Planet of the Apes…The Trap

The free pass that was supposed to last all week barely got us to lunch on day one.  The rest of this day we will be climbing New York street roof tops and peering out open windows. We make auxiliary plans as we finish our catered meal.

Prime rib, chocolate cake, apple pie a la mode are chased down by several containers of milk. This concludes the fanciest meal this fort has ever seen. This spread is like my lovely mother’s meals at Thanksgiving.

We tell ourselves we should not feel disappointed. We’ll just go back to what we do best, which is sneaking around… like we own the place.

We have a meeting to discuss what’s next for us here, and as we lick our fingers, we both agree that catering will still be a part of our day.

We develop our plans as we linger over the last bites of this meal that is fit for a king. We already know that breakfast is prefabbed and wrapped in foil, so even though it doesn’t measure up to the layout we just enjoyed, it’s perfect for kids on the go. Mini Fruit Loops boxes, little milk containers and breakfast burritos… all for the taking. So, we will just pop in and out through the doorways that are perfectly positioned next to the food tables. Just like some sort of phantoms…

It’s usually easy to grab lunches after the crew gets theirs. In fact, we quickly discover that being last to eat gets you the most food, since studio caterers don’t keep leftovers. “Take whatever you guys need” is the only encouragement we need, as Michelson catering hands us more clean plates. I feed fellow trespassers with the abundance of gourmet delights, like I’m the host of this joint.

I take enough to feed friends waiting inside New York Street buidings. Call me the “caterer for trespassers.” I barter my food services for good dope.

Being resiliant allows us to not skip a beat.

Back on set…

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The Public Library…that sign was put above this entrance for Soylent Green.

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The Apes caught a couple trespassers…

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Above: Matte Painting… before and after of New York Street.

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Apes and humans unite to save the combatants. The Apes above ground need to rely on human ingenuity to engineer an escape from the collapsed subway. The remainder of this afternoon focuses on this series of events. Trust is needed… Apes must trust the humans.

And the following filmed interactions evolve from suspicion and even gunfire towards the human rescuers to a bond of empathy and compassion as they begin work in unison towards a single cause. That is, to save one human, James Naughton, and one ape… Urko.

For Jimmy and I, it’s business as usual. Sneaking precariously close to every scene that is shot, just out of frame. The production manager is wearing a T-shirt that says Project Questor. We try to stay out of the sight lines of the director and this individual, since these are the same two that crumbled up our free pass.

We are amazed by all the trespassers. They have made their way to every building, every window and every doorway. Word spread like wildfire. Venice High kids, Culver kids, Catholic kids, and some that are simply bad kids!

I see a Sullivan kid with a rifle that an ape set down on the edge of a building. We make eye contact as he stands inside a building looking it over, I point authoritatively while gesturing. The message was received loud and clear, although no words were spoken. He swiftly put it back!

There is a lot of filming ahead and taking weapons will not be tolerated by me or this production company. Plus, I may get blamed since I am now under the microscope. I can’t have these dumb kids ruining my operation here. Ironically, while the guards keep my name at the top of their list, I become the real guardian of these treasures.

As camera angles change on this Ape/Human rescue, commotion between the camera man and the director catches our attention. As we sit, perched above the cave-in, another small group of out of control kids splinters off towards the end of New York Street.

And now, unsurprisingly, the camera picks up trespassers crossing the street during a shoot. These kids are out of control. They have to go!

There are so many groups of kids here that I am not sure who the culprits really are, but soon enough, they disappeared.

Next, in another scene, Roddy Mcdowell runs into some kids in a doorway, and to our astonishment, he goes inside and walks out with my pal, Gerald, and a couple of other nieghborhood kids.

He has his hand on Gerald’s shoulder. Jimmy and I are blown away… Roddy is giving all the kids clearance and is letting them all stay in the buildings as guests on the set. What a cool guy!

OK… So, only Jimmy and I are not allowed on this set anymore but every other rotten kid is cleared, compliments of Roddy Mcdowell?

Roddy would’ve saved us if he had gotten to us first.

Dusk ends, day one. What a day.

The Grand Central Train Station is on the docket for many scenes. So, since Jimmy and I are banned, we set up ladders on the train tracks just outside the studio fence and just adjacent to today’s filming.

This set was used two weeks ago by the Fortune company, with Warren Beatty. Extra security has been in place, since all the mayhem, in an attempt stop juvenile interruptions. That means a full dose of Big George and Bronco Bob.

We are not trespassing. Just loitering is all. Being in a high profile area, in public view from Culver Blvd and Elenda Street, we quickly attract attention from all directions; the set, all the actors, and the Culver City public. We have become a spectacle. Our hodge podge ladders of every shape and size are all leaning and positioned for fun and easy viewing.

A blur of heads and shoulders bobbing up and down is what the cast sees as they film scenes. They smile and wave at us in between takes. As the day gets longer, more ladders and kids arrive. A mob of sight seeers is on one side of the fence while actors and apes do their thing on the other side.

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Maureen’s apartment is a sling shot away and she finally wanders over to join the mob. I save her a special rung on my ladder. Well, perfectly timed… here comes Roddy Mcdowell. In between scenes, he monkees around with us. First he acts completely like an ape, but then he reaches up with his ape hands to touch all the kids’ hands.

The director waits for his return. Everyone is watching this moment… all the actors, stunt folk and crew, as Roddy wishes each and every kid a wonderful day!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…
Edited by DQ
 

 

MGM Trespassers…unfiltered!

Due to the large amount of interest in this recently published list, I am resubmitting it for your approval… the document in it’s entirety.

Addresses, phone numbers, and of course… who nailed ya!

 We all should’ve run faster…

Below: 1931 MGM logo

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Notice Jerry Sullivan on the bottom section. He was a regular trespasser, going all the way back to our St. Augustine school years.

The footnote states: four people caught – all gave his name. (Pardon me while I laugh! As if anyone would give their real name!)

The footnote continues: All have been on the lot several times. I would turn them over to CCPD (…is how B.C. delt with this capture.)

B.C. is Bob Coleman, alias Bronco Bob… the same guard who shot at another Catholic school boy friend named Pat Rich. He is the same guard who had me kicked off the Planet of the Apes set in previous blog… when I dressed up in Ape gear!

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Written and lived and taken by…Donnie Norden

 

Planet of the Apes

New York street at MGM has a new look. It’s apocalyptic!

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“Planet of the Apes” is going to be a high budget show, and lots of money being spent means lots of potential fun for me! What kid doesn’t like this stuff? Once again, a story I enjoyed on the big-screen has now become something very real that I can be part of.

These type of sets are massive, with tons of people involved–it takes an army of technicians to film an army of apes!

My dad successfully secured passes for me and a guest to watch filming, so there’s no need for me to hide on this shoot! It will take two weeks to film the pilot episode, then a “hold” will be placed on the set until the ratings come in, so please watch!

Jimmy is the lucky friend I choose to be my guest, and our host is stand-by set painter named Glen. On our first morning he’s very busy, clearly being pulled in several different directions at once. Fortunately, we know the place better than he does and can entertain ourselves.

Our invitation to the set includes two meals and unlimited craft service, and we sample everything–fruit loops, bagels, and breakfast burritos. I especially enjoy the perk of having endless chocolate milk.

It’s not long before Roddy McDowall walks by us in a bath robe, already in ape make-up and on his way to wardrobe.

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Roddy’s daily transformation. He always made an effort to greet young fans.

As Jimmy and I take it all in, we can’t help but notice the MGM security guards who know us well. It’s only a matter of time before we run afoul of Bronco Bob or Big George, and I expect some explaining will be in order. Sorry fellas! We walked in the front gate, here’s our pass!

From what I can glean about the story-line, apes are currently on the warpath against humans. They’re led by “Urko,” the top ape sporting a tall leather helmet that makes him especially intimidating.

He and many other apes will be on horseback, so horses tied up everywhere on New York street, each with a gun harnessed to their saddle. Of course, these equestrian thespians need to rehearse too, so trainers and stuntmen have commandeered an alley where they can put the animals through the motions.

Unlike Roddy MacDowall, who arrives before sunup owing to the long hours he has to spend in the makeup chair, most of the actors wear ape masks that can be slipped on and off. It’s amazing just to hang out among all these Hollywood gorillas casually eating, smoking, and talking SAG. Who knew that apes were union!

Elsewhere on the set, the stunts and effects departments are working hand-in-hand on a gag where an earthquake causes a sidewalk to collapse into a subway tunnel. In the aftermath, a human and an ape find themselves trapped underground and in desperate need of rescue. This, it appears, will be the complex scene of the day.

Finally, the first scene is up! Mounted apes race through various New York street intersections. We’ve been given strict orders that there are to be no pictures on this set, but I brought a little Kodak “Instamatic” just in case…

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I watch intently as the special effects department sets up a rifle that fires “squibs.” These are capsules of blasting putty that create the appearance of a bullet strike on impact. Using these can be dangerous, so the close supervision of effects and stunt departments is obligatory, and stars are replaced by stunt doubles where possible.

Concerned that we get the best view of the action scenes, Jimmy and I decide to watch from the rooftop directly above the soon-to-collapse sidewalk. This effect is ready to rumble.

Directly below us we can see Roddy Mcdowell (pictured) smoking a cigarette in his blue robe. We’re close enough that the smoke blows into our building, and I snap a couple pictures, keeping in mind that I’ve only got twelve on the roll.

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Above photo: My pals, The Sullivans are here, in this building looking out windows. All told, there are about 10 trespassers inside here.

Jimmy spots Gerald across the street on another rooftop. Soon we realize, every kid on our street seems to be either in a window or on a rooftop. We wave and signal like a network. They’re all trespassing except us. Not today. I’ve got a backstage pass suckers!

A countdown begins as the director anxiously speaks into his megaphone “Three, two, one…ACTION!”

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Dust flies, fake stones crumble and fall, taking with them an ape and a human destined to wind up in the bowels of the subway. This scene was perfectly executed and, after some quick “pick up” shots, crew lunch is called.

Now back at street level, Jimmy and I linger around camera and the directors chair area while the rest of the crew moves toward catering. Urko slips off his massive leather helmet and ape hand gloves and leaves them sitting in his chair as he joins the others.

There’s no one else around, so. . . I decide to try on Urko’s helmet. Followed by his hands and gloves. And to complete the ensemble, I grab one of the single-bolt rifles that are laying around. All decked out in Urko’s outfit (pictured below), I think I look pretty sharp!

All I need now is a horse!

Before I can requisition one, however, we’re interrupted. Coming around the corner and staring directly at us is none other than Bronco Bob! He’s on foot, and very probably wondering why we taking off.

He heads straight for us, but I speak first. “Hold on Bob! we are guests on this set today.”

Here I am, MGM’s “most wanted,” sitting in a director’s chair, dressed in full ape regalia, telling Bob in his flimsy little security outfit to back off. You could almost see the steam coming off Bob’s bald head!

(Urko’s helmet and gloves pictured here are the same I was wearing when I encountered Bronco Bob Coleman of MGM security.)

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I can tell Bob wants to rip up my pass. He makes a face like the one Sergeant Carter gives Gomer Pyle when he’s angry!

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The spitting image of Security Guard Bronco Bob!

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And with that, lunch is served!

It’s why Bob came over here in the first place: to eat! As we relax and chow down, we observe Bob going to many different tables and talking to many different people. At one of those tables is the director, Arnold Lavin. Bob gets his attention, then starts angrily pointing at us.

We can’t hear what Bob’s saying exactly, but the intention is clear. He wants us out of here! Not two seconds later he bee-lines to our table with a satisfied grin on his face.

“You two are outta here!”

“Can we finish eating please?” I protest.

“No! You’re coming with me. The director has revoked your pass.”

Ain’t that some shit? I’d say we’ve been good as gold. There are a dozen legitimate trespassers on the property right now and Bob busts the only ones who have a pass! As we reach the main gate on Overland, Bob cracks it open and says “Get outta here!”

“Good luck jerk” I reply. “And you better get a paddy wagon for all the trespassers in there right now. You don’t have time to waste eating fatso!”

Jimmy and I walk away, but not any farther than our own gate around the corner. Ten seconds later we’re right back inside the lot.

We cautiously approach catering, knowing Bob may be headed here also. We grab trays and load up with gourmet food, indulging in the this seemingly endless offerings. With plastic trays and pockets overflowing, we head to our Boystown fort.

For now we’ll go back to how we normally operate at the backlot: secretly and stealthily. After all, there is still tons of filming ahead!

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“Emergency” entrance.

More pix snapped on the sly.

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Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Stay tuned for more Planet of the Apes…Remember to visit theGlamourtram blog…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Glamour Plane…

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The STARSHIP … A Boeing 720, bought by Bobby Sherman in the early 70’s

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This plane plied the skies in the service of amongst others: Led Zeppelin,The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Deep Purple, The Allman Brothers, The Bee Gee’s and Peter Frampton.

One of the great artifacts of the coke-flecked, halter- topped ‘lude dropping’ rock and roll gestalt of the 70’s, the Starship brimmed with gaudy-chic delights. A bedroom with a king sized water bed, a fake fire place, a brass bar with a built in electric organ.

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At the airport, the entrouge often hid drugs in their soiled clothes

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Below, on the LAX tarmac, a photo shoot with the KiKi Dee band.

STARSHIP One – Four Years of Flying Fun - Elton John

Elton graduated from vans and stationwagons and cookie cutter motels and voila… the song Holiday Inn in 1971, Madman Across the Water. In the spring of 72′ the band moved up to a Greyhound Bus, ploughing from one college campus to another.

During fall… Elton upgraded to the Starship. He hired pilots, 3 stewardesses and a bartender. The pilots and the entire crew were very professional. The flight’s crew had to be on the ball one evening when a near miss on a landing took place.

A sudden upward thrust like a rocketship take off jolted everyone on board. The pilots were avoiding another aircraft on the run way.

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The video collection on board the Starship is stocked with everything from Deep Throat to Duck Soup. Stewardesses cater to your every need. This plane was the inspiration for Austin Powers’ shag- a-delic private 747 airplane.

“A flying gin palace” is how Zep’s road manager, Richard Cole, characterized the ship. David Libert, Alice Cooper’s road manager, declared it “a rock and roll Air Force One.”

Mick Jagger was said to have gasped the first time he climbed aboard and glimpsed the wall- to- wall Vegas.

The four- engine variant of the Boeing 707 was renovated at a cost of $200,000. It leased for $2,500 per flight hour.”It was a potent symbol of where you were in your career” said Peter Frampton. His team leased it during his climb to white hot super stardom. This is the plane Peter used on the Frampton Comes Alive Tour.

“Whoopee! We must be big-we’ve got the Starship”

Led Zeppelin was first to lease the plane, in 1973, after a white- knuckle ride from Oakland to Los Angeles in a tiny Falcon 20 business jet.

Zeppelin became indelibly associated with the Starship when the band posed with the plane in Bob Gruen’s iconic 1973 portrait. Bob explains,” this sums up the excess and decadence of the 70’s, the fact that here are these guys-they don’t even have buttons on their shirts- and they have their own plane!”

The Alice Cooper band leased it for the Billion Dollar Babies Tour in 1973. The United States was in the midst of a crippling petrol shortage, manager Shep Gordon had an idea. Rather than bribe service stations to fill up the tour trucks, lets lease the Starship.

It’s four gas- guzzling Pratt and Whitney engines flew on and above all the gasoline vehicle lines at gas stations below. It was perfect for Alice’s image at the time.

What was it like aboard the Starship…

The first time the Allman Brothers they were greeted by “Welcome the Allman Brothers” rendered in lines of cocaine on the brass bar.

Led Zeppelin’s fearsome manager Peter Grant was know to disappear in the back bedroom, often for the entire flight… and he’s not sleeping.

A drunken John Bonham allegedly tried to open a hatch door at 30,000 feet to urinate over Kansas City.

“It was pretty much a party plane”, says Frampton.”we’d drive right on the runway, just a long stream of black limos, jump out and get on.”

Peter continues, “To foil custom inspectors and their drug sniffing dogs, the band members stashed their contraband in the “dirty stage- clothes bags.”

Despite the heedless indulgences-an Atlantic Records executive remembers Peter Grant brandishing a hand gun on a flight to Pittsburgh while the entourage hovered in a cocaine pile.

The Starship came to symbolize the isolation rock stars of the seventies embraced as they saw less and less of everday life.

After a concert in Minneapolis, Danny Markus, at Atlantic Records executive, marveled. As quick as the show ended, the band was whisked aboard the Starship.

“I’m being served Lobster Thermador as we are rolling down the runway, while the audience is still in the buiding waiting for the encore!”

A member of the Allman Brothers walked out of his hotel in a bathrobe and boarded both the limo and the plane with out changing.

No one wanted to appear Starstruck , as they boarded the plane. Everyone assumed the posture…”This is how I go to work!’

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Same Bed… Plant above, Blackmore below…

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Below…Deep Purple

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Written by Donnie Norden…read theGlamourtram also on W.P

Reference: Billboard Magazine…

MGM wasn’t the only party going on in the 70’s, the skies were friendly too…

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Company move… MGM Lot 2

In 1938, an unusually large production on the Desilu backlot needed to build a train station for a few key scenes. The show was, of course, “Gone With the Wind,” and the depot scenes (seen below) are some of the most stirring and memorable in the film.

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Unfortunately, most of it burned down a long time ago, and what little survived has since been torn down.

Desilu again laid down rail tracks in 1959 for the “The Untouchables” series. In a spectacular two-parter (episodes 40 and 41), Elliot Ness foils an attempt to hijack the “Alcatraz Express” by criminals intent on freeing Al Capone.

But by 1974, Desilu no longer had this or any other train station. In fact, there were only two depots left in Tinseltown, and both of  them were on the MGM backlot.

Vincente Minnelli’s “The Band Wagon” (1953) immortalized one of these iconic MGM stations.

And here’s the same gang plank in 1974! This was effectively the last time the station would look so polished, as a little movie called “Planet of the Apes” would soon transform it.

 

Which brings us to “The Fortune” (1975),  a Mike Nichols’ film starring Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty.  This show needed a train station, but since Desilu no longer had one, they were obliged to bring the whole production circus over to MGM, a “company move” of less than two miles. It was a pretty easy job for a driver if you could get it.

Maureen gets the ball rolling by calling me about a tremendous amount of activity and lighting she can see from her bedroom window. Jimmy is with me, and we’re already preparing to visit the set when she calls. “We’re on our way! Bye!”

Jimmy and I check in with her, chatting through the bedroom window. She turns down our invite to sneak in, then brags about having a relative who’s a gaffer on this set. Apparently, she has her own “in!”

Maureen looks awfully pretty through the window screen. She’s wearing a white top, and Jimmy and I both smell her perfume. We’re wearing black, since it works well with trespassing at night. We look like criminals and Maureen looks like she stepped off a beach calendar.

Tonight she can wear a dress and get all dolled up since she has a free ticket to ride.  “We’ll be up in the church steeple,” I tell her. “Say a prayer for us trespassers”! Signal us a ‘hello’ from the set tonight.”

“If you see Big George, he’s gonna wanna see proof you’re legal. Tell him I’m there too. With ten other guys!  That should distract him!”

We all giggle, laugh, and split.

Jimmy and I easily make it up to the church belfry. We stare down like we’re in some kind of space capsule observing a very lit-up Earth from above. The shape is actually similar to a space craft: a cone shape at the top that tightly squeezes in two guests side by side.

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Trust me, I’m a kid who has been in a space capsule. This is very similar. It allows us a view of the set as if from a lunar orbiter.

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The views from this steeple.

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Jimmy and I watch as vans shuttle the crew back and forth. Diesel exhaust from generators conveniently disguises the pot odor we’re generating up here.

Jimmy seems less about this moment tonight and more about Maureen. If I had an “eject button” up here, I’d use it. He’s too interested in my girlfriend. . . who we suddenly see, dressed in white, frolicking on the set! She’s been escorted there by her gaffer friend, and I know she knows we’re up here . . .

We watch as she walks around next to Warren Beatty. He and Jack Nicholson are having an intense conversation as they push a cart holding Stockard Channing. (See above.)

We watch Maureen as she slithers around the set, eventually moseying over to the fence by the train depot where we all climb in. No one but us and the two owls next to us can see this next move. . .

Maureen signals for our attention as if she’s landing a jet on an aircraft carrier. Broad hand gestures are directed up at us, and we respond, popping our heads out and waving quickly so as not to be seen by the entire set.

Below, Maureen’s view as she signals the church tower… 

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Contact has been made, but the symbols have changed. Maureen extends her middle finger and proudly flicks us the bird.

Just as quickly, we respond. Four arms and four pointing birds protrude outwards from the steeple towards that hot little blonde in the nice, white beach outfit. That’s what’s called “doubled-barrel flicking” the bird.

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We stay until midnight, Beatty and Jack filming inside the old Pullman. As we leave, we take a final glimpse before jumping back over the fence and heading home.

We stop briefly to tap on Maureen’s window. Some messed up hair and then a hand peer back at us. Her hand quickly changes from a polite and friendly five finger wave to a one finger stationary Universal salute. She got us again!

We laugh all the way home, one block away.

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Planet of the Apes set dressing. New York street get’s prepared, while “The Fortune” shoots at the depot. Stay tuned!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden

 

 

 

 

The Fortune/Planet of the Apes………. set preps

MGM’s New York street is seeing massive preparation for a new TV series based off the popular “Planet of the Apes” movies.

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When a group of studio laborers tell me this, I can’t believe it! These are my favorite movies in the theaters, and now they’ll be both on TV and filming in my backyard!

Set decoration is already underway. Truckload after truckload of concrete and broken cement is being dumped along the length of New York Street and Brownstone Street. It’s a massive undertaking.

It’s all there to make things look post-apocalyptic. The phony high-rises on the backlot have theoretically been damaged or destroyed by earthquakes. Humans exist, but live like rats in the decay, and apes are now in charge of this area code.

It will take a few weeks to get this set up to snuff, with the labor and art crews working side by side. Special effects is also busy on some gags, including “earthquakes” that will cause a subway to collapse.

Everyone on the set is friendly, which makes it easy for me and my pals to intermingle with the Fox crew. Work lights illuminate the set at night when it’s congested with various hazards, and MGM guards patrol the area after closing. But from 6am to 6pm, it’s just 20th Century Fox and a studio work force preparing the streets!

As preparation takes place on this end of the backlot, the opposite end is busy with painters painting the old trains. Most importantly, the whole set can be seen from my girlfriend Maureen’s bedroom window.

The art department is additionally focused on the movie, The Fortune, which is currently shooting on the Desilu lot. These same artists are are restoring some of the glitz and glamour that once existed on lot 2. It’s a complete spruce up!

I’m told that as soon as the train scenes are wrapped with Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson, the set will immediately flip over to “Planet of the Apes.”

The Fortune needs the station to look fancy and modern–plush looking trains, folks in suits and ties, etc. The “Apes” want the exact opposite. They want a hunting ground where they can eliminate rag-clad humans!

Apes on horseback with rifles are going to swarm this old train depot, but not until after The Fortune shoots it’s delicate, interactive dialogue scenes here. Complete opposite ends of the spectrum.

Little do I know at this time that my dad is working behind the scenes, trying to get me access to the “Planet of the Apes” set. It’s an opportunity that rarely presents itself, and I may have a big surprise waiting a few weeks down the line, but for now it’s still a dad’s secret from his son.

What’s fun is seeing the daily progression of the sets and how cool everything looks all lit up in the night-time! This place is normally very dark at night, I mean, very scary dark!

Word rapidly spreads through the school-kids network about what’s in store on the backlot. Even people I don’t normally care much for are suddenly showing an interest, asking for info, schedules, or even just to show them around. I’m popular, like some producer’s kid!

I expect there to be a large neighborhood turn out when the film trucks and equipment finally start rolling in. MGM security will have it’s hands full then!!!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

 

The Fortune…

This long awaited exterior set is finally ready. The studio tore down Stalag 13 to build this set here… so it better be good. Hogan’s Heroe’s is one of my favorite TV shows!

Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson will be starring in this Mike Nichols production. I love Bonnie and Clyde, so I hope this show is also a shoot-em up type film…

MGM has sound stages committed to this film and now I hear the MGM train station will be needed for a few scenes. Work has begun on Lot 2 in preperation of the Fortune’s visit here.

Lot 2 is busy, we have a set being scouted at our New York street. It is a 20th Century Fox production. A van with the Fox logo is full of a production personnel. You can tell  when the lot is being scouted. Just the way the creative types exit the vehicle, like in a happy daze…looking, pointing, laughing. Lighting gaffers, the director of photography, transportation, special effects usually take this ride.

Their imagination is needed to decide if this street or set can create the needed ambiance that the production is looking for. All seems well by their expressions. We may have another customer wanting to film here on this not so washed up movie lot. I watch approvingly from a rooftop above them as they seem interested in the entire  N.Y street.

My first year of public school just ended and I passed with flying colors…and very long hair. If St. Augustine’s could see me now!

Summer is already off to a busy backlot schedule.

The Fortune set at Desilu is getting some filming in as we switch lots…often we do both studio backlots in the same day.

Production Never Sleeps is the saying in Hollywood!

The Fortune set at Desilu is a bit difficult to acess, it requires bravely walking across open space in complete view of the film crew. This is dangerous since we look too young to be technical employees. This set is devoid of kids also, so that disguise is not applicable.

Jimmy and I do not feel urgency to even push the envelope today. Instead we watch from the same hilltop I was rescued from inside of… most recently.

From this vantage point we are entertained by vintage cars driving around as background on this set. We can see the bright arc lights smoking away. But the actors, Beatty and Nicholson are out of view. The homes built for this show block us from seeing the street scenes being filmed inside this corridor.

Quickly…we become bored.

We have more fun tumbling in the high grass on this warm summer day. My friends, the Sullivan brothers, have installed two hammocks, centered between a clump of trees with a view of the village and filming that is taking place.

Great job Sullivan boys!

When it gets warm we know where to turn on the sprinklers to cool off as we lay suspeneded in the air. If you tumble out, the tall grass will catch ya… anyhow.

On my transistor radio Vin Scully directs the Dodger game on my radio. They are looking awfully good this year. Hammocks, baseball, and filming, my way to spend the day!

We can hear the movie director’s voice, Mike Nicholls, over all the other stuff of going on here.We catch glimpses of Warren Beatty walking and talking with the director…

This is how the summer looks going forward at the Desilu backlot. Filming, filming, filming…

 

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A security gaurd mentioned this to me in a fact finding mission earlier at a guard shack on Ince avenue… “this is a really good director!”

This is just part of his resume…above.

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A security time sheet, above.

Yes… there is security at my playground!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

Columbia Ranch… A Trespasser’s Tale

It is with disheartening news that I share my personal tales of Columbia Ranch… It is now known that this lot will soon go the way of MGM and so many other iconic sites, as history is sold off to the highest bidder… in this case, tract home development.

My boots first touched ground on this movie backlot in the mid-seventies. Very easy to enter; Jimmy and I simply climbed a brick wall behind a supermarket. We covered the entire lot on our first visit. It was Christmas day… 1975.

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Above: This is where we climbed in… right through this supermarket parking lot.

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Above: Climbing in for the first time, and taking cover for the first time… is intoxicating. Slowly we proceed… one bush, one tree, then a forest, and finally, some buildings to take cover in.

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Above: The buiding we are hiding in now will shortly become a regular set in the TV show Fantasy Island.

Below: As we weave around, through pathways and dirt roads, we see a western street that is very old. Some facades are starting to become slanted or unsafe to climb on. A saloon interior is inside one of these. It has seen better days.

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Above and Below: We spend time time climbing on what ever we think can hold our weight. It is neat to look from behind the dusty drapes, and spotted windows that overlook this wind-blown, tumbleweed street. It’s like we are expecting a high-noon gun battle!

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We take our time in the old west, peeking around for security. If past history at MGM has taught us anything, we may not see the sheriff at all… on this religious, toy sharing holiday.

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A church steeple towers over these two-story western buildings from a neighboring set beyond. It caught our attention, since we like climbing to the top of them. Every studio has at least one belfry.

As we climb to the top we become… filthy! 

This hobby may seem glamorous, but right now I’m covered in bird shit!

Dead birds lay everywhere. They apparently become trapped inside. It stinks horribly. We rate this the worst steeple we have ever been inside. But, it does give us a privileged vantage point, overlooking a neighborhood with very famous houses.

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Above: We tear out of the steeple and through this little village. We discover that by simply turning the corner, we journey from Europe to an all-American residential street.

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Above: We run inside the front door of the Bewitched house… upstairs, downstairs, backyard, every angle… like we’re buying it. 

Below: Right across the street lives my favorite kid on TV… Dennis the Menace. 

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We relive countless, classic moments on each front porch… this is as cool as it gets for me. All the obstacles blocking us from this experience have been overcome, we have conquered another iconic backlot!

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Above: The General Lee from the Dukes of Hazard.

Below: The only stages on this backlot…

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Memories

Jimmy and I had our last chase/get-away on this lot. Although we had no way of knowing it then… this incident, on a Saturday afternoon, would be our last close call moment. The closure of a decade of trespassing at every studio. Our swan song.

After being seen by a man on a golf cart, we knew by his reaction, we better hide. So, we jumped into an old barn, behind a sheet of plywood, which was laying up against a wall.

Face to face, again… just Jimmy and I.

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Waiting, listening, barely breathing, as two men search this barn. Finally, while listening to them talk and search, they conclude that we must’ve gotten away.

A few minutes later… we did!

Jimmy was 24. I was 22. We were 12 and 14 when we began a life of running and hiding.

Looking back, we had no idea how historic this get away would be… our very last, as a duet. Like Butch and Sundance, except we lived on.

On September 25, 1980… John Bonham died. A news flash bursted over everything else on the radio, just as Danny, Jimmy, and I, jumped over the studio wall… the Led Zeppelin drummer was no more.

Sadly, we took this news in, on the Fantasy Island jungle set. Danny, being a terrific drummer himself, could barely fathom this event.

We were all stunned. This took the wind out of our sails that afternoon.

Led Zeppelin played on the radio all day… From the pastel shades of “Going to California,” to the volcanic eruption that is “Immigrant Song,” this was an unmatched band and Bonham was a beast of a drummer. These songs emanated from every building. It became our soundtrack as we remembered his life and the Zeppelin concert we saw together, at “The Fabulous Forum.”

A backlot is more than just a filming location. Life takes place in, on, and around its pearly gates. History is made, but also lives here…

Just as we had to accept that Led Zeppelin will never be again… we must now, 40 years later, accept that this treasure of a movie lot is soon to be just a fond memory.

That’s the way it is…

Written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by Donna Quesada

Visit my other blog: The The Glamour Tram

 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood… The Columbia Ranch

A Little Background on Columbia Ranch—

Hidden within the city of Burbank is The Columbia Ranch movie facility, surrounded on all four sides by residential property. Modest single family homes stand outside its fences on these charming, tree lined streets.

In baseball terms, this lot is like Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, places of unbelievable magic and history making… tucked behind the most conventional of appearances.

Two story homes and apartments can easily see inside this fabricated world… right from their living room windows, residents can have a peek over the ivy covered fences that secure this iconic movie location. It’s as if they are part of famous movie sets that sit right across the street. Like having a balcony seat for a fine play. Except this play never ends… until now.

Being this close to actual film production, sounds, smoke and production activities slip into this normally quiet residential neighborhood. For some residents, their entire life has been an inadvertent part of this movie history.

It has been this way for generations, but soon, this wonderful, western-style, movie playground will go the way of so many other former studio backlots, such as MGM, Fox, and Desilu, which have all seen this sad movie playout before: Quick cash, in the form of real estate development, will overide the movie history that has played out both inside and outside the backlot. Paving paradise once again.

It seems escalating property values overide history every time. Who needs these old buildings and mature forest areas that lie inside this lot? 

And number crunchers will make the case and justify the cause. But the effect is felt most acutely by those who worked, in some cases, their entire life at this film ranch, as well as movie history buffs. The community surrounding this studio knows no other normal. It’s a throwback to Hollywood’s past glory.

You may think you never have seen this lot or experienced it… ahh, but you have!

The home from Bewitched, starring Elizabeth Montgomery, is still standing. It sits across the street from Jay North’s Dennis the Menace home. Chances are… you have watched TV episodes that were done entirely on this lot. In the back of your mind, you might’ve wondered, just where these neighborhoods exist.

The Columbia Ranch… that’s where!

A Personal Anecdote—

I was fortunate to be invited on a movie set during filming. The movie being filmed was Hooper. It starred Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, and Jan Michael Vincent. The movie is about Stuntmen in Hollywood. The director was Hal Needham.

Chariot races were being filmed that afternoon. It was stunts on top of stunts. A stunt rodeo was taking place. I was sitting in a chair next to video playback on the historic High Noon western street, from the Gary Cooper classic. I approached Mr. Needham, as he replayed the activity just captured on film.

Being a teenager, I was caught up in all this excitement. I had to ask… “what was your most thrilling stunt ever?”

He turned away from what he was doing — directing a movie — and proudly turned to me and boasted, “I still have the record for car rolls: 23 rolls on one cannon flip.” As he was telling me this, Burt Reynolds walked up, and upon overhearing this, said, “He can have that record! Tell him how long you were in the hospital, Hal!”

Mr. Needham replied, “Well, I broke my back, several ribs, and was in traction for awhile, but I own a record no one on this set can touch!” Burt then chimed in, “or even want to,” as the two of them looked at each other and laughed.

A priceless moment that is as fresh as the day it happened. The beauty of memories is… they can’t be bulldozed.

Trailer: Burt Reynolds, filming at Columbia Ranch.

Fun Facts and photos on Columbia Ranch (Retroweb.com)—

  • Founded in 1920 as Columbia Pictures Studios.
  • Built in 1921, this 17-acre Hollywood movie studio was originally the historic Columbia Pictures Studios.
  • “In 1948, Columbia establishes a television arm, housed under the revived Screen Gems banner, which makes it one of the first studios to invest in television.”
  • Spring 1970 – “soundstage # 4 caught fire and some Bewitched sets were damaged (especially the kitchen). Not wasting any time, the show shot scenes for The Salem Saga episodes while the kitchen set was repaired and redesigned.”
  • “In 1972, the nearly bankrupt Columbia Pictures sold its Hollywood location at Sunset and Gower and moved over the hill to Burbank in the San Fernando Valley, where they shared space on the Warner Brothers lot (renamed for a while as “The Burbank Studios”).”
  • The studio had no backlot, and instead, the Columbia Ranch in Burbank was used for exteriors.
  • The Ranch started in 1934, as a 40 acre plot purchased by Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures Corporation.
  • “Over the years, Columbia Pictures sold off much of its 80-acre Burbank ranch to developers. Columbia’s ranch had acted as the studio’s backlot since 1935, with its scenery of grassy park and fountain, Old West street (destroyed by fire in 1970), and facades of city buildings, townhouses and suburban homes (including the Bewitched house).”
  • A 1957 aerial photo “shows the single soundstage Columbia built at the ranch. Later, in the late 1950s, a second stage was built right next to it. Also, you can make out Columbia’s special effects water tank with its sky backing almost dead center. Up to right where there’s a semi-circular backing was the spot the lamasery set was built for Frank Capra’s LOST HORIZON. Today that portion of the lot has a large drugstore and a parking lot. Many year ago Columbia sold off a portion of the lot to a developer.” – Richard P.
  • “The real street used in the Blondie movies was right near CBS Studios. I took some photos when I was there last year. One of the houses was later recreated at the Columbia/Warner ranch…which later became the I Dream of Jeannie house.” – Anthony
  • “The (new) “re-created” Blondie house at the Columbia Ranch from the early 1940s was indeed used for the exterior on Jeannie, as well as Mr.Wilson’s house on Dennis, and the Anderson house on Father Knows Best, during the 1950s/60s. It’s still standing, has most likely been used for numerous other TV shows and movies, as well as commercials throughout the decades.” – Mark J. C.
  • “[In Bewitched,] I seem to remember the Kravitzes front house exterior being the house that would later become (or by 1970/71 was already) the Partridges’ house [but in the episode “Mary the Good Fairy,”] there’s a closeup of Gladys Kravitz gasping as she sees the police picking up Mary. and Mrs. Kravitz is [standing instead on the front porch of] the Donna [Reed] house (and also Dennis Mitchell’s house).” – Mark J. C.
  • “I think they used a different exterior for the Kravitz house in that two-parter as the former house suffered some damage in a backlot fire.” – Anthony
  • In 1970, three successive fires (in January, April and August) destroyed half the lot
  • In mid-1971, became a combined Columbia and Warner ranch
  • 1990 – Columbia left, and ranch became The Warner Ranch
  • “All of the houses on the Warner Ranch are now complete structures. I don’t think there are any “facades” left. Some of the “facades” have been enclosed within the past decade to protect the sets from water damage.” – William F., Jr.

Some of the Shows that Filmed on Columbia Ranch—

Father Knows Best
The Donna Reed Show
Hazel
The Hathaways
The Farmers Daughter
Our Man Higgins
Gidget
Bewitched
I Dream of Jeannie
The Flying Nun (Convent set)
The Monkees
Route 66
The Partridge Family – exteriors AND interiors (on soundstages at ranch)
Camp Runamuck
Here Come the Brides
The Wackiest Ship in the Army
Fantasy Island
Eight is Enough

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Columbia Ranch lagoon and berm seen in Gidget.

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Columbia Ranch Western Street seen in The Monkees.

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Home of Major Tony Nelson in I Dream of Jeannie.

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Home of The Partridge Family…a facade rebuilt following a backlot fire in 1970.

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The Ranch’s New York Street as seen in Bewitched.

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Columbia Ranch lagoon as seen in I Dream of Jeannie.

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Post-fire aerial view of the Columbia Ranch in 1970.

(Bullet points and photos courtesy of Retroweb.com)

Written by Donnie Norden
Edited by Donna Quesada

 

 

The Happiest Place on Earth

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The Happiest Place on Earth…It seems to be all of that.

It makes me wonder why MGM does not make a theme park out of their backlot. Debbie Reynolds is heavily lobbying for this to happen and I love her for that. There is still that chance, cross your fingers, Lot 2 can become a money making theme park.  Universal is doing very well with those pink and white trams in the San Fernando valley.

Jimmy and I climb on board this raft and head over to Tom Sawyers island

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We touch ground on this charted island…I have been called Tom Sawyer often, and I do have my own lake and jungle…mine is named after Tarzan!

We wonder over to the barrel bridge… to cross it…a dozen times. We climb up in the tower of the log fortress that overlooks the lake. Very real looking rifles point out towards the Indians reservation over yonder. We both agree this island may be the last spot we can… kill this doobie. It’s rolled up in my top pocket. Nowhere else will we be able to isolate ourselves.

Just as we are about to spark it, some dam kids climb up. Darn,… so we climb down and enter a cave close by… about half way through, we stop. We discovered a small cut out, since no one else is around, I fire it up… here.

It’s a bomber and we are determined to finish it. Needless to say, the smoke can only go two directions in this narrow tunnel. I realize two people are entering at one end, backlit by the light at the end of the tunnel. Their hats quickly catch my attention then next, their uniforms. These are not tourists as I had hoped…it is the U.S Calvary, in full uniform, complete with a swords on their hips. The only thing missing are their horses.

My instincts tell me to run…but my brain says…Your house is 40 miles away.

I am forced to capitulate to these officers… on Tom Sawyers’ island, no less!

The three men in blue laugh like this is their Cheech and Chong moment. Pot smoke was billowing out each end of my underground lair, like a joint that is lit on both ends.

Jimmy is released amazingly, since I had the joint in my hands. As I begin the long escorted trip out of here I think to myself…these guys don’t realize who they have here, this would be huge capture at MGM…. Oh well, I am going to make another security list.

First, we are get our own charter boat across the water, just me and the men in the fancy blue duds. What waits on the mainland is something else, photo ops. By the hundreds, people from all over this small world want a picture with these calvary gentlemen…and me. Cuffs are not being used in public display so, they hold me tight as we all say…cheese !

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Never in my life have I had more pictures taken of me than this moment!…I now know how Winnie the Pooh must feel.

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It gets worse…these characters show up, (above), creating more of a jammed crowd…

Finally, I turn to all the smiling faces, ranging from every walk of life, and say in my best English… “Backoff…I’m headed to jail you idiots, get out of the way, please”… click, click,…flash…click.

We arrive at Disneylands City Hall and I realize costumes are the key to security here. Two pirates, also security, sit across from each other at a table. One has a loud walkie talkie stuck on a police channel, the other has on…a sword and cuffs. He is also wearing a wire.

Clever!,… I think to myself… undercover Pirate police…whmmm…this is quite the police force…Swords seem the weapon of choice here!

A Tomorrowland land officer walks by dressed like Captain Kirk, he has a laser gun. Different weapons for different criminals…

You can’t trust anyone around here, it appears!

After my interrogation concludes…

Next, I am escorted to the main gate for my official release from the Magic Kingdom. But waiting for me, under the iconic Monorail track is a Anahiem police car. The door is open and I find out there is yet another leg to this journey I’m on today.

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I am quickly stuffed inside the backseat of this police car…just as the Prime Evil World train passes by-stuffed with passengers, staring my way, taking more pictures. Slowly…the Monorail glides quietly overhead…All parties salute!

Next thing you know, I am in jail…I have never been, so this is new. I was in prison, but that was to see my teachers boyfriend. I am told I will remain here until my parents can be reached, me being a minor, this is my new home!

Pick up the phone, anyone please… 

I have been just brought a cell mate who can bilinguliarly cuss…and does so for the next couple of hours. I can see the Matterhorn all lit up from my cell window. It’s dark outside now. I imagine Jimmy riding the bobsled, as we had planned.

Ernesto, is my friend and cellmate now, he is in here for robbing a pharmacy. I am in here for having a roach!

I spend more time with Ernesto today rather than with my pal Jimmy.

Fireworks begin, it’s that late. The show can be seen from my barred window surprisingly good, so there’s a positive…

A negative: I’m still here…”Hello, Please answer the phone!”

The Happiest Place on Earth… is closing.

Finally, I am told, my parents are on their way…Yipee!

As I greet them, we shortly all exit the jail together, as a family…Instead of anger, there is a dead silence. Just three car doors shutting, then the engine starts. I listen to the motor all the way home…no radio, no conversation,… just the purr of a new 1973 Caddy engine and it’s quiet ride...extremely quiet, tonight!

I can’t wait to see how Jimmy’s day went…we got some cathing up to do!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…