Back in the ’60s, psychedelic trips could come in many different ways – and not all were based on taking psychedelic drugs to alter your perception and environment – some were the environment.
The following is a true psychedelic trip that many have only dreamed of, and quite possibly none, other than myself and my small band of adventurers, would ever actually experience.
Surely, everyone (other than people in the movie industry) who ever went to Disneyland, Disney World or any of the Universal Tours at some time secretly imagined what it would be like to be able to wander and explore those parks, back-lots and movie sets freely, after hours and with no supervision.
Just to imagine what it would be like to experience the dream-like state where walking down the main street of a real western town would magically turn into a New York-style city street and around that corner a Tarzan jungle and around that corner a fortress and around that corner a lake, and in that lake; a pirate ship – would be a psychedelic trip for real!
At the intersection of Overland Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard in Culver City, California was Lot 3, Metro -Goldwyn-Mayer’s 65-acre parcel where elaborate exterior sets were built and maintained. These included the “Jungle Island” for the Tarzan series that was at the southern end of a 63,000,000 gallon man-made lake that was used in “Show Boat” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and at the north end of the lake, across a stone bridge were a cluster of Colonial-style commercial buildings used in “Gone with the Wind”.
There were three western street façades; a prosperous town called “ Western Street,” a deserted and faded “Ghost Town” and a frontier town called “Billy the Kid Street”. To the north of that set was a giant poured concrete processing tank with a massive painted sky background used for filming large scale miniature ships first used for “Mutiny on the Bounty” and as various backdrops for many, many other films. All of these were permanent standing sets that were used over and over again, altered, repainted and shot from multiple angles to represent nearly any place on earth.
But by 1970 the once powerful, creative and profitable M. G. M. studios were in decline due to many economic issues of the times and the glorious days of Back-Lot 3 were limited to the point of becoming an unused “ghost land”. The inevitable was approaching and M.G.M. was forced to hold an eighteen day auction of everything from costumes and props to eventually the back-lot land itself.
Fortunately, just prior to all of that, while in a mind-altered state of marijuana we got the bright idea to try and explore M.G.M’s back-lot 3 after dark.
Now you have to understand that back then things were still “loose”, a world apart from the lock-down everything-you-do-is-a-terrorist-threat climate of today; you could do just about anything and it was not a big deal, the world was still innocent; so “sneaking in” to a major studio’s lot was considered an adventure, not a criminal act.
Likewise there were no alarms, electrical fences, motion detectors, closed-circuit cameras or anything like that; as a matter of fact the only security, as we soon found out, was just one old man who would drive around the entire lot and that would take him an hour or so to complete his rounds.
It was a nearly-full-moon night when we first arrived and located easy access through a separation of chain-link fence at the back corner of the Lot 3. Once inside and through some outlying foliage we came upon one of the western town main streets and immediately the real-life psychedelic trip began.
Wisely realizing that taking LSD or any over-the-top psychotropics would be a bit much to deal with in this unknown environment, we still made sure that we smoked some good weed before embarking on this adventure as we figured that would be “psychedelic” enough.
At first we were walking stealthily about the street watching out for any security guards or six-shootin’ outlaws that might ambush us. There were about five of us and one of our band was on the gym team at school; he walked through the saloon doors and disappeared inside as they swung back and forth behind him, suddenly he came through the saloon doors holding his chest and did a flip over the hitchin’ rail into the street as if he was shot from inside the saloon!
That move gave the rest of us the courage to take the fantasy, which was now a reality, to another level and soon we were just a bunch of kids playing in a teenage dream of role-playing shoot-’em-up ecstasy.
After much western fun and imaginary shoot-outs we walked to the end of main street and came upon a Victorian-era neighborhood and as we walked, the moonlight cast an eerie Gothic spell over us; the marijuana high greatly contributed to the psychedelic dreamworld and it was easy to slip into character of being in that time and place, it became real spooky, but before we knew it the streets ended and we came upon a fortress and we were back in the western mode of cowboys and Indians.
Around the backside of the fort was the beginning of the Tarzan Jungle but finding no vines to swing from we continued on and crossed over a stone bridge. This led us to the huge back drop which was still filled with fake snow and ice chunks that were recently used in the classic, highly-revealing political movie “Ice Station Zebra”
However, now there were several full sized fighter jets and a half-track tank parked on the snowy set. We were about to climb in the cock-pits when just then we saw the headlights from a security car coming from off in the distance, so we took off back the way we came in and decided to play it safe and not push our luck and come back the next night to further explore.
On the second night we headed straight for the jets and tank, I remember climbing up into the cock-pit and seeing all of the gauges and controls and looking out through the windows as if ready to take off from the snowy landscape. Unfortunately, someone in the half-track tank tried to start it up and it actually made some noise, enough that it must have certainly alerted the security guard. I climbed out of the jet and quickly headed with another one of our group up the European street that had buildings that curved around the tip of the lake where the pirate ship was docked.
We crossed the plank onto the ship and were exploring the deck when we saw the security car headlights a distance away. We immediately climbed the rope ladder to one of the crow’s nests on the ship just in time to see the security guard’s car come into view below.
This was really exciting; up until now we were only interacting with ourselves, now there was a real adversary to our adventure!
We huddled down and I can clearly remember seeing the security car below slowly making its way up around the same street we were just on. We were pretty high up and the excitement of eluding “the enemy” was very cool indeed. This whole trip was escalating into a real-life quasi-psychedelic blend of fantasy, reality and adventure!
(You can see the bow of the ship in the photo below and the actual ship and crow’s nests at the bottom middle to the right in the main header photo above.)
After the security guard passed on by we climbed back down the pirate ship’s rope ladder and tried to explore the Riverboat but there was no boarding plank and the boat was too far from the dock’s edge to jump so we just messed around a while longer in our dream-like fantasy land before leaving.
Unfortunately, on our third night in a row of mind-bending surreal adventures our previous night’s fun must have alerted the “real” authorities because now some younger security guards were on the prowl.
I/we made the mistake of including a couple of “newbies” who wanted to join in the fun. We were enjoying ourselves as usual but even though I warned one of the newbies about his non-stealth clothing of off-white pants and a bright blue and green t-shirt, we were all feeling confident and over zealous and allowed him to come along anyway. That was our undoing.
While really having a great time and role-playing like no LARPers will ever be able to do; we obviously allowed ourselves to be seen by the “new” security guards and the chase was on!
We all scattered and a couple of us dove under a trailer and scooted to the back, I looked next to me and it was the “colorful” newbie – great.
The security car pulled up and two younger guards got out and shined their flashlights around the area. Just when I thought that we had eluded them, one of them shined their light under the trailer and the beams of light bouncing off of the newbie’s clothes lit the whole underside of the trailer – along with me. Sheesh, busted.
There was a certain ethic back then that when you got caught you took it like a man. But then, when caught for things of this nature authorities didn’t pull the knee-jerk reaction and call the cops, they called our parents – and we complied. But that didn’t mean that when we arrived home that we couldn’t pull the old, “What?” “I was over at so and so’s and we went to a movie, party, whatever, and someone just gave them my name and phone number!” “I’m innocent!” And because there was no way to disprove my alibi, I’d stick with my story. It would just cause some negative reactions and ill will for a few days and then that would be it – basically, no harm, no foul – we didn’t vandalize or destroy property, we were just having some fun! I just had to stick to my “alibi”.
Today it would be considered a “terrorist act of breaking and entering” and a gun would be held on you until the cops came and arrested you. Like the world of Lot 3, the world of the ’60s was like no other – ultimately the coolest!
Soon after, the fabulous back-lots were finally sold off for real estate development. Now tract houses, apartments and West L.A. College would replace those once wondrous lands of make believe.
What had been the greatest of all movie studios was gone and with the ever-changing fluctuation in global finances and ever-increasing sources of entertainment and never ending advances in computer technology where CGI replaced hand-built movie sets – the likelihood of such a magical empire ever being built again is highly improbable.
But for three nights of surreal fantasy and mind-blowing adventure,
my friends and I were able to experience a truly once in a lifetime event
of magical fun, excitement and a dream come true!
A True Psychedelic Mind-Blower Trip if there ever was one!