Bootleggers, Tommy Guns, and LSD

The movie continues24 hours later, Desilu Backlot

Finally!… the school bell rings. But, despite my intense focus on getting to MGM as quickly as possible today, my attempt at making an undeterred exit is undermined by one kid after another… “are you headed back to MGM to see Capone?”… “Are they filming today?” They are practically tugging at my pant legs. I just want to get the hell out of school!

I side step the questions with little bites, “I believe Desilu is the show’s location today.” As I continue to get yanked at, I receive an interesting proposition…

A kid named Caffrey pulls out a sheet of what looks like a film negative and offers to share a tab of Brown Windowpain, otherwise known as LSD. I have tried it a couple of times before and it is one of the more colorful, hilarious, and mind altering experiences I have ever had. Doing it on the backlot would be quite the escapade. Always one for adventure, I accept his trade offer—this sheet for a couple of Fedora hats that we snatched from the set last night.

Now armed with a pocketful of craziness, I organize my trespassing buddies. Danny, my drummer friend from next door; Brian, the soon-to-be Marine recruit; Joey, my Gemini buddy, whose birthday is two days before mine; and finally, Gerald, who drives a Zamboni at the LA Kings’ games.

As we roll up, I mention that besides the fine Columbian doobies, I also have “a little something extra” for tonight’s entertainment. We agree that this will be ingested later, once we’re settled into this set. After all, we never know when we might run into trouble… we don’t wanna be seeing trails in case we need to get away…

Who, Me?… “Adam West”—

It’s now 4PM. My troupe and I arrive at the the creek that flows alongside the backlot. We peek through the trees and see a film crew passing us by on a dirt road, just in front of the old Hogan’s Heroes bridge. Each vehicle that goes by kicks up a little dust. We are in synchronicity with the show’s arrival. School didn’t conflict with filming today, like it did the last two days at MGM. The stars are aligned and we are off to a smooth start.

That is… until we are stopped dead in our tracks by some unknown man with a badge, who claims to be security. But, I know better… this lot seldom has security. Production vehicles that are still trickling in, witness this encounter. Super cop immediately wants us to write down our names “for approval, in order to go forward.” By the time it’s my turn, I can barely contain myself. My mouth is quivering and I’m sure my face is turning red from holding in my laughter.

The names I see written so far, are Sherlock Holmes, GI Joe, and Joey. Other than Joey, I see that my guys have broken into aliases. So, I follow suit and I jot down Adam West. Then I pass the paper down to Gerald, who scribbles Bruce Lee. We outnumber this clown and we know this place inside out, so we are hardly discouraged.

Right at this moment, a brown station wagon with Roger Corman inside, pulls alongside this investigation. Our super trooper turns and hands him the list of names. But, he didn’t read it before proudly handing it over. Roger looks it over as the guard asks him if we are with the show…

Then, to our thorough pleasure and delight, Roger replies… “Mr Holmes, GI joe and Adam West have been with us all week. They’re fine.” He snickers and glances at us as he drives off to the set. Permission granted… by the big cheese himself. We are beyond the moon with glee.

Shooting the First Scene—

So, we strut on into Mayberry, which is now the city of Chicago. Old cars are driving back and forth, as the sound of vintage horns creates the feeling of being back in time.

As we watch some actors rehearse their scenes in front of a cigar store, we spark up a victory doobie. They are ready to shoot the first scene of the night. The director yells out directions. A black Cadillac Town Sedan comes to a stop and almost simultaneously, a sawed off shot gun blast sends a gangster flying through the window of a tobacco shop. Nice… we are barely half way through our joint and we have already seen a guy get blown away. As the next set gets prepared, we examine the broken glass, the briar pipes and all the miscellaneous paraphernalia from this first scene. We grab some rolling papers and cigars for later on.

Below, exactly the scenes we just saw as we arrived…

A Real Trip—

Realizing this opportunity is off to a perfect start, we step inside and divvy up the LSD; one tab for each of us. At first I don’t feel anything. But as seamless as the sunset itself, I begin to feel as if the colors encircling the sun are somehow more real than the actual sun. I catch a glimmer of the idea that I may be experiencing the effects of the magical morsel, but then I lose that idea and I disappear into the experience. It is like layers of reality… which appear as layers of cake in my mind. There’s me having the experience… then… just the experience itself, with no “me.”

It is as if I’m seeing the sunset and the colors left behind, in the sky, without my sunglasses on. Funny, how people say that these kinds of drugs remove you from reality… when everything is actually more real. The “ordinary” world is the false world! Similar to when you look real close at a newspaper image, and you see those individual colored dots… then, when you back up and look at it the regular way, the colors are not that vivid. Perhaps looking close like that, you see the colors as they really are. The “trip” experience is the true reality… like a secret that has been revealed.

But as quickly as I have that thought, it breaks up and I lose it, the way dreams dissolve after being awake for a moment… and you try to recollect it, but it’s… just gone… like a distant memory of something that may or may not have happened. Was it a dream, or did that really happen? Then poof… it’s gone. Then you get a wave of it again. And at certain moments, I lose myself, too. Or, at least, the sense that I am watching myself. And then the very word “me” becomes so funny. What is “me?” It’s such a strange thought! And I am laughing again…

The backlot rooftops are glowing bright yellow under the sunset, while arc lights cast strange shadows. For a moment, I want to tell the crew that there are shadows in the set! And it feels very important to alert them. I must alert them! Then, one of my buddies says that Effects is preparing mutiple sets for “rapid fire filming.” We all start to laugh, as if that was the funniest thing anyone has ever said, EVER.

This is perfect for the rapid fire sensations taking place in our brains. The darker the night becomes, the more colorful this street becomes.


Next up: A drive-by hit. Sylvester Stallone delivers a bloody blow with his Tommy Gun… from the moving vehicle. Then the Pony Inn is next up. As a drunken group of Irishmen stagger out of a doorway, a burst of gunfire kills all three… in slow motion. The sign itself (Pony Inn) is littered with bullet holes. A light above the door gets blown off as squibs are placed everywhere. We are as close as can be to all of this, compliments of Mr Corman.

Bodies twist and turn, as blood packets under their coats explode and splatter everywhere. The gunfire is blaring, as orange fire protrudes from this old car.

Picture above… the doorway that was the Pony Inn; the location of this scene. Jimmy is in the doorway peeking through and pointing a pretend gun...

Below is the hit at the Pony Inn… Frank Nitti and Al Capone have a score to settle…

School Is Good for One Thing—

Well, this is mind boggling… it’s like a time machine back to the Dirty Thirties. Everything is so real… down to every detail. We soak it all in… We are as close or closer than the director. We smell the gun powder and the explosive residue. Our ears are still ringing from multiple Tommy Gun blasts… it is all so surreal, but yet, so real. If we were any closer, you would see us in these shots. School should be so interesting!

Well, school still a good place to score drugs!

Another shot is being prepared across from the church, two houses down from Andy Griffith’s house… Meanwhile, we enjoy ourselves by touching the bloody clothing. It still has wires and detonated blood packs attached to the interior lining. We follow up on each set as the company moves to the next scene; we trip out on all the destruction and we simply… trip out.

Above: The next shot will blow up this house…

Everything Is So Real and Also So Funny—

Every 10 minutes or so, we experience more intense sensations and journey deeper into the recesses of our minds. We are here in 1974, but we also are in the 1930s. I see everything to its core, as if that little tab of magic opened up the curtains to the sunlight. As if before… everything was covered in dust. Everything is simultaneously new, but yet familiar. I am visiting an old dream.

We step inside a building just to smoke. Our eyes are still bulging out from this ambush we just witnessed. GI Joe, better known as Brian, is eating this Tommy Gun stuff up, as we all are. He takes a hit and then pretends to shoot at us. We laugh so hard it hurts. Danny is air drumming again, but it’s the strangest thing… as he moves his hand up to hit the invisible cymbal, his arm seems to move in spurts, like when you slow down a movie and see each individual frame. Especially when he moves fast, it’s as if his hands are blurring. So I tell him to do a drum roll and we all laugh even harder.

Yes… we are higher than any kite!

Not everyone is laughing—

Al Capone is pissed off and lets the director know it… in full costume and make-up. Mr Gazzara is upset that he is still on set. He has one more scene—a fight, and thinks it should be done before this house gets blown up. Apparently, the director disagrees.

Tension takes over, as the crew works in silence. We are the happiest people on this set. We are the happiest people alive… anywhere. Anywhere happens to be standing in front of Andy Griffith’s courthouse, which is the half way point in between what was just filmed and what will be.

As fate would have it, Ben, or Al Capone at this moment, walks over to us and stands right in the middle of the six of us. I am right next to him on his cigar-hand side. I’m sure of this because he keeps puffing a stogie that I keep inhaling. He is like our best friend.

We are in a crescent line with each head staggered by just a couple of degrees. I casually peek down this conga line, with Capone in the middle of all my friends. He is still madly puffing on that cigar, almost like he’s ready to eat it. I miraculously control my urge to laugh at that. What if he eats his cigar?

Brian is on Capone’s right side, we book-end Capone. I stare at the scar make up put on Al’s face… Scarface Al Capone. This time, I let out a guffaw. I imagine everyone knows what I am laughing about and expect them to laugh with me. But they look so serious and I wonder why.

Brian seems to understand. I know this because he smirks at me. He will soon be a Marine and I wonder if he will lose his sense of humor. I then look at Danny and Brian to see if they see what I see, as Capone chomps and blows smoke. Danny’s mouth tightens as he tries to hold back his laughter. It makes me want to laugh even more, so I look away.

The next scene is being rehearsed; a car pulls up in front of the house and a gangster steps off the running board with dynamite. Set decorators work on the fly, adding a lamp, a picture and a chair inside the home. Next, they add some kid toys to the front porch to make it look “homey.”

Soon another green light from effects…

3, 2, 1… ACTION!

A cars rolls up, tosses the TNT. KABOOM!

Ben goes back to his trailer before this shot culminates, but he better stick around because he is in the next scene. There will be a fight at the end of the street.

Before we go there, we check out all the damage done to this house, which is just two houses away from Andy Griffith’s house. Al Capone, meet Sheriff Taylor… Only in Hollywood!

Inside is a smoldering living room. The front door has been blown off; this effects crew likes to see doors fly. Second one I’ve seen, so far.

Finally, Ben gets his last scene of the night in, and is tossed through a sugar glass window by two police types. Capone is picked up and thrown, so as to explain that scar on his face.

The window Capone is thrown through was Atlanta in this iconic scene from Gone With the Wind… it is the red brick building. A stairway existed there in 1938, but the structure is original.

The fight sequence actually starts in the alley at MGM and concludes here at Desilu. The fake bricks of each set on each lot match-up in style. It allows for continuity.


The company moved from Lot 2 at MGM, to Desilu, at around 4pm, and we all arrived at Desilu together… one big happy, Italian mafia family. And… although I was too young to see the Untouchables film here, this was just as cool.

I always wanted to see a gangster film being made and good old Roger Corman returned to the sites that he used to film The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre on, back in late 1967.

In that classic, MGM, Desilu, and Fox backlots were used… this film returned to the scene of the crime, eight years later. Thanks to one of Hollywood’s top producers and directors, I got to experience what I just shared with you.

Think twice before you start your car next time…. and,

Happy Trails to You!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by Donna Quesada

The Alley

This production company is shifting backlots this evening, leaving MGM’s NY Street for Desilu’s Chicago Street, right across town. You’d have no trouble finding the place… The Tommy Gun blasts from the Untouchables TV series are still echoing through whatever is left of that set. But now, we will have a color version… (and as you’ll see in the next post, let’s just say, the colors become quite vivid!) Talk about Technicolor!

Last night at MGM, filming concluded with scenes at Brownstone, as well as MGM’s famous alley. The scene was being filmed as we arrived on the backlot from school. It was a set that had just been created… a hospital exit. As we snuck into earshot, an actor with a very recognizable face was standing in the alley, as the dialogue was being filmed… his name is Sylvester Stallone.

This tight alley set is a challenge, in terms of sneaking logistics. The sheer narrowness reduces our scope of movement and limits our escape options. Sure enough, we see Big George walk out of the very doorway we are sizing up as a hide out spot. Bob Coleman is here also; we’ve spotted our version of the Untouchables. Elliott Ness is wearing an MGM badge.

Informants are descending all around… suddenly, we feel like we are in the haunted forest in The Wizard of Oz, with vultures coming down to get you from all directions. With just a knowing glance to each other, we know what we need to do… we will cut right through the filming set by busting through the same doorway Stallone is now in front of… But we will have to be patient. When will he move? It’s all about waiting. And peeking through doorways to make our next move… We mentally will him to just look the other way! He’s not even a household name yet. Rocky is still a year away. Yet, our fate at this moment depends on him.

It’s now a house of mirrors… which doors are real and which ones aren’t? Which ones are manned and which ones are clear? There are no side street exits here. Only doors. And more doors. And very tall walls. And guards—which doors are they hiding behind?

This scene is where Capone becomes the ringleader after a tenure of serving as right hand man to Johnny Torreo “The Fox.” By this time, bootlegging is already big business and beware the moonshine merchants who refuse to “negotiate!” Let’s just say, bad things will happen. This is supposed to be the scene that nearly finishes off Torrio. Frank Nitti, played by Stallone, is next in line as chief officer. But, we’re just here to see some gun shooting!

Unfortunately, it looks like there will be no shooting tonight. Just guards and doors. Door number one, Bronco Bob. Door number two, Big George. Door number three, Stallone… Lets make a deal!

Now! Go!

Looks like the crew has called Stallone over to talk about the scene. Go… Now! We bolt. Brian, Danny and I dart along the wall, as if we had synchronized our big move, to the door where Stallone was standing. As we enter, we find a huge wardrobe inside. After gathering our whereabouts, we see that this was once an old “bank” in some other movie feature. It smells like a vintage clothing store. “There is a box of hats on table!” Danny says.

We busy ourselves in here for quite a while, trying on hats and scarves, like a bunch of ladies. Danny tests out a black gangster-type Fedora hat and models around with it; he droops it down over one eye and comes toward us with an expression like he’s gonna shoot us. Then we all bust up laughing so hard, it’s a wonder they don’t hear us. Meanwhile, I am modeling around with a fur coat, speaking with a British accent… How do you do Madame? Would you like a spot of tea? While Brian rummages through old pins. Can’t imagine what he wants with those, but he’s weird that way. Looks like this is the highlight of the night.

We wear our new stuff while walking home. This is now the very next day after walking home with the burned up dummy head under my arm. The other kids are carrying Pee Chee folders. What must they think…

We relish our treasures and feel very pleased with ourselves. George and Bob can explain where the stuff went. We consider our goodies as something of a consolation prize, since filming has been scheduled for the next day at Desilu.

As we always do, we move surreptitiously through the lot, in costume, and climb out by Maureen’s apartment. I was hoping to impress her with my grown up bootlegger clothing… Oh well.

“See you at Desilu after school tommorow” is cordially how we end this evening.

The hat and coat (modeled by an old friend) that we acquired that night…

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…
Edited by Donna Quesada


20th Century Fox has returned to MGM again. The same rail depot that was recently used in Young Frankenstein and Planet of the Apes is all fancied up, for another show. This Fox production is a feature entitled Capone and stars Ben Gazzara as the king of the underworld.

I just can’t get enough of the Tommy Gun world. I have a toy Tommy Gun that shoots sparks—it’s the envy of every kid on the block. Guns are part of my birthright, as a boy, I suppose. But, we’re not talking cops and robbers here. A Tommy Gun, is THE choice weapon for gangsters. Real gangsters, like John Dillinger. They don’t call it the Chicago Organ Grinder for nothin’. This thing can wipe out a whole gang in seconds. The very same ones used in Capone’s infamous Valentines Day Massacre.

This will be the first 30’s era gangster show I’ve had the pleasure to witness. The Untouchables TV series has filmed classic episodes on both the Desilu and MGM backlots.

Security officer Al Marioenzi has already told me about the schedule at MGM’s backlot and I’m all over it. But Al only knows the MGM advance; I found out on my own that Desilu will be integrated into many action scenes, also… this will be like a color version of the Untouchables, but through the eyes of Al Capone.

I arrive late to the set, due to an unforseen task at school, which squandered my valuable MGM time. It appears that production is putting the finishing touches on this train set just as we arrive… I would’ve preferred to get here earlier. What a nuisance the whole school thing is… with all its boring busywork!

I am with Brian, my older friend, who just enlisted in the Marines, and Danny, my next door neighbor drummer pal. I build up the story line… “It’s a show about Al Capone, you know there will be tremendous shootouts! With Tommy Guns! I am talking at a great speed, while loping along the train tracks leading into MGM. I kick up dirt with my excitement, then glance back to see their reactions. Danny is playing air drums to a song no one else can hear and Brian is eating Taco flavored Doritos from a snack size bag. Yep, I think they’re into it just as much as I am.

These guys are two of my toughest friends and their favorite thing to do is have BB gun fights where Combat used to battle. That’s even better than filming.

Thinking they are filming at this depot, we are extra careful as we climb in.

But, I’m disappointed as I survey this area… there is nothing here!

They’re gone… no equipment, no filming, no cast, no action, no nothing. Even the set dressers are rolling away the period props that a 1930’s train station would have had, right before our eyes.

It’s like they’ve canceled the show that we’ve paid good money to see! We are indignant. In two seconds, we go from carefully peeking around corners to moving about with long strides, like we own the place. We expected better entertainment! Who’s making decisions around here?! We become crotchety old men, demanding to see the manager… and storm out in a huff.

We consider that perhaps the company simply disembarked for the day, and so we go explore on our own. Low and behold, as we enter Small Town Square, we see a small splinter crew setting up in front of a bakery that they just dressed…

The unmistakable smell of rubber cement permeates this tiny main street. It is being applied on a car that is being cut, basted, and stuffed, just like a turkey. Special effects is setting up for a blast of large proportions. As this car goes through its final preparations, we pick a vantage point that has a balcony to witness what is ahead.

The three of us sit perched inside what used to be Andy Hardy’s house. We stand in front of the upstairs windows, gawking at all the goings on. We’re pretty pleased with ourselves—we have just as good a vantage point as anyone here.

A sign attached to the building we’re in, says Phil’s Bakery. One side of Andy Hardy’s house is a residential entrance, while the backside is a commercial store front… Welcome to Hollywood.

Ironically, the buiding with the movie camera facing it is a Bakery also… Aiello’s.

Tasty pastries adorn the front of Aiello’s bakery while musty old drapes enclose dirty glass windows, suggesting that a few holidays have passed since this bakery did any baking here.

The proprietor is leaving his shop in this scene; while it is being shot, he locks the shop door and then takes a seat inside his old sedan.


As fast as the actor steps into the car, he is quickly replaced by a rubber dummy wearing exactly the same clothing. Rubber cement is poured all over this mannequin as Effects deattaches the car doors. This final step will make the next scene even more spectacular.

The doors appear to be functionable, but they are free-wheeling now—nothing is connected. They just sit in place with out restraints, like a toy car. After a thumbs up by FX that everything is ready, a large perimeter gets set up.

The effects coordinator yells out in a booming voice, “We need everyone to push back!” The unmanned camera is in the blast zone, surrounded by plexiglass to protect it.

The scene shot just prior to this one was of Mr. Aiello leaving his business, locking his front door, then getting into his car… unbeknownst to him, when he turns on his ignition, bad things will happen!

We anxiously hold our breath, as we lean against each other for the countdown… 3, 2, 1…

Vavoom… Boom!

Our excitement settles into calmness. We made it on time to see something cool take place. I sure brought the right two friends for this escapade!

There is a stunned silence that follows the explosions and destruction of what we just witnessed. We felt the heat blast like a nucleaur bomb shock wave. The smell of burning rubber cement is everywhere… Special Effects fights its own fire. They douse this car with water and foam, quickly putting out the burning corpse that was Mr. Aiello.

The car doors blew off as planned and we climb down to approach this smoldering vehicle. The dummy is sitting cocked and leaning out of the car; he continues to burn, since he is rubber and soaked in flammables. His head takes an extra blast of a fire extinguisher to finally stop burning.

The whole unit is now headed towards New York Street. No sooner had they captured the scene, than everyone moved on. The next time we return, it will be like like nothing ever happened. Hollywood magic… now you see it, now you don’t. You can create entire worlds and then destroy them in seconds.

While there are still smoldering remains, we decide to make the most of our time, especially since we are now the only ones left. So we play around a bit in the aftermath. Naturally, I need to grab something for my museum, so I decide on the dummy’s head… Mr. Aiello will be coming home with me!

Severely disfigured from the blast, any resemblace to a live human being no longer exists. Just a rubber head that is easily removed from its body, like the doors that were on this car. This place creates illusions on a grand scale… we just got a dose of how to blow up a car for a movie.

Little do we know yet, this is just the start of something much more crazy. New York Street has several scenes still to be filmed here. It’s always a good sign when I can grab a souvenir right off the bat. It must make quite a vision… me walking home with Mr Aiello’s head under my arm.

(Which turned out to be questionable choice as a souvenir, by the way, as it smells terrible! Years later, that putrid smell would be just as strong, as if all this had just happened yesterday!)

Above: site of Aiello Bakery ambush… Below: view from upstairs of Aiello bakery looking across at Phil’s Bakery, where Danny, Brian and I are hiding. We are in the second floor looking out windows. This structure was Andy Hardy’s house. We would feel the heat from this blast across this town square.

These are the scenes at the train station we missed out on at school…but the studio God’s must like pyro since they saved the best scenes for last!

More nights ahead on this film… Stay tuned!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…
Edited by Donna Quesada

Time Machine

The Time Has Come Today….Tic, Toc, Tic, Toc

An MGM security guard has befriended me. His name is Al Marioenzi. He could double for the cop below. Probably speaks like him, too…

I oughta teach ya’a lesson… all-a-yas! But despite his no nonsense look, he’s got a soft side. I first heard about him from Gerald, my pal. He says he is very friendly… says he even gives kids rides in the famous Red Bronco. I can’t help but remain a little skeptical, but I’d rather be inside the Bronco than running from it.

Al is a veteran security guard, loaded with cool stories from his 30 years of badge work. He normally works the main gate at Lot 1: The same gate that the legendary MGM guard Ken Hollywood usually posts at. But lately, they’ve been assigning him to the MGM backlot.

Tonight, our paths cross at this legendary spot, the main gate. His friendly demeanor seeps out from behind the badge and blues, the way the aroma of my mom’s freshly baked cookies escapes all her efforts to pack them up well, inside my lunch pail… beckoning me to eat them long before lunchtime. He buckles his mouth into a half smile when I ask him if it’s fun to work here. He proudly shares his stories and jokes that his own family is bored with them. I enjoy his Italian accent and feel cozy and comfortable in his company, as if he would be my grandpa. I’m beyond thrilled when he invites me inside for a private MGM tour. But, he says emphatically, he can’t be seen with me by the other guards, who know me as “Public Enemy Number 1.”

So, he says he will drive around and pick me up inside the backlot, right across from Maureen’s apartment. I climb into the lot, then meet Al at our designated spot. I can’t believe I’m breaking in right in front of the guard! Allowable trespassing!

I see him drive up in the Bronco and we eye each other conspiratorially. Then he motions for me to hop in quickly. The tour begins. He asks if I want to get Maureen and bring her with us. I say No, she’s busy.… with a huffy breath. This is my moment.

I’m sitting shot gun in a vehicle that shoots. A guard is giving me secret history lessons. For each set, he’s got various stories and tidbits about its past… I’ve died and gone to heaven, I keep saying to myself.

“Over here is where the Time Machine filmed,” he says, as he pulls into Copperfield Court.

We pull to a stop under the archway that leads you into New York Street, as I ask this 30 year veteran security guard what it was like with Combat here, at MGM. Al replies “the show was a lot of fun to be around… I became friends with Shecky Green from a Combat episode.”

I hate that episode, I think to myself, and come to think of it… Al looks a bit like Shecky Green.

He changes the subject and points to a window…

He points to the exact window that was the center of the time travel experience, right as the mannequins’ clothing, along with everything else, rapidly changed.

I keep thinking to myself how cool this guy is. My eyes must be bulging out as I point to the “Airplane Room,” as we call it, while announcing that the Time Machine from Twilight Zone is being stored in there. As if he doesn’t already know.

Large airplane parts, including cock pits and plane fuselages, all gather dust, while waiting for another show call.

He smiles as he says, “Rod Serling was always walking around back here… he is a great guy and very funny, too.”

“He saw both of these Time Machines, each used in different films,” he added.

“Lucky Guy… I want your job when I get older!”

“I know you and your friends love this place. I’m always good for a tour. I gave your girlfriend one, by the way”… he reminds me.

“I heard… you’re not the first guard to do that.” She can run like a fox and get over a fence in three seconds… she doesn’t need your help!” I kid.

“Ron Smith gives pretty girls tours also, but he can’t be seen with me, either,” I say, adding… “if I sneak in without asking him, he is all about the chase, and he’s scary. A big man with a big gun and a huge swagger to go with it. Maureen is the only reason he warmed up to me.”

My ex-trophy trespasser girl friend. She now goes to the studio drive-in movies in A CAR … Jimmy’s car, no less! I process thoughts silently, as I keep smiling and carrying on, like nothing bothers me.

Back to reality… “so I’m a security risk. Well, I’m flattered.” “Yeah, you are, that’s why I picked you up inside the lot. Coleman and Barner would have a fit if they saw this!”

“I figured. Well, I won’t blow your cover.” I hold my wrists together in front of his face, “we can pretend you just cuffed me, if either goofball shows up on a golf cart.” We laugh, as I adjust to being able to relax, while spinning stories, in the Red Bronco.

“The arch above us had lava spool down this street.” Al points out another tidbit. Then I add, “you know what happened here a couple weeks ago right?” He seems uncertain as I continue.

“My friends and I were inside this arch playing in its hidden passageways.” There is a long narrow, gang plank that connects one side of the arch to the opposite side of the street. It’s like being in a Pirate ship and walking the plank, only it’s like a secret world, like the secret underground tunnels in Paris.

I continue, “I was with about five other guys and we were playing around in there. Pat slipped off the plank and his leg plunged through the old plaster at the top of the arch, creating huge hole! And then it got stuck there! We were all cracking up so hard, that he almost fell all the way through.”

“I was in front of him as we were all crossing the plank together; When I heard the commotion, I turned around and tried to help, but with some careful maneuvering he managed to pull his leg out of the hole. Then, right at that exact moment, through that very hole that Pat had just created, I saw the Fire Captain Fernald drive by, right underneath us, with the window down in his Fire Chief’s Ford Falcon… with a siren on top.”

I can tell Al seems to be enjoying the story. Half of his mouth is lifted into that characteristic half smile that he does, and he lets out a chuckle at all the good parts. It’s as if, through us, he’s living out his own love of hooligan adventures, which have been snuffed out due to his being a guard an’ all. I reckon there’s a thin line between a racketeer and the long arm of the law. Life seems to be like that… just like how they say there’s a thin line between love and hate. Yeah, I can tell he’s secretly rooting for us!

So, with his attention all on me, I continue the archway adventure… “I’m leading this expedition, they trust me… So, I yell out to the others… ‘Party’s over! Let’s get out of here! The chief has heard us for sure, and he probably saw Pat’s leg hanging down through the hole… we’re leaving, NOW!”

“It seemed like forever, waiting for Pat to get his bearings again and shake off the fall. But as we finally exited the arch, I explained to the others, as if they were in my charge… ‘he is probably coming back with George! We had enough fun for today. After all, we’re already primed for breaking and entering, the last thing we need is to get slapped with damaging property.'”

I wrap up the story for Al, with extra animation, so he would feel like he was there, “Just as our tennis shoes touched down to safety, a loud plane was flying by overhead, camouflaging our noise. A little bit of stumbling, a bit crooked, but no worse for the wear. But most importantly, we were all safe.”

“Then, we walk away like nothing in the world is going’ on. Just a group of filthy, dusty teenagers out for a walk. As reach Arizona street, we joke that Combat is on at Noon, right after Soul Train… Let’s watch it when we get back to my house!

“Then, just as we get to the corner of Arizona and Elenda, still joking around and feeling relaxed and easygoing, a Culver City Police car pulls up right beside us. I know my heart skipped a beat and I’m sure the others were jerked into reality. But we all kept a poker face.

“We’re looking for a group of MGM trespassers… would you guys happen to be them?”… as they snicker and watch our reactions.

“Everyone is amazingly silent, so I take it upon myself to explain. After quickly realizing that lying won’t work, as we fit the description right down to the slivers and dirt, I offer a simple but vague retort, ‘not sure what you’re referring to.'”

They interrogated us with a million stupid and irrelevant questions, like where we go to school and how long we’ve lived in the neighborhood, and then they made us fill out some information cards. I’m sure the point was just to hassle us. Then, they gave us a “stern warning” to “stay out of that lot!” And just to make sure we understood, they barked at us some more… “We’re gonna turn over this info in to MGM security, so you better get going… NOW!”

Oh… we sure will, since a Combat rerun is about to start!

Al had not heard that I was caught for the second time. Barner was the first, and now CCPD. Fernald gets the credit for the capture on the MGM trespass list, I would later find out.

Al gets a good laugh out of that capture story…

Well Al… thanks for this guided tour back through time, in a place that owns two Time Machines!

The Arch connects buildings 465 to 462 on the map above

This picture above is a production still from this very same show in 1959…Below the very same window.

These Time Machines can even go back to any dates… such as Feb 2, 1949… I have had some real good times in the Twilight Zone Time Machine. It is stored inside a hanger on the backlot, hidden away. It’s perfectly located to play in...

Written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by DQ

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

Mama, take this badge off of me. I can’t use it anymore. It’s gettin’ dark, too dark to see. I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door…

Maureen’s story

I’ve been taking a different, more clear cut route out of MGM these days. It cuts straight to my apartment. I climb up the pointed metal studio gate and onto a steel balance beam, then while leaning against a tree, I reach for a no-parking sign on the other side, just for balance. Once I have a good grip of the sign, I spin around like a whirling dervish until my tennis shoes touch down on the public sidewalk below.

Today, out of the corner of my eye, I notice an unfamiliar guard watching me as I exit. Well… I think, better here, than our more widely used trade routes. Less at stake. Anyway, I’m no threat… I’m just a girl, by myself… kinda like an ally cat, quietly prowling around and hopping over walls… no problem.

The next time I do this, he is there again… guarding some movie set at the old rail terminal. I was trying to avoid all the construction activity when I realized I was being watched… again. I do not know this officer but he kindly waves at me to come over… It could be a trick, so I ponder my options.

Flight instinct naturally takes over; it’s ingrained in the DNA of all regular trespassers. But as I change direction, he continues to wave me over… So, I slowly walk towards him, all the while ready to run. Just like an ally cat!

He teases me with “you know they will be filming here on Thursday. I’ll look the other way if you want to drop in.

“Thanks for the tip… I will!”

“What’s the show called?” I smile innocently.

“Capone” he replies.

“Is there someplace special on the lot you wanted to see?” he asks. While I puzzle over whether or not he can be trusted, he eliminates my doubts real quick: “I can even give you a tour!” But, before I can answer, he surprises me with this golden nugget: “I know you live across the street and I’ve seen you here before… with that Donnie guy, who the studio wants to keep out of here, at all costs.”

Gee, that’s a lot of stuff… But I don’t want to forfeit the offer on the table, so I answer before he has a chance to change his mind… “Well, everywhere!”

I want to make sure to seal the deal, so I whip up a location that I know is close to this train set.: “I especially like Esther William’s swimming pool.”

“Well then, let’s go!” he offers.

“Right Now?… is it OK?” I ask.

“Right now!” he repeats.

I hesitate… “But… what if someone sees me? you might get in trouble.”

He says, “Wear this. Now you belong.”

I can’t believe my eyes when he hands me his badge… He’s like a cool uncle.

I feel powerful. I’m MGM police. I’m riding in a jeep, shot gun. A woman with a badge. MGM does not have any women on the force… but now they do!

I feel like I’m starring in the Rat Patrol, as my hair blows freely in the wind. I assume an authoritative attitude. My partner and I will handle any of the hooligans that come along.

Tagging buildings… not on my watch!

Esther’s pool needs some service, I think to myself. Donnie and I skateboarded the bottom of the deep end just recently… Plus, he and his dad clean pools.

We come to a stop alongside this iconic pool set. I envision myself doing laps with Fernando Lamas…

I’m reminded of when Donnie and I rode around with Big Ron last year. Ron passed around his gun. We all had a real good time. Al doesn’t wear a side arm, I notice… That’s his name, “Al.” We’re on a first name basis now.

That memory seems so long ago, but now, I’m on my own… Ha! If he could see me now in the Bronco, wearing a badge! I’d so love to catch him. I relish the idea of the student passing up the teacher. I was his little “grass hopper,” and now I’m in charge of security! Well, for tonight, anyway. I bet I could catch him in a foot race, or yank him off the fence, at least! I’m invincible.

Look at me, you silly boy, I got a Badge!

Al finally delivers me back to where the evening began, at the fence across from my apartment. I climb to the top, pivot around, and wave goodbye, as I jump back through the invisible gateway, into reality. Now I have a new cool pal to hang with whenever I see him at MGM, from my bedroom window. Heaven is just a pirouette away.

Written and lived by Maureen Miller
Edited by DQ


The Break Up

My intentions lately have been leaning in a different direction; I now find myself thinking about my teacher all day long. I guess I have a teacher crush. I never had one of these at St. Augustine’s… TRUST ME.

With Ms Debby in my head so much, I think less about Maureen, partially because I’m sure she is getting buttered up by Jimmy. But also because Ms Debby, my English teacher, is becoming my new best friend. I daydream of her when I am not daydreaming of MGM. I share my exploits and pictures with her during nutrition break… like a Peacock showing off his ploom of feathers.

I’m not sure why, but I’m purposly trying to avoid Maureen in the school hallways and on the walk to and from school. I even take a different street sometimes. I’m not sure what to say to her but something will probably come to me whenever that moment strikes.

Dong Dong Dong… the school bell rings 3 times to signal the end of the day. I walk fast, almost running, so as to miss everyone, including her. But, as fate would have it, our paths intersect. I’m ten houses from my home, but it might as well be a mile. We practically bump into each other: “Hey, how ’bout jumping the fence today? I don’t have any homework!” she asks.

“Sure let’s Go!”… Well that was easy, I think to myself, as I awkwardly stumble. to buy some extra time.

The sky is turning black and the radio says that rain is on the way. In case you were wondering, I always have an AM/FM radio for ball games and rock and roll. I’m wearing the Led Zeppelin III cover stenciled on my sweatshirt. Plant and Page have long wild hair, pictured on my back.

Rather than go home, we hang a right towards Lot 2. Just as we get to the fence where the train tracks enter Lot 2, the rain starts to come down. Maureen climbs first as the gentlemen in me offers her a boost. Quickly, we are both inside and take cover in a pullman train. The same compartment Warren Beatty and Jack Nicolson were sitting in just a few months ago. We sit across from each other in old weathered, reclining train seats. We are dripping all over them. A white ruffled curtain frames the rusty old train window to our side. I peel it back to get a blurry look at the monsoon outside.

The rain makes a deafening sound atop the metal train roof as I try to pull the window shut. We can hear each other now and she asks me a question that I was not expecting. “There are rumors going around school about you and Debby.” She stares deep with her penetrating blue eyes as I pull my long wet hair backwards. I pretend to be fascinated with the wild jets of water which are now freewheeling across our little rusty window.

I muster a response: “Like what?”

She elaborates, “You stay after school together and have been seen at lunchtime and nutrition hanging out. It’s the buzz around campus!”…she says with a sour smile.

“Who wants to hang out with a bunch of silly kids?” I finally vent a thought. “She is a teacher and I sometimes need to make up assignments that I miss while hanging out at the studios… is all.” I pat myself on the shoulder. She looks at me a bit confused, as I turn the table on her, “So, what about you and Jimmy?… Must be nice to listen to music and go to the drive-in theater in a car, instead of a bicycle?”

I continue before she has a chance to respond, “How was Young Frankenstein? Jimmy said you went together!”

I feign patience as I listen to her lame response, but my jittery foot, which is tapping against the foot of the chair, gives me away. I interrupt, “We both watched it being filmed, right here, right outside this train window, together, me and you… Gene Wilder kissed Madelin Kahn a farewell, right here! I point for emphasis, at the sentimental spot. “We were here for everything. We were here for The Fortune, we were here for The Apes—they ran down this isle, right here. We talked to Roddy Mcdowell over there.” At this point, my hand gestures have become grandiose. I squeeze out my concluding statement, “all this… just in the last few months.”

I suppose I was trying to make her see that there’s a suitable protocol here, and doggone it I’ve put in my time, I made the effort, I did all the right things… It’s a bit like a studio investing in an actor, and making sure he’s taken care of and happy and part of the crew… and then he goes with another studio! She can’t go with somebody else! Especially not Jimmy!

I continued presenting my case, “We even have our own two story caretaker house with working utilities that we can kick back in, anytime we feel like it, and I was going to surprise you with a TV.” And just to make sure she knows what she’s missing out on, I add, “with two rabbit ear antennas attached.” I continue, “to watch the Twilight Zone reruns, right here on the lot… no other kids at school have that!” I point toward the lot to substantiate my evidence.

“What more can I do for you?” I repeat! Then, loaded with passion, I say, “you get to see movies before they even make it to the theater,” as I spread my arms wide. I conclude my presentation with a flabbergasted expression.

The train window is a bit ajar. Water drips and pools around us. The lot seems quiet except for us!

She responds…

“Jimmy and I walk sometimes, and he asked if he can take pictures of me for photography class; I think I’m going to say, ‘Yes!’ Young Frankenstien was great,” she continues, oblivious to my anxiety that is ramping up. “Jimmy invited me and heck, I wanted to see it, so.”

“I saw it, too, from up in a Euclyptus tree, with the speakers on full blast!” I’m clearly frustrated. “Now I know how Butch Cassidy feels, about Catharine Ross with Sundance Kid.” I look out the train window, as water pours off its curved roof like a waterfall cascading down. It’s like we’re arguing in a wet closet.

“Let’s go, it’s getting cold,” she states, so we exit the train and the platform. Large lake size puddles have turned these old railroad tracks into a big, muddy swamp land. I try to walk the steel rails while attempting to avoid getting my shoes full of water. Maureen walks behind me, as I realize there is mud mixed with the water that I can feel dripping down my neck. It feels like sea slugs are squirming down my back and into my shirt.

I turn back to see her playful smile with an evil look attached. I unsuccessfully try to duck under a handful of fresh sod. She wants to rumble.

The party’s on… instant karma.

I put a handful of mud right up against her nose. It sticks to her face in clumps, while the rest of it slides down her neck. She’s not so pretty anymore. I show no mercy, nor does she, as I use both my hands to one up her. She fights me off. Sexual frustration, anger, I’m not sure, but after looking at each other’s deteriorated state, we begin to laugh uncontrolably.

She shouts “Truce.” I comply.

We make our way out… shivering and looking like we just played tackle football. We can see her apartment, which overlooks this rumble. When we arrive at the entrance, she asks to be hosed off, before heading upstairs… It’s the least I can do, since I helped make this mess. After a high pressure nozzle blast, her pretty face reemerges.

She says “enough” but I pretend not to hear her as I enjoy hosing her… I do.

I finally stop, as I pull her wet hair back and kiss her one last time next to her laundry room. While walking home, just a short distance away, I stop and look back, thinking…

Who just broke up with who?

She has a crush on Jimmy, while I have a crush on a teacher… I feel like an adult who’s right on schedule to graduate, Jr High.

Written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by DQ

Bad Night in Beauville

I’m hanging out more with my pals Joey and Brian and much less with Jimmy. Joey and I are Geminis… two days apart. Brian is over two years older than us and just enlisted in the Marines. He is one big tuff dude and I’m glad to call him a good buddy of mine. You can never have too many big friends, especially big friends that are also older.

Jimmy on the other hand, seems to have caught Maureen’s fancy. His shiny new plastic Driver’s License, to go along with his shiny new VW square-back seems to have created an  attraction between the two of them. So, now he’s got a shiny new girlfriend, as well. Doesn’t matter, I’m loaded with regular old friends. Plus, I’ve got this movie studio thing that keeps me awfully busy.

Tonight Joey and I are going into Lot 2 just to hang out and bond, if you will. There is no filming going on. Just us, Bob Coleman and a dark, and hopefully, quiet night. We know Bob is on duty because we see his car parked behind the West Gate, across the street on lot 1, which is closed.

But, we can outfox him any day of the week. Especially tonight… the day after Thanksgiving. He’ll be so loaded up with Turkey he won’t want to run.

It’s still the holiday weekend at the movie studios. They normally take four days off for this holiday. That is, except security. They get paid a premium just to baby sit this lot, both yesterday and today. Easy money… probably on most studio lots. But this lot gets visitors, or “trespassers,” as the studio likes to call them.

We have a bit of a system around which set gets to be our chosen hang out spot on any given day. Sometimes the deciding factor is whatever rerun we have just watched on television. But other times, circumstances concerning safety dictate where our hide out will be. Every day studio life presents unique challenges that we have to work out.

Tonight Joey and I decide to hang out in the courthouse, right in the center of of this backlot. We call it “Beauville,” since that’s what’s on the signs that mark this spot. That was the ficticious town from the recently canceled TV series, Hawkins, which featured Jimmy Stewart.

We run from village to village, doorway to doorway, knowing full well that trigger-happy Bob Coleman is on patrol. This adds electricity to an otherwise dull night. A long distance run around tonight…


This is the view from the roof in daylight, night time is almost pitch black…


We run into the courthouse from behind this old building, keeping ourselves stealthy in the very dark backlot. My favorite show that uses this set is Air Raid Wardens, with Laurel and Hardy and a cute little dog. Most recently, before the Hawkins TV series, James Garner filmed here—his office still has a wall up! That feature is titled “They Only Kill Their Masters.”

Joey and I climb up to the second floor just as we hear… then see… the Bronco. Which is also moving stealthily. No headlights. Just a slow, quiet roll. He thinks he’s being sneaky, but we’re one step ahead. Nonetheless, this is a harbinger of things to come…

Knowing we’re ahead of the game, we don’t think too much of it, until he circles this village, then decides to stop at the front door of this courthouse. What a buzz kill! Why’d ya have to choose this spot? 

We quickly kill our doobie. We try to wave away the smoke, when Bob exits his vehicle and walks right through our front door. Not good. The roof is our only alternative. And a rickety old ladder is the only way up. We climb this thing like a couple of spiders, scaling a wall without making a sound. I quickly glance down and see Bob standing just inside the doorway, right below us. He does not know we are here, or so we think.

Lucky for us… we successfully reposition ourselves. And we’ve got to keep from making a sound because Bob is now standing in the exact same spot we just vacated, silently staring out a window. The only sounds we hear are those of MGM’s two owls. They seem disturbed also.

Joey and I lay face to face, on this old decrepid rooftop, lit only by moonlight that reflects off of Joey’s glasses. This face to face moment is a common hiding position for Jimmy and I, but tonight Joey is being battle-tested. We must continue to be as quiet and still as can be. We scarcely breathe. Joey keeps his composure impressively, while we watch Bob’s dark image below us through cracks in the roof.

We’re safe… let’s just wait this out. We mouth our words to each other, adding silent gestures for emphasis. Finally, Bob goes back to his Jeep. We decide that’s about enough fun for the night and make our exit.

We climb out behind Maple Street and cross over to Vet’s park to chill out and reflect on tonight’s adventures. With a sigh of relief, we lay on the Roundabout and light up what’s left of the doobie. Joey begins to move the Roundabout in a slow circle by pushing against the sand with his foot. We congratulate ourselves on our brilliant climb, when we hear a group of older kids approaching from the distance.

They go straight to the Rocket Ship. Ironically, a better rocket exists right across the street in the giant prop storehouse that towers above this park!

We chat and quickly find out that these guys were chased out of MGM just earlier tonight. “Oh… we messed with Bronco Bob tonight… we got him good!” …they say, as Joey and I listen attentively.

They’re eager to share their triumph: “We hid in the commissary, as the Bronco arrived at the main gate, but he didn’t see us… Bob exited the Bronco, and then the lot, pulling the gate shut behind him before locking it… Then he crossed Overland and repeated the same procedure on Lot 1, opening and closing the big gate on that side, as we watched him.”

(This procedure is like the opening credits in Get Smart where all the doors slam shut.)

The one with the Rush concert t-shirt spoke for the group, pointing toward the lot, as he proudly continued to narrate the details of their big escape: “Once he locked the gate on the Lot 1 side, we pissed him off big time! We came out of the commisary and jumped on top of the Bronco while taunting him, Come back!… Come back! We’re over here, you big dummy!” Then they all roared with laughter.

It seems that by the time Bob fumbled through the procedure again, trying to unlock the same gate that he had just locked, these guys were long gone. Poor old Bob… not a good night tonight! He’s probably crying over his pumpkin pie, as we speak.

“You’re lucky he didn’t shoot you,” I respond… “he woulda shot me!” We’re too relaxed to share our story at this moment, so we laugh along with the Rush guys… it’s one big victory for us all.

Written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by DQ

The Shelter



The Twilight Zone—
Whenever I’m home “sick,” I watch reruns of the Twilight Zone, which air at Noon on channel 11. Dad is at work, so it’s just me and Mom. Thank goodness she doesn’t watch soap operas. I have the TV to myself! I sprawl out on the golden shag carpet with two cans of Snack Pack Chocolate Pudding and get ready to travel beyond space-time, and into a different world.


After five minutes of commercials, I hear those ominous four notes, which open the entryway into a mysterious new dimension… a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to mana dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.

Above: NOT those ominous four notes that we all hear in our heads when we think of the Twilight Zone! This is the original theme song by Bernard Herrmann, which was done away with after only one season, in preference of Marius Constant’s “stock library notes” (not to mention the “stock library royalty free cost”), which were spliced together to create the iconic theme riff we all know.

Above: The theme we all know…

Glory Days—

Each episode is like a postcard from MGM’S celebrated past. TV didn’t even exist in MGM’s glory days. But now, in shows like The Twilight Zone, it’s all there… various and sundry, lavish furnishings; a crystal chandelier hanging over a long dining table; random items in a police station, a lamp on a desk; a typewriter in a Dr’s office; a chair in someone’s bedroom; an arched doorway… Because… the backlot is the real star! And although those opulent musicals have been laid down to rest, television is the new frontier and if you have a good eye, you can spot remnants of those old glory days.

MGM’s first ever TV show was the MGM Parade, which started after a fall out with 20th Century Fox over the Ed Sullivan show and went on to serve as a promotional vehicle for MGM’s movies.

When legal snags developed, MGM bought 25% of KTTV. That’s when TV production truly began. This was circa 1957. TV was still in its infancy. You were lucky to have one in your own home. If you did, I’m sure you have memories of being on top of your house, pointing your antenna in the best direction for optimal signal.

I remember my dad sending me up to the roof, while he yelled out commands, pointing with wild arms from the window below: A bit more THAT way… And it was like magic when the images finally showed up clearly on the screen.

Dr. Kildare and Andy Hardy Mysteries were the first series to get off the ground, but soon after, MGM had another dozen Made for TV productions coming down the pike.

On October 2nd, 1959… The Twilight Zone aired its first episode, shot at Universal, starring Earl Holliman. It was the only episode ever shot on the Universal Backlot.

The Combat TV series competed for backlot space and both series forever changed this lot. Or, in the case of Combat, blew it up!

The Twilight Zone made the backlot spooky… along with the Outer Limits, who were trying to take control of my TV set!


Above: No one takes control of my TV!

A Merry Gang—

Both of these series are my favorites, so whenever we watch episodes, we recreate everything we just saw, exactly where it happened. Today features “The Shelter,” so, dutifully, me and Pat and Jimmy will go re-enact that episode.

We climb in at our closest portal, the train station, and in no time we are on Maple Street, named after another Twilight Zone episode. Our focus today is The House with a Shelter…

We are a band of merry young men as we go marching and laughing down the utility road that parallels the railroad tracks on the other side of the studio fence.

Jimmy begins mimicking the line from this episode… why are your kids more important? Pat and I bust up, as Jimmy repeats it over and over in different tones as we walk down the brick pathway. We walk under a sycamore tree and then make our way up to the same front porch that the neighborhood mob forced its way through, on the facade of this cape cod style home.

Open the handle and what do you see…

Paper thin sheets of balsa wood serving as a wall and a lone patch of carpet laying on the floor gives the illusion of a comfortable home. Just throw up a family portrait, put a drink in your hand and some music on the stereo, and answer the door with a smile.

It’s the basic entryway to every house on this street. Dusty old drapes sit on either side of every front door. But grip jacks lean against the wall. Once you’re on the other side of this deceptive wall, you’ve made your exit. We take the outside stairway up to the second floor while reading lines from this episode… You foreigners are all alike!

We all take turns repeating it as we make our way to the top of the stairs and to the balcony.

The sycamore provides a lovely shade. We are safely hidden and being close to the fence, it’s an easy exit. You see, part of our mission is to take a quick survey of possible escape tactics since… we are smoking dope! We continue reciting lines as we laugh out smoke, knowing that a simple escape route has presented itself, if necessary.









What Is Real?—

We gaze down toward the street that is similar to where I live. But, come to think of it… I mostly live here, at MGM. I just go to my real home to eat and sleep. Ironically, the studio feels more real for me than what most people would consider real. While some people watch TV shows to be entertained and to escape from reality, my reality is living in this studio that you’re watching on your TV.

I like the reality inside the fenced-in studio world; it’s not “make believe” when you can see it, touch it, and smell it. Outside the studio fence is where the harsh realties of life take place, but not inside. The only reminder inside the studio that there’s evil in the world, is when the Red Bronco is on my tail.

This place is an escape, or a Shelter, if you will.

The church and its steeple look down on us as we exit The Shelter… now we walk through the front door of this studio parish. We see what the actors saw, as they swung open the front doors in the Twilight Zone episode… Stop Over in a Quiet Town. A ladder stretches to the top of the steeple, over 30 feet high. No platforms. Just a straight up climb, like a fireman would do.

We take our act over to the giant prop warehouse that is behind this church. Without having to say a word to each other, Jimmy and I trample over a maze of strange gadgets like a couple of tanks… our eyes lock onto the object of our desire: it seems to be a dusty old space capsule! It is cone shaped with a bunch of levers and knobs inside.

Meanwhile, Pat climbs on top a headless dinosaur and pretends to ride it. Jimmy and I take off… back into the fifth dimension… the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition… Just another fun day playing with extra big toys.

An ocean liner looks down on us as we walk up the gang plank… once inside, you realize it is just a wall. A ship it’s not; it has no backside and sits in a tiny, empty basin that can be filled with water to help make it appear as something it is not… we are in the business of illusions.

One big magic show, you gotta believe is all!

This is how I play almost everyday, then I go home and watch all this stuff on TV.

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…
Edited by DQ

A Night with King Kong… 1976


It is mid August. I wake up to the sound of the oscillating fan lightly creaking as it pans back and forth across my room. My curtains flutter in rhythm, like an invitation to the magical world just outside those windows. I have been waiting for this day!

MGM’s backlots have been supercharged with activity for the last year. You could feel the suspense mounting in the air. Everyone knew it was a buildup to something huge. Knowing full well that today is the day, I leap out of bed, while wondering how they’re going to bring a 40 foot great ape to life. I can’t reckon how they might do it, but if anyone can, it’s Carlo Rambaldi.

The deep announcer voice on every radio station interrupts each song with breaking news…

Needed tonight! 4000 extras for a motion picture spectacular, entitled KING KONG! Come on down! Doors open at 5PM!

All morning and into the afternoon, this becomes The Buzz around town…

Everywhere I go today, I hear people talking about it… Have you heard about the remake of the classic King Kong? A new movie about a giant ape! And a new—unknown— leading lady! A 40-foot mechanical gorilla that moves! The anticipation was in the streets, on the schoolyard, in the supermarkets, and in the air. I can’t believe what I’m seeing, yet I live here. It feels like the 4th of July.

The tickets were easy enough to get. Heck, they’ve been giving them away like Halloween candy, so, like a good little lad, I go and line up with 4000 other law-abiding citizens. And so, here I stand… in a line that quickly wraps itself around the block.

I watch the flurry of action taking place all around me… people cutting into line, others yelling to curious onlookers, and cars driving by slowly, to get a good look at this historic event. Meanwhile, the 4000 extras quickly turns into 6000.

Folks are being turned away. It’s first come first serve. And some get rowdy. The circus begins to turn into a night at the fights. Many yell as they are ushered away, while demanding to talk to someone in charge. Soylent Green was the last big mob show here, but this is five times that size.

A special processing gate for non-studio employees gets opened up, close to the old caretaker’s house—the one Maureen and I once “occupied.” It’s downright unruly out here! And they have to escort those who truly belong here, through special entrance doors.

They begin to test the lights from crane towers, as technicians climb up and down scaffolding, to fine tune the details. A huge Pertox gas pump covers our star. No one can see what they came to see, yet.  The lucky 4000 get herded into bleachers that represent Shea Stadium, in NYC.














Cut to the opening scene of Kong…Fade in page 1, below…



Same green card—I could get on that ship.








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Above: Script pages by Lorenzo Semple Jr., with page one fade in… sheet right above is for camera

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Above: If you can, read my handwritten notes! I wrote them when I got home, while sitting cross legged on my floor, at 3:35 am. Next to it, my transcription… interpreting myself 44 years later!

Finally, notice that I was at Desilu earlier that afternoon. No more sets were standing… just trees—the only sad part about this spectacular evening.


My Black and Whites from that night





A picture I took on this very night… I could not get any closer if I tried! Jessica makes eye contact with me as I shoot this; she is wearing a coat over her sparkling dress, in between scenes.


A personal note from me—
I lived amongst this set from start to finish. It is still a cherished memory from a special time and place. I have, throughout the course of my career, worked on several blockbusters, but this one stole my heart. I will forever be attached to this Kong and I have a book load of crazy stories and random events from the filming of this iconic movie. Until I finish that, I hope you enjoyed this story… one that took place exactly 44 years ago, this week.

Much more coming on Phantom of the Backlot on FB






Written and lived by Donnie Norden…
Edited by DQ


Hooky-day in Mayberry…



Today I’m ditching school. This was decided last night. My mom will write me an excuse, since my grades are above average. My catholic school prepared me well. So, I get cocky and begin to treat this whole public school thing like a country club. I can auto-pilot this stuff. At Noon, my Dodgers play the Pirates in a playoff game, right here at home. This all-day school schedule is just too cumbersome.

Dodger Stadium is downtown and I don’t have a ride. Heck, I don’t even have tickets! And it’s not on T.V. But, I love Vin Scully, so, the radio will be my ditching pal today. My parents don’t know it yet, but my day will be spent at Desilu, just day-dreaming and relaxing in my own world. The Fortune is just finishing striking the village that took so long to build.



It’s early in the afternoon, on a sunny October day, as I slump into one of the two hammocks that are hanging from two giant trees. There is soft grass below and a gentle breeze cooling my skin. Life is good… I look on, as laborers load up the last remnants of a village that will never be seen again, except on film. I have seen this area get stripped clean before… when it was Stalag 13.  That’s life at a big studio!

My hammock gently sways like I’m on some magic carpet ride. I’m floating through the sky… and the overstuffed cotton ball clouds seem to drift right by me… and my mind also begins to drift… I remember a night, earlier this year, when me and the Sullivans spent the night here, in these very same hammocks, drinking Gallo wine. And after finishing off a whole gallon between us, we took an intoxicated walk around the entire lot at 3am… like Otis Cambell.



My reveries must’ve lulled me into a nap… I awake to this fond memory and quaint setting, all the while checking to see if I’m in a dream. When I go to sleep at night, I focus my mind on these studio backlots, attempting to steer my subconcious into specific dreams. Sometimes, guards chase me, awakening me… I often have one foot on the floor… ready to run… just as I wake up. The dream police are inside of my head!


My AM radio is tuned to KFI for Dodger Baseball and the pregame show is on… perfect timing. Every kid needs a day like this. I carry what’s left in my little lunch bag, a can of chocolate pudding and half a PB and J sandwich and a pocketful of Bazooka Joe bubble gum. I’m set. I begin my walk from this hilltop paradise to the creaky old sets in the town of Mayberry.


I pause for more Bazooka Joe… pretending I’m getting free gum. Gee ThanksMr Dave.



Below,  one of my doodling pictures drawn while day dreaming at school…

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Just like Opie Taylor did, I walk the entire length of Mayberry, looking in every window and opening every door, while popping bubbles and going over today’s line-ups. I even stop by the courthouse to see if Andy and Barney are in.

First pitch is coming up, so I decide between either hanging out in the church or hanging out in the fort we built in Andy Griffith’s house. I choose the fort.


This iconic set is just half a house. The backside can be easily viewed from Higuera Street. A simple, two story home with a stairway built on the backside, going up to Opie’s room, which is now my fort. I’m Opie Taylor today…

I walk down the driveway, past the garage that is just an illusion wall, and straight up to my room. The porch roof  just outside the upstairs windows allows for a hasty exit, if necessary. That would mean jumping, of course, but it’s not bad at all; most my friends who have been here with me have already jumped off of it.

There are some explosive boxes from Stalag 13, which we brought up before, to use as seats. And a cot-bed made from rope has been brought up here by someone. I wonder… who!

Drapes cover the backside of this set. I put those up with Jimmy one day to block the view from the backside; We grabbed random fabrics from the neighbors’ houses and then we hooked them on various protruding nails.

There is only a simple, chain link fence just behind this house that others often stumble over to use my forts. It’s like an underground community. This house has a roof, of course, and the side walls, which extend farther along the side, than the roof does.

I light the joint that I’ve been carrying around all morning, as the first pitch is delivered. I gaze out the upstairs windows… the enormous church is in the foreground and beyond that, I see the Baldwin Hills, which frame my wonderful vision. I’m barely halfway through my doobie, and Pittsburgh has dropped three runs on L.A., and it’s still the first inning!

A car drives slowly in front of Andy’s house; it’s some fancy, purple, two seater sports car. It stops and the driver stares at this set, as I flatten myself against the wall. I see he has a pretty lady sitting beside him.

Probably some producer, I reckon!

Thought he’d never leave. The score is now 5-0. My day has been perfect, except for this score. I can see why the Pirates are known as “the lumber company,” as Willie Stargell goes deep on Doug Rau. An interesting fact pointed out by annoucer Ross Porter: only one player has ever hit a ball outside of Dodger Stadium. It is Willie Stargell, and amazingly, he has done it TWICE!

I was hoping for a World Series celebration today, but now it’ll come down to Game 5 to decide the NL Crown.

I have my sling shot and I shoot into the wind, from this upstairs vantage point, using random objects as projectiles. The tree in front of this house is famous for the episode where Opie shoots his sling shot at it, accidentally killing a mother bird. Opie must then raise Winkin, Blinkin and Nod on his own. I cried watching that episode; it’s actually the sadest episode, ever.

I fire away… Pow, Pow, Pow… figuring lighting can’t strike twice. It’s fun to daydream about all the stuff that has happened here, while being here. This is a museum; relics lay untouched behind old buidings, decades later. Signs are the most prevalent. A Mayberry Courthouse sign sits behind the courthouse, alongside a dilapidated miniature military boat.


Above: Behind the courthouse.

Both the sign and the boat have seen better days. I want this boat. If I can get it to the creek, I can float it half-way home. It will be a project for another day, when I have reinforcements. This ship is twice the size of the Hogan’s Heroes tree stump that Pat and I rolled out of here, a while back. But it sure would be fun to play with, in the creek!

It’s fun to go through buildings from top to bottom, to see what kind of views lie beyond  every window. Graffiti, done by various laborers, from shows long ago, is scribbled on the walls. Today is all about exploring… just being me.

Whether I’m shooting sling shots, chewing bubble gum, listening to baseball, or just being a Lone Ranger kid, an adventure awaits around every turn!

An anecdote…

As a side bar to this story, I was on the Grinch movie set, on Stage 27 at Universal, and was able to meet Ron Howard. We chatted briefly, since he was the director. He took a break, as we hung out at craft service, snacking. I asked him, “what was it like for you, growing up in Desilu?”

His response was delayed, “funny you should ask… I just was walking the the (Hayden Tract) with my daughters, showing them where the sets were located.”

I responded, “Did you ever go inside the Hogan’s Heroes tree stump?” He shook his head YES and smiled. My response was, “I ended up taking it when Stalag 13 was torn down…and I had a fort in the upstairs of your house!”

He smiled. “It was as much my home, as my Burbank home was. Very special place and time!”

No truer words were ever spoken, Mr Howard!

Many of my buddies on the Universal crew watched this brief exchange, from a short distance away, as they knew very well, my history on that lot. For weeks they wanted me to approach him and were thrilled about how he reacted… a super moment with a Hollywood icon, who I always felt a kinship with. People always told me I could “work as a double for Richie Cunningham.” And in a way, I literally walked his Opie footsteps…

At the wrap party, Ron shared a special moment, when he stood to toast Monty Menapiece, the Universal Best Boy, who was working on his last show and was retiring. He was the one who really wanted me to approach Ron about this stuff.

Monty was an electrician on the Andy Griffith show and Ron presented Monty will his moment in the sun. Monty cried in appreciation.

Class all the way… both men. Remembering fondly a different time in space…


Don’t change that channel… The Shelter, next, same time same place!
Written and lived by Donnie Norden…
Edited by DQ
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