Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Devlin Family Photos - Universal Studios, 1970's

I have a lot of fondness for Universal Studios in the 1970's. Who remembers when Alfred Hitchcock did commercials for the park? 

The Devlin family has about a dozen pictures from Universal, I think you'll get a kick out of them!

We'll start with this photo, showing a young woman being carried off by Frankenstein's monster (though his friends -like me- call him "Frankie"). She doesn't look very worried. As a kid I always looked forward to seeing Frankie, or the Phantom at least. Meanwhile the couple in the background is breaking at least 3 laws by carrying a bag from Disneyland.

I can't tell if the girl is one of the Devlin sisters (Judy or Mary) all grown up; or it could be a girlfriend of one of the boys. If only there was someone who could tell us!

The "Glamor Trams" took visitors on a 2+ hour guided tour of Universal's historic backlot... I sure loved it! Among the sights was a particularly cozy (and oddly familiar) street known as "Colonial Street" - later "Wisteria Lane". This house (the "Dana Home") was used in a 1941 Deanna Durbin film called "Nice Girl", and Ronald Reagan lived there in "Bedtime for Bonzo" in 1951. It was later used in "Desperate Housewives" - a show I managed to miss completely.

I believe that this next house is one that was built for the 1955 movie, "The Desperate Hours", and was known at the time as the "Paramount House". It was apparently used in the third season of "Leave it to Beaver", as well as "Marcus Welby, M.D." From what I gather, this house was moved to another part of the lot, and a different home was built for the 1985-1989 series, "Still the Beaver", which was way better than that crummy old black and white original show.

Here's a familiar view from the upper backlot looking down on the lower lot, with "Park Lake" and "Little Europe". Note the riverboat in the lake. In 1973 the "Parting of the Red Sea" effect was built there, so presumably this is pre-73. Past the Lakeside Golf Course you can see Warner Studios, and just above that, the Walt Disney Studios. Beyond the Verdugo Hills is the end of the Earth.

Zooming in a bit, you can see the riverboat in the lower left. The empty concrete channel for the Los Angeles River (the most beautiful river in the world!) can be seen. Near the riverboat you can just see a small homestead that appears to be stuck in a perpetual winter...

...and here it is up close! I can't find anything about this feature - was it built strictly for the tour, or was it used in a move? "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House and Then Makes Snow Cones Out of Real Snow But They Taste Kinda Funny". The snow looks very convincing.

Many thanks to the Devlin family - there will be another batch of Universal Studios photos coming up next week!


Nanook said...


What great views from Universal, long before the tour became over-commercialized.

The Paramount House as seen here, sports the more elaborate front porch with the extended roof and columns - as used for Marcus Welby, M. D.. The house was used for the last four seasons of Leave It to Beaver, the first two seasons [1957 & 1958] being shot at Republic Studios (Universal leasing the lot for its television shows - Revue Productions - during those years. Later, the lot was bought by CBS and renamed CBS Studio Center). By its third season, Leave It to Beaver and other Revue Productions moved over to the Universal Studios lot.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House was produced by RKO, who used the Fox Ranch location in Malibu (now a part of Malibu Creek State Park), to construct the exteriors for the famous house. But you gotta admit that snowy house on the Universal Tour gives every indication of being inundated in real snow.

Thanks, Devlin Family and The Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, I remember the house with the snow, but when the tram drove around to the other side of the house, there wasn't any snow at all. That is a good question about whether the house was built just for the studio tour or if it was actually used in a movie. Speaking of snow, do you remember one of the attractions in the "upper lot" was a scene where guests could push a button and fake snow would fall. You could also play in the fake snow.

I like how the reflection of the tram can be seen in that first Colonial Street photo. That first house was the home of Felicity Huffman and Doug Savant (The Scavos) in Desperate Housewives. Colonial Street's history is confusing since some of the original houses have been majorly altered or removed altogether.

I love these vintage Universal shots. Thanks to the Devlin Family, for sharing more of their personal photos with us!

K. Martinez said...

I love these images. This is the Universal Studios I loved before it got too theme parky. I was a big fan of "Desperate Housewives" and Wisteria Lane. I wish Universal would exploit their old Universal Monster Classics a bit more. Thanks again to the Devlin Family for sharing more of their family photos with us. I love 'em! And thank you Major, for hosting.

Chuck said...

What makes the history of Colonial Street even more confusing is that the whole thing was moved in 1981 from its original location, just out of frame to the left of the riverboat in the overview photo, to its current location, just to the right of Laramie Street at the extreme right of the same picture. So, while many of the buildings are the same, this Colonial Street isn't the same one used as Wisteria Lane.

Major, the Parting of the Red Sea tour element is in this photo, but it's really hard to see from this angle. It's located just this side of the Sweet Charity Bridge, past the trees to the right of Snow Cottage. You can just make out the churning water at the far end of the effect, just to the right of the bridge.

I don't remember noticing that Quonset hut and surrounding "jungle" to the right of the bridge before. With that large dirt expanse to its left and piles of "equipment" around, I wonder if this area was used for some exterior shots for Baa Baa Black Sheep. If that's so, this would place the photo between 1976 and 1978 or shortly thereafter.

Also note the steam coming from the trees in front of the Tower of London set. I think that's from the Runaway Train.

Also note the glimpse of a T-33 jet trainer and the rolling stagecoach backdrop at Prop Plaza in the extreme lower left corner of the frame.

TM!, I remember the fake snowfall scene (I want to say it was next to the dock where it was always raining, but my memories are hazy on it), but I also remember there being a wooden fence railing between us and the snow, preventing my sister and I from getting into it like we wanted to. That may be an element that changed over time.

Like Ken, this is my favorite Universal. Thanks again, Major!

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I do mention Marcus Welby, M.D., though I didn’t give such a thorough history of “Leave it to Beaver”! Still, I appreciate the additional info. My “Mr. Blandings” comment was supposed to be a joke, but I guess it didn’t come across… I didn’t really think that the snowy cottage was used in that Cary Grant film.

TokyoMagic!, yes, I do remember the fake snow that you could trigger with a button! And the oft-repeated story that corn flakes were beneath fake snow because it made a convincing “crunch”. Why not Wheaties? It’s a conspiracy! I also remember an H.R. Pufnstuf (spelling?) tableau. I generally ignored any “Desperate Housewives” info, since I never watched the show.

K. Martinez, I agree with you, they need to use those Universal Monsters. As I said to TM!, I never watched “Desperate Housewives”, and know almost nothing about it, so when the Glamor Tram went past Wisteria Lane, all I could think about was how much I missed the Munsters’ House.

Chuck, with the regular fires that have swept through the studio backlot, I’m sure a lot of history has been moved or forever erased. Thanks for the info about the parting of the Red Sea; somehow in my memory I thought it went across a larger swath of lake. I also didn’t know that “Baa Baa Black Sheep” was filmed at Universal (even a little bit) - my brother was a big fan of that show, since he was obsessed with WWII aircraft. I had wondered about that smoke/steam too, so thanks for that.

Melissa said...

So cool; I'd have recognized Marcus Welby's house anywhere!

Nanook said...

Oh, Major-

I didn't miss the Marcus Welby reference - I was only commenting how the facade had been changed over the years. And I also threw-in a bit of Revue Productions history - that explains why at the end of Season 2 of Leave It to Beaver, the producers 'wrote into the story' about the Cleaver's moving to a new house, as the production, itself, was [literally] moving from Studio City to Universal City.

And the Blanding's joke wasn't lost on me. Frankly I was impressed you referenced such a film. Although quite popular at its initial release, I'd imagine most folks have never heard of it - in spite of it starring Cary Grant.

Anonymous said...

Major and the Devlins, these are wonderful. Thank you.

I remember being choked by Frank, only he had to bend down since I was about 7 years old.

The vista brings back some good memories. The golf course is just east of my dad's old homestead, which would be behind us to the left out of the shot. He said they could often hear the lions roaring in the Universal zoo in the early AM when the air was still. In that era (1920's), the valley was still mostly farm land.

Re: Mr. Blandings, in Fresno there is a house that is the exact copy of the movie house, supposedly built from the same plans. It's on Terrace Ave, just west of Palm. I think you can google it. I have looked at it in street view, it's still there, looks just like the film. I can't explain why it was built, or how it ended up there. It's a great film, and an even funnier book, at least to architects.

The Marcus Welby house was the de-facto "style model" for many residential projects I handled in West LA years later. When clients wanted a colonial-style home, we would joke (privately) that it would be another "Beaver Cleaver" job. The fieldstone and the shallow arches over the doors were classic elements of that style. Go drive around Brentwood north of Sunset, you'll see a lot of my early work, if it hasn't been remodeled out of existence.

Thanks so much again. Great memories.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Blandings house in Fresno, 280 E Terrace Ave. (Just checked via Google Street View)

It's looking really good, no sign of the drought on the lawn.


Nanook said...

@ JG-

Evidently that film spawned a whole series of "Mr. Blandings" homes across the country. Although quoted from Wikipedia - it really is true: "As a promotion for the film, the studio built 73 "dream houses" in various locations in the United States, selling some of them by raffle; over 60 of the houses were equipped by General Electric".

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, after I wrote that about playing in the snow scene, I remembered that there was a fence across it keeping guests from entering the scene. But there was at least one promotional photo or postcard showing a young attractive couple playing in the snow and pretending to throw snowballs at each other. Universal is NOTORIOUS for false advertising! The push-button snow set was locate pretty close to the "continuous rain" effect (which they just took out the last remnant of, for The Simpson's "Springfield" area).

I don't think that steam could be from the Runaway Train. The Runaway Train was located in the western streets which can be seen just beyond the steam, but the steam looks like it's much closer than that. I wonder if that could be steam coming from the restaurant that was located in the Prop Plaza area. That restaurant was located on a terraced area just above the stagecoach with the moving background and the jet plane.

Also, I remember that jungle area near the snow cottage having a lame effect of a "swinging gorilla" that would come out from behind some trees and travel on a wire across to some other trees. Does anyone else remember that? It was pretty underwhelming.

I forgot about the entire Colonial Street being moved in the early eighties. And I don't like how they have altered the Munster House! It is barely recognizable now.

Chuck said...

TM!, my theory of the smoke/steam coming from the Runaway Train was just a guess, since I didn't really remember exactly where it had been, but I'm now convinced that it's the most likely explanation.

It's hard to see, but the smoke/steam is actually coming from behind the trees on the far side of Prop Plaza (follow the treeline from the T-33 and you can see that the trees in front of the smoke are behind the Prop Plaza platform), which would put it within the complex of Western streets.

While things have changed since this photo was taken, at the time there were several, interconnected Western streets that took up a fair amount of real estate. To the extreme right, just beyond the wispy smoke, there's Laramie Street (where Elm Street sits today). Roughly parallel to but downhill from Laramie Street is Denver Street, visible in this photo running from just this side of Spartacus Square at the back right of Little Europe and following along the base of the hillside until it disappears behind the vegetation just before the concentrated smoke plume. Denver Street continues along the base of the hill below Prop Plaza all the way to Six Points, Texas, which is visible just above the T-33.

The railroad tracks ran parallel to Denver Street, originating behind Spartacus Square, then crossed the north-south street that leads to Singapore (Jaws) Lake and continued on along the edge of Six Points and out towards New York Street. You can see a closer overview of most of Denver Street in this photo. Note how the tracks curve around the right side of the photo past the little depot where the short train is parked. Also note the two facades with the covered porches across the street and to the left, just before the wagon wheel propped up on the curb - that's important for orienting the location of the Runaway Train.

It's hard to find pictures from this era of the Runaway Train in its larger context; most photos, films and videos are shot at really tight angles and emphasize the thrilling danger of the near-catastrophe. I did find a video, however, that shows the train menacing a tram from a high angle. If you pause it at 5:39, you'll see those two covered porches I highlighted in the previous photo. To their left is a three-sectioned facade that runs at a right angle to Denver Street.

Zooming in on the original Devlin Family photo, just to the right of the thick plume of smoke and just above the treeline, you can see the top of that three-sectioned facade, with the two porches just to the right of that. So the smoke plume really is in the right place to be from the Runaway Train.

So, after all of that cross-referencing and photo analysis to figure out the exact location of the train, I just read that they left the locomotive in place after its last runaway run in 1985 at least through 1998 - which is in the exact same spot where I saw it in 1993. I just didn't know it was the same locomotive in the same place. If I'd known that, it would have saved me a lot of work (although it wouldn't have been as much fun).

I do remember that swinging gorilla! And you're right - even as a little kid, I thought it was pretty lame, although the severed human arm it was carrying sort of creeped me out. I'll bet he didn't blog, either.

Chuck said...

And just for the fun of it, here's a professionally-shot silent film of Universal's lot around 1970. It includes an east-to-west trip down Denver Street (2:08-3:00) followed by a west-to-east trip along Laramie Street (3:00-4:08) that drives past the Psycho House and ends at the downhill road that connected the east end of both streets. This film predates the Runaway Train, which was built by the Studio and debuted in 1975; the locomotive visible from 2:28-2:40 is a different one.

At the end of the film is a great overall shot of Prop Plaza showing the snack stands on the left, the P-51 on the far right (later replaced by the T-33 in the Devlin Family photo), and the stagecoach to the left of the P-51 with the rolling backdrop in operation.

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, I see what you are talking about. It can't be coming from the restaurant then, because it is on the other side of those trees. It still looks like an awful lot of smoke and kind of close to be coming from the Runaway Train, but I don't know what else it could be. You did some pretty thorough research there! I'm pretty sure the Runaway Train was still there (but static) during my last visit in 2012. I think I took a pic, so I will have to go look for that. I do have a pic that my dad took in December of 1984 with a tank-like apparatus attached to the Runaway Train as it was charging towards the tram and a figure of Mr. T inside of the tank, so obviously it was given an "A-Team" makeover in it's final year(s).

Anonymous said...

@Nanook, wow. I did not know that.

I only learned of the Fresno house in conversation with a friend who lived near it, I thought it might have been a one-off by a fan or something.

Great promotional idea for the film, but kind of expensive in today's market.

One of the best parts of that film now is hearing the vintage pricing.


Patrick Devlin said...

And way too late for anyone to read is the info that is not either Judy or Mary Devlin. I talked to Tom today (whose pictures these were) and he didn't know either. I'll see what turns up.