exactly where others proceeded me. I heard every battle on this backlot-from my house. I would cross paths with Gene on the Phantom of Lot 2 set. I stumbled onto their set at the Watermill House located alongside Tarzan’s Jungle. Gene was directing The Phantom- Jack Cassidy, in full Phantom costume. He was just about to kill a hard hatted helmeted construction worker when we made eye contact, the big Phantom in a leather mask, looking down on his understudy-me.

Right before Action is yelled by Mr Levitt, Jack Cassidy raises his non weaponed hand and waves approvingly to my astonished appearance. All while holding an iron ball on a chain. A lifelong bond is created on this set. MGM had security on this set close by so just like a true Phantom, I was here one minute- then vanished... The baton was passed on for the decade to come!

Only a Phantom would have this paperwork!

This Daily Schedule from December 6, 1973 is a snapshot of a typical day at MGM back in the day. I would visit with guards at there posts so I could read the information they use. The entire time I was visiting, I was gathering information. Every show on this sheet had episodes using the backlot.

In 1977, on the set of Fantasy Island being filmed in the MGM backlot, I would meet Gene Levitt, Burt Convey, Robert Clary, Herve, and Ricardo Montalban -Mr Rourke. Gene allowed me to watch a day of filming on his set, often right behind the camera an director.I sat in a folding chair with these actors. It was like I was crew on a show I knew nothing about. Episode 2, this series hadn’t aired on network TV yet yet. Gene directed Combat in this same Verona Square set that today served as a prison known as Devil’s Island. One of the funnest days of my life!In a large part to Gene’s letting me be the Phantom of this set-four years after that movie of the week was filmed. Gene would be a great trespasser- I can tell!

As it turns out, Gene worked with Rod Serling on several episodes of Night Gallery at Universal. He also directed Alias Smith and Jones on that lot. My favorite Army show of all time is Combat, my favorite cowboys are Smith and Jones...All Thanks to you Mr Gene Levitt and Mr Rod Serling.

In testament to the legacy of Rod and the Twilight Zone, each episode is so precious that reruns today are still as good as anything ever produced. I pretended with my friend Jimmy to be Rod, we both took turns imitating him with speech and mannerisms. We went as far as to sneak in a rabbit eared T.V to watch reruns in the sets used- 10 years later. Rod, Gene and my backlot will forever be alive in spirit and first class T.V.

This is a tail of two of the most legendary Hollywood Producer Writers in television history and their curious parallel path. The more I researched this, the more captivated I became…

I begin; A thought crossed my mind that involves T.V shows whose credits start with toy doll and a spinning out of control Grandfather Clock, while the other show starts with a helmet and a bayonet. They are MGM backlot neighborsHere’s my conundrum.

Getting my fix watching reruns of The Twilight Zone, as I have for the last 6 decades, a thought crossed my mind. Why did Rod Serling never do an episode in three sections, or villages on Lot 2? It’s then I realized there is one street on Lot 3 he never used. Understand, this show, The Twilight Zone, is almost entirely MGM backlot exteriors, with Culver City streets just outside the studio sprinkled in once in a while.

Dutch Street was never in any Twilight Zone episode. Yet, The Twilight Zone utilized every other set and jungle road on Lot 3, Even obscure sets like the stairway that was the represented library in Time Enough at Last. I cried when I first saw it as a kid, heartbreaking, when Burgess Meredith’s glasses break as he was finishing his reading list for eternity.

Every set could easily be an episode exterior for this show. I presume Rod adapted his writing to fit the locations he had at his disposal. With Rod being an Air Force vet, he produced deep story lines in his war episodes. Like the one that used the Rocks set on Lot 3, where the Japanese were held up in a cave and a snot nosed commander shows up to beat his soldiers down… A Quality of Mercy. Rod used every bit of both these lots.

Why not the French Villages, or Grand Central Station? Both lots have French Villages.

The answer is simple…Combat owned those streets and often left them in disarray. One series aired on CBS while the other aired on ABC. MGM doesn’t care who rents what sets, but the networks do. I would bet Rod would love to have done an episode using Combat’s war torn scenery. Nope can’t – as if the networks were countries at war. These series were filming in the same years with Combat continuing on after The Twilight Zone was canceled.

The other area never in a Twilight Zone is Verona Square on Lot 2. That sits adjacent to the Grand Central Station, and short walk to France. The original sets from Romeo and Juliet have turned into a Combat battlefield. Multiple Battles have been staged here at this village. Often these are the most outrageous battles ever in that series. The sets are the ones closest to my house and Maureen’s apartment window looked dead center into the eye of this hurricane. It’s as if MGM wanted them as far back as possible, plus trains are more important in war than in The Twilight Zone.

A Stop at Willoughby” is a train episode, on Lot 3’s railroad. A western coach, also used in The Harvey Girls. But Lot 2’s oldest sections were staples for White Rook and Check Mate King Two- to continually liberate.

I would imagine Gene Levitt of Combat and Rod were good friends, both veterans of WW 2 and they had stages on the front lot and exteriors on the backlot. I bet anything Rod, when he had a spare minute, witnessed more than one of these backlot battles.

Combat actually was a pain in the rear for studio operations. That said, it’s the best WW 2 series ever and lasted longer than the war itself. The soundtrack carried to every part of the backlot and far beyond. The first time I ever heard gunfire was from Lot 2, in my crib. By the time I was three years old- my antennas were sprouting. I used my own plastic soldiers and pretended Combat’s gunfire were my guys while playing in the dirt in my backyard.

I asked my mom once as all heck was breaking loose-“where is that noise coming from? “

“That’s Combat, they film it at MGM.” she said. That information shaped my life ahead. You can’t be too young to learn where battles on TV get made or live this close without MGM impacting your life. The size and beauty, and noise of this lot can’t be contained by a green, wooden, barbed-wire fence. If you’re a curious little boy like me, gunfire is an invitation for adventures…

Closing thought, CBS was where The Twilight Zone was first filmed in poor videotape quality, but when it shifted to MGM-you had endless possibilities with scripts and exteriors. Combat on the other hand moved to CBS Radford and the show declined. It was much too big for their lot, and much too loud, so most of the final color episodes ended up at Franklin Canyon reservoir. That was where the exteriors were often shot in the final season. CBS had a low bar ceiling and it showed – Long live MGM!

Written and Lived by…Donnie Norden.

Hey everybody, I’m pleased to announce The Phantom of the Backlots is now a YouTube channel of the same name. It will feature my life on the backlots through screen clips where I can break down scenes with my own pictures to compare with…I can take you inside these battles-up close and personal. The Marion Davies Make- Up trailer discovery, recovery will be documented through film- as it happened. We will jump backwards in time, to the Golden Age, to the present tense. Just getting started, stay tuned. Trespassing has never been so easy!

50th Anniversary of the USO

Time for some Patriotism

Working at a major movie studio, things happen around here, almost on a moment’s notice. Land, sea, or air-we here at Universal aim to please at the entertainment capital of the world…

In 1987, the Pope visited our lot. It was very memorable since I was a tram driver at that time and Pope John was going to tour Los Angeles, in a Glamour Tram.

His desire was simply to have Hollywood stop portraying evil in its films. The Pope visit climaxed at the Universal Amphitheater after mass at Dodger Stadium soon after, Universal released a feature titled The Last Temptation of Christ. The studio waited for the pontiff to go back home to Italy, while tuning out his heart felt message.

In 1991, we had another Royal Event. It involved Lou Wasserman and all his political clout. A few of his good friends, namely, U.S. Presidents, arrived for an event to honor the United States armed forces and fifty years of service by the USO.

The event was unfolding without a hitch. Every detail attended to except they forgot one important thing, air-conditioning.

This often taken for granted facet of Hollywood productions is just as necessary as any camera or lights would be at these red-carpet events. On shows, sets that are heavily lit with our large lighting packages need air conditioning to off-set the heat being created by all things taking place. Too much heat and the make-up will run on the face of the actors. every set, inside stages and on the backlot- gets some type of air unit for this reason alone.

We often get calls from shows who wait and see, then find out they want air. Problem with that is these take time to install and are twice as difficult when the event is already taking place. Normally, we pre- install AC units and temperature control is one of the very first items factored into a show budget. You might not want to have it, but you got to have it. Or you will melt.

This party overlooked this important detail.

America’s top brass along with a cavalcade of stars begin to sweat it out. The coordinators of this event were putting out the Bat Signal! One of Hollywood’s biggest events needs immediate electrical assistance. Who ya gonna call?

All hands-on deck

We need to fix this while the event is taking place –live! Installation requires a large power source, two air handlers and a chiller, with thick hoses attached. The air handlers will go inside the Big Top Tent that at first look appears like a Ringling Brothers Circus is taking place. But, inside this tent, aren’t clowns, but some of the World’s Most Powerful Men.

Our plan is simple, and we attack it from three directions. We drive up a Kenworth 12 speed tractor with a 1200-amp generator plant built into it, and park it just behind where all the Presidents are seated. Hoses get run underneath the skin of the tent along with power connections. All this is taking place while the panel of dignitaries looks on. We become the center of attention. This is quite the panel I’m working alongside: The Presidents, their entourage, Military families, celebrities from sports, movies, and television.  By all accounts, this would be considered a busy day- even at the White House.

Just keep cool

Our only delay was being searched by Marines and Federal Agents. They had me take apart the covers that are attached to these units, then after German Shepherd approval, we get the thumbs up.

With that, we simply do what we do, and we receive a round of applause and thanks from a history book of characters that helped change this country. All this while Apache helicopters sit locked and loaded, 100 yards away….

A WARM reception. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lew Wasserman and Nancy Reagan USO 50th Anniversary Salute April 5, 1991, Universal City, CA

Aw shucks, just doing my job. Some misspelled names, but a proud memento for me.
I’m melting… I’m melting… Unless you’re Rick Baker working on The Incredible Melting Man, you’ve got to factor air conditioning into any event.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the headliner here. Pictured with Colin Powell with jackets off. Most likely before we were called to bring in the air conditioning.
We never sweated like this at Warner Brothers!  
A worthwhile and noteworthy occasion.

Frank Sinatra would sing “What is America to Me?” a longtime favorite of USO audiences.
Bob Hope was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his USO work.
Two Apache helicopters were parked in what Universal calls (Z) lot. No tourists were allowed anywhere near this although – the tour must go on- and did. Just don’t park here.
Airwolf- Universal has its own helicopters…when needed!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

The Birds-1963

Inside- Bodega Bay facade…
6 Points Texas-post Birds. The Bodega Bay yellow sign removed as is entire upper balcony.

This is a hot corner on the backlot “literally”- every direction on the lot is available from this intersection.
“No- don’t cut yet- this is the look we want, let him squirm”
“I’m a busy guy,” Alfred also was making T.V at this time. The Alfred Hitchcock Hour ran from 1962 to 1965. Prior to that the more successful Alfred Hitchcock Presents T.V Series ran from 1955-62.
The fire is a real controlled fire- Birds added in post production.
Universal Backlot…
Take cover!
Trams would start driving down this same road in the following year -1964 The Glamour Tram Tour begins…Picture yourself in a pink and white being attacked by…BIRDS!
This adventure would make for a great animation on the tour…
The Universal Paddle Boat is just a false front that makes for a scenic backdrop and can enhance or block camera angles. Only one side is ship shape, the back-seen here-is an example of typical set construction.
Smashing Success Tour GuideJack”...Universal. “It can happen to you too!”
Tour Guide extraordinaire, turned big time director-Katy Garretson…
Bodega Bay background- Glamour Tram parting the Red Sea. Just another day at work.
Circa-1919…pre backlot lakes

West End Six Points Texas…we begin:

In Hitchcock’s The Birds, location filming cleverly blended in the Universal backlot. When chaos ensues, production usually prefers a backlot controlled setting. This film used real locations in San Francisco and two towns Bodega. One Bodega Bay, a large village on the bay.Two, Bodega Village, a small inland village.The two towns were made to appear as one.

Make that three towns when you include Bodega on the Universal backlot. The most action packed scenes of course were filmed on our backlot. Bodega shared the same pond as McHale’s Navy in 1963. The naval base area set up for McHale’s merry band of soldiers was named Taratupa. It’s a just a depth charge away from the Bodega Bay set, at Universal.

In all my tram driving years, little if no reference was ever made by tour guides involving Bodega Bay and The Birds. Trams do pass in front of the bungalow Mr. Hitchcock operated out of, so he is always mentioned, both in the front lot, then the backlot. The Psycho House is a picture stop memory for tourists. But this Bodega set is not part of the guides spiel. Perhaps it’s overlooked by younger eyes. Actually, to spot Universal in this film is an advanced backlot logistics test. Good job if you already identified this location prior to this installment.

Trams passed through this set after exiting the Flash Flood and then a brief Hoo Ray in Six Points, we curve around the old paddleboat for our approach to the Red Sea. We would sit parked in Bodega waiting for trams to enter and exit the Red Sea. Guides talked mostly westerns and how small doorways are around here to make Cowboys bigger and damsels look more distressed.

Murder She Wrote did an episode in this area and it was suppose to be a movie studio backlot. In the eighties, this street faded to black, so to speak and was rarely used except for parties and rock videos. Alias Smith and Jones was the last western series to saddle up on these streets.

This gas station set is located in the center of the backlot, all roads funnel at this area that connects Lankershim Blvd to Barham Blvd and all backlot roads in between. This set lies in close proximity to film vaults and our underwater tank. The buildings surrounding this area that still stand depict a different era inside, one that never changed. Old wall paper is peeling off the walls and the curtains are held together by caked on dust. The buildings inside take you back to the days of the westerns with cowboys sketched on walls by a talented artist-long ago.

Three things every tourist see’s from a tram is The Hitchcock Bungalow, Bodega Bay Station, and the Psycho House. Bodega Bay sets rarely gets pointed out. In 1963, McHale’s Navy jungle set was right ac across the way from this set. The pontoon boats, could be craned out when a naval base was undesirable in our Red Sea. The studio uses oversized props and structures to hide or block views of other sets. The Paddle Boat is a floating rode block, it can look real by blowing steam out the chutes and the paddle can spin with help by effects. Cover with extras in costumes and begin the hootenanny. Everything will move but the ship itself. One of our many illusionary devices. It was common place to move the PT. 73 around also, from the Red Sea and also Singapore Lake, better know as Cabot Cove, the water Jaws occupies.

The tram backup during busy summer days back through this entire 6 Points Texas western area. This area is like the 405 freeway at 5 P.M. Slow going due to animation time needing to reset, the Red Sea needs to refill after each parting creates what we call -A Tram Jam.

Each guide treading water, with a just microphone to keep them a float, earn their tiny bags of silver stalling in the old west. Guides desperately try to keep folks attention. They proudly say something while constantly peeking at the tram movement in front of us. ” I wasn’t trained to say this much,” is the truth to their befuddled facial expressions. Veteran guides don’t over react and stay in the moment, but new summer hires just cram stuff in with a petrified look. Rookie guides tend to shout nervously. Most guides are new in the summer, it becomes a match to drown out other guides doing the same spiels in other trams. This is where-brain cells die.

I have more fun watching the guests faces as the guides attempt to enlighten and entertain. These backups can last a half hour in sometimes brutal sun.

Most guides are here just to be discovered by some director, it’s not the pay that seals the deal. It’s stardom… O’k that rarely happens but it’s the dream come true of every face behind that microphone. I once did a private tour for Whoopi Goldberg, she pointed out to our guide, quote ‘I once applied for a tour guide position but was refused, do to my color.” -” But I ended up making quite a bit more money!” with a devilish laugh she exclaimed in all her bravado. My struggling tour guide was happy for her success, I could tell. Do say, She didn’t tip like she’s rich.

Jack Wagner is the biggest success story to move on from that backwards facing seat with the microphone.

Another guide named Katy Garretson moved on to directing from her front row seat on the tour. She has won achievement awards, you could tell she even on the tram she can run a show. These two former guides achieved high professional success and are now legendary in their previous world of tram tour guides. Role models if ever there was…

For us drivers, we’re Teamsters…life is good. We jump from shows- to tours, and vice a versa. I have so much fun on these 4 car contraptions, you meet the entire world and show them your small portion of your Universe. Especially on private nights when companies rent out a tram, driver-guide, we are a team after all, and do liquored up tours with folks letting their hair down. Spirits bring out the spirits. Not everybody has the cash to rent this place out, those who do sure have fun.

Bodega Bay is more than just a duplicated set on our backlot, it’s a way of life for us tour employees.Tour Guides pour their soul out in this area and it’s my job to listen, before driving to the next stall- backup for more of the same…

You can never have enough information when it comes to touring with 175 captive customers.

and on the drivers side of the tram that ditch was in Night Gallery”…”no it wasn’t” but if you say it on a microphone it happened. Make it up, yep-I’ve heard everything from my All American Good Looking Side Kicks!

Written and Lived by…Donnie Norden.

Desilu’s Lost Film Vaults-Revisited

Vaults circled, 1976. The Desilu Forgotten Vaults. A yellow water tower stands where the guard shack once was. The entire lot is gone except for this locked up storage facility. I was able to breech this fortress and we put tennis shoes on the cement floor inside this strange smelling bunker. We entered through the roof after hours of intense struggling through each security protective layer. Yes, this impervious and supposedly invincible facility was uncorked by a handful of determined teen-agers. That story can be enjoyed in my book….Hole in the Fence.
In this 1969 episode of Hogan’s Heroes, the film vaults provide the setting for this German gun installation. The episode, starred Vito Scotti. Previously, that role was played by Hans Conried. The red door is one of eight that enter these vaults. That’s a heavyweight solid steel door fleeced with fake snow.
Each vault has its own anti-aircraft gun. The shed at top of the picture is at the Main gate fence line on Ince Blvd. Hogan’s Heroes was a Paramount/Gulf Western Production in the final years of this series. I believe they secured their assets from this vault area. Probably one of the last withdrawals of film. The Lost Episodes of Lucy-were inside these vaults, uncatalogued. I have much more on the legendary editor Dann Cahn, to come. He was able to find cuts inside these vaults that became the Lost Episodes…
Dann Cahn-pictured center was given a career achievement award by the American Cinema Editors. He is also known for finding and putting together the Lost Lucy Episodes from the Desilu Vaults. He was the last surviving member of the original creative team for I Love Lucy.
Dann Cahn, center, at his bachelor party thrown by Danny Thomas and Desi Arnaz. He was the editor on- I Love Lucy. He recovered the lost episodes of that series from these vaults. What I want to know is… what’s in that tiny trinket box? Photos courtesy of his son-Danny.
Film Vaults-bottom left. Picture from Baldwin Hills. Hughes Tool Corporation, Hetzler Road.
Oil Production is taking place adjacent to these vaults. “There’s oil in them there hills!” In 1924, oil was discovered in the area surrounding these backlots. Oil and film came to Culver City at almost exactly the same time period.
This is where Ince Blvd terminates into various dirt roads at the 40-acre main gate. Those eight white squares are the roof of the film vaults. This is a cement bunker with 8 blast doors, one for each vault. Normally this area outside the blast doors is used for storage, in this picture, oil production is taking place outside, a derrick is positioned in front. It’s real, not a set. Standard Oil made the hills overlooking this studio a boom town- striking oil in 1924.
Main Lot -Two vaults off Ince Blvd. 8 more located out back.

MGM…A vault at MGM exploded, August 10th, 1965. An electrical short caused the nitrate to explode. One man died. The blast could be heard all the way to MGM Lots 1 and 2. The entire contents were destroyed including several silent films and only known originals. MGM Studio Manager Roger Mayer describes vaults as “concrete bunk houses.” He stated at the time it was good storage because the film couldn’t be stolen. MGM Lot 3 had their vaults spread out so fire could not spread between vaults. MGM never purposely destroyed their film catalog, starting in 1930, MGM gave prints and negatives of its silent films to The George Eastman House. Thus began the transformation by Mr. Louie B. Mayer to transfer nitrate prints to safety film. Despite this sad mishap, MGM has saved over 68% of its silent films, the highest percentage of all the major studios.

Silver/Nitrate…is what existed inside these vaults. Residence homes on Ince, and Van Buren, butt-end with this potential fire hazard. Movie theaters have been known to catch fire with this film stock.
The area highlighted is the Film Vaults in bunker form.
This is one of Universal’s vaults that was next to the New York Street fires –two fires! These buildings are air conditioned for film preservation and employees here wear coats. Firefighters on the ground and in helicopters – helped defend this vault in the two legendary blazes on New York Street. Inside these vaults-it’s cold, a bit damp and smells strongly of film.
Universal Vault, I add these because Desilu racks look quite like this, just more of a cryptic tomb setting, like it was aware of its fate. Bing Crosby has a film inside here…”Two for Tonight.” Bing Crosby BCP was on credits for Hogan’s Heroes episodes.
Bing Crosby ProductionsHogan’s Heroes call sheet. BCP on ending credits…
Stuff exists in these vaults that has little if anything to do with complete films. Fact is-anything film over decades gets stuck inside these enclaves. Everyday goings-on, when captured on film and deemed savable, end up in these temperature-controlled vaults…Universal
An organized film vault looks like this…this vault is active and many of these shows are in your TV line-up today.
Organized for generations to come, most these shows are airing in some TV Land near you.

The major studios have their own vaults. MGM and Universal listed, RKO/Desilu no mention. They need them to store their films. The construction of these old vaults is fairly identical in regard to the old bomb shelter construction.
Projection room in Theater 2…Universal.
A mixing console is covered in between these rows of seats. Films get worked on, if need be, in post-production but also get screened here for VIP’S.

The projector lens merges sprockets of spinning frames of film onto a theater screen. We had 3 theaters when I was at Universal and this area, located alongside Doc Goldstein’s Sound Department, was always extremely busy. This is where film post-production creates the final product.

Let’s first start with this announcement-If you don’t already possess Hollywood’s Lost Backlot, Steven Bingen’s sensational book on 40 Acres, Get It! It’s The Bible for pictures and facts about this legendary backlot. You will refer to it all the time, the perfect Desilu Rerun companion. Also, his latest book, The MGM Effect, has a story with yours truly featured. I’m extremely honored to be part of that legacy and will do all I can to keep that logo alive and breathing forever. Another must have book for your studio library shelf, which- is the best shelf in the bookcase. Finally, an audio bonus, check out the podcast by Greg Dyro on the making of The MGM Effect, available online.


Because of all of the changes in ownership involving this studio, things got misplaced. In some cases, for decades. You still might still find an old make-up trailer just sitting around, covered with dust.

The very last structure to be bulldozed at 40-acres were the Film Vaults. In a land that once had sets from Stalag 13 to Mayberry, only a few trees and blowing tumbleweeds remained in August 1976. I shared previously my excursion inside these bomb shelters that are literally explosion proof. That’s because the contents inside are extremely volatile. Just recently I was contacted by a man named Barry, he happens to be the last handful of folks to see this place be excavated.

He contacted me because I’m one of the few folks still alive who has been inside. My entrance was about six months prior to the afternoon- I’m about to detail.

The Main Gate on Ince…

This is how you enter this backlot, you know you’ve arrived when pavement turns to dirt.

Welcome... A guard shack no longer exists just inside the chain link fence, it’s been replaced by an elevated industrial water tank to fill water trucks needed to help control blowing dirt. Yep, this lot is going, going, Gone With the Wind. Camp Henderson is the first missing set you notice and that hits you like a punch in the nose. To see this lot this barren, you would need to rewind over 50 years.

But the one thing that still stands was built for preservation, even in a war. Its appearance is that of a bomb shelter. Thick cement walls with heavy blast doors. The light switches inside can be used in an explosive gas atmosphere. That’s because this film is silver nitrate. This film has a nasty reputation. It’s been known to catch fire in movie theaters.

Nitrate was used from the late 1800’s to the 1940’s. These bunkers date back to that era. RKO probably built these, Desilu inherited them, and television made its way inside. Racks and racks and racks with enough film to stretch to New York are packed like a sardine can. The cans are labeled but little inventory can be diagnosed from the racks themselves. Basically, you just look, if it was a TV series, like everything I saw there was, then all these prints were stacked against each other. The more successful the series, the more cans it will have. Some film is 8mm, some is 16mm, the cans vary in thickness. One reel per can, some cans just contain cuttings. Strips of film frames captured in a roll held together by rubber bands.

Water then crept inside, so the bottom rack was inundated, and white calcium deposit levels show different water levels. This place seems to have been forgotten. Maybe no keys still exist. This studio has had several owners since Desilu sold it. Nothing seems to have been passed down from previous ownership. It’s like a sci-fi movie where everybody evacuated. I got in without keys and it was not easy. You can read my account in detail in my book Hole in the FenceThe Desilu Film Vaults.

Today, we will suffer together the twisted fate that was sealed in this tomb of chemicals and flammables and celluloid. We’re talking Hollywood’s most legendary stock TV series’.

Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, and Citizen Kane were recorded on nitrate, the earliest form of motion picture film. The latter two films were shot at this studio. As nitrate was phased out in the 40’s, many archives were destroyed intentionally, to eradicate the hazardous materials. Film archivists held nitrate in a different fiery light. Besides being an important ancestor to all forms of film to follow, nitrate is lauded for luminous contrast images resulting from emulsion rich in silver. It’s safe if handled properly.

As teenagers on the wild side, the word properly was misunderstood. Open the can lid and smell what is rolled tightly inside. If you want to see it, that requires unraveling the film, which I’m certain was EXREMELY DANGEROUS. Boys will be boys and we were looking for costumes and props- not film. I guess that’s why my mom always said ” Donnie-just be careful” every time I went out our front door.

I’m still alive so I did something right, plus I have a wonderful Guardian Angel that’s saved me numerous times.

What I describe on this day is through a different set of eyes, my pal Barry.

Ince Blvd– at the 40-acre backlot entrance a visitor arrives...

The main gate is wide open since there is no more backlot. Barry, a trespassing veteran himself, pulls in like he owns the place. Immediately, he sees a barren landscape, no more Camp Henderson, no more anything, except a claw on a huge tractor that’s parked in front of the film vaults. One door has been ripped off as he parks his car where he can observe. A huge dumpster sits precariously close to the action. A guard is with the operator and demolition crew.

Barry, during a lull in work, enters inside. The contents are about to be destroyed. He picks up a few cans and tucks them away in his car. That was easy, but as he returns, security this time says, “Stay Out!”

Following instructions, he stays out, but instead sneaks around to the blind side of this dumpster to grab film that’s been dumped. This time security is angry and asks for some I.D. He talks his way out and says he’s with the studio. Calm, cool and collected- but intensely frustrated, he exits just as the giant claw tears off the roof. This is a massive bucket doing the dirty work.

The items randomly recovered by our want to be hero turn out to be the Pilot of Star Trek, Captain Pike, not Captain Kirk. These are cuttings, not full reels. Other cutting tied by rubber band turn out to be Lucy, Ricky, and Bob Hope driving around in a convertible. These items were very close to being underwater as the bottom rack was at sea level.

Other films on the rack besides Star Trek included a pilot called The Sheriff of Cochise. Westinghouse Desilu Theater, and some I Love Lucy cans along with The Whirlybirds. Paramount had labels on film cans in the dumpster.

Edison-The All Electric House of the Future had film inside displaying futuristic homes.

We will never know exactly the depth of this catastrophe, but when you hear of lost episodes, this hand me down studio really did lose things. I imagine some recovery was made since there is enough vault space to handle decades of film. RKO has to have stuff inside here that was lost. I think they built it. Desilu took it over and TV filled the racks.

There is a comment I’ve heard researching what I still can from Desi Arnaz himself, dating back into the sale of Desilu on December 29, 1967 “Throw it all in the Santa Monica Bay” in regard to much of this film.

Back in the day, TV only had channels 2-13. Seven channels, if you’re lucky. This translates to tons of content with minimal ways to sell it. Quality shows, view outlets. Storage costs money, so if a product isn’t generating revenue, it costs money to store. Plus, liability, kids prior to this demolition accessed my entrance and film would be blowing down in the creek. It’s a miracle no kid met with a fiery fate.

The studio that brought you GWTW now is entirely blowing in the wind…ashes, dust, and celluloid make up this lost horizon.

Until 1962, Desilu was second to MCA’S Review Studios. When MCA bought Universal Pictures, Desilu became the number one independent production company until being sold in 1968.

That’s an update of an event that happened almost 50 years ago. No other studio mishandled their inventory like this Lost Backlot did.

Fade to Black

Written and lived by …Donnie Norden