Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Devlin Family Photos - Universal Studios, 1970's

Here is the second of two posts from the Devlin family's vacation photos from Universal Studios! 

This first one shows some of the streets of "New York". Pay no attention to those un-New Yorky hills! Presumably, matte paintings would be used for long shots. It's easy to imagine this scene coming to life with the addition of vintage vehicles, plenty of extras, signage, moody lighting, and everyone's favorite trick - spraying the street with water. If you have no water, just empty out a bag full of white mice (rabid, if available). New York Street has been destroyed by fire three times - the last fire was in 2008. Say, now that I think of it, where were YOU in 2008? Your eyes suddenly got all shifty!

I can almost imagine a mob of gangsters stopping by this hardware shop.  Even criminals need an extra key once in a while. Because shenanigans.

Now we're on Brownstone Street, named after Sir Reginald Brownstone IV (Harvard, class of '02). The level of detail is amazing. At one time this street had "residential" buildings on one side (presumably what we're seeing here), and "commercial" buildings on the opposite side. Now the commercial buildings have been removed and there is a park in its place. 

This next view from a tram, driving past a mysterious structure. What is it? I see chimneys. And columns. I know, it's a museum about the history of corn! 

Hmm,  maybe I need to rethink my initial hypothesis.It appears to be the thin façade of a house, with orange flames leaping out of the top windows. The Magic of Hollywood (brought to you by Space Food Sticks, from Pillsbury)! I wonder why that double-decker bus is parked there; maybe it brought a lot of  British firefighters? "I say, old bean, in my day these house fires just weren't done. Bad form". "Indubitably. Please pass the clotted cream".  Aaaaand.... scene.

Here's one final view from a higher vantage point (as you can see, Universal Studios is on some hilly terrain); more red buses, what gives? Was the flaming house ever used in an actual film or television show? Steve Austin probably walked past it in at least one episode (he walked a LOT). In the distance is the amphitheater for the stunt show (cowboys punchin' and shootin', smashin' and a-crashin'!) as well as the broken stone tower from "The War Lord", a movie that I don't believe really exists.

THANK YOU to the Devlins for letting me share these great vintage photos!


Nanook said...


All studio backlots need a lot 'set dressing' to make them pass for "reality". I would have to say those of the Universal backlot needed more help than the other major studios to pass for realism. That's just my opinion; but as "detailed" as the Brownstones seem to appear here, for example, they are rather spartan compared to many others in Hollywood.

I see you eventually solved the question of the 'mysterious structure', by "driving around back". It was the infamous Burning House, originally located near the upper lot, but found its way down to what eventually became the Jurassic Park River Adventure. (I believe this was Universal's answer to the Settler's Cabin a-Fire-!!) I also think the Burning House was one of the sets often described by the tram tour guides as: "This is a facade. A facade is French for false front". Yes, if nothing else, Universal was most-concerned with educating the public in the French language. Fantastique-!!

Thanks Devlins and The Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, you still make me laugh out loud....I just don't say it every time that happens!

The management at Universal sure does like to tear things down....the Burning House, the War Lord Tower, The Wild West Stunt Show arena, the Universal Amphitheater. I have a feeling if that last fire hadn't destroyed the King Kong animatronic, they probably would have taken a wrecking ball and a bulldozer to it just for kicks.

Say, you know what the Burning House needs? A body laying out in front of it. A body with an arrow through it's chest! A twitching body with an arrow through it's chest! Those are some great shots. I don't think I've ever seen a side view shot of the burning house.....or a backside view for that matter. Here's a fun fact that nobody will care about! When the Burning House was moved as Nanook mentioned, they moved the fire from the right side of the house to the left side. No, they really did!

Thanks again, to the Devlin family for sharing and THANK YOU Major, for the laughs!

Melissa said...

With no people around, these blank streets and buildings make me think of how I used to imagine American cities would look after the Bomb dropped. Everybody always stressed how it would kill all the people but leave the buildings intact.

(I've been going through this Debbie Downer phase lately...)

K. Martinez said...

Aaaah! The streets of the Twilight Zone! More wonderful vintage Universal Studios shots. I remember when seeing the facades for the first time thinking "Is that it!!!". What an illusion destroyer. Much thanks to the Devlin Family and to Major.

Melisssa, No problem going through the Debbie Downer phase. I occasionally go through a Kenny Killer stage. OMG! They killed Kenny!

Unknown said...

TM!, I think I know what happened when the burning house was moved and the fire switched sides: clearly the right side of the house had suffered job burn-out.


Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, you may be right; the only other studio backlot that I have seen with my own eyes is the Warner Studios lot. The Disney Studio has about 1/2 a block (a small block) of buildings that they dress and redress constantly (today that corner building is a Chinese restaurant - next week, a funky boutique).

TokyoMagic!, I’m glad you had a laugh or two! I am so curious about the new Kong ride being built in Florida. It has an animatronic ape, which is in its favor. I hate the Kong thing that we have here in L.A., so dumb. God help you if you happen to be seated toward the back of the tram. Have you seen the trailer for “Kong: Skull Island”? It looks like it’s gonna be bad. REAL bad.

Melissa, I think I read that an empty backlot was the inspiration for the first aired “Twilight Zone” episode, “Where is Everybody?”. (I’m sorry you are feeling down…)

K. Martinez, speaking of “Where is Everybody”, that one was filmed at Universal! The rest were apparently shot at MGM. I only know this because I recently read “The Twilight Zone Companion” by Mark Zicree (excellent book).

Patrick Devlin, OUCH. Ouch, I say.!

Chuck said...

Wow - great sequence of the Burning House! And that shot down New York Street really shows just how incongruous those hills would be if they weren't matted out.

Major, I'm not sure about The Six Million Dollar Man, but the Burning House did make it into an episode of The A Team. Not saying Steve Austin didn't run past it - he did make a run down Universal's Avalanche Tunnel in the Bigfoot story arc - but I haven't found any references. It may have also made it into the studio tour sequence in The Nude Bomb, although it's been too long since I last saw it (33 years) to remember for sure.

Although I understand it's used for production all of the time, I still get a kick out of discovering yet another movie that was shot on New York Street. In this case, I recently learned that the bank robbery sequence from Dirty Harry was shot at Universal. It makes sense - why would you go through the expense of blocking off and tearing up a real San Francisco neighborhood? - but I was so taken in by the San Francisco location shooting of most of the rest of the film and the sets were dressed believably enough that I missed the transition, which of course is the whole point.

Nanook, I wonder if the level of detail at Universal is kept to a minimum because they have tours coming through every few minutes on a regular basis. Photos I've seen of other major backlots seem to show a lot of miscellaneous props and production equipment parked all over the place and a fair amount of leftover set dressing from the last production which only gets moved out of the way or freshened up just in time for the next shoot. While that makes sense within the economics of studio operation, it makes for a "poor show" for visitors - or, at least for visitors spoiled by a theme park like, oh, say Disneyland. I may be way off here and you have much more experience with other backlots than I do, but I'm throwing it out as a theory.

Melissa, there was a lot of talk about the Neutron Bomb when we were growing up, which is a high-radiation/low-blast effect tactical nuclear weapon. The US' intended use would have been to stop massed Warsaw pact tank formations lumbering west across Europe while doing relatively little damage (in nuclear weapon terms; see also "horseshoes" and "hand grenades") to infrastructure. They were a great trope for sci-fi films and TV programs as you could use existing sets with less actors rather than having to build a devastated landscape from scratch. In reality, if the Sovs had ever launched a counter-value attack against US cities, assuming their missiles were fairly accurate and used high-yield warheads, you'd see something closer to the Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough At Last" rather than the episode "Two."

On a lighter note, thanks again for some great photos, Major and the Devlins!

Melissa said...

On another lighter note, these pictures made me remember being in the Streets of America section of Disney's Hollywood Studios during the Osborne Family holiday light display. The moment at dusk when all the lights came on at the same time was pure magic. There was a kid's tricycle parked in front of one of the building facades, and even *that* was wrapped with lights!

Anonymous said...

I think my dream job would have been designing back lot facades, especially the ones with built-in fires.

Oddly, none of these look familiar to me. I remember the Western and European streets, but not the New York ones.

Thanks Devlins and Major.


Nanook said...


You could very well have a point. But, I think the proof of the pudding is what viewers of (television shows & films) see in the finished product. And (certainly throughout the late 1960's & 1970's, at least), the look of the Universal backlot simply reeked as under-dressed making it easier to identify the same facades being used over and over again. The backlots at other studios required a greater effort on the part of viewers to see the similarities. There was a 'gross sameness' to almost every Universal production during that period, and not simply the backlot scenes - and it wasn't flattering. As The Rockford Files, to pick one example, used so many practical sets and actual locations, that series didn't suffer the same tacky 'visual fate' as many other productions from that era.

It seems as the Studio Tour cleaned-up its act, so did the rest of the production on the lot. But you gotta love all that tackiness, just the same-!

TokyoMagic! said...

Patrick, Ha, ha! And I second the Major's "Ouch!" When it came time to build the Jurassic Park ride, I suppose the Burning House was just "fired" from it's job. It was such a "hot property"....too bad it never worked again.

Chuck said...

Nanook, your point is valid and well-considered. Part of the fun for me of watching shows shot at Universal during that period is the "cameo appearances" of familiar facades, but as you say they are easy to recognize because there's little effort made to disguise them. While there are a few iconic locations at other backlots that jump out when you see them (Blondie Street at Columbia/Warner Ranch and the famous appearance of Floyd's Barber Shop from Andy Griffith at RKO/Desilu Forty Acres in an episode of Star Trek come to mind), most don't stand out as egregiously as the Universal locations.

And I hear you about the "gross sameness" even in interior shots, with standard Universal flat lighting and reuse of the same interior sets. While The Twilight Zone, shot over at MGM, used the same house interior set for at least three different episodes in the first season alone, they did do a good job of dressing it differently enough that it doesn't stand out as much.

Nanook said...

@ Chuck-

Not to drive the nail in the coffin even farther... I was watching an episode of Murder She Wrote on Netflix. (We can have a separate conversation as to just why I would wish to do such a thing to myself, but) the prints that Netflix uses are nothing short of out-and-out gorgeous-! Which is one reason how I got suckered-in. Anyway... the very same floor pattern - and a rather bold one at that - was used in two sequential episodes, no less. They really had no shame over at Universal - and this episode was from the 1990's, no less.

Murder She Wrote aside, the same incredible print sourcing can also be said for The Rockford Files over on Netflix. (I have absolutely no idea why MeTV and other outlets seem to run the same dupy-looking, dark, soft-focus prints, along with horrible audio, year in and year out, when there appears to be proper prints available for viewing).

Chuck said...

Nanook, I find watching MeTV to be creepily reminiscent of watching the same programs in syndication in the '70s and '80s. I have mixed feelings about that - I appreciate the nostalgic effect, but I know there's got to be better prints out there.

I also have this weird dichotomy about watching the original Star Trek. I was ecstatic when our local station got remastered prints in the early '80s and I love watching the show on DVD, but I kind of miss the grainy, worn-out prints that snagged my imagination in the '70s.

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, I just watched the Skull Island trailer. I'm confused. Is it supposed to be a prequel or are there other "Kongs" running around on Skull Island? I didn't care for that last King Kong remake, so I don't think I would pay money to go see this one in the theater. Have you seen the on-ride video of the new Kong Skull Island attraction at Universal's Islands of Adventure in Florida? Once again, it's a whole bunch of 3-D projections. Surprisingly, they did build another huge Kong animatronic, but it is seen very briefly at the end of the ride.

Major Pepperidge said...

Chuck, I’m glad to know that the burning house wound up in The A Team; that’s a show that I never got into, though I know it is beloved by many. I absolutely remember Steve Austin (and Bigfoot!) running through that Avalanche Tunnel. (Never seen “The Nude Bomb” either - I heard it was not good?).

Melissa, that sounds like a pretty amazing moment; I also want to see the moment when all of the lights come on in Carsland. Someday.

JG, that WOULD be a neat job, wouldn’t it? All kinds of architectural styles and eras. What lucky person gets to do that?

Nanook and Chuck, I am enjoying your conversation, though it feels weird for me to comment on your comments to each other!

TokyoMagic!, it appears as if the Skull Island movie takes place in the 1970’s… some people are saying that it has a Vietnam, “Apocalypse Now” vibe. We’ll see! I have no idea about the status of Kong (or Kongs), though there are stills showing cast members walking past gigantic bones of other giant apes. I have not seen any on-ride video of the Florida attraction - to be honest I did not know if it had opened yet. Those 3-D projections in the Hollywood version are crap. There, I said it.

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, The new Kong attraction opened in Florida a few months ago and yes, the projections in the Hollywood version are pure crap! They should be embarrassed! They should have just rebuilt Bob Gurr's giant Kong animatronic. I haven't seen the Fast and Furious "attraction" (and I use that term loosely), but I've been told that it is mostly projections as well, and that it is also crap! Unfortunately, it's the new age of theme park attractions. Sad!

Chuck said...

Wait - TM! - are you saying that park designers can develop engaging, immersive, three-dimensional attractions that don't rely on projection technology? Has such a thing even been tried before?

Chuck said...

Major, no, Nude Bomb was not good. An average dumb comedy for the period, I guess, but not up to the level of Get Smart in any way, shape, or form.

Back in '76, I remember our Universal guide for the sound stage portion of the tour telling us that Lee Majors had a lot of trouble shooting that scene in the ice tunnel. The spinning tunnel threw off his equilibrium and he kept turning to one side before falling down. If I remember the story right, he finally had to run away from the camera with his eyes closed.

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, I barely remember a time when they did it, but yes, they are capable of it. At least the older ones were!

I remember the Six Million Dollar Man running through the Avalanche/Glacier Tunnel. The Bionic Woman crossed the Collapsing Bridge in one episode (but it didn't collapse) and the Sweet Charity bridge near the Parting of the Red Sea attraction, in another episode. She could also be seen running around the studio hillside quite a bit, while the So. Cal. landscape and vegetation was supposed to pass for foreign locations such as Africa, Mexico, Spain and East Germany.