The lovely backlot in "False Witness".
The backlot and Western Street was selected for five "Bonanza"
episodes by production manager Kent McCray. The reason was the ninth
season became a Western which followed for two more seasons through
1970. The trail town stories that took place away from the Ponderosa had
to simulate being distant in nature, without using the rented street at
Paramount Pictures. At the rear of the backlot was where the Western Street was created
with Ballona Creek and Baldwin Hills behind it.
Joe and Hoss at the backlot.
Joe rides in the main entrance onto the Western Street on the backlot.
The Forty Acres backlot was dotted with sycamores, willows and tules,
framed by high grassy knolls on all sides. Rising just above the floor
of a sleepy little town, the backlot was a perfect and idyllic setting
that served as the capitol for Hollywood's motion pictures and filmed
The barn at the upper end of the street with
Baldwin Hills coming down
on the backlot.
Rear of the backlot with grassy knolls.
In September 1967, the first episode filmed on the Western Street was
"False Witness" during the 1967-68 season with David Canary as Candy.
For the 1968-69 season, the production returned to the Culver City
backlot for "Catch As Catch Can" and "My Friend, My Enemy", filmed the
summer of 1968. In December of 1968, the production filmed on the
backlot again while making "The Clarion" and the final episode at the
backlot was "The Running Man" made in January 1969, including the
opening act where the house facade is burned down on the backlot.
History of RKO Forty Acres
Known as Forty Acres even though the actual acreage is just over 28
acres ( the backlot and Culver City studio sites cover approximately 40
acres ), this primary backlot for RKO Studio ( another one existed in
the Encino community in San Fernando Valley ), came into existence in
1926-27. The history of the Culver City Studio backlot goes back to
September 1918, when Thomas Ince purchased the property from Henry
Culver. The Ince Studios were in business from 1919 to 1924.
In 1925, Cecil B. DeMille acquired Ince's holdings. To film his "King
of Kings", DeMille leased 28-1/2 acres of land close to the studio. This
property became known as Forty Acres backlot. On this property, DeMille
built the biblical city of Jerusalem. In 1928, RKO was created and took
over the ownership of the Culver City property for the film "The Bird of
Paradise". They built a jungle and native village and the Jerusalem
gates can be seen in the feature film "King Kong".
Joseph Kennedy served as one of the studio heads during this time. It
was during his tenure here that he had his famous love affair with
leading lady Gloria Swanson. Legend has it that Kennedy built her a
private dressing room as a gift. Only much later, after the affair
ended, did Swanson discover Kennedy used her money to pay for it. The
bungalow still stands and is used as an office for writers and
In 1935, David O. Selznick leased the property from RKO for his
Selznick International Pictures. On the backlot, he constructed the town
of Atlanta, a railroad station, and the Tara mansion for "Gone With the
Wind". Portions of the Jerusalem sets, including the gates were burned
to the ground. Portions of the Atlanta sets were later used in the
television series "The Andy Griffith Show" as the town of Mayberry. To
see where the Mayberry portion of the set was located, view the film
"The Magnificent Ambersons".
The Atlanta sets in Gone With the Wind.
The Selznick film "The Garden of Allah" in 1936, had the remaining
Jerusalem sets redressed into an Arch village. The set was used in the
RKO Tarzan films.
Across Ballona Creek from the main backlot, the lake and jungle for the
Tarzan feature was created. It was here that Sol Lesser recreated the
MGM treehouse, but only one-half of it. The right portion was a matte
In 1948, millionaire Howard Hughes bought a controlling interest in the
studio. His micro-management of RKO studio would become its downfall.
Hughes was considered impossible to work for. Under his rule the few
movies he did make were flops and contracted talent left the studio in
droves to escape his tyrannical ways.
Through his systematic disruption and dismantling of the studio by
1955, he split it up into two entities: RKO Pictures, Inc. and RKO
Theatres Corporation. He then sold RKO Pictures to a subsidy of General
Tire and Rubber Company in 1955.
In 1954, the RKO movie ranch that was located in the community of
Encino was closed and purchased by the Encino Park housing development.
The 89-acre backlot was bulldozed with plans to adjoin it to the growing
RKO Movie Ranch at Encino.
Portions of two films in 1938 were filmed at the Encino backlot:
"Stagecoach" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". In 1946, filmed portions
of "It's a Wonderful Life" were filmed at the backlot at Encino. The set
of Bedford Falls covered four acres north of Burbank Boulevard and on
both sides of Louise Avenue. The set included a main street of 75 stores
and buildings, a factory district and a large residential slum area.
Back to Culver City, RKO Forty Acres was slowly becoming a ghost town.
The name changed again to RKO General, Incorporated. RKO General was
notable not for what they produced, but what they released, a massive
backlog of movies and shorts that were all sent to television stations
in Los Angeles. After the last film was out the door, the studio was up
for sale again.
In 1957, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who owned Desilu Productions,
purchased the ownership of the main studio and backlot. Over the next
decade, television emerged as the primary business conducted at the
studio. Desilu Productions new ownership of RKO in Culver City also
included the physical property of RKO's other studios that were located
on Cahuenga Boulevard and Gower Street in Hollywood, right behind
The mansion at Desilu Studio in Culver City.
Desilu would rent the backlot to television productions such as "Ben
Casey", "Lassie", "My Three Sons", "The Untouchables", "The Adventures of Superman", "The
Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet", "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.", and "The Andy
Griffith Show". Later classics such as "Peyton Place", "Hogan's Heros"
"Batman", "The Green Hornet" and "Mannix" ( which Desilu bought in 1967
), were filmed on the main Desilu backlot. Desilu Studios was very
successful and had this little Mom and Pop feeling that accompanied all
who worked there. By 1964, Lucy realized she was struggling against the
big movie studios as television was growing up and began ordering
television pilots to boost her studio profits and stay in business. Lucy would buy two television pilots that would change the face of
television. The first one was named "Star Trek", created by a bright
young writer and producer by the name of Gene Roddenberry.
On December 12, 1964, producer Gene Roddenberry filmed his first "Star
Trek" pilot "The Cage" at Stages 14, 15, and 16 at Desilu in Culver
City. They went over and it took 12 days to shoot it, just a few days
outside the normal range for filming a 50 minute pilot film. The
following year in 1965, the network that he was trying to sell it to for
a television series, NBC Television, rejected the pilot.
A second pilot script was written, along with two others "Mudd's Women"
and "The Omega Glory", but Roddenberry went with "Where No Man Has Gone
Before" to film as the second pilot with filming starting on Monday,
July 19th, 1965. The pilot shoot would wrap 8 days later on July 27th,
1965. Filming was once again at Desilu at Culver on Stages 15 and 16 and
by spring of 1966, the pilot sold to NBC.
Aerial view of Desilu Studio in Culver City.
For the television series, Roddenberry moved back to Desilu on Gower
Street in Hollywood, since he didn't like the stages at the Culver lot,
in particular Stage 15 had a three-foot drop on one side of the cement
floor, which ran through part of Stage 16 and the stage walls were not
soundproofed. Note: He had planned on filming the pilots at
Desilu-Gower, but for some inexplicable reason, he was ordered to shoot
them at Desilu-Culver, which cost more time and money.
Stages 9 and 10 on Gower Street would serve for "Star Trek's" interior
set filming at Desilu in Hollywood. The Culver City studio and backlot
would be used for some stories in the series such as "Miri" and "The
City on the Edge of Forever" and others. The series began filming in May
Desilu-Gower in Hollywood, California.
The other series Lucille choose was "Mission: Impossible", created by
brilliant producer Bruce Geller. The pilot was filmed in 1966 at
Desilu-Culver lot, with the interiors filmed on Stages 7 and 8 at
Desilu-Gower, which was right next door to the "Star Trek" soundstages.
"Mission" would use the main studio and backlot in Culver City for many episodes through the 1968-69 season. Also, the stalag in "Hogan's Heros" was filmed on the Culver City backlot.
Aerial view of Desilu backlot in Culver City.
In 1967, Lucille Ball was being courted by Charles Bluhdorn, a vastly
successful financier who in 8 years had amalgamated 65 companies into a
conglamorate called Gulf and Western Industries. Bluhdorn had just
acquired Paramount Pictures and saw commercial possibilities in making
Desilu into Paramount's TV division and consolidated the adjoining
studio lots into one.
Lucy, who saw that the days of television and independents was drawing
to a close, carefully considered Bluhdorn's offer and finally sold the
studio for approximately seventeen million dollars. In July 1967,
Desilu Productions officially became Paramount Pictures TV.
The walls dividing the two lots were torn down. The Desilu soundstages
were all renumbered and repainted along with the other buildings, and
the grounds on the property were repaved. Stages 7 and 8 that rented for
the "Mission: Impossible" interiors were renumbered Stages 29 and 30.
For "Star Trek" production, Stages 9 and 10 were renumbered Stages 31
Hoss and Candy ride in the main entrance onto the Western Street.
The Sheriff and his men ride onto the Western Street.
Actor George Takei recalled, "A lot of sprucing up being done. It was a
more spacious feeling to be able to expand to the Paramount side. When
Paramount took over, they repainted the buildings and repaved." Not
everyone was happy with the changes; some felt that Desilu had lost its
Mom and Pop feeling.
In 1968, while the industry was suffering, Paramount Pictures sold the
property to Perfect Film and Chemical. In 1969, OSF became the new
owners. In 1976, the Forty Acres backlot was bulldozed and turned into
an industrial park. On the opposite side of Ballona Creek, a fire
station occupies the area of the jungle.
By the late 1970's, the once lovely studio had become a dilapidated
wreck and remaining that way until 1986, when it was purchased by the
joint ownership of Grant Tinker and Gannett Company. They completed a
$26 million restoration which created new state-of-the-art television
stages and updated all the existing facilities.
More importantly, the construction restored much of the studio's
original luster and beauty. The process meant gutting and renovating the
mansion, bungalows and Selznick wing. It also meant tearing down Ince's
old glass and muslin stage 1, and excavating and old plunge behind the
mansion to make way for an underground parking facility. The restoration
was so successful, it has served as a model for other studio projects.
Walk through any of the restored buildings and there is a feeling of
another era. Over the years, unsubstantiated rumors of studio hauntings
has circulated among the studio's staff. Stage hands high in the
catwalks have reportedly been confronted by a ghostly figure resembling
Thomas Ince. It's rumored late at night--a spirit--that of Gloria
Swanson--roams the halls of the mansion. While there is no proof of
these sightings, eerily similar reports occur year after year.
More recently, the studio has been the site of such films as Raging
Bull, ET, City Slickers, The American President, Armageddon, Contact,
The Red Corner, The Story of Us, Wag the Dog, What Women Want, Galaxy
Quest, City of Angels, and Stuart Little.
Many recording artists have used the studio's private atmosphere to
rehearse ( Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Don Henley, Janet Jackson ), and to
shoot music videos ( Ricky Martin, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Luis Miguel
). The Culver Studios is also the birthplace of Baywatch, Mad About You
and The Nanny.
In 1991, Sony Corporation bought the studio and sold it in 2004 to PCCP
Studio City Los Angeles.
Click Here for RKO Forty Acres Page 2
Some essays and photos courtesy of Jerry Schneider. Written
must be obtained for any usage of the above contents.
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