Saturday, March 27, 2021

Last Photos from MGM Studio, 1970

While going through a folder in my DropBox, I realized that I still had seven more scans from some vintage Viewmaster reels (not commercial reels, but personal reels), featuring photos of the MGM backlot as taken by Rol and Jo Summit, not long before the backlot was razed in 1970. For more context, please see my very first post of MGM backlot photos HERE. Believe it or not, it's been almost exactly two years since my last MGM post.

This first view appears to be a western village surrounded by a protective wall. Maybe it's supposed to be in Mexico? You've got the little chapel, and what might be the town jail to the left of it. I don't have my copy of "MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot" handy, which is a shame because I'd like to learn more about this area. If one of you has a copy of that book, or can add anything, please chime in!

I can only imagine that these dusty streets appeared in scores of movies, and probably hundreds of television episodes. The hills of Culver City are in the background.

Here's another angle on the buildings visible in photo #1, including that chapel. Good folks could take refuge from marauding bandits inside. 

The sun is literally and symbolically setting on this old-time street; there's something a little spooky about a deserted backlot. Better get the Scooby gang in here! The architecture looks to be a little more modern (but not much) than a typical "Western street", but there's still dirt roads, and no motorcars.

This log cabin looks very much like the one I was born in. As you know, I went on to practice law in Illinois, and then... well, I think you know the rest. 

This impressive building is visible in photo #4; there is a sign on it that says "County Court House", but I'm sure it stood in for various city halls and other important municipal buildings. Notice the various buggies and coaches parked on the street, waiting for somebody to bid on them and take them home.

Some of you are aware that "The Twilight Zone" used the MGM backlot; here's the area seen in the previous photo, from the famous 1960 episode, "A Stop at Willoughby" (season one, episode 30). We mention that one regularly here on GDB!

And finally, one last look down an old street, Spanish moss hanging from the branches overhead. It all looks so genuine! I guess that's why MGMs backlot was so highly regarded. And to think that it would all be gone not long after these pictures were taken; so much history.

Many thanks to Rol and Jo Summit for allowing me to share these amazing photos!


Nanook said...

Hmmm.... talk about tricky. With the exception of images #4, 6 & 7 - which show the Courthouse on Western Street, the others are very hard to pin down - although that, or Ghost Town Street are both worthy candidates. It seems a safe bet that ALL the images are located somewhere on Lot Three based on my research (using M-G-M Hollywood's Greatest Backlot), but maybe not.

Thanks to the Summits for sharing these fun photos.

JC Shannon said...

Movie magic. I love it. All those many movies and TV shows filmed on all those streets, gone forever. Some days, when I contemplate the great questions of life, like did Adam and Eve have belly buttons? Was Pepperidge born a Major, or was he promoted from Captain? Is that poor schlub actually living in Willoughby or dead on the side of the tracks? Who can know? Like the Mine Train and Skull Rock, they lives on in old photos. Thanks major.

Stu29573 said...

It's so sad to see Willoughby in such a sad state. Still, it might be in its heavenly place as well. Do buildings have souls? I think they might...

Chuck said...

Looking at these photos, you can see how run-down the backlot was by this point. I can see why the powers-that-be at the time saw more value in the property as real estate than as a potential tourist attraction. Not saying I would have made the same decision (and honestly, had I been in charge of a declining corporation like MGM at the time, I don't know what I would have done to try to keep it afloat), but I understand.

I think the first and third photo are supposed to be a frontier fort. Note the flagpole on the edge of what's probably intended to be the parade ground.

I'd never noticed before that the courthouse facade is asymmetrical. That will probably bug me forever now.

Many thanks to the Summits for sharing these photos with us over the years.

JG said...

Photos of a piece of history, no doubt, Major.

Thanks to you and the Summits for sharing with us.

@Stu, after 40+ years in architecture, I can confirm, buildings have souls (or should, since some do not).


Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I wanted to look in my own copy of “MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot” (purchased at your recommendation), but can’t find it. Somebody stole it! OK, I probably put it somewhere dumb. I realize that there is not a lot to go on in some of the photos, so I appreciate you trying to figure it out.

Jonathan, it really is such a shame that this incredible, historic backlot was torn down as if it was no better than blocks of slums. Adam and Eve had buttons, just not on their bellies. And yes, I was born a Major! It’s a long story. I’d like to think that the man is living in Willoughby in one dimension, while his “other” self jumped off the train.

Stu29573, just think of all the activity that this backlot saw! And all of the biggest stars in Hollywood. I wish I could have seen it when it was truly bustling and prosperous.

Chuck, I have to wonder if the management let the backlot get rundown, knowing that its days were numbered? It’s the same with the now-razed buildings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; it always baffled me as to why they would let everything get so worn and dirty - I believe that they could use its poor condition as one more nail in the coffin. Now it’s gone forever, to be replaced with what will be a monument to the museum’s Director. But I digress! It seems hard to believe that the studio wasn’t making any money with so many TV shows filming there all the time; I certainly have no knowledge of studio finances, but again I would bet money that Kerkorian and his partners were more interested in quick, short-term profits than taking care of the studio. Your “frontier fort” guess is a good one. I like the asymmetry of the courthouse! It’s unexpected!

Jonathan, there is something to the idea that history seeps into the bricks, stone, and wood of old buildings; I’m sure that is partly the origin of so many ghost sightings!

Nanook said...

After spending even more time with that M-G-M book, image #2 is Ghost Town Street; and image #8 is Western Street - again. (Yes, both 'streets' are on Lot Three).

Nanook said...

And just because... HERE'S an aerial view - that's Jefferson Blvd. on the left, and Overland Ave., running along the bottom. You can clearly see the Courthouse towards the lower-right, and the Showboat near the upper-left. Undoubtedly, the other images in today's post are waiting to be discovered somewhere in this aerial view.

Nanook said...

If I've got my act together - as you move up in the image - behind the Courthouse is Mexican Street (the L-shaped building at the far right should be Fort Canby); Billy the Kid Street; Ghost Town; St. Louis Street (nestled-in around the trees); Easter Parade Street - the buildings at this time [1951], prominently-displaying gables.

Fort Scott (perhaps seen in today's post) is the area to the left of the Courthouse; and above it, crammed together are Melbury Street, Dutch Street, and Brooklyn Street, moving from right-to-left.

Melissa said...

The light in these photos is gorgeous, especially coming through the courthouse bell tower in #4.

Melissa said...

Just the other day, I was reading just a partial list of movies and TV shows that were filmed on Universal’s Phantom of the Opera set that stood in Stage 8 from 1925-2014 before the building was demolished. If I can never see these places in person, I’m at least glad to live in an age when they’re so well-documented.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, interesting that they would have a “Ghost Town Street”, since you’d think that they could just redress their Western Street. Was there that much call for a Ghost Town setting??

Nanook, oh, that’s a great photo! Man, I wish I could teleport back in time and stroll around the backlot at my leisure! Neat that we can see the Showboat.

Nanook again! It’s fascinating to see how they managed to cram so many different regions and styles in a small area. I’m sure there’s a real art to making the most of limited land. Thanks for all of your research!

Melissa, yes, for personal Viewmasters, some of these look quite nice.

Melissa, I’m still bummed about the destruction of the Phantom building. Supposedly they saved the sets, but I”m not sure I believe it. After surviving for 80 years or so, I guess they just had to go.


Chuck: that is hilarious you noticed that the “courthouse” set is asymmetrical!!!! I noticed too , and it bothers me ... but I kept it to myself until I knew somebody else noticed!!


It’s amazing the impact these sets had on people. I remember reading how director/producer Vincent Minelli insisted on have specifically victorian built neighborhood for the production of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS ....the studio wanted him to just re-dress the colonial revival ANDY HARDY neighborhood ..... but Minelli said “ no new set movie”. And it’s a good thing they did , because the “St. Louis “ neighborhood set practically made that film. Even a critic said that the main house should have been given acting credit as it was the greatest “character” actor in the film! I think movie sets , and theme park attractions have souls.

Sometimes however I think it’s better to have movie sets destroyed ... because how they are used after their “glorious” life. That Staring family mansion in Meet Me In St. Louis was used in dozens of other films - and always recognizable as a star long ago - but it was always in a dowdy, run down state ..... or the home of a wacky aunt and Desi Arnez and Lucille Ball destroying its Rose pergola and porch in THE LONG, LONG TRAILER.

Michael Landon didn’t want the sets to Little House on the Prairie being used in other tv shows or dog food commercials - he considered those sets as characters themselves and stipulated that they be destroyed - and had their destruction written into the show’s final episode.
The church / school was and the Ingall’s soundstage exterior were saved and put into storage - only to be destroyed later in the fire of Old Tucson.

I’m still disturbed by seeing what happened to the New York Hello Dolly sets ...... probably the best movie set ever created! But I guess they served their purpose and the fact any off it survived it all to any extent was lucky.

If you want to see more about the end of the MGM studio lots and sets ....and see the BIG auction the documentary WHEN THE LION ROARD.

Melissa said...

I’m darned if I can find the exact article, but Mike Cozart’s comment about the state of re-used sets reminded me of one I read recently about the beaded, fur-trimmed gown Marlene Dietrich wore in ANGEL. A collector bought it and wanted to restore it. The restorers found that it had been cut apart and reassembled so many times - sometimes using GLUE! - that they had to practically rebuild it over a new underdress. The restoration took years. The article had pictures of the costume in some of its different configurations; it was fascinating but the seamstress in me was just shuddering.

I guess getting their money’s worth out of everything was how the studios managed to produce so much output.


Melissa: like the Walt Disney Studios removing the trim from Mary Poppins JOLLY HOLIDAY dress and dying it grey to re-use in The Happiest Millionaire.....the Happiest Millionaire mansion front doors being reused as the front doors to The Grand Imperial Hotel in SnowBall Express ....the Stienmetz Fire House from Herbie the Love Bug becoming a Assay Office In Quake City in Apple Dumpling Gang......Captain Nemos triple back salon sofa inside the lobby of the Grand Imperial Hotel in Snowball Express .... the full-size plywood character standees from Bedknobs and Broomsticks live filming for an Images sequences stand-ins appear as TV APPLIANCE STORE window advertisements in opening scenes from The Barefoot Executive.....and the Biddle Mansion’s Happiest Millionaire foyer table re used as miss prices’s incantation table in “broomsticks”........the dock workers in Pete’s Dragon ( 1977) are wearing the gymnasium sweaters from Happiest of the Carmel Estate in the 1961 PARENT TRAP are re-used Zorro set!!

And that’s just a handful of Disney Studio re-uses . Then there is also disney studio to park use , park to studio reuse , and park to park reuse !

Omnispace said...

Thanks! Fascinating photos! Several of them remind me of Knott's Ghost Town when it had the dirt/gravel streets. They also look great in photos, and I agree with Melissa about the character of the light, but I know from visiting the back lot at Warner Brothers that the detail is just enough to be passable on film. It's actually amazing how Walt was able to harness the artistic qualities of these types of sets and turn them into environments that hold-up under close scrutiny - a blending of set design with actual architecture.

JG, I've heard several notable architects speak about the soul of a building - not only because they are the culmination of a endeavored creative process, but also in how some are able to move the souls of those who visit them. In fact, one of my professors was most dismayed by buildings that left him feeling nothing at all - and then feeling angry because of it.

"Lou and Sue" said...

Major, Rol and Jo Summit: Thank you for sharing your pictures from the MGM Studio of Hollywood past! I LOVE old-Hollywood and really enjoyed everyone's interesting comments and experiences shared here today.

Mike, after reading your comments, now I think I'll go toss a salad...

Chuck said...

Mike, your comment about Park-to-Studio re-use made me think of the stagecoach that made its way from Disneyland to the Studio after the attraction closed.

A couple of months ago, my wife and I watched The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin on Disney+, and I thought the stagecoach in the stage robbery scene looked familiar. I remembered TM! had done a stagecoach megapost and looked that up to verify that it was indeed a bona-fide Disneyland refugee, and that led me to your comment on his post about the stagecoach moving over to the Studio and reappearing in other films like Return From Witch Mountain.

A few weeks later, I talked my wife into watching Return with me (which is an even worse film than I remembered), but it was fun seeing the stagecoach again (albeit with an odd, square hole in the front under the driver's footrest). I then went looking and found the same stagecoach in The Apple Dumpling Gang. There's also a stagecoach scene in Hot Lead and Cold Feet which I'm sure is the same stagecoach, but it's not on Disney+ yet so I wasn't able to verify.

I'm curious as to how many stagecoaches are left in Hollywood? With the dearth of current Western production, I'm willing to bet there are just one or two that get rented around to different production companies.