Black Lagoon or Red Sea

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

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

Part the Waters;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Bruce Almighty-Courthouse Square

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

War TV-MGM Lot 3

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

We gotta start somewhere;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3,2,1 ACTION!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Berlin or Universal?

This Porcelain has “the look”

Cate Blanchett in a scene from the movie

The Third Reich or Imperial Rome?

Same set as above from the film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spartacus Square

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

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Salem Village-MGM Lot 3

MGM Art Department- Lot 3 Waterfront.
This port resembles a turn of the century harbor. These are actually seaworthy-enough ships. This body of water is not to be confused with Arnold Gillespie’s ocean. That set is down wind of this one, it’s most famous for its large sky backdrop.
MGM TV used these sets in this village’s final decade. The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Garrison’s Gorillas, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Man From U.N.C.L.E., Girl from U.N.C.L.E. are some of series that used this village.
The Cotton Blossom, here in dry dock, was used in Show Boat and ended up, after the famous MGM auction, in a theme park in Kansas City.
A close examination of this picture shows two cast trailers and a Direct Current mobile Generator. Lighting equipment and electric wind machines required DC power. A cable run is feeding two rafts with set lighting arc lights. They are wrapped in white covers when not in use.
Follow the cable trail, from the power source, cables are floated on innertubes to a wooden gang plank, cross the water, to an area with two more arc lights and what appears to be a wave maker. When turned on, it creates motion in the water for more realism.
The first time on Lot 3, I ended up in this ship -below deck. I was so scared, older kids were just leaving when we arrived and warned us about MGM security shooting trespassers with salt rocks. Turned out to be TRUE…
This waterfront is superior to the Cabot Cove waterfront at Universal. The Orca was the only decent ship in the Universal lake besides a P.T. boat used in McHale’s Navy. MGM lot 3 and Universal had the most extensive harbor and water sets and villages. Salem at MGM is tucked into the back corner of this lot and easy to access. Universal does have a cool shark in their pond that helps pull in thousands of dollars every day on The Glamour Tram Tour.
Cotton Blossom docked here…

Show Boat, yes indeed, this is MGM backlot 3.
Canoe’s could be found in the jungle area and were used by crew to access equipment in the lake basin.
Tom Sawyer’s Island at Disneyland? Nope, MGM lot 3. You can see the paddle wheel Cotton Blossom docked in Salem village. In the film Show Boat, it sails around this dog leg turn in the swamp and makes its grand musical entrance. This picture indicates the eastern property line at Lot 3. The row of trees at the bottom of this picture are still here. Many trees original to MGM still exist as does a portion of this lake and island. Raintree captured some of the flavor of the studio and it’ 67-acre adventure land.
50 years later, Maureen and I, at this same entrance. When MGM used this lot, the fences were chain link along all sides that looked towards Baldwin Hills. That was so the camera did not pick up the non-transparent green fence. Green fences secured Overland and Jefferson, the side facing Culver City. Chain link allowed for a never-ending landscape. I walk my dog along this area to this day and if you listen closely, you can still hear gunfire from Combat echoing in these canyons and hillsides. This was their Army playground when not blowing up sets on lot 2.
Salem in the series Man from U.N.C.L.E.

U.N.C.L.E. gadgets…
U.N.C.L.E. -Robert Vaughn and David McCallum
I see Dead People
U.N.C.L.EHelicopter Salem Village…
Stuff happens back here…
The huge lake is through the trees on the left side of these roads
This is the fence separating MGM lot 3 from Baldwin Hills, West LA College football field now exists here.
The little chain link fence that allows visibility into the Baldwin Hills. These oil fields, right beyond this fence, have a long list of movie credits attached to them.The fence in 1951 was replaced by a taller one, since it was so easy to access inside. The guards played for keeps however…

We Begin;

MGM lot 3 is its own very special land. Nestled at the base of the Baldwin Hills Oil Fields, MGM uses its natural western looking landscape to frame its movies and TV series’. This lot is best known for war if you grew up in the 60’s- around here. Combat, The Rat Patrol and Garrison’s Gorillas gave us a longer war than WW2 did. The sounds of gunfire ripped through this area adjacent to the studio, scaring birds and critters that go about their business in this adjoining oil field.

First operated by Standard Oil, these oil fields behind the studio can be seen in several Twilight Zones including the episodes Dust and Rance Mcgrew. Combat made sure not to capture these hills since it would not match their location. Oil derricks by the hundred looked down on this backlot. This was a very quiet area when no filming was taking place, often the only sounds were birds and oil wells pumping. Sulphur smells can be detected all about this area.

Lot 3, like Lot 2, had different types of fences around its vast expanse. The views where the hills would be included had chain link so you could not easily tell there was a fence. You could clearly see inside. Except on the main streets that border this lot. They tried to hide the place but how do you hide a wall with a sky painted on it and an ocean that has seen more action the Caribbean, with all its Pirates? The entire lot stood out above and through these fences like a gorilla in a small, tight suit.

I think everyone growing up around here, trespassed here, very easy to access, but security has free range and use of firearms was standard. So, keep that in mind. Plenty of places to hide but, this lot is so big, running requires covering huge sometimes wide-open distances. I can outrun a guard, but not a jeep, or a bullet. The vast expanse worked for us, but also against us.

My pal Jimmy and I rode around this lot on the outside for years, on our sting rays. When we finally got the guts to venture inside, we meet guys who warned us they shoot here. They pointed to a flood control drainage area that works like a bunker. Trains line the south side of the lot, blocking the views of the western street, so we would stare under the train carriages, looking for security. This gun thing is scary, it just is, because it’s true!

It’s the only reason more people did not partake in this game.

My friend Pat was shot at on lot 2 in a chase, we split off in different directions and security fired two shots at Pat. It’s scary enough being chased by an angry guard in a speeding jeep but the sound of shots fired is something you don’t forget –when you’re the target.

The western streets line up back to back but other sets are spread out so it’s dangerous in the daytime and really scary at night. The lot is too big to feel like you mastered it, so expect the unexpected. It feels haunted because I think it is. All these backlots are, but this one takes the cake. No stages exist at Lot 3, it is pure wilderness, with various villages and streets sprinkled in.

It is now the site of Raintree and Tara Hill, it’s laid out nicely, incorporating much more MGM landscape than the Studio Estates “Mistakes” made over on on Lot 2.

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Midway leads to Filmways-1972

The corner of Midway and Montana- a lamppost designates these two streets…
It’s normally very quiet on this corner, usually it’s me and my friends vs MGM security. This is a strategic entrance. No one’s around and we gather intel by peeking in tiny Holes in the Fence…
This is that same corner, the film is titled Melinda…
Midway-Montana intersect. Midway used to continue on to Wyoming, the street featured in my last post. This is a follow up on this intersection in the early 70’s. Ironically, a few years later, a tractor crashed through this fence from the inside out. Darn kids!
This is Montana avenue; it no longer exists. Notice the lit-up MGM sign- top center. Leo the Lion is in the Gold circle above Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Is this the Bronco? MGM patrols these outskirts…
Could this be me?…I’ve had my share of situations at this spot. The Midway Streetlight. Read- Lemons with a Twist, in Hole in the Fence
Midway street light...
This corner would fill deep with water after rain. No drainage. In 1976, if you were a guest for King Kong, you lined up here for processing into the lot.
Notice trespassing sign on fence, white square sign.
The light above Calvin’s head is the green light at the top of the telephone pole on the lot. Those are the style of backlot stationary lighting. You can see it in my picture. It had a screen over it to protect it from BBs.
Teenagers often carry knives, I had a Bayonet, Buck knife, Switchblade, and a Swiss Army knife. The Swiss knife had a saw included which allowed me to cut strategically placed peepholes in walls like in my Boystown fort, to keep an eye on our surroundings.
Well, well, a car crashed through the fence. This actually happened more often than you can believe, real citizens, real accidents…you can never have too many Holes in the Fence!
Overland entrance
Overland and Montana-corner…
MGM cartoon building- pre Filmways. The corner the car chase begins and the distant corner where the rumble begins…
Tom and Jerry were created here…
Good old days!
Great cartoon, my Saturday mornings started with Jonny Quest, it put me in the trespassing mood. It’s how I gather inspiration. My dad called me Donnie Quest...
Typical Saturday at MGM…I wouldn’t wear white shoes is the only difference.
A very tall artist taking a break on the roof of the Filmways building.The scenic art building can be seen across the street. That building creates matte paintings.
This white stairway-background- takes you upstairs, backlot side of Filmways. Up those stairs are the offices of the artists. The Rolls Royce has Jerry Lewis and Sebastian Cabot inside-Family Jewels-1967, right before big fire.
A look-right out of a cartoon..
I love cartoons and comic books- my stories would make great comic books.
Best cartoons, MGM. Best TV shows-MGM. Best war movies-MGM. Best backlot-MGM. My Disneyland, complete with weapons to play with.
Chase is on- “Get Donnie before he gets to his house”
This is a Filmways presentation darling…the famous sound bite with Zsa Zsa Gabor.
This was located on the window just inside the front door…it’s aged worse than myself.
Filmways corner as it appears today…
Montana avenue- Filmways is the white building…it is also prior to Filmways the famous MGM cartoon building…A plush theater sits bottom floor, center of building.
Montana and Midway connect behind the watermill house set. Tarzan’s jungle can’t be contained by this old wood and metal fence.
Stocker street, Baldwin Hills, between La Cienega and La Brea. Same film-Melinda.
Check out that license, it’s stolen!
Stolen from this MGM Bronco, FJPP – that’s my Bronco’s plates.
Normally fake plates get thrown on, for whatever reason, the security Ford Bronco shared its 4 letters. I have practically been run over by this front license, several times!
Here it is in a CHiPs episode after MGM sold out on the backlot. CHiPs thrashed it, starting with -they cut off the roof, so this guy could fly out. I loved this jeep, I’ve been chased, shot at, almost ran over, but also, given real nice tours depending on what guard is behind the wheel.
Jimmy created this comic book image of a situation that never happened, security only wishes it did!
This home on Overland is still there, across from the main gate at Sony.Ships restaurant sign is visible in the background. It catered to MGM -24/7 never closes…
Same home today, behind it was the MGM parking lot and the Filmways building
1972- Everyone remembers the Surprise Store from my generation.
Same view today, 50 years later. You still must- Right Turn Only!
My buddy and pal-Al Black. I still have a scar on my left palm from a chase at Grand Central Station. He was hiding in a train as Jimmy and I entered the lot. It was night and well, pitch black. He waited until we got close and jumped out of the tail end of a Pullman train. Jimmy and I never climbed a fence faster, but Al reached up, and pulled on my hand as I was jumping to safety. That created a deep cut by the sharp top of the fence. Stitches would be required. He and I would joke often the next day after a good chase, of which we had several. He did his job extremely well.

Prior to directing Melinda, Hugh A. Robertson was a highly acclaimed Editor. Robertson was the first African American to be nominated for an Oscar in editing for his work on Midnight Cowboy. He also edited MGM’s Shaft, which would be his last credit as Editor. He would then turn to directing. Melinda was produced by ex-Rams football star Pervis Atkins.

We Begin;

Ok, yes, I did just do a post using Montana and all the connecting streets, but this show popped up later that evening. Exactly 50 years later. The street corners involved in this film hit home. Every day and night you could find me pass by here. Whether it be going to school at St. Augustine’s or just casing the joint, known as MGM. I have my own pictures of all these corners, but this show deserves honorable mention.

I was told by my friend Al Black, the most athletic security guard at MGM, about this show. He said the Bronco is in it. This was 50 years ago, finally this show appeared for me, 5 decades later. I was looking for the Red Bronco and never saw it- until my jaw dropped. The Bronco is not in it, but the license on the Corvette is-FJPP. This was a legal California plate, not a film placard fake.

But what’s better is all the film footage on these streets/corners. A switchblade knife fight begins after the car crashes through the fence. Fact is stranger than fiction, stuff like that kinda happened.

Around 1974, a tractor that was parked inside the studio fence one day, was found crashed through the fence the next. It was left next to the Hole in the Fence it created!

In 1973, Jimmy and I nailed security guard George Barner with lemons from a tree that still lives on Midway. He was hiding on the roof of the watermill house, we were outside the lot, at this very corner. We remained stealth until ready to launch, then we pelted him with lemons. He almost fell down the stairs escaping our onslaught!

Jimmy and I have very good arms, lets just say “we hit the oversized target! “

Montana is the same street the 1967 fire was fought from on New York Street.

I was at this with my dad, a former Tacoma Washington firefighter. I never got to see him as a firefighter in action, but on this day, he was chompin at the bit! We were at Culver Center as the fire took off so dad grabbed me and took me towards the flames. We stood right at this spot. I later had that same burning passion- but for studios. Lord knows I’ve seen my share of fires at various backlots…
MGM employee parking lot behind lot 2.
Fire damaged sets that remained and were used in filming.

Lots of stuff happened on this secluded little side street that framed the North side of MGM’s best backlot…

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Wyoming meets 5th Avenue at MGM Lot 2

A skeleton version of MGM’s lot 2, many things have yet to be constructed, such as the iconic NY street, known as 5th avenue in many of the musicals to come. The backlot in it’s infancy.Tarzan’s jungle exists, and it boundaries with Midway and Wyoming public streets. Quality street does not exist yet. My train station is operable, the fence and rail tracks veer into the backlot.That would be my main entrance many decades later. I could look at this picture-all night. It’s like seeing a picture of your parents before you were born.
Fascinating, their is so much here to expand upon. MGM did just that, property seen above would get stretched out both north and east. North at Arizona avenue, my caretaker house that Maureen and I took over as our second house had another home along side it. That was not there in the 60’s. MGM expanded fencing in the entire south side of Arizona. Arizona connects to Midway avenue, these streets still exist, just not MGM. Montana is the middle of the 3 streets that stretch east to west. North of Montana would become a huge MGM crew parking lot. Montana no longer exists, it’s now home to Studio estates, or as we like to call them, Studio mistakes!
MGM lot 2 does not exist yet in this photo. Wyoming, Montana, and Arizona, Midway, and Oregon streets look like runways at an airport. But what does is exist, two streets from where the backlot will be soon, I my family home. It’s in this picture. Oldest house on Huron would have it’s own special MGM history.
The streets named Wyoming and Grant would become part of MGM Lots number 1 and 2… I live on Huron, and MGM security officer George Barner, who was hired with the sole intent to capture me, lived on Milton. His house was between the backlot and my house. In other words, we went by his house in almost every trespass and chase. Escapes became personal along these residential streets. The MGM Red Bronco often was parked at his house, the vehicle most involved with these narrow escapes. Often, he would drive down my street to see if I was home. It was like my house was part of set watch! Once in awhile I might errantly throw a football close to his windshield. “Leave me alone- I live here!”
Wyoming street, Overland- intersection is located under the word Motion. Continuing left is Montana ave, Oregon ave, and Washington Blvd.
The backlot I grew up on had all this stuff…Main gate above is main gate below.
Main entrance on Overland, Wyoming was just to the right of this gate
This is Montana street and the MGM crew parking lot. I rode my bike daily down this street, peeking in tiny Holes in the Fence.
This is the corner of Midway and Montana, see streetlight and street sign, bottom right corner in photo. The Lords Home and the Watermill house sit beyond this fence, as does Tarzan’s jungle. When Kong was filmed in 1976, the public entered on a series of special engagements when filming required thousands of extras. I have that show and all the behind the scenes action of that blockbuster in my second book, Hole in the Fence-Book Two. Hopefully ready by Christmas. The best Kong adventures no-one knows, guaranteed!
Intersection just outside MGM lot 2, the confluence of Arizona, Midway, and Montana streets meet on this strip.
This use to be a old green fence, in 1978, Chips TV series pursued the Phantom cycle all over the backlot.
5th avenue…Chips.
5th avenue, right after Soylent Green ran the scoops through here.
Same angle- Singing in the Rain -Art Department Photo
1974-Planet of the Apes. Two arc lights spit out smoke and fire, like dragons. The scene is a collapse of pavement that traps both humans and apes together in an underground subway. Wyoming street never looked like this, safe to say!
I stood next to the director as he gave –Yul Brynner direction. He stood stoically, staring me down, looking like this! The Ultimate Warrior meets the Ultimate Trespasser- movie history is made on 5th avenue.
Real rain -on 5th avenue, 1980. The tall platforms (background) are used on stages to elevate sets quite often. Wild walls can be grabbed and used elsewhere (foreground) Nothing gets thrown out, yet when they tear things down, like the entire backlot, little gets saved.
The road I’m standing on in this picture was Midway, it use to extend alongside Tarzan’s jungle and lake and connect to Montana and Wyoming streets…
Tough pictures to take, I remained composed…the curtain on old lot 2 is about to close…
Ashes to ashes-dust to dust. Wyoming street, then 5th avenue, finally today, it’s the Culver Senior center.
The end is similar to the beginning…

I love the MGM, it’s gift that keeps on giving. Internet didn’t exist when I was a young lad inside these fences. Films and TV shows were our link to the past. Books hardly existed on our secret world.

When I saw these pictures from the sky, my heart fluttered. I get to see my home before I lived in it, meaning the studio. The oldest part of MGM lot 2 was the area closest to my house. That explains why so much of what’s located in this section is extremely aged and weathered. Like character wrinkles on an older friends face. We all age, even the sets I play on. But, what I did not know is how lot 2’s NY street was not original, but part of a large expansion.

MGM lot 1, the side with the sound stages, also had sets built on it. A move was made that demolished the sets on lot 1, and more stages were built. Newer, fanciers sets were built brand new on the backlot. This expansion, would see MGM buy up a Culver City street called Wyoming. This section would become the most iconic New York street any backlot would want to have, or dream off. Well thought out and engineered, each angle appears to go on forever. Clever intersections, cut through connecting street after street. It’s a grown ups play set. Add streetlights, newspaper stands, light posts, phone booths, subway portals, cars etc. Next thing you know Gene Kelly will be dancing or skating- down this street..

Even a massive warehouse was constructed on the backlot that could hold both an oceanliner and a rocketship…and everything in between. MGM bragged it has more stars than the heavens, so it needed more real estate to present these actors settings to perform in.

More than any other star, Gene Kelly is attached with this street. American in Paris, Singing in the Rain, It’s Always Fair Weather, and the Black Hand were all done here. Fred Astaire walks down 5th avenue in the classic The Bandwagon.

Red Skelton, The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and Buster Keaton are some of the funny people that would create history on 5th avenue. In the 70’s the street saw Joe Gannon of Medical Center have a clinic on it, Soylent Green became the official food of the neighborhood. Richard Roundtree filmed Shaft, the TV series here. I can dig it!

Laugh- in filmed a special on this street which included the legendary Bettie Davis, Roddy McDowell and Robin Williams, on my birthday-1977. I snuck into the theater during filming of a scene and realized the camera was facing in towards us and they were about to detonate a pyro technique explosive, right where we were positioned. We exited just in time before the blast… their is danger in the fun I have.

I’d give anything to see this NBC special again, endless skits all over the backlot on every set, it filmed June 13/14 1977. Must see T.V.

The Phantom of Hollywood would use the entire lot, including a murder at a studio party thrown by Peter Lawford on my NY street. Broderick Crawford was given the challenge to capture Jack Cassidy, the notorious Phantom. MGM security called me the Phantom before this show was created. In the script, two kids die falling from where my Boystown fort happened to be, at the time of this filming. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Planet of the Apes would take this street captive only to die off due to poor ratings. Yul Brynner stared me down as the Ultimate Warrior, dead center of this theater district, while taking direction, he looked at me like a robot.

Chips even chased a Phantom cycle-down this street. MGM would blow up a portion in 1979 in John Ritter’s Hero at Large feature.

It’s amazing how a couple pictures can conjure up so many memories…

Written and lived by Donnie Norden...

RKO- Desilu Church

Mayberry Church-1973

The original church that stood here was originally built for the movie Gone With the Wind

Stained Glass Gone With The Wind Church/Hospital

Gone With the Wind concept of Atlanta. Notice the GWTW Church (Back center) has a steeple on it. The actual church in the movie did not.

An early picture of the rebuilt church. Built for the movie Miracle of the Bells 1948
Actual interior of the church as seen in Miracle of the Bells 1948. Reach deep for the collection service!
The view from inside-out….Notice the sets in the background. ” I’m here to see Frank Sinatra”
First come- first served.
Welcome to our community parish
This stained glass circular window at the rear of the church is illuminating on moonlit nights.
1948
Here’s a great shot showing the stained glass circular window at the rear of the church.

A later shot of the church

Mayberry Community Church 1960’s

The town of Atlanta- long before Mayberry
Steeple view I took. Straight up a 5 story ladder takes you to this view of Mayberry. I bet Opie never made this climb. I captured the Mayberry flag!
Steven Bingen’s- Hollywood’s Lost Backlot is the best source for film history and spectacular photos for this unique backlot. The lot main gate greets you with a dirt road that leads toward Timbuktu.
What you don’t see is me crying, this was my first post-fire visit. Rather than document this better, I couldn’t stand what I was laying witness to. This was the heart of this backlot, the fire jumped across the street destroying Andy’s house. I was completely devastated beyond words.
Double the exposure, double the damage.

More of the damaged church

Aunt Pittypat’s House in the 60’s before the fire

Aunt Pittypat’s House after, is seen in the right of the picture after the fire.

Andy Taylor’s house in 1975

Located dead center of the old RKO backlot, it could be viewed clearly by town folks doing their everyday chores, if their endeavors take them down Jefferson Blvd. I remember my parents going to the local Fedco Department Store in pop’s station wagon, I marveled at all the backlots we passed along the way. Just east of MGM lot 3 and its sky background is the Desilu lot, perfectly wedged between a creek and a hillside. It sits at the edge of town. It was always a part of the landscape around here. It stands out like a parish should.

The best set ever built for a backlot backdrop is this complete church. It’s real inside and should count toward credit on Sunday mass. It’s better than many real churches I see about town. I was raised at St. Augustine’s catholic church. After school- often us Catholic boys headed over to Desilu and this church was our sanctuary from the grind of going to school in a church run by nuns. Frank Sinatra seems more forgiving than Sister Sheila. Every kid needs his Father Flanagan. If ever a backlot needed God’s influence, it’s this 40 acre backlot.

Pews stretch out inside from end to end. Most likely, the last mass inside was for The Andy Griffith series. It sat silently, yet stoically, as if on pause, until we breathed life into it again.

Long before Mayberry existed on this lot by name, this area was built as Atlanta in Gone With the Wind. Inside all the buildings are simple reminders of this prestigious past. Curtains, wallpaper, even some signs are inside every doorway. The focal point of this town is its wonderful church. It makes this town very identifiable, “oh I recognize that set”-stuff. When Jimmy and I first approached it, we tuned in all the Andy Griffith shows done here. One reason is that show was on every evening, so we could watch it on TV then-play there…

Well, that’s the buildup, so let’s step inside -follow me through the front door

We Begin;

We walk down a path with a black sign of mass schedules on one side and a flagpole on the other. We come to two wooden doors that hide what’s inside. So we open sesame…

A vast expanse religious space greets you; it takes a few seconds to absorb what’s inside. A four-story high roof creates an airplane hangar effect. It smells old inside here. There is scent in this building that began fermenting back when the church doors first opened back in 1947. Ancient dust kicked up by horses and soldiers and has settled for eternity inside these old buildings.

It’s real church size and a complete covered shelter. A large circular stained-glass window looks east, outward and beyond. At night the moon shines inside through it. This was the place where catholic boys can cut loose, get their uniforms dirty. Instead of myrrh incense, pot fills the air inside here often. It’s kinda where teen-age kids come to experiment. We’ve had deep life discussions in these pews, as deep as 13-year-olds get. Like confession!

Power exists inside, this church is often a hub for production to set up inside. Food tables, copy machines, refrigerators etc. Phone jacks and rolling phones are inside on production shoots. It doubles as an on-lot production office. The inside of this church was captured in the feature-Miracle of the Bells.

Starring Frank Sinatra and Fred MacMurray, this 1948 film captures this church like no other. As we begin to focus inside, we are greeted by silence. Opaque windows look out to the residential neighborhood that includes both Andy Griffith’s house across the street, two houses down from the church reverend.

A set of dual wood doors also provides access on this, the west side of the church. A messed up stand-up piano sits in a back corner, alongside a more messed up old gimbel horse. The horse is so old it’s decayed from termites but still has spooky eyes and a saddle built on to its back to pretend you’re riding off into the sunset.

For all I know Clark Gable sat on this rocker horse before us kids took it over

As we muster around here some more, we end up at the tallest peak this building offers. An imposing shaft towers overhead like the Tower of London. A straight shot ladder built directly into the church siding itself tempts you or…scares you away.

You came this far, let’s do it. Hold on tight to each rung, don’t look down. It’s worth the risk/ reward. Each story has a window to provide the only light to work with. At night, you make the climb by feel, best you practice in daylight. As you reach the summit, your head pops through to a belfry covered with pigeon and owl droppings. Owls leave piles of bones behind, I learned to differentiate up here. It’s like a kid science project. Not just a little, four decades worth, a foot thick. This old movie ranch has creatures of the night on the hunt. Nothing sleeps around here, you just lightly shut your eyes is all. Predators lurk at every turn. Bless the beasts and the children…

Now you’re here, this view is unparalleled, it’s the grandest position on the lot. It looks far beyond Mayberry and the 40-acre lot, Culver City encompasses the outer radius, beyond all parts Mayberry. It’s as if the two cities merge here. Culver City actually had Mayberry charm and innocence, way back when.

You have to factor in something important, you can easily be seen up here. It takes 20 to 30 seconds to climb up here, so if you’re seen and feel a need to escape, the posse after you can cover a lot of ground while you’re stuck in climb mode. As great as this view is- be careful is all. My Mom’s favorite line. Night time is the better time and I have spent many a moonlit night inside this church and up top in this steeple. I would guess I’ve been up here 100 times. It is the set of sets on this iconic lot.

Sadly, it was lit on fire. A small group of vandals has done so much backlot damage, it’s pitiful. Let’s celebrate its long existence, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It’s almost appropriate this lot goes out on fire, it’s what it’s best known for…

Gone With the Wind is how we began, and it’s how we end it. Close the curtains, put the horses back to pasture, and exit in the cloud of dust that blows in from the Ince main gate.

I love this place!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Brothers Grimm at MGM Studios

Look what I found! That’s my buddy Stanley peaking out the dragons head.

The monster in 1962- just before bing subdued by Buddy Hackett
From the Original Cinerama 6-Sheet, 1962
This monster and I became close. He was stored in the Giant Prop Warehouse on the MGM backlot.
This massive plaster and composite creature was built like a house. Plaster and chicken wire on a wood frame. Paint it- last detail. Then light it to highlight its green coloring…
Promotional Jig Saw Puzzle- we looked everywhere for the head to complete the dragon when we determined there wasn’t ever a head on the real full scale Dragon. We were playing a real puzzle with real pieces back in the early seventies… I lived this puzzle! This dragon escaped the famous MGM auction. What kid wouldn’t want that next to their swing set. It was to big for me to take!

MGM’s famous Grand Central Station was one of the locations used in the filming of Brothers Grimm. It can be a working train station which actually ties in to Southern Pacific’s tracks where MGM shipped out large props such as stage coaches to arrive at various filming locations. This iconic set, Grand Central Station, was located inside MGM’s fabled Lot 2, and was featured in the closing scenes of this classic tale of The Brothers Grimm in 1962. This set had a small but important role, when Hollywood needed a grand rail depot. In 1972 while roaming this backlot we found the dragon which was missing it’s head, used in Brothers Grimm. At the time we weren’t sure what movie it was from. We searched the area everywhere looking for the head but it was gone! It did not need a stationary head- facial expressions would be needed. It never had a plaster head. Visual effects takes over in the Buddy Hackett/ dragon interactions. That’s a George Pal specialty. He had just completed work on the classic Time Machine film on this very same lot the year before. Below is a picture I took of my friend Stanley peeking out the neck of the dragon.

The Brothers Grimm was filmed here the same time the television show Combat was blowing up these same sets. MGM had a difficult time on the backlots in the early sixties with all the sound issues these battles created. Sound can’t be contained. I could hear it at my house. The sound of gunfire was equivalent to a fire bell or the end-of-day school bell for me. Me and my buddies would go running out of the house and be on set in literally just moments- to see what action was going on today at MGM!

Combat factor exists-Often a big problem, that hit show was a nightmare for other films and TV shows not set in WWII. The Twilight Zone battled Combat, just for quiet. Imagine trying to film the Twilight Zone episode “Stop Over in a Quiet Town” here. This Quiet Town sits next to the loudest village in all of Hollywood. The small town square is deserted, except for the battalion sitting in the shadows with their guns hanging out the windows. These shows that attempted to film quietly would have to be in radio contact with the production of Combat, so quiet scenes could happen while Combat reloads. It’s probably something many folk don’t realize takes place. But, it does…. I’ve personally dealt with sound carry over several times at Universal.

I enjoyed all the gunfire, as a boy. It made my army battles in my yard feel so real. Non-stop gunfire, all day, only stopping to reload or move cameras. What you see on TV was half of what took place gunfire and noise wise. Much gets edited, but when in doubt –fire away.

The movie Phantom of Hollywood, to the T.V. series Planet of the Apes, and of course That’s Entertainment all thrashed it. But the Fortune, Capone, and Young Frankenstein all fixed it up nice before filming began.

This plot of land with it’s wonderful worldly sets is where magic creates itself. I still feel it when I walk my dog down the residential streets that now cover what once was. Magic is real but you must believe in your wishes! In my case an MGM genie was perched on my shoulder and gave me everything I ever dreamed of-and still is ! It was like I was inserted into this world to first live, then share all these special memories from this wonderful real life fairy-tale land.

My big dream now is making a film based of these kid stories, the entire decade of the seventies- relived. This era of color, music, and energy played out full scale, this lot went with a bang. I’ll take you there, in my upcoming book- Hole in the Fence. This time can be recaptured for all through the tiny eyes of little trespassers -that turned into big trespassers on the ultimate E-ticket ride. Buckle-up!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

This depot had to turn over from a bombed out shell to fancy Grand Central, almost overnight. That’s the world in all the busy Hollywood backlots. I’ve witnessed this depot go from thrashed to fancy a few times.

My picture looking down on this set from a church tower. The bridge is barely visible to the left.

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Combat… Saunders- just Stayin Alive
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1964 Combat episodeWhat are the Bugles Blowin’ For?

Brothers Grimm- meet Brothers Gibb…they’re here to close out this old station with a very appropriate rock video- Stayin Alive…This was the last scene ever filmed here at this iconic rail destination.-1977. The lot was not only Alive’ but flourishing!

Fred Astaire, That’s Entertainment 1974. I met Fred on this show. I have his autograph, as well as Mr. Gene Kelly’s. I have met so many stars in my life- but the old MGM stable of icons stands alone. Their is a dignified air about them. It’s a lost vibration in todays Hollywood. This feeling will never exist again. As each legend moves on, we lose quality that can’t be replaced. The magic of film allows us to enertained and this backlot was the canvas for all these artists to costume up and do what they do best. Understand these MGM icons always coinsidered MGM backlots, both 2/3, the real MGM stars. “We just film in this wonderland- the backlots the star.” That’s a quote Gene Kelly told me with a huge Gene Kelly melt your heart grin- when I told him we recreate his dance numbers on New York street.

1975 N.Y Central is painted over what was Penn Central for Young Frankenstien.

MGM Backlot 2 Train Station location-bottom left corner is a large green structure that is a working rail station.

Premiere Ticket to the the Cinerama Theatre in Hollywood
Such similarities in these two films
George Pal was busy on the MGM backlots as 1960 rolled in. This picture is where Filby’s modern store existed. The town is taking cover from the Mushroom clouds.
Another fun toy for the backyard- a fancy newer model time machine, it’s got a V-8. Speeds through time…
To anyone who is interested, the restored Blu-ray of this Cinerama tale will be released in October of this year.

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Elvis-Harum Scarum on 2 Backlots…

1965…
Elvis- impersonating a lotus flower. His spiritual journey is as fascinating as this man himself. He spent much time at the Self Realization Fellowship off Sunset Blvd, Pacific Palisades, figuring his life stuff out.
Those stairs going up take you to my first ever Desilu fort. They are featured in this movie.
Elvis at the base of my stairs.
Bountiful treasures exist here
“Yeah, sure, I can dance a little!”
Same set 5 years later…
“Spin me around”
This dance sequence by the King is at Desilu- King on Kings set from the 1927 Cecil B. Demille classic.
A hunk, a hunk, a hunk of burning love…

MGM has so many villages, I was shocked they even left their studio. This lot is as close as MGM lot 3 is to the main MGM facility, so logistics work. MGM has so many of these same style buildings, I was stunned when I realized this was at Desilu.
Billy reminds be of my buddy Pat Rich. Same intense look and extra small. Pat is-Tough as a box of nails!

These trees are in my old pictures.

Elvis at my fort front door, top of the stairs. Camera is inside fort, it wasn’t a fort yet.
Only one way up. But jumping down from windows and balconies afford you more options when being chased.
The rooftop of my fort in the King of Kings set. This is the roof of the building Elvis ran upstairs to. It is the roof for my fort. Hogan’s Heroes bridge is in left edge of this picture. These two dirt roads below split and end up taking you to Mayberry.

You look into this area from the roof of the picture above this one.

Cut here- this chase begins a hot pursuit of our stars that exits Desilu’s old Jerusalem set from the King of Kings. The next scene, chase continued, picks up at MGM lot 2, Chinese street. Very similiar sets, two different studios, one hair-raising chase. My fort is in background. We built it in 1972, my first Desilu fort.

This is the same archway, it leads into the Western Street, where I had a second fort, in the town saloon. We even had a rolling phone that called off- lot. Just dial 9, I called my mom once to tell her “I’m not coming home” one night from the saloon.

Let’s get a drink, I smell Whiskey! I had similiar events happen in this village, several times. Mayhem in Mayberry is a story I shared a ways back that begins with a thundering police herd coming on the backlot for target practice. It was crazier than this show. This sequence switches backlots at this scene.

Chinese street-MGM lot 2, exact spot.
“Will you stand still?”- “I’ve chased you through two lots!”

Elvis here saved by a rock and a little girl.

“I owe you one!”- Elvis helps his little savior.

MGM Security guard Garth Bluff and the Red Bronco are parked at the end of that train. He’s looking for me in the train. We are on top of the fence, across from Maureen’s apartment. Her bedroom view of the backlot is 30 feet behind this fence I’m on top off. The sets for this film can be seen this clearly. The fence on the ground was struck by a car. If your going to crash, this is fun place to get towed!

Am I dreaming, or is Elvis outside my bedroom window?”
Number 17 is the Chinese street set being used in these final pictures. We called it Chinese street also, but sliver street was another description. Every piece of wood you touched with your skin could send you home with a unwanted souvenier. They can be a battle to remove. Cedrick Gibbons, Arnold Gillepie, Harry Oliver, and Edward B. Willis designed this area for The Good Earth, 1937. Maureen’s apartment is located on Elenda, just outside where you see gate in map. The gate was hit by a car and replaced with a prop wall. The starboard side of an ocean liner, including portholes you could look through, was what the studio repair consisted off.
Only a movie studio uses spare ship walls for a quick fix. That’s why I love this place, it’s McGuyverland. You can see the damaged gate in my above photo with the guard.

Harum Scarum ;

Nobody except the King himself can put you in this movie chase besides me. Something caught my attention watching this Elvis rerun recently. Elvis had a Harum at Desilu studios. Even better, he used my fort to escape from angry tribesmen with little Billy Barty. This Middle Eastern village is located just adjacent to the La Ballona creek. Everyshow that films on this lot uses the dirt road behind this village to get to the heart of the backlot.

In 1965, the year this was filmed, an average day on this historic backlot could include one, if not all the shows I will name now:

Hogan’s Heroes, Andy Griffith, Lassie, Gomer Pyle, This was TV in the 60’s at it’s best. Desilu Studios was a TV factory, so when this feature rolled in, it stood out. MGM equipment, MGM personnel and MGM’s biggest star. Goober’s gas station sits almost connected to this village. Production vehicles would have surely been parked here and on Western street. Fitting equipment in on busy backlots goes unnoticed, unless your crew, and there is an an art to loading 10 pounds of crap in a 5 pound box. Somehow, it all gets done. I can only imagine the buzz on the backlot on these other sets and shows knowing Elvis is filming here. It’s safe to say the cast of Hogan’s Heroes probably crossed paths with Elvis, even if it was a quick “Hello.”

I’m guessing this Harum Scarum set had a lot of visitors wanting to see a piece of the legend called- The King. He did not let anyone down. He danced about in this tiny village on a backlot known more for horse rustling than dancing…

Stalag 13 stands within close proximity, close enough for sound to carry to the prison. Can’t hide noise. There was a King here in 1933, named Kong. Elvis is running around in the same footsteps where King Kong once filmed. Those sets were destroyed in Gone with the Wind. The burning of Atlanta cleansed this part of the lot. This village from King of Kings has stood through all this history. It remained as the last set standing until a 1976 fire did it in. Goober’s gas station also burned that night at 10:25 pm, December 29,1975. I was there when this fire broke out, it was a fitting way for it to go, bulldozers were soon to be leveling the few sets still standing. Fire was a fitting way to see it disappear. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, best describes the Desilu backlot. It was cremated.

I was told a story that took place at 20th Century Fox in the late 50’s involving Elvis. He had an office next to Marilyn Monroe in a complex on the studio lot. My friend was a laborer and his job was to deliver a piano to a second story office. It had to go up a flight of stairs. Elvis was playing football in a courtyard when the studio crew arrived. He had other plans, he said “Your on that team”, to the one laborer. Elvis directed “Mike Murphy” into his huddle and said “Your with us.”

15 pass plays later, the group all helped get this piano upstairs to finish the delivery.

Number 11 is Elvis, here playing football at MGM in front of my Boystown Fort in another 1969 film The Trouble with Girls

We boys know the trouble with girls- they can’t throw a football!

Roswell New Mexico, the Elvis plane sells for 430,000k just recently. It sat alongside recovered UFO’s for 30 years.

Long Live the King!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…