Saturday, May 16, 2015

More Views from the MGM Studios

Today I am sharing yet another selection of amazing photos of the legendary MGM Studios in Culver City, California. These are scanned from some "Personal Viewmaster" reels, with photos by my friend Rol Summit (circa 1970). You are all smart people, so I'm sure you can find the other four MGM posts on GDB without my help (although the first installment provides a bit of history for those who are interested)!

Isn't this one neat? This section of the backlot looks like a 200 year-old New England port, complete with a beautiful (and convincing) sailing ship in the harbor. It kills me to think that those buildings were bulldozed not long after this photo was taken. 

 Now we seem to be in a town that might have been seen along the Mississippi back in the 1860's. Maybe. Or is it just a part of the set seen above, only from a different angle? At the right edge of the photo we can see just a part of a sternwheeler...

... Which can also be seen here.

Among the items available in the upcoming auction was this incredible chariot in the form of a stylized bull's head. Does anybody recognize what movie this was from?

Just as an aside, it is clear that the chariot's bull was based on a massive limestone sculpture from Persepolis (now Iran). It is now in Chicago's "Oriental Institute Museum".

I'm not sure exactly what we're looking at here; it appears to be a large bas-relief sculpture of Poseidon (?) astride a fierce stallion. But the "flashing" around it makes it look like it is part of a mold. Maybe it is just a section of a larger relief.

An eclectic assortment of props were on display inside a soundstage. I love that fanciful fish-shaped model submarine. There's also a miniature tank suitable for crushing by your favorite Kaiju, as well as small ships and dories, along with what I assume is production art.

I did a bit of research and found that the vessel was from a 1961 movie called, "Atlantis, The Lost Continent", from director George Pal (of "War of the Worlds" and "The Time Machine" fame). I am not 100% sure, but I think I saw the model on the back patio of Forry Ackerman's "Ackermansion". George Pal and Forry were friends, so it makes sense. Incidentally, half of the prop was missing because of evil thieves.

And finally, here's a repeat from a previous reel, though the flash worked this time, so we can actually see the large collection of Roman armor, plate mail, and other sword-and-sandal accoutrements. Why is that model airplane there? Who knows!

There are still two more reels to go! Many thanks to Rol Summit for giving me permission to share these images.


Nanook said...


It's always both wonderful and sad to see what once was which is no more. The first two images are from Lot 3. The first ship is most-likely the Mayflower, built in 1952 for the film Plymouth Adventure, starring Van Johnson. The riverboat, is the famous Cotton Blossom featured in 1951's Showboat. Both are seen in the Salem Waterfront.

The Cotton Blossom was sold at the 1970 auction for $15,000.00 to Worlds of Fun amusement park in Kansas City, where she was anchored alongside her former MGM alumni, The Mayflower. She resided there until 1995, and evidently rotted-away and sank.

Thanks, Major.

Nancy said...

So sad, Nanook. Its such a shame that they went to the trouble of making the purchase, only to allow something like that to happen :(

very cool post, Major! sometimes I wish I lived in a little seaport town, then I see The Perfect Storm and change my mind!

i never realized before that the chariot is actually a sculpture of a horse head! will have to pay more attention next time I watch

looking forward to the next installment. :-)

K. Martinez said...

These are really nice. I love the bulls head prop. Thanks, Major.

@Nanook - Didn't the ship in the first image also end up at Worlds of Fun as part of the "Vitrix" cannon firing range? I seem to remember three ships were bought at auction for the Worlds of Fun theme park; Cotton Blossom, the one in first image and Henrietta from Around the World in Eighty Days. It's been so long that my facts might be mixed up. I do know that Randall Duell, the architectural designer of Worlds of Fun and practically every other theme park from the 60's/70's was also an art director for many Hollywood films of this era.

Monkey Cage Kurt said...

These are cool pics Major. At first I thought I was going to be reading about vacation photos in Main or something.

I used to work at the Sony Studios during the 90s. As you my know Sony Studios was once the old MGM facility. I would walk around the lot on my lunch break, so I got to know the layout quite well. They must’ve bulldozed a lot of that stuff, because it doesn’t look like anything I ever saw there.

VERY COOL that you’ve been to the Ackermansion and you met the man himself. I had a friend who had a privet tour once too. He said it was very cool, but it kind of broke his heart, as everything was just kind of strewn about and covered in dust.

Nice pics, THANKS!

Monkey Cage Kurt said...

Nanook, I had to look up that ship and the film you mentioned, as I thought the ship didn’t look anything at all like the real Mayflower. I found a production photo for the film in which you can see that they added some structure at the fore and aft to make the ship resemble (just a tad more) the historical Mayflower.

Here’s a link to the pic I found:

Melissa said...

I assumed the chariot was from Ben-Hur, which would have given me an excuse to quote an old Marx Brothers routine:
I played a part in Ben-Hur once
What part did you play, sir?
A girl, she played the part of Ben.
And you?
I played her.

But your research, as always, is a much more fascinating read!

Melissa said...

I assumed the chariot was from Ben-Hur, which would have given me an excuse to quote an old Marx Brothers routine:
I played a part in Ben-Hur once
What part did you play, sir?
A girl, she played the part of Ben.
And you?
I played her.

But your research, as always, is a much more fascinating read!

Patrick Devlin said...

Boy, some of these shots remind me of one of the outstanding jobs in my life. I worked for Jack Sessums (Sessums Engineering) and worked on a large 1/5th scale locomotive and cars destined for some Rain-Bird exec's outside layout. The pictures remind me of Jack's storage spaces (40' x 80' metal shed) where his models and props from the films he worked on were all casually stored, much as MGM apparently stored theirs.

Models from Speed, Hot Shots!, Knight Rider, Airwolf, Broken Arrow, and others were on shelves or hanging from the rafters. It was a joy to work out there and Jack was an incredible mentor and seriously fast machinist.

I loved Atlantis, the Lost Continent when I was a kid. I've had a back-back-burner project of building that submarine for ever.

Also check out the barrels and flash suppressors from German machine guns in the foreground of the Roman armor shot. "We've got everything for the well-equipped, well-dressed warrior! Come on down!"

Nanook said...

@ Ken-

I'm uncertain if Randall Duell worked on Worlds of Fun. And his stint as art director, etc., was at MGM, which he left in 1959.

@ Monkey Cage Curt-

I'm afraid by the 1990's all of MGM's (Sony's) backlots were long gone. Lot 2, surrounded by Overland Av on the east; Culver Bl on the south, Elensa St to the west, and Washington Bl on the north, contained the Andy Hardy Street, the Railroad Depot, the Town Square and the famous Waterloo Bridge, among many other recognizable sets. Lot 3, bordered by Overland Av on the south, Jefferson Bl on the west, and hard to identify the exact boundaries on the north & east, contained the Western Street, Cloudy Street, St. Louis Street, the Lot 3 Jungle & Lake, and the (featured) Salem Warwrfront - again, among many others.

Although Universal had more property-? and thanks to its Studio Tour still does, in its heyday, MGM arguably had the greatest studio/backlot(s) on the planet.

The only studio today that can claim any sort of 'original layout' would be Warner Bros.

Nanook said...

I should probably add MGM actually had a total of five "backlots" - Lots 4 thru 6 combined, containing less than half the acreage of Lot 2 (37.5), or that of Lot 3 (65.5) acres.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I wanted to go and research the photos more in that MGM book, but what can I say, I got lazy! Luckily, you have a better work ethic. Thanks a lot!

Nancy, it was just a bad time for movie studios, and nobody had the foresight (except for Walt Disney, I guess) about how valuable their back catalogs and history would be someday.

K. Martinez, wow, how the heck do you know so much about those boats and their history at “World’s of Fun”? I have heard of the place, but know basically nothing about it.

Monkey Cage Kurt, I will NEVER post anything about Maine! Everybody who lives there is either a criminal or a communist. (This is a joke, please don’t write angry letters, people from Maine!). The Ackermansion was so cool, I wish I had gone more than once… I could have. Forry’s artifacts in the main house were in good order, but in other parts of the house they were in disarray. He needed a full-time archivist.

Monkey Cage Kurt 2, I didn’t think it looked like the Mayflower either. The one in my photo and the link you sent look quite different!

Melissa, you and your Marx Brothers! I am impressed at how many of their routines you have memorized.

Patrick Devlin, wow, that would be ultra cool if you did build a model of that submarine! I love the idea of doing stuff like that, but it’s hard when you live in an apartment. Thanks for pointing out the machine gun parts. I have done work for a place that manufactures props, and their warehouse/shop is fun to walk through. Giant coins, fake Mercury space capsules, piles of “gold ingots”… all kinds of neat stuff.

Nanook, I have some photos (not from these Viewmasters) that were taken from the outside of MGM (I think)… someday I’ll have to post them and maybe you can tell what we’re looking at!

steve2wdw said...

The Great State of Maine is not offended...haha! While I don't know any Communists, I will say that we're a pretty Independent bunch...voters tend to vote for the person and not necessarily the party. And since there's barely a million of us that live up here, criminals (especially the ones from "away") tend to stick out like sore thumbs so we keep our eyes on them.
Keep the awesome slides and pics a comin'!

Anonymous said...

I've seen the original stone bulls heads in the Oriental Institute a few years back. This is a great museum. I think it is the prototype of the university museum where Indiana Jones lectures... Very old school.

These sculptures are stunning works, for size, style and workmanship. They are monstrously large, enormous, you feel like a bug standing under them. They are perfectly polished and carved, and must weigh tons. I cannot imagine how primitive people created these things without power equipment or how long it must have taken.

I only wish it were possible to somehow see them with the metal and ivory ornaments all in place. Only the square sockets where these items lived are visible today. Undoubtedly either stolen for the metal, or destroyed by time.

These are tremendously powerful works.

Thanks for the pictures, Major. I love movie stuff, but you all have me beat for film trivia.


Melissa said...

I only wish it were possible to somehow see them with the metal and ivory ornaments all in place. Only the square sockets where these items lived are visible today. Undoubtedly either stolen for the metal, or destroyed by time.

At the British Museum, they have a CGI film of what the Parthenon frieze would have looked like with its original paint and ornamentation. It's no like seeing it for real, but it's pretty rad.