Just northeast of the giant Sony Sony/M-G-M Studios, you'll find the smaller, but equally historic Culver Studios. Over the years, this film lot has been home to such names as RKO, Laird, Howard Hughes, and Desilu studios.
The exteriors of most Hollywood studios are notoriously plain, typically resembling large industrial plants. Culver Studios is the exception to that rule; its exterior facade is a grand colonial mansion, a virtual copy of George Washington's Mount Vernon, fronted by sweeping green lawns, sculpted hedges, flowering rose bushes, and the picturesque white "mansion" itself. Without doubt, this is the most attractive of all movie studios, and one that is clearly visible to everyone driving down Culver City's Washington Boulevard.
If you're a fan of classic motion pictures, you will immediately recognize the studio's colonial mansion from the opening credits of the David O. Selznick International productions, such as "Gone With the Wind," and "Duel in the Sun."
Ironically, like its giant neighbor M-G-M, this studio isn't even located in Hollywood. Instead, it's in Culver City, a sleepy little town with a big Hollywood history.
It was at Culver Studios that some of the greatest movies of all time were filmed: Orson Welles' classic "Citizen Kane" (1941), the original "King Kong" with Fay Wray (1933), Alfred Hitchcock's first American film, "Rebecca" (1940), and yes, the unforgettable "Gone With the Wind" (1939).
They even staged the famous "burning of Atlanta" scene from "Gone With The Wind" here on the back lot of Culver Studios, on December 10, 1938. The city of "Atlanta" was actually made up of various old sets from previous films made on the lot, which David O. Selznick set ablaze to make room for the construction of the exterior of Tara. (The fire consumed old sets from "King Kong," "The Last of the Mohicans" and "Little Lord Fauntleroy.") Yet the key role of Scarlett O'Hara still had not been cast. As Selznick watched from atop an observation tower as the red flames consumed "Atlanta," his brother Myron introduced him to Vivien Leigh, with the words: "I'd like you to meet your Scarlett O'Hara."
Ball was one of the many actresses who tried out, unsuccessfully,
for the part of Scarlett in "Gone With the Wind." She
got her revenge later, though, when she bought the studio, turned it into
her own Desilu Studios, and took David
O. Selznick's office as her own. (Desilu later moved to what is now part
of the Paramount lot.)
But it wasn't just movies. Many classic TV shows were filmed on the back lot here as well, including "The Adventures of Superman," "The Andy Griffith Show," "Hogan's Heroes", "Gomer Pyle," "The Twilight Zone," "Lassie," "Batman" and the pilot episodes of the original "Star Trek".
In fact, some of the very same buildings seen in "Superman" as 'Metropolis' were seen later as shops in 'Mayberry.' (For a great article about the locations of those two series on the lot, see http://www.jimnolt.com/fortyacres1.htm)
The 28-acre back lot was affectionally known as "The Back 40" (an old farm expression) or, later, simply "Forty Acres." In 1968, they sold off most it, and today the entire back lot appears to be gone.
Today, the studio is still well preserved, albeit not as busy as it was in its glory days.
Do yourself a favor: park, get out of your car, walk
up to the fence that surrounds the Culver Studios, and take a good look
at the studio's impressive colonial facade. A plaque erected here in 1986
(The third Culver City
studio mentioned on the historic plaque was the old Hal Roach
Studios, which unfortunately no longer exists. It was demolished
in 1963. Most of the Laurel & Hardy movies, the Our Gang
shorts, and many Harold Lloyd comedies were made at the studio, which
used to be located at 8822 Washington Boulevard, near the railroad tracks
at National Blvd.)
However, in April 2004, Sony announced that they
had sold Culver Studios (while keeping the larger Sony Studios to the west)
to a private investment group for $125 million, because they no longer
needed as much studio space for television production. It will continue
to operate as a studio lot.
As of 2009, they currently tape "Deal or No Deal", "America's Next Top Model", "The Starter Wife" and "The Bonnie Hunt Show" at the studio.
So, if you really want to see the inside of this historic studio, go to "Audiences Unlimited" and see if they have tickets to a show taping at the studio - if they do, then with ticket in hand, you may be able to walk inside the studio for the tapings.
(Incidentally, driving along the narrow residential streets around Culver Studios might prompt a feeling of deja vu. With their old-fashioned California bungalows and palm trees, many of these side streets were featured in the early silent movies. You may have seen Harold Lloyd driving a Model-T up one of these shady avenues... In fact, Laurel & Hardy used the house at 3120 Vera Avenue in Culver City as their home in the movie "Perfect Day.")
Getting there: (See the directions for M-G-M Studios .) Culver Studios is located on the same street as M-G-M Studios (now Sony Pictures), on the south side of Washington Boulevard, between Van Buren Place and Ince Boulevard, about a half mile northeast of M-G-M Studios. / From M-G-M (Sony/Columbia) Studios: continue east on Washington Boulevard for two blocks, until you come to an odd X-shaped intersection with Culver Boulevard. Turn left at the stop sign (to stay on Washington Boulevard), and drive past the south (right) side of the triangular Culver Hotel (which is in the middle of the street). Just past this odd hotel, on your right (south) side is Culver Studio, partly hidden behind an ivy covered fence. The public is not admitted to the studio (except for live TV tapings).
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