Phantom of the Backlots

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  1. Phantom of the Backlots

    Phantom of the Backlots

    Poppi TV Pilot... Hot Set! Hector Elizondo has been cast for the TV role of Poppi, based off a movie starring Alan Arkin. I found this out on a call sheet while saying Hello to my security guard friend, Ken Wood. It will be filmed on Brownstone Street, on lot 2. This location will be the featured spot in each episode's opening credits. That means that I have recently been able to watch the filming of several MGM TV shows, including Medical Center, Shaft, Hawkins, Adam's Rib, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, and now Poppi. Once again the guard shack works as a TV guide. Often now, we learn about things before they have been promoted or even in some cases, before they have even been filmed yet. This TV series will shoot its first scenes right smack in the middle of New York street. This show is the first thing shot on this location since Soylent Green, other than one Medical Center episode and a Lemon Up shampoo commmercial. Medical Center is the center cut of all these series, as many on this list will quickly fall by the wayside, never to be heard of again. Chad Everette is a hot potato and his role as a doctor is a spin off of Dr. Kildare. His show is a smash hit already. Contruction has begun two weeks prior, on Brownstone, preparing for the first day of shooting. A hardware store, a barbershop, a laundromat, and a liqour store all are being dressed as actual facilities. Across from this main set is a bakery that is packed with real goodies, along with fake rubber imposters. Shops above are same as below different decade... Actual mail boxes and news racks from Poppi, barber shop and barber pole below Law Office, above The series jingle that will open each episode will be shot against this NY backdrop. Poppi turns the corner to many kids, who are playing in water, which is being strewed from a hydrant. When they see Hector Elizondo, they run up to him, all wet, shouting "Poppi, Poppi" and then grab his hand, as he heads up his tenament stairway. This is how this day begins for us on the backlot. Four weeks later, this will be the opening sequence on all six episodes that make the air waves on Tuesday night primetime on CBS. Day one, a new MGM TV show. Another piece of MGM history... all the movie equipment, extras, and activity makes my blood rush... MGM and the backlot are alive and well. Today still being summer, I bring a handful of guys with me, and we sneak our way across the backlot. We get a front row seat for today's activities. I get to watch a fellow director do his thing. My three minute featureshot on the Desilu Western street screened to a packed garage of locals and was a smashing success. I want to thank everyone who helped capture the old west with me.... blah blah blah... Hal Needham, special thanks to you... You can throw me through a window anytime! Now it's my turn to learn from the pros and we could not have a better view, right down the street corner, two uninterrupted angles with the principal cast right below. Our view, above, looking down. Fire hydrant dead center, bottom of picture My group of cohorts and I sneak up a stairway and we're all in one building, upstairs, above the bakery. We can see the food displays inside, right through the floor boards. We remove a wood plank for a better view. The day quickly speeds by... for us anyway. The same scene is shot over and over and over, and we are stuck up here because MGM has a security guard on set and he is sitting close enough to see my troop, if we exit. We are bored. Their Panavision camera keeps getting reloaded as this scene apparently can't be shot enough times. Well, my group is very antsy. We are now fishing into the bakery below, with make-shift hooks from curtains attached to drape ropes from a nearby window. We have a large area upstairs to goof off in, but to exit, we must funnel down one stairway, that is blocked currently by a certain Garth Bluff, MGM's gentlemen officer, who has decided to take a nap. Every time we so much as think of sneaking by, he makes strange little snorts, so we're not sure if he's really asleep. Hungry, bored, and up for a challenge... we hook a big fish, not a guard: a bag of donuts. It gets reeled upstairs stealthily, and no one sees it pass upwards out of the bakery, and through a fabricated hole in the floor. This is has become the thing to do, as Poppi's TV show across the street, becomes a secondary item. The director in me wants to shout "CUT ALREADY" to this repetitive opening scene, across the way. Being a kid is the funnest option here. Next, we hook a bag of muffins. We only want fresh stuff, not stale, or worse.... rubber fakes. We are stuck up here, but this happens once in awhile in our trespassing lifestyle. Even during crew lunch, this area has security centered on this set. In fact, Carl, another guard, comes in and for a bit, we have two guards to outsmart. At 5:00, this day finally wraps, as the last reverse angle and overkilled scene is done. The set is dressed and is considered Hot. That means it can't touched by anybody. It will need a night watchman. So, a guard will sit on it all night and a second one will patrol the rest of the backlot. I have seen this act before and we need to make hay as the sun sets... Security guard Carl follows the last crew member to the main gate, so he can lock this backlot up. He leaves and is gone for about five minutes, as this **** takes place. The HOT SET just got hotter... as we finally climb down after 8 hours, surviving on donuts and muffins. We had a bag of danishes that ripped and fell back inside the bakery while fishing, earlier. Well now, we are inside this bakery as security vanished, and we are picking up fresh sweets... The rest of my gang is grabbing props. I roll a wagon from the hardware store and load it with bakery items and this takes about three minutes. Jimmy and I work together on this. We casually pull our red flyer wagon down New York Street's 5th avenue, as we head towards the Boystown fort. We wanted to be the first to leave this area. Set watch is just returning to this Hot Set. Guys are walking with rakes, shovels, and even the barber's pole that was spinning below us all day. Red wagon full of goodies passed down this street when security came back...Below, we are at this end of NY street as all hell breaks loose at the Brownstones on the opposite end. This set is in chaos as Carl reappears. Kids are still on Brownstone grabbing stuff, as shouting takes place. Security is terriblyout manned! Jimmy and I are far from the epi center as we carry the wagon over a footbridge at the lake and then cross over into Boystown where we bring the groceries upstairs. Chases are taking place all over NY street like the Laugh In skits. Everyone gets away and security has some explaining to do...I'd imagine... The Bronco arrives with the big blonde specialist behind the wheel, racing around chasing ghosts...ghost busting...we eat with entertainment taking place all around us. A security fire drill of sorts is taking place...Jimmy and I pig out in our fort of forts with frosting all over our faces..."there goes Pat and Berry," running by, as I point over to Small Town square. Jimmy and I bust up as we eat the evidence... This is the funnest place in the world I think to myself, as we stuff pink Snoballs down the hatch... This show was cancelled soon after the six episodes...
  2. Phantom of the Backlots

    Phantom of the Backlots

    Airplane Room Party As the clock strikes midnight, me and my mob exit this old train, single file onto its loading platform, under a crescent shaped moon. Two owls follow our every move. The first stop on this journey tonight is the depot itself, huge by any standard. It gives everyone a chance to see what's inside this facade. Inside is a false ticket window, with a giant clock above. Let's just say I really haven't begun the tour yet. But everyone OOOHS and AAAHS, and I can tell already, that tonight is going to be different than most. As we step out of this cavernous building, we see Maureen's new residence. How perfect... it couldn't be better placed. This can work well for us, as her bedroom is conveniently overlooking the studio... peeking right over the fence, back at us. This is one swanky, fancy apartment, strategically placed with a movie studio view. I am fortunate to have such an oasis so divinely placed, to go with all my forts. It's midnight at the oasis... send your camel to bed. Bottom window, left, is Maureen's bedroom window. Just her, her mom, and her pet Goldfish. Things keep getting better. Everyone walks close to me, as I highlight each path we take, with bits of MGM history. We pass through Piccadilly square, complete with old red phone booths. "Romeo and Juliet was filmed across the way, as was many Combats"... as I point. I am now cruising in the middle of the night with people I barely know, and some smell really nice. It is going well. No Bronco....yet, anyways. Mind you, being on the backlot at night is like being in a foreign country. Signs are barely visible and usually not in English. If it's your first visit, you have no clue where you are at. Behind this square you can make out the Great Wall silhouette, with a shanty Chinese street in front. Part of my crowd wanders on their own, to an igloo, completely out of place by the Great Wall. It is as if they have never seen one before. "There's better stuff than this... lets keep going." We continue on into German village as my group stops on a cobblestone street, center of town, just below the church. My guests have never traveled so far, so quickly. Like a time machine... We cut through small town square, methodically. I recommend that they do not wander away, as I am not entirely sold that we are alone. We make it to New York Street, particularly, 5th avenue. The sight of all the great MGM musicals. It is enormous, long, and empty. This place trips me out, as it is doing to my group of 16... The path walked this night... I did a head count... names I will remember, some other time. Six are girls. We walk down the center of Manhattan, looking up at these five story buildings. We have been spotted. The owls are tracking us, as they fly from catwalk to catwalk that surround New York City. I lead them to a wooden front door that appears very official, and on it is a big sign that says: Public Library. "That sign was put up for Soylent Green," I tell the guests. Everyone reacts as if they have seen it at the theaters... good for MGM. I tell them what it was like to be here... "You see the scoops dumping people in trash trucks and Charlton Heston being hunted by Chuck Connors in a chase that starts right where your standing!" I own this crowd, like a teacher in a class room. I point out this exact doorway and its steps, which lead up to where we are. The Blackboard Jungle—starring Glen Ford, Sidney Poitier, and last but not least, my idol, Sgt Saunders—uses this exact same angle. This is a very troubled Public high school. I will be in the same school next year, with these folks. My group is congregated very similiarly... we are in the exact, same area, where groups of school kids gather, in that 1955 Richard Brooks classic. This building's backside exits to a large steel hangar used to store large, valuable props such as airplanes... real airplanes. There is A hole in the wall, which we of course, made, to go inside this locked building. We leaned a wall against it, to hide its existence. Walls are easy to find here; it is where they are stored, along with stairways and fireplaces, just waiting to be reused, like socks. Airplane hangar prop storage center picture. Well, 16 people follow me inside, one at a time, by squeezing through this long, narrow passage. It is extra dark inside. Only skylights allow what little moonlight we have, to come inside. Large aircraft stand out, as your eyes focus and adjust. These planes are separated in sections allowing the camera and equipment room to set up. We have two jet cockpits, completely real. Fuselages are behind the **** pits, separated by just 10 feet of air, behind the pilots' chambers. I point out that these were used in Twilight Zone, the one with William Shatner, where he sees a monster outside his window. Also, the episode where the plane goes back in time. My audience must feel like they landed in the Twilight Zone. They should... my favorite prop inside here, is the Time Machine, from the episode titled Execution. I lift the plexiglass door upwards and step inside this capsule... Time Machine above... It sits on a platform that has wheels, so it easily moves. Everyone is intoxicated, literally and figuratively, as couples make thereselves at home in first class. Plush reclining seats make for comfort, in what is a jumbo jet's first class seating. A winding stairway next to the stewardess' food prep area takes you above this compartment. At this point, people are everywhere in this hangar, and music is playing on someone's little boom box. The party we left in the crest is now in full force in this large pleasure hangar. Couples are making out in first class. I pass through, like the captain just looking forward, as I climb into the cockpit. Hell, someone has to fly this thing. Tim follows me inside, and sits copilot alongside me. As I pull the levers back and forth, and pretend to fly, I am already high. Tim lights up a joint, one of several being torched right now, inside this hangar of ill repute. Tim also unfolds a paper as I stare ahead, occasionally looking at him, on my right. I'm in my moment... But, Tim's moment is about getting high, in a different way. Cocaine is offered to the captain. I have never seen any, yet now, I have it right next to me. I decline, but I watch him snort some lines on my instrument control panel. He says, "get used to it... at Culver High school, it's very popular." I think, what kind of school am I headed to anyway... Everyone's higher than a kite, and we haven't even left the ground... I turn the controls over to Tim; at least he won't fall asleep. I climb down and check out what's going on around here. Since last time I was inside this facility, a lot more stuff has been stored. The Marx Brothers have pictures of themselves on a large foam backing. You really can't have a party without them, so there's that. A golf cart with a football helmet mounted on top, like at football games, is inside here. That wasn't here before. It has a key. This is a score. I want to get chased by the Bronco in this bad **** rig, I'm thinking. I can't get it out of here with the sliding doors locked. Shoot... Well, I figure out forward/reverse and I step on the gas, and I am now driving a football helmet; not just any, but... the Dallas Cowboys' helmet, with the big star logo on its sides. Everyone is tripping out, as I drive in circles back and forth, then pull up to the Time Machine. Inside, a smoke filled game is going on. People are getting high insde, as the smoke is captured in this tiny sealed unit. You get high, whether you light up, or not. I stare inside the smoke dome from my seat in the mobil helmet. I see a girl inside, barely visible through the haze... stripping. Wow, I have seen this capsule many times in reruns of this show, but never quite like this. A stripper capsule, sending strippers back and forth through time. If Rod Serling could see this prop now! Over yonder, a space capsule on a wood platform is shaking like it wants to blast off, I can only imagine what's going on inside. There is so much noise we can probably be heard outside, on Overland. The public street that sits just outside, a hundred yards away. Where is MGM's specialist guard when you need him... he must be home resting. Remember this, you big behemoth: Crime Never Sleeps. If you're keeping score: Donnie 4... George minus 1 "Space Oddity," by Bowie, magically plays on the radio, as people take turns inside all the fun things, like an adult amusement park. I'm glad Maureen didn't stick around for this... The captain calls WRAP at about 2:30 am. Welcome to Hollywood, drive safely. I think I'm a hit in my new school and haven't been to one class yet! Pictured below, is Fernald on the left, a Fireman, who has been at MGM forever. Beside him, on the cart that says "Fire Dept." is Big George, the specialist just hired to hunt me down. Above and below: Cockpit in its later years, on its last flight... Above.... Where this green fence makes a right turn, is where this night began, climbing the barb wire pole. That green fence is the old one. We had a sharp metal fence to deal with...
  3. Phantom of the Backlots

    Phantom of the Backlots

    Disorderly Conduct A letter from St. Augustine has been mailed to my parents. Its states: Your son will no longer will be accepted in this school. Please find an alternate 8th grade elsewhere. So, I have been paroled with a year chopped off my Catholic prison sentence. Multiple examples of problems include... First and most concerning: When I jeopardized a fellow student's safety by attaching him, by his belt, to the flag pole rope, and then proceeding to string him all the way up to the top. Like a flag. Next and quite amazingly, is that the nuns have seen me jumping out of MGM and say I am corrupting fellow students. Apparently, I'm teaching them how to break the law. Finally, I'm not an altar boy. Unfortunately, it always conflicted with pro-football on Sunday morning TV. Three strikes...I'm out. They say they've seen me jumping out of MGM. I think it was merely heresay... rumors on the schoolyard... I guess that oversized late 60's stationwagon doubles as a patrol car. Under cover sisters. What happened to simpler times when nuns were like Sally Field and just sang songs all day, like in the Flying Nun... Well, I'll be a horse's ****. My normal conduct is intolerable to the archdiocese. I'm expelled! Terrific! I can't wait to tell my friends I'm going to public school. Culver Middle School will be where I continue to develop my skills. Maureen, Jimmy, and Danny, also attend this school. Pat's family also received this letter. He calls me to tell me his parents are upset and he must go to Loyola. Sad... first it's all boys. And second, there is a fence around that school 20 feet high. If you need a fence that high, bad things must take place inside. Culver will be a country club for me, while poor Pat will be in maximum security prison. I have gotten word of a public school party, set for Friday night in the elite Culver Crest neighborhood. Maureen and Danny want to go and I will have an opportunity to make new friends, so I can't wait for this night to begin. A band is playing as we walk into the backyard of a splendid home that has views of the ocean. The band's name is Monkey Chow. People are drinking and smoking as this is now becoming the norm, everywhere I go. Around 11 pm, Culver City police shut this highly attended party down. As everyone rapidly moves towards their rides, I mention to the crowd that we could all go to MGM and I will take you on an adventure. The response is huge, as I head for the gate, "follow us!" I hop in Danny's tricked out Pinto with Maureen sitting shot gun. A caravan of cool cars now follows us down Overland Avenue like a parade. We all end up as close as we can to the now famous train station entrance that we use the most. Maureen has moved from Huron to Elenda, which is where I'm parking all the partyers' cars. We take up the entire street, like a film crew base camp. Her new apartment overlooks MGM, behind the train station. Like a fort, with utilities. She can see the backside of Mexican Village, China Street, with its castle, and the German village church that we spent the 4th of July in. She lives with her mom and obeys her curfew, as she says goodbye to this traveling party. I can't wait to be able to drive, as I walk past a van full of stoned out, soon to be trespassers. I wouldn't be surprised to see Cheech and Chong pop out of the back. I dig the surf racks on its roof. A Karmann Ghia is in front of the van. A Plymouth Duster and a Corsair precede these, as this simple quiet street is invaded by a traveling circus. What will my first car be? My sister, Nancy, who is ten years older, has a 67 GTO. Well, it's time to climb, as we congregate at the barb wire pole for a safety meeting. I demonstrate proper techniques to safely climb barb wire and add a disclaimer, "If I run... you should, too." I know none of these people by name, except Tim Gray. He is a bit actor who works out of Central Casting. He graduated from St. Augustines and goes to Culver high. I assist a female, wearing a dress, up and over this sharp fence. It takes a hands-on effort, as I touch women in places I have never touched before. Just doing my job. She makes it safely, as I follow her and her invisible plume of perfume, over and into the backlot. I hope the scent doesn't give us away. Like a skunk. The rest follow, as we wait. I'm a bit nervous, only because everyone is kicking the fence as they attempt to climb. It is pretty loud, but finally, we are all on the adventure side... We go inside a Pullman train and let our eyes adjust to the darkness. MGM's owls have realized we are here. One sits atop the cross that sits above the church, staring down at us, hooting loudly. I'm thinking and plotting, as my group sits in anticipation of their tour through LaLa Land. I interrupt their daydreaming and tell them we should give this a few minutes... "so get comfortable on board this train and relax." I need to make sure we don't get trapped. It was kinda loud entering... A joint gets sparked up and makes its way down the train isle, to each customer. Like a train ticket getting punched. It calms the nervousness we all have. "I know this place inside and out. You can not have a better tour guide," I say, patting myself on the back. I think, I'm safe if anything goes wrong, they will almost all get caught, most likely. No risk... No reward. I take a hit off the party joint... MGM will need to add a paddy wagon to its fleet, for this haul, I laugh to myself. The clock strikes 12 Midnight... To be continued... Airplane Room Party.
  4. Phantom of the Backlots

    Phantom of the Backlots

    9AM Call Time I expect a long day. We need to get five scenes done today... all action. The last shot can't even begin before 4pm. That is when a guard comes on for nightime set watch. Pat, Danny and I ride together. All three of us are wearing cowboy hats and boots. We have Daisy rifles, bungee corded to the cross bar of our 10 speeds. We look like The Wild Bunch. We stop at the cantina fort briefly, on our way to the saloon, where we run into two carpenters. They are smoking a joint when we walk in on them. It's only 8:45AM. They have tool belts on. After surprised looks all around, I was handed the joint with a question, "What train did you boys ride in on?" Do we not look cool in our cowboy boots, hats and pendletons? I'm puzzled, but go along with the ruse... "I never smoked a joint with guys wearing tool belts before..." I laugh back. "Real men wear holsters, like me," I shoot back. Then I pull out my loaded cap gun and fire off six rounds, up into the air. That gains me some respect. "Try that with your claw hammer." My new friends' names are Tom and Chuck, both carpenters. Chuck, ironically, looks exactly like Charles Manson. He is strangley quiet, and pretty high for 9AM. So much so, I want him in my movie. Damn strait! They mention they are building an entire southwest village over yonder. Their show, starring Warren Beatty, will be here several months. So they got Beatty, I think to myself, impressed. I look over my rag tag troupe, it's all I can afford! Just the way producers must think, is all. We're competitive. "Mike Nichols is the director," he continues... I think briefly... I wear multiple hats, when directing... it's my Dodger cap. If weapons are used, I switch to a army helmet, usually, from Combat. Today, a cowboy hat will be in order. My simple response is, "impressive... feel free to party." Now that we're passing joints back and forth, I feel comfortable enough to ask my new pals if they can fix the ladder that goes up to the roof... "since it's very old and rickety." We need every escape route we can get... They laugh as we depart separate ways. Well, bad news. Maureen politely turned me down. She insists that westerns went out of style years ago, but I had to remind her, we just saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and loved it. She is still sweet enough to give me an autographed 8" by 10" for future-better parts. You never burn bridges in Hollywood... This is her quote: "This movie is just a bunch of boys cocking and aiming their guns... just blasting away, is all... No plot, No cares, No thanks!" It's much more than that, silly girl. We have a card game gone bad, a saloon fight, one shootout, one draw, a hanging, and a chase by the lot sheriff... And I am not talking Andy Griffith. That last scene was confirmed by Tom. He said that when the crew leaves at 4pm, one guard will be on duty. Little does that guard know, what fire he is jumping into... at exactly 1600 hours. We will capture this day on film for eternity... Barry is my camera man. He brings this beauty to the set to capture what will take place today. "We have three minutes of film, Barry warns me. Panavision, but at a value. He also brought a pair of walkie talkies. Very handy. We go upstairs and eat breakfast. I bought donuts from a nearby Winchell's on the way to the studio. That purchase went like this... We walk inside the donut shop in our hats and boots and stand next to two Culver City officers, also wearing hats and boots. I give a half-assed, sideways glance. We knew they were inside, so we parked our weapon-laden, tricked out bikes away from their tricked out black and whites with shot guns. "I'll take a variety dozen, throw in some jelly ones." ... Please. I glance again at the lawmen as they sip their coffee, peering back at me. "Have a good day," I smile to everyone present and tip my hat.We ride on out towards the warm sun. I also brought little boxes of Kelloggs cereal for the crew to munch on, along with bananas. We drink water out of faucets located everywhere on the lot. Frosted Flakes, donuts, and away we go... It's 9:30, "Lets get that first shot!" And I rally my men. First scene: Danny tosses Pat out the saloon's swinging doors, as camera faces inward from street. ACTION!... Pat comes flying out the swinging doors, backwards, and falls into the dusty street. Jerry is scraping dust up with cardboard and tossing it in the wind for that dirty old west feel. Nice touch. Then Jerry rolls a tumble weed over Pat as he lays there motionless... Danny walks out all handsome and calmly says, "You were cheating... You better not come back inside or we'll shoot ya next time." We can't record sound, so we emphasize with gestures and slow lip reading delivery... CUT! I kick the dirt and adjust my hat, as I replay this scene in my mind... not bad at all. I flashback to Chuck Connors in Ride Beyond Vengeance. He fought at this exact spot, in 1967. Second scene... New set up. Middle street. Load the cap guns... Danny is challenging Pat to a draw. I want camera to be looking length-wise down the street, for a feeling of distance and lonliness. I confer with my camera man. Cap guns loaded. Okay, FIRE ON THE SET! Wait for your cues. "Wait... traffic coming," a crew-cab, stake-bed truck is headed right towards us. The driver and its occupants all wave to us, as we smile and wave back. We fit like a nice pair of leather gloves around here. "Well, Jerry..." I say, "take a walkie talkie and stand in front of the saloon... hold any traffic, please." "Danny, I need you to take 10 steps, turn and fire from the hip, keep your torso low," I direct. "Pat, after your 10 steps, fall backwards, like you did so well, on the last scene, like you got shot in the belly." Pat quips "Why can't he die this time?"... "Because HE is my good looking star" I quip back. "Bobby Sherman politely declined my offer." "Hold traffic, Jerry!" Pat and Danny line up, back to back ... "Barry, roll film..." ACTION... The boys walk off and fire after 10 steps... Pop, Pop, Pop. Pat lays wounded, agonizing, slightiy rolling, as Danny stands over him gloating... "I'm the fastest gun in the west..." Danny ad libs. I remind him that there is no sound but I like his spunk! I feel like Hal Needham directing Burt Reynolds... CUT... Next set up, the hanging tree. Jerry orders a pizza as Pat hangs a noose from one of two trees, center of town. Jerry is a jack of all trickey trades. We prep and rehearse under the tree as we are told... "Pizza guy on way." Hangman, Hangman, wait a little while, I think I see my friend coming, riding many miles... he didn't bring no silver, or even gold... what did you bring me my brother, to keep me from the Gallows pole? (Pizza, hot and fresh, with a ice cold 6 pack of coke... that's what!) I call lunch,as I pay my Pal, Jesus, the delivery guy. He said he wasn't sure which set called for free delivery... Yep, it's nice when my movie is confused with a Warren Beatty feature. Theirrolling phone must have Chris's pizza stenciled on it, also. I grab a hot slice and a cold can and head to my trailer, which has a hay bed. Okay... its a barn. "Trailer" just sounds better. I lay staring at the barn ceiling above me, with sunlight shining inside, with various patterns. I go over our film in my mind, front and back... casting was harder than expected, females did not want to touch it... It smells like horses in here. I shut my eyes, Ikeep thinking of Maureen, and I don't know why. I have a film to direct, so no time for that. We're back... Each crew member has crashed somewhere around this town, in chairs, in cots, on rugs, etc. They all look like the derelicts, as everyone slowly returns to the Hangman's Knott. "Sympathy for the Devil" can be heard playing loudly at the set being built just over yonder. We are all rolling stones around this lot. "Pat... get up on that ladder!" (We found an old, wooden A-frame). "Look dead... You play it really swell, by the way," I snicker. "Slowly turn your head, like your corpse dangling in the wind, keep it downward." "Jerry, create more background dust," I yell, at special effects... "How does it look in the view finder, Barry?" "Looks great..." he nods approvingly. CUT. Next set up... It's a shootout, at the saloon. Danny inside, looking out at the street. Pat approaches with a rifle. Not just any rifle... a DAISY. Rapid fire, bolt action... shoots as fast as you can **** it. I pour a can of 3 in 1 oil down the barrel, that creates smoke when fired. I will need to hold traffic for this violent scene. Jerry walks to the intersection between these two movie sets with his walkie... Barry and his camera are outside, just behind Pat, as he walks the wood planks in front of this Happiness saloon... Pat, make eye contact, as Danny flips him the bird from inside. Pat has had enough agony today and now can now release all his tension... As Danny stands with his finger exteneded upwards inside, Pat steps sideways on to the dirt street and opens fire, rapidly cocking and firing, just like Chuck Connors. There's that name again... this shot is similar to the opening credits in the Rifleman. I saw him shooting at Charlton Heston most recentlyon the Soylent Green set. That man likes to shoot and I love him for it. Glass is shattering as fast as Pat pulls the trigger. Danny ducks for cover... CUT. We all applaud. Great shot, fellas, I'm thrilled with that scene. I can't wait to see the daily's. B.B. guns and backlots work great together... this will become a frequent hobby on both backlots, very, very soon. The Martini shotis all the filming we have left to do. We cut it close, but have 40 seconds, more or less, of film left in the view finder. This is aone take money shot... scheduled at 1600 hundred hours, or when security sets itself up for the night. We waste no-time preparing this one shot opportunity. The camera needs to see a wide angle, so I position Barry on a grassy knoll that oversees both movie sets. He will have a walkie with him and will just pan the camera, filming the chase sequence from up top the grassy knoll. Being that we will all have to leave town immediatly, I instruct Jerry to strike our set of props, safe up the saloon stairway by blocking the path upwards to the office. Most importantly, have the get away vehicles (bikes) ready to roll, and facing in the direction towards home. Barry and I will need our bikes hidden in the big main drainage pipe that feeds the creek, which faces the Culver Fire training facility. Neither of us should have to run, if all goes well. We can exit the studio calmly, like David O' Selznick. That leaves just Pat and Danny to act this scene out. Perfect, the're both crazy. I can look down from a higher vantage point and cordinate this Gone With the Wind type final scene. The running of Atlanta. Exactly in the same area as that climactic scene was captured. We are ready as the clock ticks... 4pm. Workers, including Tom and Charlie Manson, pull away in their personal vehicles. The studio stake bed work truck sits, parked by the mill, where all the saws and wood are located. How does Charlie boy spends his nights, anyway?... There is a tension, a nervousness, in the air. We can only hope this comes off as planned. Jerry has the other walkie. We need to know when we are set for escape. Barry will work from my visual commands. We only have a half minute of film, don't forget... I run down to my actors when I notice Danny has a rifle. "What if he pulls his weapon when he sees you with this rifle?" Then, I think for a minute and change my mind... "Actually, go with it Hancock, I love it!" "He would probably shoot Pat, anyway." Danny and I laugh, as Pat gives a sour glare. "That only happens at MGM," he spits back. I go back to camera and check with Jerry on Barry's radio..."is the getaway ready?" "All good here," he responds, "and guess what?... The Cantina fort has a new ladder going up to the roof." Thanks Charlie and Tom, you can never have too many carpenters as friends around here, I think proudly... I didn't even need a charge number. "(A) Camera... be ready, start filming right as they shout their lines." I run down to do last checkwith talent... "Be ready to deliver your lines when I twirl my right arm up. I have a visual on all this. Security is at the saw mill... start getting closer, so when I queue you, he sees you, and starts his pursuit." Places and... ACTION "Hey stupid, we're over here," Danny and Pat yell thatand even more choice adjectives. Nice, the sheriff is **** and in a full speed pursuit. I'm safely hidden. This chase is mine to enjoy. I tell myself... this is better than Deliverance and Billy Jack combined. That's a wrap! As everyone disappears through different doorways to their waiting bicycles... The film is in the can. That's all Folks!
  5. Phantom of the Backlots

    Phantom of the Backlots

    Lemons with a Twist This new specialist that MGM hired, just to get me is disturbing. Life on the Backlots has been progressing just swimmingly up until now. A large speed bump is now in place. But, I have more experience than him, on the MGM backlot, and I know every building and bush, intimately. Advantage Donnie, but due dilligence is still needed to find dirt on this specialist guy, named George. Jimmy and I begin our detective work on this matter, the very next day. We begin by canvasing the neighborhood in which he lives. Gertrude, the old lady who lives next door to him, is out watering her yard. I politely ask "Hi, do you know George next door?" Above: George's house, a block away from mine, and the MGM backlot. Gertrude responds, "Sure, I watched him grow up... how do you know him?" I respond, "I ran into him at MGM. He is a security guard." "Oh he is"... (short pause). "He always wanted to be a cop... he tried for Culver City P.D., but he was too large to fit in the police cruisers," she giggles. I like Gertrude already... She continues, "Well, MGM got him a big, old jeep to drive around in, so he can pretend to be a cop," as we both laugh. "He never had many friends... kinda a loner"..."Yep, I snap. "Now he's the Lone Ranger at MGM... he traded his white pony for a red Bronco!" "Does he still live here at home?" I keep rattling on... "Sure does, that's his van over there," as she points. "Cool, I will visit with him later!" thanks Gertrude. I ponder...He could be looking at me right now, as I gather info. Yet, he has no idea about my name, appearance, or address. He still thinks my name is John... like that Dillinger guy. He can't even get first names right... Score Donnie: 3, George: minus 1. MGM now has two guards, Ron and George, that are big enough to play on the LA Rams Fearsome Foursom. Okay, this was a coup of info. Now we know his vehicle and when he is home... or at work. Next, I need to watch his tactics while on duty. Backlot homework is required. He is on the night shift, so I will observe him from the highest vantage points the lot has to offer. The German village church, offers tremendous views, all easy to get to. And a man his size cannot squeeze up this climb to the top of the belfry. What we see patrolling is one gung ho dude. Drives with lights off, speeds around, gets out and walks into buildings. Very disconcerting to James and I. I take precautions on the lot now... less wandering, and more hiding. We have a network of peep holes in the fence surrounding the lot... many we struck ourselves. Strategically placed to observe the backlot safely, from the outside, looking in. These knot holes have never been so handy. Late last evening, I was patrolling... looking for him. I peered through a hole that looks down Brownstone street, which is part of New York street. I arrive just in time to see the Bronco, lights off, rolling slowly down this slum. When the Bronco comes to a stop, the Jeep is staring at me but the occupant has no clue I'm watching him through a tiny hole. I am not sure it's George until the door opens. Oops... make that both car doors open. A big silhouette exits the driver side on this pitch dark street. And a short, stocky figure exits the passenger side. It's Bronco Bob himself. I can hear them talk, as they turn on their flashlights and raid a New York warehouse. The garage they are inside of was used in SAINT VALENTINE"S DAY MASSACRE. This is where the bloody carnage took place in that 1967 Roger Corman classic. Above: The tall buiding on the left side, is the set I am describing, as viewed from the crew parking lot. Peep holes exist all over these fences Also, Laurel and Hardy filmed many scenes on that exact spot - the same one they're now securing. In Air Raid Wardens, a dump truck dropped a load of dirt on Oliver Hardy, right where the Bronco sits. These two unlikey looking figures look just like those legendary stars. The size difference is even more ridiculous with these two goofballs. Beams of light shoot out erratically through the many orfices this five story building has to offer. George's partner tonight, is the most hated guard on the force... and he's Pat's shooter! Maybe Bob is training him in... firearms. MGM teamed these two up, oh ****, I think... Yipes, I need to tell Jimmy. Now! The lot is a bit unsafe. Random security raids, dual guards that carry guns and big flashlights. The bar has been raised around here in an effort to capture Public Enemy# 1. Jimmy and I now routinely patrol one side of the fenced propery as these two patrol the other side. Tonight we roll up on every hole we've got... peeking in, when I suddenly notice a large figure on top of a second story stairway, completely within view and unprotected, by walls or cover. He is looking out the opposite way, overlooking the lot, and is completely oblivious that we see him. I point upwards at him, and we take a good look at MGM's specialist. Above: This is our side of the fence this evening, stairway just out of view, to the right. I signal to Jimmy let's go,as we sneak away to briefly discuss this unprecedented opportunity. We are on the legal side. He does not see us. He makes a tempting target. We don't have BB guns with us, but a lemon tree posesnext to this pow wowwe are now having. "Well, these will have to do," I say. We start picking these yellow fruit projectiles. As fast as we can, we stuff these hard yellow balls in our now bulging pockets. Lastly, I pick two very rotten ones off the ground... just to make a mess of the target. These two will be launched first. Jimmy loads up, also. Game time—We leave our bikes next to the lemon tree and walk out of view, back to our target. He is still there. Twenty feet away. We both are extremely good at throwing. Jimmy is a little league baseball star. I'm a qaurterback in a Catholic prison. We position ourselves, and we communicate with our eyes. With a nod of my head and a wink of the eye, we open fire! Bulls eye! First shot is money, rottenmoney, and the first sound is a double splat. The gushy lemons are direct hits. George looks down at the villain he is being paid to apprehend. Like a deer in the headlights... Frantically, as we continue to fire away, sounds change, as the harder lemons are tossed. There is a "clunk" sound when you miss and hit wood. But a "thump," followed by a grunt means a strike of flesh. He ducks for cover but this roof offers none. He must go back down the stairway he came up on. We are now throwing the hardest lemons of the batch, and I put mustard on these babys!... We pelt this large, blonde, behemoth to no end. He continues to take a beating, as he almost tumbles down the stairs. Like Bull Fight coming to its inevitable ending. What fun we have. Well, we had to meet this specialist, sooner or later. You just got a taste of what you signed up for, George... Sorry if it was a bit sour! Put a badge on the guy below and this picture sequence comes to life... as things went down that night! This last picture is where George first tried to hide before realizing he better move... If you are keeping score Donnie: four. George: minus one...
  6. Phantom of the Backlots

    Phantom of the Backlots

    Hole in the Wall... Casting Office The production office we have created at Desilu's saloon is must see TV. Its location, dead center of an old Hollywood Ghost Town, just reeks of history. Both past and present. Desi Arnaz would be proud of this upstart company, built on his old property. He is just one of many huge movie stars that have frequented this iconic watering hole. It's Friday night and word has spread around town about entry level film opportunities. Apply in person inside the saloon at Desilu studios! Operators are standing by to assist you... (that would be me... of course). I'm getting a lot of calls at my Huron home from many interested parties coming out of the wood work, so to speak, wanting to see our "production facility." I oblige... In one mass swoop, I invite the whole mob, Catholic school and Public school, to an event, tonight. Invitations only need show up... Names include Barry and Jerry Sullivan, Pat Rich, Danny Hancock, who is my next door neighbor and also the drummer in a rock and roll band. Jimmy and Gerald fill out this troupe. Gerald is affectionately nicknamed Little-****. A name coined by MGM's Bronco Bob in one of his many run-ins with the shortest guy in my neighborhood. Ironically, Bronco Bob is the shortest security guard on the MGM force and it is quite a picture to see these two yell at each other, back and forth through a fence. It is really fun to watch those two go at it. Tonight, we will all meet up at the saloon, around night fall. Danny wants to shop for alcohol before we ride across town. That means ask a pigeon to buy it for us. More to the point, scan the parking lot for the coolest looking person, then ask them if they will purchase alcohol for us, for a couple extra bucks. Rejection is par for the course. Like catching a fish. I watch Danny, as he works the 7/11 parking lot. He gets a bite, and a paper bag exchangeis made. I take mental notes about how this alcohol stunt is done. We open the bag in my backyard. Ronrico Bacardi 151 proof, and Jack Daniels 80 proof. I ask Danny what these numbers mean and his reply is that the higher the number, the higher you get... Makes sense, I suppose. We triple brown bag it before we leave my house, so that these bottles don't fall out. My Mom is at church, playing Bingo. My Dad is at work, driving the Big Blue Bus, along the beach, in Venice. I'm just a free bird. Pat and the Sullivan boys are already upstairs at the saloon. A posse consisting of Jimmy, Danny and "The Sundance kid" (yours truly), ride into town together on bicycles, as the sun sets in the old west. It turns out the Catholic boys have been dialing away, on the studio hot line, all over the USA... for over an hour already. Yes, long distance is included in this package. Everyone is excited. I elevate my voice to take command of my troupe: "you can't have a World Head Quarters with out long distance... what did you expect?... First class all the way!" While I'm talking, Danny is ripping open the paper bags with the whiskey and rum. The Sullivans also brought alcohol, Old Engish 800... tall cans, of course... Two of them sit open on top of our wooden whiskey drums. Figures... those British blokes! Blimy... I check to see if the main gate is open, but all employees, it appears, have started their weekend. No pizza can be delivered through this gate tonight, unless we meet the delivery man outside the main gate on Ince or better yet, just have him slip it under the main gate fence. I'm covering all my bases, as a producer and director must. Before we get louder, I take a walk to make sure security is not sitting at the rolling tool shed and lumber pile that sits where Stalag 13 once did. A sheriff would probably hear this large mob. I gotta stay two steps ahead at all times. We might be falling into a trap. But, all seems clear. All clear here... the lot is ours... let the casting begin.I return to the office and smell a strong aroma of pot, filling the air. Older guys party hard, I observe. This is what it's like to make a movie in Hollywood, I guess... lots of smoking, and drinking, and shouting and laughing. Like a poker game. I puff on my first joint ever and randomly spin the my rotary phone dial. I dial area codes to who knows where. Like a pot luck... pardon the pun. A woman picks up on the other end. "Hello?" I identify myself as a casting agent at a major Hollywood studio. "We are currently casting for a female actress to co star in an upcoming feature to be filmed here in Hollywood." I ask her name as she stays on the line..."Lisa," she cordially replies, as all my drunken cohorts pull their chairs in closer to try to get a listen in... "well Lisa, my pleasure to speak to you this evening, what city would you be located in?" "New York City," she answers. Bingo! The big apple, I think a million thoughts...yet, I stay cool, calm, and collected. "Well, can you describe yourself a bit?" Before letting her speak, I mention we are looking for a woman in her twenties... with a curved figure... medium to large breasts... The part being casted is for a wench, set in the old west. We're trying not to let our laughter escape. Click. Dial tone. She hung up. Cross her off the list. "Your turn, Gerald," as I roll the phone his way. This repeats itself, for hours on end. My turn again. I get a female on the line. I start the spiel about a Hollywood film with an open casting call and quickly get interrupted by a raspy voice, "Don't ya think it's a little late to be calling about a movie extra part? ... You sound like a drunk teenager..." she continues to blast me. I snap back... "It's never to late to find talent... this is a 24/7 business!" And with a flimsy "goodnight," I quickly slam the phone back on its cradle, as my friends bust a nut. My friends all chime in, "what did she say to you?" I am flustered and simply retort... "I could tell I can't work with her type." I am bewildered... how did this happen... it was as if she could see me... she chopped me up like a Samurai. I follow this conversation, by taking my biggest swig yet, of the Jack Daniels in front of me. One crazy conversation after another. Pot smoke, along with cigerettes, fills the air. We have a tiny candle on top of the whiskey barrel that dimly illuminates our **** faced expressions, along with the cloud of smoke that hovers above. My older, lightweight friends start passing out, one by one, and the cots fill up quickly. Luckily, there are plenty more down stairs. My buzz is mostly adrenaline. I sit in amazement, trippin out on what we have accomplished, so far. This is always how I pictured Hollywood movies being made. I take a couple of swigs out of the whiskey bottle, as it passes in front of me and quickly follow each one with a 7-up chaser. Now, I realize why we brought these green cans. 7-up works with whiskey. Coke works with rum. I am taking a crash course on growing up tonight. Barbara is on the phone in Chicago and is very interested in this role. I identify myself once again as a casting agent for Hole in the Wall Productions, based in Hollywood and ask her directly, "do you have the look of a wench? Specifically... a curved body with big breasts?" She says, "Yes, I do... I am an exotic dancer at the Playboy Club here in Chicago." With each sip, I get more bold and brazen. "Bingo," I quietly shout... as my crew drools. She asks if airfare is included to Los Angeles." I reply, "if you are hired, we will reimburse all the airfare. " She continues bartering the airfare, and expects a hotel... she wants in, but... we can't agree to terms. I barely have pizza money. I can only imagine what this phone bill will cost.Thank God I am an executive... we get perks! The female costar will probably be Maureen, anyway... if she will take it. She will work for scale, I'm pretty sure. Let's call her and see if she's home and has interest in costarring... beep, beep, beep. Her line is busy. If I go home tonight, I will go tap on her window. I mayjust sleep up here tonight, in my office. I am realizing just how gullible many women are... Yes, I am at a Hollywood studio. Yes, we are imposters. Women really seem into this Hollywood ****, and buy practically everything I have to sell. Many women stay on the line, attentively describing their assets, as we become more polished with each and every call... at ****! You simply tell them what they want to hear, promise them everything but deliver on nothing. Create an illusion... I am starting to understand this Hollywood business. When men answer, we hang up. All I know is... I'm a 13 year old smooth talker, who is presenting himself as a young casting director, with a long distance line at a major studio. This is what I do... Who needs school, anyway? I've made tremendous strides in just a short period of time in the film business. In class, my tires just spin in the mud. My last call of the night is to my Mom, as my head spins in circles. "I'm safe and sound and will be staying at Pat's house tonight." I ask her what she's up to, so as to beat her to the punch. "Just watching Johnny Carson," she says, before continuing... "I was going to make you a tuna sandwich if you were coming home." "I'll take a rain check on that! ... by the way, how was Bingo night?" I ask, as I imagine a tuna sandwich in front of me... I can almost see it and taste it, as if it were right there, next to the empty whiskey bottle. "I won 10 dollars so I'm home celebrating." "You have fun celebrating, Mom, you earned it.' "Okay, say Hi to Mrs. Rich for me, Donnie." "Will do"... Click. Little does she know, I've been celebrating all night, also... Bingo... backlot style. As Gene Autry put it best: "I'm Back in the saddle again!"
  7. Phantom of the Backlots

    Phantom of the Backlots

    Public Enemy #1 My friends and I can't get enough of these studio backlots. We go back and forth, across town to Desilu, or just around the corner to MGM. It is like we live here. It has become a purely addicting lifestyle, especially to me. An office, along with two forts, is how we stand at the moment, and more expansion will be taking place soon. Jimmy and I are scouting for more prime real estate. We would like a penthouse in Manhattan, and MGM can provide this with its five story high New York skyline that appears to go on forever. Night time has arrived as we sit in the Boystown fort. Jimmy and I shoot the ****,back and forth. We hear the sound of the Bronco's engine close by. Both of us man our peep holes that we cut into the wall, like a machine gun turret, so we can look out safely, yet not be seen. Surprisingly, the Bronco parks directly under this overhang we are peering down from. Just as we try to figure out who is inside and in charge of the jeep tonight, a search light is activated. It is mounted on the driver's side of the Bronco. Its powerful beam sends us diving onto the floor. Light shines brightly through the planks of wood that we lay upon. "Oh ****," we both murmur. We contort sideways to give less visibility, as certain body parts become illuminated from the light beaming through the floor boards. It's like a sci-fi movie and the mothership has arrived. We think to ourselves the same thought, does he know we're up here and... who is this? We are stuck on the floor in the peculiar way and shape, a bit degrading, considering this is our sanctuary. We can barely move as I look at Jimmy's abstractly lit face laying next to mine. After what seems like an eternity, the Bronco finally pulls away. Alarmingly, the Bronco has turned off all its lights and is stealthy, as it heads over to the colonial mansion across the way. We dust ourselves off as we watch from a perch on top of Boystown. The red brake lights briefly flash as the Bronco stops in front of the mansion. This building has eight windows, four on the first floor, and four on the second floor, evenly spaced. The front door on the brick porch is ajar. Suddenly, the searchlight reactivates, and its beam is focused directly inside the front door of this famous set. One by one, each window gets a beam directed upon it. Who is this guy... we become flabbergasted! He is taking his job way too seriously... We decide that we have had enough fun. We work our way out of this fortress and run across the open terrain. We figure this was just an abnormality... a bored guard, is all. We slowly walk home after jumping the fence, still kidding and joking. No big deal, this is what we do. Adrenaline rules... We are just the next block away from our homes on Huron, passing Charles avenue. As we joke, we hear what sounds like the Bronco, behind us. We both hear it at the same time and turn to each other and joke, "sounds like the Bronco." We peek behind us, just 'cause ... and at the exact same time, we are shocked. It is the Bronco. It is on the public street, just behind my home. That damn close... We dive behind parked cars, I guess out of habit. We are not commiting any crimes at the moment. We watch as the Bronco turns right on Charles, with its lights on this time, as it comes to a stop on this dead end street. We run behind parked cars, only our heads protrude above. It is like we are still in MGM. This same Bronco that we just dealt with on the backlot is now in my neigborhood! It is mind boggling... this hated vehicle is hunting us down, wherever we go, it seems. Just like that evil diesel in the Spielberg movie, Duel. The Bronco stops in front of one of the houses that we pass by every day, and a very large occupant exits the vehicle in his black uniform and heads inside the house. He is as big as a Sasquatch. Wow, this is way too much to process...Who is this guy? Truly, we need to follow up on this... and we do. Well, just like when Pat was shot at, we get our answers at the studio's west gate the folowing day. Les Green is on duty. Not our favorite guy, but he will do. He fills us in with his slow drawl...'The studio wants you...John," as he stares menacingly at me. "And your blond friend," he continues. "They hired a guy specifically to capture you..." he drags his words, while tapping his pencil on the table in his shack. The tension builds. "His name is George. I'd look out if I were you" I take a deep gulp... I think to myself, these fools still go by the alias "John," that I gave them long ago. But I have the big guy's first name and address. Score: John 2 - George 0. "I'd stay out of there if I were you," he says, as he points to the backlot across the street. "Okay, I will," I say, as we pedal away, shocked... "First of all," I tell Jimmy, as we ride alongside the backlot, "I won't stay out... and second, I am flattered that the studio needs a specialist." It is time to gather some dirt on this large guy named George.
  8. Phantom of the Backlots

    Phantom of the Backlots

    Free Delivery I love summertime. No school... no rules... lots of fun. I have had a prosperous couple of weeks constructing forts. Although it is vacation time for kids, the backlot at Desilu is a working property, with employees clearing brush and taking measurements, in preparation for something big, it appears. Trucks take men and materials back and forth from the main lot, which has the big stages, to the rustic old backlot. This operation is developing exactly where Stalag 13 recently stood. Also standing above the main lot, looking down, is the iconic Desilu water tower. The name DESILU still sits etched on its side. My neighborhood pals, Jimmy, Danny, and Gerald, all want to visit these forts that have sprung up, practically overnight. Much the same way the production company across the way showed up, appearing overnight. We fit in perfectly and our timing is impeccable. Opportunities and resources exist like never before... at our finger tips. The main gate on Ince is open when work takes place on the backlot. A lone ranger sits in a shack that is very similiar to the forts I have been working on. And... we both have phones. We begin by climbing into Fort Cantina, a simple but slightly crude design stares back at my three guests. This is the lesser of my three studio offices. It is an improvement over what existed before, which was a dirty, filthy space. Color and comforts now replace emptiness. It is like a hippie pad. Billy Jack is written in chalk everywhere on this lot... everywhere inside these buidings. I think to myself "hmmm... I need to see that movie. It must have been filmed here." It wasn't. And it kinda stinks also, so I don't understand why it is written everywhere here. Well, being as my friends today have already seen the Boystown job that Maureen and I did on the 4th, I can see that they are unimpressed by this paltry effort. It's like moving from Malibu to the projects. The guys I am with today, are older by a couple of years and they all go to public school. They seem harder to please, anyway... as if they were too good or stupid or something! Okay, one fort down, one to go, I think to myself... while still trying to impress my older friends. We head towards a doorway in Mexico and pop out through a doorway in Texas. We approach the saloon. Ohh, the magic of Hollywood. All these public school guys have been up here prior to the Catholic school boy remodel, done a couple of days ago. I am a bit worried that this fort may have been discovered, due to the phone cord leading up to it. Barry, as it turns out, did an extremely professional installation. He cleverly ran the wires roof top to roof top, making it difficult to trace, with out extensive climbing across rickety rooftops. I push open the swinging saloon doors, as my older friends follow. We move props out of the way, that we purposely stacked to block the stairway, when we left last time. That signals to me that all is good upstairs. Step by step, we reach a working saloon, which is now located on the second floor. Careful not to stumble... Like prohibition days... drinking activities, and yes... phone calls, take place now, upstairs, hidden out of view. You can never be to careful, after all. Elliott Ness has passed through this town before, enforcing drinking ordinances, by the barrel of a Tommy Gun. My pals quickly size up the possibities this fort has to offer. We know it's easy to escape, just jump. It has casting couches... actually, cots — even better. Across the way, is a barn fully loaded with hay—stacked high and all over the floor. And it also looks like someone made a hay-bed. This can be used for auditions. Large hay stacks surround the front of this old barn, while some old farm tools and lanterns hang inside. Dolly, the white horse, lived in this barn and the nearby farmhouse, in a color episode of Andy Griffith. Ronnie Howard would visit Dolly at this barn. Bob Crane has a kissing scene in an episode, on this exact hay pile with Claudine Longet, in Hogan's Heroes. It was filmed inside this barn. She is so pretty, and French, too... ooh la la. Bob seems to really like kissing scenes... in every episode, he is hanging a big wet one on some guest starlett... just sayin! This barn will fit our needs perfectly, like a stage, but full of hay! My associates and I talked, prior to inspection of this location, about possibly producing, and filming, our own films. Now is our chance. Hole in the Wall Productions is officially open for business. We nod and smile accordingly. That puts us currently on the hunt for talent, and movie equipment. Scripts will be simple, we will only produce action movies. To start with, we need a movie camera and a plot. "We would be foolish not to", I continue on, "we have a bonafide office with a direct studio line that the studio pays for, and a backlot facility, loaded with sets and laden with movie props." If anything goes wrong, we just run. We can relocate our assets, later! We are...The Real Deal. I finish pumping out my presentation, and as fast as I spit it out, it gets full approval. Proudly, the board of older kids agree to work for me in my film company. The phone line seals the deal, I'm sure. This will be our World Headquarters, upstairs, in a tiny saloon, located in the heart of this iconic backlot ghost town. To close the deal and celebrate, I order a pizza from Chris's Pizza. It is the priority number on this metal cased phone, with enlarged letters and numbers written in felt. We spin the rotary phone and dial Chris... "yes we deliver." "Okay, we will take a large Pepperoni with four ice cold Cokes delivered to the Western Street saloon, located on the Desilu backlot on Ince Blvd." I wait for a response... "That's one large pepperoni pizza and four cokes... Desilu western street saloon... 25 minutes!" "Thank you we will be waiting." Eating has never been this easy! 25 minutes later, turning into our street, comes a white VW bug with its distinctive sound, kicking up a trail of dust. We walk outside as the delivery guy rolls to a stop, where horses normally get tied up, next to a drinking troft. We exchange money for pizza and Coke as I exclaim proudly to the foreign delivery guy, "remember this location... our show will be here for quite a while." He looks around, impressed, as I slip a dollar tip into his hand and wave farewell, "'till next time!" The little VW drives away towards the exit, as I think to myself I have no show... but, I do have an office with a phone, so let's get to work. A short photo gallery, pertaining to the previous three stories begins now... The photo above is of the Cantina fort viewed from Baldwin Hills. Below, the arrow on the left points to the saloon on the corner, while the arrow on the right points to the Cantina location. Above: The Desilu main lot above. Below: The Desilu water tower and its logo. Above: A back door entrance to the saloon. This same doorway is where Batman apprehended the villain, False Face. The saloon sits at the opposite end of this street... below is my toy Tommy Gun.
  9. Phantom of the Backlots

    Phantom of the Backlots

    Desilu Saloon Upon basic completion of the cantina fort, we go scavenging around for more movie stuff. We walk and joke at the same time as we pass through a doorway in our cantina village, which exits through another door on the old western street. I recently watched a late night rerun called Alcatraz Express, starring Neville Brand as Al Capone and Robert Stack as Elliott Ness. This show is bad ****. Instead of a Chicago backdrop, which this lot has, the script needed a small California town called Cloverdale. Desilu's western street filled that bill... and this episode culminated with Tommy Guns a Blazin! Told ya!... this not so quiet little town has a legendary saloon right in its heart. I spin this story to my pals who drink it up, like a smooth bottle of whiskey. Which is appropriate considering we just entered through the swinging front doors of this saloon. This saloon is stacked to the to the brim with props. Many cots from Hogan's Heroes ended up being stored in here. Tall stools surround the dusty old bar. Nice stools for drinkin' I suppose. We squeeze in between large wooden whiskey barrels, which are stacked high, on top of each other. Well this is a Bonanza, fittingly enough. Bonanza filmed multiple episodes on this tiny street... and inside my saloon A fort buiding Bonanza presents itself. We decide... rather than bring stuff to the Cantina fort we just built, let's just build another fort upstairs in this saloon. One by one, we lift these old cots uptairs where we have spacious quarters, unlike the towering mess of props, below. The obstacles inside partially block the stairway, which is good because the only potential problem is that this second story is easily accessible by this stairway. Not something you want in this business of fort construction. We get four cots upstairs, and a couple of large whiskey barrels to be used as tables, surrounded by four drinking stools. Though easily accessible, it is just as easy to escape. A balcony is adjacent to this set up we created. It is an easy jump from here to your waiting horse below, or the dirt... whatever comes first. "Let's go look for some finishing touches..." we all agree. We head over towards where stalag 13 stood, until recently, and inside a rolling steel wheeled trailer, used as a construction office, we find a rolling phone. More like a muscle car than a phone. It sits mounted inside a metal box, on a tripod with wheels. Barry, who is two years older than the rest of us, realizes that all you have to do is dial 9 to call off lot. Scribbled all over the silver metal housing is the various phone numbers for different departments on the main studio lot. Also the number for a local pizza place, called Chris's Pizza, which is across from St. Augustine, and I eat there often. The owner is very nice. The best pepperoni pizza around and they are hidden under layers of greasy cheese. I did not realize they deliver. We ponder, should we roll this large office somewhere else and hide it... or just take the phone? We decide on the latter. We take this phone and roll it to the saloon, a block away. Barry disconnects a couple of wire nuts... tip and ring, he tells us these wires are called, and begins trying to buy the needed slack, so that we can rehook this phone up in our fort. Pat and I bring it upstairs while Barry and Jerry work on the wiring reroute. We hear some banging around and look down as Barry throws up an excess coil of the needed wire connection. Retwist the wire nuts, lift the handle off the cradle ...voila... we have a phone capable of calling long distance. I test it by calling my house and after several rings, my old mom picks up the other end. "Mom it's me," I proclaim. "Are you in trouble?" she replies. I say, "no, no, I'm testing a phone in a saloon, in Desilu." "You should call your father... he's probably in a saloon, too." We laugh. Our first call is a success. We all take turns, as we can't spin this rotary dial fast enough. Why not start a production company, we decide. Hole in the Wall productions, we will call ourselves. In just a few days, I now have offices in both MGM and Desilu. Well, I proudly proclaim to my crew, "Good job fellas, you can hang your hat high on this one, cowboys... We continue throwing jokes around: "Call now..." And, "just call us toll free!" Caped crusaders... policing our town...right outside the saloon. Gotta have a sheriff or all hell will break loose... Next up... Free Delivery... Same Bat Time... same Bat Station.
  10. Phantom of the Backlots

    Phantom of the Backlots

    Desilu Cantina My recently constructed fort at MGM has set off a fort building frenzy. Everybody wants a piece of the action. Catholic school kids and public school kids all unite under one flag. Forts in movie backlots are the new trending thing. Like having your own production office. I could set up shop and sell tickets for this...call it The Boystown Experience. Like an E-ticket at Disneyland, but with weapons. I barter with semi-friends with an eye on things I could use from them in return for being my friend. I won't disclose my fort's location but to a select few. A fort needs to be Top Secret, after all! Desilu needs a place to plot and plan, also. Or even... to just sit back and take it all in. Today I arrive with a troop of Catholic boys from my school and fort building turns out to be our first mission. We find a little room at the top of the stairs in a small, circular Spanish style cantina village. It has two entrances into this colony. One is a dirt road that enters from a western street that is cleverly built along the backside of of this cantina. One side Mexico, the other side could be El Paso. All you need do to accomplish this is to go through a doorway. Entrance from Western street into Cantina...above Two pictures over thirty years apart, same angle. Love Story 1940... below A second entrance is the main one. It is easily accessible from the eucalyptus tree line that runs along the La Ballona Creek. Only a tiny dirt road seperates this area from the freedom that the creek provides. My troop of guys today want to accomplish something special. Catholic school boys aim high! Pat is my main side kick today... already shot at and battle tested. I can trust him not to talk even if tortured. My little Irish leprechaun friend is the tuffest guy, pound for pound that I know. Two English cats with the last name Sullivan come along with us today. They are Barry and Jerry. Now we've got an Irish temper and two English hot heads. It's like a soccer match. Because of our... let's just say... resistance to discipline, the four of us are often subject to extreme discipline tactics from the nuns that run our school. We all have the bruises to prove it. But today, no rules apply! Plus, we are all kinda smart, which can be dangerous... as well as fun. Plus a fight is never out of the question... We enter the lot and this village is exactly as described, running across a simple road and straight up the stairs, into a nice sized vacant room. An old rickety ladder gets you on to the roof or up to the 3rd story. Being on the roof gives us access to run around this circular village like a short cut you could easily fall through. View from roof above fort... This becomes our entrance protocol. Run in, get acclimated, figure out as much as possible... as fast as possible. Putting a fort here makes sense, and that is all that is on our minds today. We look around for things to use. One negative is from the dirt road below. We can easily be seen up here. Although, we have many escape routes, we want PRIVACY. We start with a set of drapes that we grab from Andy Griffith's house to block the view of prying eyes, from the dirt road below. We easily hook them up with existing nails. Now, we can peek out, but we maintain our own space. Our drapes came from this iconic home which later had a fort... upstairs Next, we need chairs or things to sit on. Well...low and behold! There are a bunch of wooden boxes with the word EXPLOSIVES stamped on them that were used in Hogan's Heroes. When the camp was torn down recently, lots of things got moved. A guard tower now sits on the western street behind this set, as an example. These boxes make great seats and we have enough to make a table and foot rests. Most everything in this fort says DANGER on one side, and EXPLOSIVES on the other. Funny thing is, these Sullivan boys smoke cigarettes. But of course, these boxes are empty. 2 more views of village The four of us spent the morning on this Cantina fort project... we are very ambitious! The 2nd half of the day, we struck GOLD at the neighboring water hole saloon on Western street. To be continued... Desilu Saloon...coming soon, Don't change that channel!
  11. Phantom of the Backlots

    Phantom of the Backlots

    Once Upon a Time in Hollywood… July 4 Once upon a time ... early 1970's July 4th— There is a firework stand in a vacant lot on my corner. My pal, Jimmy and I, visit it everyday, multiple times a day. Pyro addicts, you could say. All that fancy Red Devil packaging is quite the charm. Kinda lures kids in to a vice they can barely afford. Just like those fake cigarettes that taste like chalk, that get sold to kids at the new 7/11, that just opened up. The tips of these candy Winstons are even orange. My dad and I talk man stuff as he smokes a Marlboro, and I suck on a candy Winston. I need money for my fireworks... so, Jimmy and I pick a crop of pear shaped avocados from the two trees in my yard, and load them in a red wagon flyer to begin sales... door to door. This becomes lucrative, very quickly. A buck a piece is the going rate and we can't fill this wagon up fast enough, as customers are thrilled at this new delivery service. The empty wagon then pulls up to the firework stand as we pay cash for bigger fireworks. We are quickly becoming entrepreneurs. The Red Wagon Flyer goes out with avocados and returns with bigger and bigger firework displays. Cash paid on the spot. Business men indeed. Time for another candy cigarette. Today is July 4th. I want to go into MGM today. We have been busy buying and selling, all week, and have neglected our backlot. That is not the place to play with fireworks. Jimmy is gone this morning, so I turn to Maureen - she lives across the the street from Jimmy, and is just a sling shot away from me. I tap, tap, tap on her window pane until she finally peeks her head out from under her covers. I whisper, since it's early... "want to go to MGM with me today?" The next thing you know, she is running out the front door, "I left a note for my mom... I told her we were going jogging at the beach, on the city bus." Nice job, I think to myself... notes are the way to go... that way NO never comes up. Off we go, skipping and hopping along the tracks, as we get to the regular climb-in spot. I enter first. And it is apparent Maureen has become very efficient at climbing barb wire and sharp metal. She is better than many of the boys I roll with. Immediately, we see the fire marshal as we tuck inside a Pullman train. We are lucky he did not hear us climbing in. He drives a red Ford Falcon that is complete with a siren and a red flashing cone light on top. The Bronco doesn't even have those emergency gadgets. His car door is open and he now walks out of our snow room storage area. His job is to look for hazzards, rather than trespassers. But, he does wear a badge and I've been called a hazzard before. He gets in and leaves, and we quickly follow suit, as we try to see where he is going. He drives past Boystown, so we feel safe that he is done around these parts. We make the crazy climb up to a vantage point that Jimmy and I found while exploring. It is the top of the building, where an overhang exists. We can see most of the backlot from up here, and conclude that Fireman Fernald has left the lot. I have been thinking about making a fort, and today, I concluded... just might be the right day for that. And this is the best spot on the lot. It fits all the criteria needed: Views of the entire lot (including the main gate, so we can see at a distance when any vehicles roll in), and escape routes. And by the by, it's extremely difficult to reach this spot. I can also see my house from here. At night, if you're not familiar with the climb... good luck. Even with a flashlight! I mention to Maureen about my fort idea and that I know where furnishings are... and then, I ask her if she wants to build a fort with me. With a big smile, she nods approvingly, and we head over to Maple street to shop for needed stuff. Many homes have courtesy set dressing in each doorway. That is because when the camera faces an open front door, furniture needs to exist. All the basics... coffee table, carpet, and paintings convince the audience that these are real homes. I grab a bench that has a tag hidden on the bottom, indicating that it was used in They Only Kill their Masters, starring James Garner. Maureen grabs a rolled up carpet and we now head back to Boystown. Slowly, we inch along because with my bench in tow, it's awkward to move any faster. We stay on the sidewalk as we walk down Small Town Square, just in case we need to escape through a back door. The only problem with Boystown is that access requires crossing very open expanses. In other words, we could be seen, very easily. A dirt road circles this large buiding and the Bronco repeatedly patrols this spot. But once you're inside, all is well. Getting this large bench through this maze is hard enough, but now it has to go up a hidden, narrow ladder. We manage to point the bench lengthwise, just like the ladder, and that requires me pulling it up, while Maureen steers the stern. The hardest part is over as we reach basecamp. Maureen unrolls her carpet, as I put the bench on top of it. We step back with joy and finally sit down proudly on our new furniture. Like a young couple starting out. After catching our breath, we decide to go get some more stuff for our condo. Stuff exists practically everywhere on this lot and we go shopping again, armed with unlimited Blue Chip stamps. This next trip brings us to Andy Hardy's house. This house provides us with a coffee table with wheels... perfect! I can roll it and I don't have to carry it. In the meantime, Maureen has grabbed a large tin Pepsi sign, and we are on the move again. Just as we walk towards the front door walkway, I spot a large Foster's Lager beer can, unopened. I grab that, also. It doesn't fit in my pocket, so it must ride on top of my vibrating table that is being pushed along, down the street. Boystown tower peeks over the Harmony sign. This road is where we traversed back and forth. I'm pushing a table that becomes much more difficult to handle, when the paved road we are on turns to dirt. The good news is that we are getting close to Boystown at that point. Once again, we muscle it up to the top story. Proudly, this pad is coming together. The two pictures above, are both Andy Hardy's house. The backside, above, faces a different street than the front side does. You would not know this is the same place. Below, the overhang on the building below is our fort location Below, front side of Boystown... where fort exists. This building in the very near future will come under tremendous scrutiny by MGM security. This includes uniformed city police raids. A movie will be shot here soon that involves a Phantom, played by Jack Cassidy. Two teenagers fall to their death from my fort. Coincidence? ... I think not. This lot is only big enough for one Phantom. Above: Pat sitting on the bench, in the fort that Maureen and I put together on this 4th of July. Below, reverse camera angle of fort from bench. The water cooler was snagged later from a construction crew working the backlot. The little orange sign next to it states: You are tardy if you are not in your seat when the bell rings. Don't forget, I am Catholic school trained. You have to know the rules to break the rules! Below: That little table is the one from Andy Hardy's house. When this picture was taken, two empty Orange Crush bottles, a Mickey's Big Mouth, also found on the lot, and a ammo clip from Combat, are also on the table. A coat from Combat hangs on the wall. Typical fort stuff! Maureen's Pepsi sign can partially be seen in the picture above. Below, pictures of the view from our pad... every angle. Continued... To celebrate, we open that extra large metal can with the Foster's Lager on the label. Cheers!... Our very first adult beverage, in our very first fort. I pop the top and... ooops, beer is shooting out all over us. Okay, I got it under control... I drink it as fast as it sprouts out, handing it over to her when I need a breath. The dirt that covers us now, is a soft, stinky mud. Messy, yet.. tantalizing. It's warm and we both become slightly intoxicated, quickly. Probably because we have to guzzle the alcohol waterfall. It's hot, we are filthy, and so, we decide to exit our pad for now and cool off at Tarzan's lake, which sits right across from our back steps. I am still carrying this can from the Australian outback, as we approach the paddle wheel. I look at the can I am about to finish off and kiddingly joke: "The beer from the Outback is being finished on Backlot... how fitting!" We take our last sips and drop the empty can into the lake, where it is met with interest by carp and crawfish. Slowly, it sinks out of view. "I wonder if Tarzan was from the Outback?" I continue on with this Outback theme. "Ahh, the Outback has nothing on this old backlot." "Jane," I now call Maureen, "jump up on that paddle wheel! I'll spin ya fast." There she is, spinning like a lumberjack on a log. "Tarzan get up here! Let's do it together," Jane beckons. Yipes, I'm a bit buzzed, but Tarzan never turns down a challenge. I climb up with a degree of difficulty because I need to freshly spin the wheel and jump on as fast as possible. I do it, and after nearly falling off, we develop a nice rhythm, Jane and I. Slowly, we roll to a stop, like a roulette wheel. We better go check in, we have been here all day. Notes only last so long. Huron bound we march... after waving goodbye, we agree to meet again at dusk to go to the Cuver High firework show. This will be the first Firework night ever spent with a girl. I really am starting to like this girl, I think! Dusk arrives and down the street we march, but at the corner, we hang a left rather than the straight path to Culver High. This can mean only one thing... we are going back to MGM. That's right. In this short walk, we decide we will watch the fireworks from MGM. Not from Boystown, but from the Combat church with it's marvelous south bay views, towards LAX and beyond. I am a music guy, and of course I am armed with a transistor radio - state of the art, AM/FM, with a rotary dials. We climb up another precarious, narrow maze to the top of the steeple. We reach the very top, which only fits two comfortably, side by side, really close. Lucky for me! I break out the transistor and tune back and forth from KMET, KLOS, KROQ and AM (favorite KHJ). We compare music tastes. She likes Steely Dan as we hear Reeling in the Years on one station. Next, "We're an American Band" by Grand Funk, "Horse with No Name" by America... all the hits... as the firworks begin... If I only had a Winston to suck on.... This story happened on... The 4th of July .... Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  12. Phantom of the Backlots

    Phantom of the Backlots

    Stop over in a Quiet town Everyday, I walk the long stretch of railroad tracks that run along Culver Blvd. on one side and MGM Lots 1 and 2, on the other. Train tracks are really cool. Older kids tell me if you put your ear on the tracks you can hear and feel the trains rumbling towards you, even before they blow their horns, or are even recognizable. A long, rusty path for steel horses stretches into the distance, as far as the eye can see, and when they pass by, they are temptingly slow enough to jump on... especially inviting are the empty box cars... or the caboose. It's neat to watch a single, distant round light get closer and closer. The noise increases as it passes each street corner as I watch it headed towards the MGM Lots. I often put coins on the tracks right before the diesel passes me by - this creates what we call slugs. Flattened coins. These slugs still work in gumball slots just like the penny that existed before Abe gets flattened. This utility road is just inside the studio fence. The train tracks are 10 feet away. A fence is all that seperates the two. These tracks are just a short few feet from the studio fences and this utility road. The train conductor sits so high up he can easily see over the studio fence. More often than not, my friends and I are staring back from the villages and homes that exist inside that fence. These would be MGM's own train depot, the German village and its towering church, and a street very similiar to those of which we live. It is called Maple Street. Twilight Zone captured this street perfectly in the episode of the same name. Other episodes... Stop Over in Quiet Town and Black Leather Jackets capture the ambiance of my tiny fake street and neighboring village. The ending credits in the episode Stop Over in Quiet Town are stenciled over a camera angle from the roof of a massive backlot wherehouse that looks down the entire Maple Street. Various backlot sets, as well as LMU and Playa Del Rey are in the far distance. Playa Del Rey, LMU and LAX are the distant landscape, beyond the backlot. Inside the warehouse where this picture was taken, we find an ocean liner, a submarine coning tower, rocketships and stage coaches. Past, present, and future is how this place rolls. This view is one we share frequently. The roof of the warehouse is just behind the church and its steeple... the ones that are used in these episodes. This warehouse looks downward, as if looking down on a miniature toy set below. Just like the episode narrative... Most recently, this neighborhood that lies inside these fences was used in a movie with James Garner... They Only Kill Their Masters. . Andy Hardy's house doubles as Phil's bakery in the building beyond Mr. Lawford's head. He sits here with Katherine Ross in a very nice sports car. As usual, as one show leaves, another comes in. That would be a TV pilot titled Hawkins. My friend Jimmy and I watch as another Jimmy, Jimmy Stewart, walks door to door in the make believe town of Beauville. Mr. Stewart is trying to get a petition signed by residents. He has a lawyer office in the main square. His office has a sign hanging, that says: William J. Hawkins Attorney at Law. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9xy0SOeBWA Later, after this pilot failed after an all-too-brief airing, I took that sign home to my expanding museum exhibit, that I hung on my side fence, at Huron. This would just about be it for Mr. Stewart's involvment at MGM. His last MGM cameo was to be a couple years later, where I met him on the set of That's Entainment 2. This same area of the lot would be entirely refurbished in the 1977 spectacular Sgt. Pepper, starring Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees. The ragged banner hanging from the second story in the picture below, is from Hawkins. It says, Beauville Civil War Week. I took it home but it lasted just a short time before my dad tossed it. The houses and this neighborhood are quiet indeed, when filming is not taking place or being prepared for. Airplane Wardens starring Laurel and Hardy ... top/bottom This picture sequece is an example how this very little square can cleverly be dressed and touched up for any numbers of eras and locations. But in reality, it is just my backyard. When you enter homes through the front door, you first pass through the doorway, just like in real homes, and then you see things like, a table, a vase, a picture on the wall, and carpet on the floor. We prefer back doors, unless no one is around. These basic set dressings will be ourfurnishings, in the future, as we begin building forts all over the backlot. The church on Maple street has a pointed top perfect for one owl to sit on, and hoot, as we practice night trespassing. We decide to take a bench and a carpet upstairs for a simple, crude rest stop, in what was used as Andy Hardy's home, located in the middle of the block. It is a four sided complete structure. One side residential, the other, a Bakery that looks down from the second story to a small train depot. This depot is where Judy Garland sang Clang Clang Clang Went the Trolly,in Meet Me in St Louis. Bobby Vann danced from Andy Hardy's house on 1 leg with a dog dancing alongside, on two legs. Priceless images we recreate in our minds, as we sit and tell jokes and day dream all our troubles away.
  13. Phantom of the Backlots

    Phantom of the Backlots

    Hogan's Heroes Tree Stump Adventure Well, since we first explored this camp that one Sunday night, it has become our favorite set on all of our backlots. The Desilu lot is much different than MGM Lot 2. It is layed out like a big ranch. Lots of open space, nature, and many single story exteriors that you frequently see in the background of Andy Griffith, and a huge list of TV shows. MGM lot 2 is a metropolis of sorts, all crammed in, as efficiently as possible. Huge skylines tower above the fences to the real world, beyond. Desilu is much more rustic. The only part of Stalag 13 you can see from Higuera avenue are the guard towers that stick up behind the chain link fence and the grassy knolls that help disguise the camp. Stalag 13 is different. MGM Lot 3 had a prison camp, Dachau, for the Twilight Zone. Deaths Head Revisited. Combat used it; 12 O'clock also filmed it as a prison camp. But, stalag 13 has been the same set for the same show for close to a decade. Only a rogue Mission Impossible episode has penetrated these fences—that was as a third world prison and not as Colonel Klink's inescapable stalag. Inside the camp is a couple of tunnels used for establishing entry in and out of this stalag. Me and my pals fancy the guard towers, of which there are three. All of them nicely overlook the stalag and the Baldwin Hills beyond. The same hills we look down on from the camp are now our backdrop. Like a reverse camera angle. Reruns can be found everyday, so we watch an episode then sneak into the camp and follow the footprints of those who preceeded us. It is as if time bridges itself, while we reflect backwards. This camp is nestled into surroundings that keep all other sets obscure, making you feel that this is all by itself. You walk in one doorway and out another, but you're still in the stalag. The doorways of most sets are passages to other lands... not here. This afternoon, after school, this set is where we feel like hanging out. Pat and I make our way from St. Augustine's to Desilu. We make our entry inside, from the La Ballona creek. Cutting through Gomer Pyle's barracks, we make a stunning revelation... Stalag 13 is no more. All the wooden barracks are gone. The guard towers have been moved to the western street and Klink's office is gone. I want a dog house from Stalag 13 kennel (of which there are six), but as we get closer, we see that they are gone. I am very sad... but I think of one more place where a cool prop may still exist: The entry where the tree stump may still exist. It's still there! I feel an urgency to grab this... but how? It is very akward, tree stump akward. Real size, except this one can be lifted. It has sat at this location for a decade and today it's going to leave.... somehow. Things come together quickly. In a barn on Western street, we find a steel wheeled flat bed cart to move things like this.Next... a rope would make a great handle. Lucky for us, rope exists all around the backlot in every thickness imagineable. So, we have our make-shift caravan, as we pull it up to the tree stump. Workers are still clearing the stalag for another show that is going to build a set on this site. This lot is going to get busy. No one notices or cares what we are doing. All the paths and roads are dirt, surrounding this area, so I'm glad Pat is with me. We jockey this stump off its placement above its tunnel, where it sat forever! It fits perfectly on our rig. This iconic movie prop is on the move... slowly! We pass through whatever is left of Stalag 13, for the last time, and then through a gate that leads to Gomer's Camp Henderson. I pull the rope, as Pat stablizes the rear end of this slow moving sight. We pause in front of Goober's gas station, wishing that we could grab a bottle of pop, like Opie frequently did. A dramatic pause, you could say, as my tree stump sits next to a gas pump while we sit on a bench next to an empty soda fridge. We ponder the next step... We now face the most difficult part so far... going down a steep embankment that puts us onto a cement path that runs along the creek. We remove the stump from the cart and jockey it down this ramp. It is very heavy and if we mess up, it could end up crashing into the deep end of the creek. But little Irish Pat does not give up. Nor do I. We have sucessfully left the property with this full sized tree stump, whose top opens up to get inside. We head towards Culver High School with our cool prize. This happens to be where we need to cut through to head to my house. It is mostly level here. One straight shot through the faculty parking lot. It must look odd. We are headed down the home stretch now. Just a few residential blocks to go. We have to cross a major Boulevard: Culver. We will have to cross in front of an audience of cars and pedestrians. I say to Pat, jokingly, "I hope there are no cops sitting at the red light as we cross." People stare, wondering what in the world they are seeing, as we try to get across as quickly as possible. I shout, "school project... just never you mind." Funny thing is, most everybody has seen this on TV, as we go down the home stretch, or shall we say Huron. A crowd is following me. Now understand, seeing me come home with movie stuff is a common sight and does not usually gather a crowd. But this is quite a picture. Gerald, Jimmy, Todd, Danny, and the rest of my neighborhood friends all happen to pop up out of their homework assignments see to this steel wheeled train rumble down the sidewalk, with me as the engineer. Ohh, it's Donnie is all, with his latest prop. This prop is about to make its way into my bedroom, where it will sit for the next seven years, until I move out. I have a secret museum developing. Every kid that comes over is so jealous and as the years go on, it gets better. After I moved out, at age 20, my dad put it outside, where it rotted, inside and out. It is wood framed, with a composite outer skin, typical in set and prop building. It broke down over time and no longer exists... 50 years after. If you ever wondered what happened to that iconic stump... now you know the final journey of the iconic tree stump! This road leads you to Stalag 13 and to the tree stump. The picture above is where Stalag 13 stood. The shed in the distance was next to Klink's office and the water tower. Barracks' rooftops and cots sit below, removed from the stalag. We sat parked here for a bit, planning our next move. The gas pumps and soda machine have since been removed. Here is a link to little known facts about Hogan's Heroes: https://www.metv.com/lists/12-incredibly-true-facts-about-hogans-heroes
  14. Phantom of the Backlots

    Phantom of the Backlots

    I appreciate that my friend. It only will get better as the 70's decade progresses.
  15. Phantom of the Backlots

    Phantom of the Backlots

    Double Standards apply on the Backlot It is a late Saturday night. The Vets park tower just chimed 10 bells. My pal, Jimmy and I have just been cruising my hood. We stopped earlier to visit my girl, Maureen, briefly, on her front porch. I could tell that Jimmy has an attraction going on. All of us on this street are at the point now, where boys and girls can actually work together. In other words, girls are not just an object to throw fruit at! As the clock strikes 10 pm, James and I are climbing into the MGM backlot. Dark and eerily silent, we begin creeping around Lot 2. We know already… being a Saturday… that we won’t have any activity on the lot. Just a gaurd in a Jeep going round in circles, village to village, town to town and everywhere, in between. Jimmy can’t stop talking about my girlfriend. He is older than I am, so that presents obstacles that work to his advantage. For one, he will have a permit to drive soon. For another, he is pretty cool. All my friends are, but I am the first to claim a female. As we walk and occasionally jog our way around half the lot already, there are no signs of life in it, except some occasional owl hoots. The backlot is pitch dark and you sometimes have trouble knowing what you are looking at … from a distance anyways. That is happeng now, as Jimmy and I round a corner on a dirt road, behind what we call “The Watermill House.”. A jungle lurks just beyond this set… Tarzan’s jungle. The Watermill House, a must ride on this paddle. When you walk through the front door of this building, you are in the backside. Backside of Watermill House, below. And the road that curves into the jungle… Jungles are scary in the dark when you’re trespassing. I prefer New York City, just beyond the trees and forest. A road cuts through the center of the length of this forest. Jimmy keeps bringing up Maureen, as we move about, and I silently wish she was with me now, rather than him. As we turn the bend behind the watermill house, we begin to make our way down that long dark road in the jungle. Slowly, we both come to a stop. We are both stupified by what we think is out of place. There is something blocking the long strait jungle path, so we stare, as we begin to see distinguishing features. I see two oval cylinders that are equally spaced apart, and I see a white glow around their radius. It appears to be the Bronco, parked. I think I see its distinguishing headlight mounts. Yes indeed, I am sure of it! It blends in perfectly in these surroundings, Jimmy and I both realize at the same time, what this is… and at the exact same time, those circular cylinders light up… and this Bronco is storming towards us. Peace and serenity immediatley turn to CHAOS. The normally quiet jungle now has the roar of an engine hauling towards us. The fence is 20 yards away and we are doing our best to get to it, ahead of this pursuer. We run a strait line through a Greens department area. The Bronco and its occupant breathe dangerously close to our rear ends. We hit the fence flying, as the roar of the engine churns louder. It is only then that I look back, as I am about to leap over. The guard is the imposing 6 foot 9 inch, Ron Smith. He takes up a huge portion of the windshield that is now point blank at the fence as we both jump to safety onto Arizona avenue. We continue to run home as we hear Ron shout from atop the fence, “I’ll get you next time!” Above the fence and behind the Watermill House where this chase concluded… Yipes, that was as close as it gets…he could have run us over! I was not sure if he was going to crash into the fence. He could have easily shot us on top of the fence, and he packs a large side arm. This was our closest pursuit ever. An adreniline rush like none before. It takes an hour to come down. I sit safely at home with my mom, watching The Best of Groucho, just minutes later. I feel like a secret agent with a double life, innocently eating a tuna sandwich with my dear mom, my heart still thumping from my narrow escape. 16 hours later… Today is Sunday, the day after. I am walking with Maureen, going over last night’s chase. No need to embelish last night, as this chase was better than advertised. If we are going to be a couple long term, she has to know how to handle these situations, I think proudly. Overland main gate … Actual chase vehicle Bronco parked below, as seen through chain link fence. As we continue walking the sidewalks outside this backlot, we find ourselves at the Overland Gate, and guess who is sitting in the Bronco at this gate? It is Ron Smith, last night’s culprit. I make eye contact with him as he signals me to approach him on the lot. We hesitantly proceed towards him as he simply says,”I let you get away last night,” I think, Not Quite!… you just couldn’t keep up… At this same moment, he asks, “who is my friend?” He has a grown man crush on my girlfriend, Maureen, it appears. I introduce them and the next thing you know, he invites us into the Bronco, for my first friendly tour, ever. It is the same vehicle that hunted me down, late last night. Today, it is our vehicle to enjoy. Like a Twilight zone episode. He drives crazily around this desserted lot, doing donuts as we call them, showing off. He empties the bullets out of his pistol and hands it to Maureen who is sitting shot gun. We pass his gun back and forth, impressed. It is huge. 357 Magnum huge. This gun is as big as this guy himself. It is the first real hand gun I ever had my hands on. I’m admiring his weapon as he admires my girl, who looks so nice in her little blue jean cut offs sitting cross legged. I spin his cylinder and blow in his gun barrel. This is one bad piece! If only the other guards could see me now… with a pistol in the back of the Bronco. It looks like Ron is my prisoner with this big pistol and all pointing at the back of his head.. He is all about the young lady sitting alongside him and seems to have forgotten the kid in the back seat. I’m feeling it…Maureen and I make a marvelous team, like um… Bonnie and Clyde. He is being so polite today… last night is rapidly becoming distant. He is becomming my pal, at least when I have this pretty blonde girl with me, named Maureen….anyhow! I have learned a practical life lesson on this backlot; there are double standards. Pretty girls can open even the most well secured gates with just a smile and a simple wave. Yet, for me, lace those tennis shoes tight boy… because different rules apply. Until next time Mr Ron…

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