MGM facade

The 1974 film That’s Entertainment, was a surprise hit for   M-G-M, placing in the top 20  movies of the year and resulting in a sequel in 1976. The movie showed clips of the studio’s library of great musicals, narrated by its former stars.: Fred Astaire; Gene Kelly; Elizabeth Taylor; and Frank Sinatra, among others, and were filmed as they walked through the old standing sets of M-G-M’s back lots 3 through 6. In 1974 these back lot standing sets looked forlorn and worn down. Fred Astaire began the documentary at the train station on lot 2, where years earlier he had sung the first song in Band Wagon. He walked in front of a train wagon that was falling apartBing Crosby narrates a visit to the English lake and its Waterloo bridge that he describes as looking “scruffy.” Donald O’Connor introduces the Esther Williams movies by visiting the outdoor pool that had been built just for her films. It was a sad contrast to the glossy Art Deco sets and Technicolor movies that had been filmed there.

The 1970s were not good years for M-G-M. Losses from declining revenues led to a corporate take-over by Kirk Kerkorian in 1969. He had little interest in movie-making, Kerkorian was mostly interested in using the M-G-M name for his hotel development in Las Vegas and other locations. Kerkorian installed James Aubrey as his hatchet man.  A large staff-cut was Aubrey’s first move, with several film projects cancelled. Next was the  famous (or infamous) 1970 M-G-M auction held over eighteen days of the studio’s collection of 12,000 props and rolling stock, even including its paddle steamboat, as well as some 350,000 costumes and “star wardrobe.” The year after That’s Entertainment was made, all of the lots with the standing sets were sold for residential development, thus all traces of them are gone today.

MGM gate
The old entrance to the M-G-M Studio

With its patriarch Louis B. Mayer long gone, apparently the only persons that thought the back lots should be preserved for posterity, as a museum  or attraction park, was Debbie Reynolds, and Robert Nudelman of the Hollywood Heritage organization. Debbie had tried to buy them for that purpose (no doubt at an affordable rate) but was unsuccessful. A virtual tour of some of the standing sets through M-G-M’s Golden Age follows.

Above is a view from the old Washington Street entrance, photo taken 1939.

MGM lot sign (1)

In the classic era M-G-M studio had several lots. Lot number 1 where all the offices and major buildings were located was bordered by Washington Street, Culver Blvd. Overland Avenue, and Madison Blvd. While most of the lot had been taken over by sound stages and various buildings by the 1930s, part of the lot still had exterior standing sets through the 1950s. That lot is now occupied by the Sony Studios. Before M-G-M, it had been the Goldwyn Studio lot, and before that, the Thomas Ince/Mack Sennett Triangle Studio lot starting in 1915.

The photo above shows  a view of the old water tower and the long gone Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios sign.

An M-G-M trolley get set to move along Avenue C on Lot 1.

Lot 1 also had standing sets, these changed over time, some having been there since the days when it was the Thomas Ince studio and then the Goldwyn Studio. The M-G-M standing sets were on the Overland Avenue side of the lot. This area even included a concrete lined “lake” and the waterfront town as can be seen below.

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The European town waterfront above could be changed with its storefronts reconfigured and re-painted as-needed for each movie. It extended its length and was known as “Waterfront Street.”


The more wild appearance of the lake or lagoon above was used for jungle-like settings, including for filming parts of Tarzan the Ape Man. Lot 1 also had standing sets replicating haciendas, medieval France, and New York City.

Moving over to Lot 2 across Overland Avenue, the lot was mostly used for standing sets, although various storage facilities were scattered throughout the lot.  The New England town of the Andy Hardy movies was there, and the “Small Town Square”  used in movies as diverse as Raintree County and The Philadelphia Story, not to mention The Twilight Zone episodes, and there was also  the “Grand Central Station.” used in various films.  The “Waterloo Bridge” seen in That’s Entertainment, was also on lot 2, used in its prime for movies like The Divorcee in 1930, The Three Musketeers in 1948, Little Women in 1949, and  Royal Wedding in 1951.

Nearby is “Quality Street,” which was used for a variety of medieval and 18th century European towns.

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Quality Street was one of the old standing sets, originally built for Marion Davies’ starring vehicle Quality Streetfrom 1927, which William Randolph Hearst and his production company Cosmopolitan Pictures produced for her at M-G-M. It was also used for filming the 1948 production of The Three Musketeers.


Quality Street was also redecorated as an English Street for the Jeanette MacDonald film, Smiling Through in 1941, as seen above.

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A continent away in architecture and theme but adjacent on the lot was a Chinese set used for The Good Earth in 1937. The castle wall and entry was used and re-used for a variety of films set in different countries and eras. It may have been originally built for the first Ben Hur in 1925.

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The mansion-looking set above was used for several movies but looked different for each. In two it was an academic building, having been built, apparently, as a “girl’s school” for Forty Little Mothers in 1940, where the structure had a bell tower. It featured notably in Tea and Sympathy with Deborah Kerr and John Kerr in 1956. The structure as it looks above was used for The Cobwebwhere it was a psychiatric clinic. This 1955 movie starred Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Charles Boyer, and John Kerr.

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The New York Street on Lot 2 was a larger set than a similar set on Lot 1. It had nearly ten acres of sets and could serve for a variety of urban settings.  Many movies were filmed there, starting with Wife vs Secretary in 1936others including Words and Music, Band Wagon, Singing in the Rainand many more were also filmed on these sets.


The photo above shows the suspended electrical power lines feeding into the various sets. The framing supports behind the façades can also be  seen.

Down Overland to Lot 3 at Overland and Jefferson. This more remote lot (or so it was in the 1930s and 40s), allowed for some expansive outdoor sets.


One of the most famous “neighborhoods” on Lot 3 was the “St Louis Street,” named for Meet Me in St. Louis starring Judy Garland and directed by Vincent Minnelli. It was built expressly for the latter film at Minnelli’s direction. Minnelli can be seen directing the scene on the boom above at the right bottom.

The outdoor set below is the New England street and set for the Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney. It became known as the “Andy Hardy Street.”


The first permanent Western Town set on Lot 3 was built for the 1939 film Stand Up and Fight, starring Robert Taylor, Wallace Beery, and Charles Bickford. The standing set is amazingly detailed, especially compared to the western sets of the films from the 1970s  in and the spaghetti westerns.


Above is the Adam & Thomas McGara Store set from Stand Up and Fight.


Above is the General Store in the center of the photo with the Drug Store to the left.


The “Bullet Stage Yard” is in the foreground above with a view to Dan Rock’s Restaurant and Saloon.

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Dan Rock’s Restaurant & Saloon is seen above with its hitching posts for horses and teams.

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The house above was the attorney’s home on the set – note the partial front on the neighboring house, but the carefully built picket fence and shutters.


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Note all the paraphernalia at the Hardware Store.

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A proper town needed its Sheriff, and the town of Cumberland had theirs as seen above.

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Luggage is part of the set dressing at the “Bullet Stage Line.”

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The teams and wagons are part of the set at the Bullet Yard

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The Blacksmith’s shop looks like it’s ready to take on any work

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A porch on Cumberland Street opposite the Restaurant & Saloon

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The Church is our last stop as we leave the wild west for other locales.

Lot 3 also had another lake and waterfront, seen below in this Port scene from some unknown film.

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More familiar is the “Cotton Blossom” from the movie Show Boat, which M-G-M publicist Lionel Ascher visits below.


The photo below shows the concrete storage sheds for storing M-G-M nitrate film cans, circa 1936.  Later, M-G-M had an electrical fire in 1967, destroying most of the studio’s cartoons, silent films, and films from the earlier Metro, Goldwyn, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures.


A fly-over Lot 1 shows the classic era M-G-M and the standing sets that existed, with the Thalberg Building at the bottom left.



From silent film, filming location historian John Bengston, this link  shows where Buster Keaton had his special dressing room on the lot: Keaton’s Kennel

His three books on the Hollywood and Los Angeles area filming locations for Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd films are fabulous.

The corporate history of MGM post-1974 is its own story, but it separated the classic film library and the studio lot from the name. Similar fates had befallen RKO and Columbia. The three-week long auction of the props and costumes is its own fascinating, if sad story, a subject for another post. The destruction of the many standing sets and the sale of the lots was a tragedy to classic movie fans.

For a thorough history of the M-G-M back lots, please read Steven Bingen’s, Stephen Sylvester’s, and Michael Troyan’s M-G-M: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot published in 2011 by Santa Monica Press.




  1. Reading through these comments reminding me of my memories of lot 3 of MGM. I live off Overland on Northgate St. as a kid, played baseball on weekends at the 2 fields next to the lot now occupied by West LA college. My friends and I first experienced lot 3 when we would retrieve baseballs that were fouled into lot 3. After that experience we would sneak into the studio numerous times. We liked the lake where the boat was. We were chased by security many times with a few friends being caught and released at the front gate.

  2. Worked at MGM in the 70s and 80s Logans Run, King Kong, and some tv shows i had access to the entire lot and backlot what was left of it. The saucer tank which was the name given to it was built in the 30s for the Tarzan movies with Jonny wisemuller. There was a water tower built at the same time to fill and drain the tank at a moments notice. The tank was made of steel and would have to be drained so it would not rust. The capacity was 50,000 gallons and was used in countless film throughout MGMs golden days. Yes Ester williams scene from Thats entertainment 3 was the last time it was used , but was not filled at that time , do to the fact that it was not used for so long before that it might have been deemed safe to use and to restore it would have been cost prohibitive.
    Stage 30 the biggest single stage on the lot, housed the water tank,basically an olympic size pool only deeper, was used mainly for Ester Williams films. Lot two had her first pool built for her used in her early films especially take me out to the ball game with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra . Used to walk around the back lots 2 in late 60s and 70s it was a time of my life i will never forget, seeing all those set that appeared in the films i love. One of my favorite was a port with a side of a ocean liner of about 150 long, i remember it war used in a night at the opera. The lagoon and river used in Tarzan and showboat. Lot 3 was Meet-me in St louis street i could go on for pages about what i saw and were i worked.

  3. Thank you so much, Christian. I am a big A Man From Uncle fan, and I think they filmed all the episodes on Lots 1 and 2, including the iconic entrance to the dry cleaner on the New York set. Did these sets survive? Or were they sold off for property development in the 1980s to fund the MGM grand? If they still exist it would motivate me to go to LA to go on the Sony studio tour! Thanks so much

    1. Thanks for your comment Jonathan. The story of Lot Two, where many of the best and most classic movies in MGM’s history were filmed is appalling. Even by the 1970s the condition of the standing sets had
      deteriorated greatly and were used for sets of cities in wartime or in chaos. But mostly they were an embarrassment in the movie “That’s Entertainment.” The Lot’s many sets were finally bulldozed and developed as housing.
      Lot One is still the main Lot for Sony, although most of the old standing sets are gone. The sound stages are still there, and a tour is given during the week-days. Call or check for details.

      1. I walked the decaying New York Streets in the very early 80’s before the leveling of the standing sets. Interesting in that Jon Heitland’s book about The Man From Uncle was in error as he said that the New York sets were located on Lot Three.

  4. Hello Christian. In the 1980’s, I worked as a stunt diver on Man From Atlantis and I was trying to remember where on the lot, the giant outdoor tank was, where we filmed. Also, I was curious about how many gallons that tank held. Any ideas? Thanks. Great job with the tour.

    Don’t tell anyone, but as a teenager, we snuck into the lot a few times (never took or disturbed anything) and wandered mostly through the western town.

    1. Hi Margery. That’s great that you did stunt work on that series. The “Saucer Tank,” as it was called was used since the early days of M-G-M, including for several of Esther Williams’ movies.
      It was located located on Lot 1 near Overland next to where the Scenic Docks were.. And several people have commented that they snuck into the lot as kids, Must have been fun.

    2. That tank was near the grip department and to the south of stage 14, which became storage for the lighting equipment used on the lot. The last movie shot on stage 14, before it was converted to storage for the set lighting department, was King Kong. I worked on a few productions that used that tank. It was called The Saucer Tank by those of us who worked there.

    3. Hi Margery,

      I’m Felix – just finished my MA at the Royal College of Art here in London and stumbled across your comment whilst researching for a film I’m making.

      Your sneaking through the western town sounds like an amazing story, I’d love to ask you more about it as part of my project – if that’s something you’d be up for reply to my comment and I’ll find a way for us to get in touch! Thanks, Felix.

  5. I worked the three summers of ’65, ’66, and ’67 in the Communications Dept. delivering interoffice mail along with a group of other young people. About once a week would be “tour day” when I would take a small group on a walking tour of Lot 1 and possibly get them into one of the sound stages to see the filming of a tv series. Then we’d hop the tram to bring us over to the sets on Lot 2. Occasionally, I would be able to bring my group over to Lot 3. Such fun! Some members of my family also worked at M.G.M.: My mom, Dorothy Austin in the Fan Mail Dept. during WWII; my dad, Don Austin in the Paint Dept. along with my grandfather, Emil Lorette; and my uncle, Tony Lorette in the Hand Prop Room.

    1. Hi Don,
      Is very great your work in the three summers of ’65, ’66, and ’67 in the fantastique MGM studio in Culver city California!
      The Man From Uncle in 1965 with Bob Vaughn and David Mc Callum!!!!!!!!

    2. Hello Don,

      I’m currently doing some research and saw your comment from 2020 about working at MGM. Do you happen to have any stories about the fire of 1965 that occurred there? I would like to hear from you if you have any perspective on this. Thanks you.

  6. Hello does anyone know what happened to the big gold Lion that used to be in front of MGM Studios nearby the gates into the lot on Overland?

  7. This might sound like a dumb question, but was the theater marquee seen in the above photo possibly where Our Gang filmed their 1942 short “Mighty Lak a Goat?” I am a big fan of Our Gang and that film is my all-time favorite MGM-produced Our Gang short. Thanks.

    1. Hello everyone … thank you for the wonderful information and memories …
      whilst “That’s Entertainment’ has been mentioned, thought I’d give a mention to ‘Phantom of Hollywood’ from same year. A quickie film made for TV taking advantage of destruction of Lot 2. Much of the film is shot on Lot 2 as well as others, showing what the sets looked like then. Early in the film are short segments from films using same sets. Film ends with with bulldozers destroying the sets. All very sad. Certainly not the greatest film ever made, yet remarkable for the way it portrays the Lots. Great historical film in itself now! Some of the film is filmed in the underground cabling tunnels.
      Been searching for this film for a long time and recently discovered it alive and well at:

      Of course its a silly spoof on Phantom films. Some older actors inc Jackie Coogan appear.
      Trivia – This film was quickly made by people obviously interested in documenting ‘the moment’ in cinema history. Has great TV pedigree. Burt Nodella produced this film – he did Get Smart. Gene Levitt, the director / writer, created – Fantasy Island, Produced – Combat!, Adventure in Paradise, etc. Was filmed by Gene Polito, son of the very famous Sol Polito who filmed much of Warner Bros 1930s and 1940s films inc 42nd St, Petrified Forest, Sorry Wrong Number. Gene worked almost exclusively in TV.
      Thanks again for terrific memories and info on The Backlot!

      I am based in Melbourne, Australia, and teach Cinema to older adults. Now via Zoom.

      1. Hi Paul. I believe the episode titled The Trap for the Planet of the Apes TV show was filmed on the same backlot, also around 1974. It’s on YouTube if anyone wants to take a look.


  9. I enjoy watching old movies on TCM or anywhere. I’ve seen them all so many times that I find it fun to spot sets that have appeared in more than one film. I’ve spotted the spectacular staircase in “Auntie Mame” in 14 other films and posted it on YouTube.

    But its also fun seeing other studios using the sets for non-MGM films. For instance the St. Boniface School in Warner Brother’s “Auntie Mame” was filmed at the Tait College set at MGM. The 1951 “Cheaper by the Dozen” from 20th Century Fox used the “Meet me in St Louis” house for the family home.

    I went to the MGM Auction in 1970. I was a college student and didn’t have money to buy anything but for the price of a catalog ($10) you could tour everything. I was dazzled. There were chandeliers the size of automobile, hanging on special portable dollies. There was a sound stage full of costumes and two or three more full of furniture, some of it junk and some priceless antiques.

    I especially remember a humble wooden shed that had shelves with dozens of ornate hour glass stands. They were made of plaster of paris and had not yet been painted to look like wood. It was a prop for The Wizard of Oz that was meant to be broken in the film so they needed many back up copies. These unpainted ones were never used but had been stored for 30 years. It was an amazing experience.

    1. Thanks for sharing your recollections Richard – all fascinating. I regret not having attended the auction. I lived in L.A. and was a college student too, living off job earnings hand-to-mouth. So I figured
      I could buy nothing but I hadn’t the forethought to think of the experience. I appreciate you providing yours.

      1. My Grandfather, two of his brother’s, & a sister all worked for MGM for years. My Grandfather was a set designer. Some of the titles of the more famous movies he worked on are the Wizard of OZ-Kismet-Northwest Passage, one of his brothers was a builder in the mill, a second bother worked as a camera man on Our Miss Brooks and all the Ester Williams movies, and his sister was an artist she worked on Tom & Jerry cartoons. My dad as a young boy went to many a movie sets on location. He went to Arizona when he was about 8 or 9 about 1937 or 38 or 39 and stayed in a hotel while the movie was being made. He has been looking for the name of that movie for years. He said it was outside of Tucson and it was a western. He saw it when it came out and the only thing he remembers is there was a big gun fight seen. He thinks the name was either Arizona or it had the name Arizona in it. Do you have any suggestion on how to find this movie. Oh year Grandfather’s name was Mirt Burdick, his brother Leonard Burdick, his other brother Clarence Burdick and his sister Onida. Thank you

        1. My dad starting working at MGM in the mid 50’s after serving in WW2. He eventually became the head of Set Lighting in 1971. Prior to that, he was the main rigging gaffer, tasked with putting lights and cable in the stages and outdoor sets before shooting. In his earlier days, there were several MGM lots, mainly along Overland Bl. He retired in 1985, thankfully right before Ted Turner bought MGM and starting selling off property. I started there in 1977 and was around until Lorimar bought the lot in 1986. I then transferred to Lorimar until it merged into Warner Brothers, where I spent the last 30 years of my career in the set lighting department.

          1. Thanks for your comment Paul. It was Kirk Kerkorian and his man in charge James Aubrey that did most all of the damage. Kerkorian was interested in the M-G-M name for his hotels, Aubrey sold off the backlots for real estate developers – as well as the props and costumes to the auctioneer. Turner bought and resold M-G-M but couldn’t afford the debt. But he was mainly interested in the film library for his superstation.

      2. As an author and historian of Western films, I wonder if the auction catalog is available on websites such as EBAY, etc. Must have been fascinating!!!!

    2. MGM built a 63 million gallon lake on Lot 3. That private lake is still there at Raintree Circle and Jefferson Blvd, Culver City. The rock that Tarzan dove off is still next to Raintree Lake.

    3. Did you happen to notice the bass that Frank Gorshin plays in Where the Boys Are being at the Auction?
      I think my bass is that bass!
      I bought it in 1976 at Studio City Music.

    4. Sounds like me. I was a college student then too. I spent the money for the catalogs just so I could wander the lots. I still have the catalogs.

  10. The quest of Debbie Reynolds may have been quixotic, but what a thrill it would have been to tour the huge sound stage where so many MGM musicals were filmed, not to mention the duel sequence from “Scaramouche”. I think it would have meant a lot to MGM fans.

    1. You are so right Edward. The sound stages and standing sets would have been a wonderland of great films and stars of American movies. MGM could have been the
      one to build on to the Movie amusement park idea with newer movies like Indiana Jones and Star Wars etc. MGM was in not much worse shape in the 1970s than the Disney Co was.

  11. Also, I grew up in the business. This is my godfather and namesake, a long time Paramount guy.

    He passed when I was young, so I have scant memories of him. Lots of memories of the many people we knew that were in the business, only one an actor. But back then, it was just life. It was all I knew.

    The on exception was when they were shooting Batman at Desilu and Batman was on the water tower over there, that got my attention. WOW! That’s Batman!

    You want some fun history, the very nice Culver Hotel, when I grew, was an abandoned dump. But well before that, when they filmed The Wizard Of Oz, the housed all the little people there. One night they got drunk and rioted! LOL

  12. SURREAL!!

    I was born just a few houses away from Desilu and then at age four, my parents bought a duplex on Jackson Avenue. We were about 7 or so houses from MGM.

    We (friends I have long lost contact with) used to jump the fence and have been to all the places you note. Back then, the security guards were retired guys in golf carts.

    But the prize for us delinquents was a blackish prop storage area that looked almost like a graveyard for walls and sets. The area looked very post-apocalyptic.

    The reason was a prized area was twofold. It was VERY hard to get to. As you were looking at the main entrance, it was tucked kind of to the right, back far corner. There was only two ways to get there, run on the back grass area directly behind the buildings at the entrance, or do a ton of climbing over a ton of obstacles. The only time we ever got caught was our first attempt at accessing the area.

    We got there attempt #2. LOL

    Beyond all the adventuring, I loved finding scripts casually tossed about. That and all the secret rooms, usually used for storage, tucked into the sets.

  13. Although I applaud Ms Reynolds efforts to save MGM, it may not have been much of a reality.
    In order to maintain any viability, the remaining sets would require extensive work to be kept up. This would have been very costly, if not impractical, as the sets were falling into disrepair as it was. Then there is the shear cost of maintaining a tour at attraction on so many acres of land.
    What should have happened, is a MGM mueseum created, with selected props and wardrobe items that were used in the feature films. A section of the original yellow brick road per say( I understand that it’s now all gone from the sound stage).
    Anyway, I grew up in Ladera Heights, and remember on more than one occasion, riding my bike down to Culver City just to sneak into the backlots of MGM. I remember the famous bridge in lot 2, the Please Don’t Eat the Daisies house and the ship pool( Mutiny on the Bounty) in lot 3, as well as the concrete film vaults. It was a lot for a 14 year old to se and take in, but each trip was awesome.
    I had no idea of the reality of what MGM stood for at that time, as I do now.
    It is sad to think that MGM’s contribution to the arts, it’s business savvy and genius, was not enough to be remembered properly. It seems almost ironic that such an era was simply allowed to crumble, and be Gone with the Wind.

    1. I think you are right Joe about the inability of Debbie Reynolds to have started an “MGM Park” from the back lots. The idea was ahead of its time and too expensive to work. Her collection was big enough, however, to have formed a movie
      entertainment museum -the kind the Academy is building now, minus all the significant treasures that as you say are “Gone with the Wind.”

    2. Stumbled across this site while researching the 100’s if not 1000’s of photos left behind by my Dad who passed away this past Oct. 2018. He was the head of the paint department at MGM for some 40 years. He was one of the only people allowed to take behind the scenes photos while shooting films.

      His collection is vast, pretty much everything you could image by way of location movie photos to the back lots, all of the back lots.

      As a Child I crew up playing on those lots. Lot 3 was our favorite, the Street of houses, the western town, the dutch town and best of all the jungles! I have such fond memories of all those lots. I would very much like to see the history of my Dads collection saved and preserved for future generations. If anyone can suggest a place for me to start I would love their input.

      Thanks, Katherine
      PS…my Dad was Anthony Leonardi Sr, Father of Anthony Leonardi Jr and Grandfather of Anthony Leonardi III – you can see their movie credits online.

      1. Hi Katherine. Sorry for the late reply to your comment, which I just noticed. The email notice I usually get for comments must have gone astray. How wonderful that you still have
        these photos and what a great resource they are. This is a great legacy from your father, and a unique one. There are some excellent repositories of film history. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences – Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills for one. Both USC and UCLA have film fistory collections in their libraries. There are others if you no longer live in the greater Los Angeles area, or have an affinity to another part of the country. You can contact me at if you would like further information.

      2. Hi Katherine

        I am one of the authors of M.G.M: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot and I saw it all just before it was all torn down.

        It was magical!

        Have you considered the Hollywood Heritage Museum for your Dad’s collection?

      3. I saw your post and thought you might be helpful. I have been researching Worlds of Fun park history for 20+ years, and one aspect of the park is that it’s founder, Lamar Hunt, bought over a dozen items at the backlot auction for the park. of course Cotton Blossom and Victrix (which are both, sadly, gone), but several wagons too, of which one I know of is still there. I am trying to identify it, I believe it is either the prison wagon 3/1307 or Police Wagon 3/1308 (I have the auction books). I have several photos I can send you if you could please help me identify it! Thanks in advance!

      4. Katherine- I would like to ask if your father had worked with GLEN ROBINSON. I have an interest in his work for the amusement park PLEASURE ISLAND here in Massachusetts. Some props were built in Culver City. Robinson built the famous full scale MOBY DICK figure that rose from the ponds waters and scared the visitors. Is it possible your dad may have worked on such a project? Thank you for your time and I’ll be looking for your fathers’ name in film credits from now on. Robert

      5. Reach out to the Academy Archive! They have a photo vault, and I’m sure they would be very interested in what you have. The Margaret Herrick Library on La Cienega houses the archives.

      6. I would love to see a photo album like you have described. I have a love for the old classical movies I wish this generation could see. Do you have a great story thank you for sharing.

    3. Good evening.

      Do you know where exactly was THE SAUCER TANK located at MGM STUDIOS?

      By the way I recommend you this book
      M-G-M: Hollywood’s Greatest . Is amazing.

      Thank you very much for your answer..

      Jorge sanchez

  14. In 1979 I was working on a film ” Hearts of the West” one of the sets I believe it was the Rose hotel in the movie was one of if not the last feature films shot on lot 2 at MGM. HEARTS of the West starred Jeff Bridges another film shot a few years later Harts of the West starred Beau Bridges and Loyd Bridges it wasn`t shot at MGM but i thought that was interesting. While we were working on the set we were all drinking water out of an arrowhed water thing, later in the day someone knocked the water dispencer over and broke the ceramic crock inside I went over to see and in the water was hundreds of dead ants and some white gloppy junk. A few of us threw up right then but no one got bad sick. Who knows what film that was left over from or how long it had been there. Shortly after that it was all torn down and homes were built. For a long time that had been our parking lot

  15. Hello Christian,
    Do you know who designed the St Louis Street for M-G-M, particularly the main house used in Meet Me In St. Louis? Any recommendations on trying to find this information?

    Does anyone know if it was only a shell used for exterior shots or if was a complete house?

    Thank you for any information!

    1. That’s an interesting question. The street and the “houses” were designed in the Art Department under Cedric Gibbons. Most of the designing for the “Meet Me in St Louis” house and street was done by Jack Martin Smith. The houses were not complete houses but fronts and sides with partial roofs. The interiors sets were filmed in the sound stages. For this film they were designed mostly by Lemuel Ayers with set decor done by several people.

    2. I worked on the lot on the Medical Center TV series as an assistant director trainee and a second assistant director in the 1970s. Also dated the daughter of the producer of Man from Uncle and Girl from Uncle for a while. Lot 2 was still standing when I started in 1974 but gone by the time I returned as as 2nd AD in 1976.
      Nice job with good images.
      One error though. I believe St Louis Street was on Lot 3, not lot 2. And Andy Hardy was exclusively on lot 2 if I am not mistaken.

  16. Hi Christian,
    I lived less than a mile from Lot 2 and spent many hours sneaking into the Lot along with friends. We also went into Lot 3, but it was still being used in the late 60s and early 70s. I wrote a Young Adult novel (The Sift in the Backlot) based on my experiences (it’s available on Amazon) and turned it into a paranormal adventure story. It’s been well received on line. Thanks for the site. Brant Vickers

    1. That’s great that you wrote a novel based on your visits to the lot. I never visited other than passing by. I can imagine going through at night alone – back when it was mostly intact. I have to believe the place was haunted.

    2. I too would sneak into lot 3 with my friends at night from the little league field that is not West L A College one night we almost got hurt, we snuck in while thy were shooting the TV show Combat. We were hiding on a little hill a little from all the action when someone started yelling at us. We ran off aways and shortly after some explosions started near where we were

  17. Hi Christian,
    I found your site this morning after seeing Todd Fisher talking about his life with his mom, and sister, while visiting the MGM sets. I am aghast that Debbie was the only actress who felt the need to preserve the costumes. Where was everyone else? Todd said that he used to climb onto the sets, and play on the ships, etc. Why were they demolished? Not preserved? It makes me ill, thinking about how all of this history was virtually destroyed. It seems that the 70s and 80s made a huge set backwards in “developing” land. How interesting are these photos, though. And, that in a comment above, the roads were actually back roads in the orange groves. It’s like seeing your neighborhood on film, the little paths you trek. So much for progress, I can never get enough of Old Hollywood sets. Especially the general stores! Oh, I always say, “I wonder where that item is now?” when I see something I like. Well, sadly, probably dust in the wind. I wonder how much is warehouses? Anything left?

  18. Thank you, Christian, for sharing these photos and your comments. It’s a nostalgic look at a neighborhood I knew in the 1960s. My grandmother lived less than a mile from Lot 1, at the corner of Jasmine Avenue and Tabor Street. Looking down Jasmine, the studio was clearly visible. My grandfather, Frank Ball, moved to Los Angeles to act in silent movies and found work at Thomas Ince Studio. My grandmother, uncle, aunt, and mom joined my him in L.A. in 1923. After Thomas Ince died and his studio closed, my grandfather had difficulty finding movie roles, but he did do some acting in Bob Steele westerns and a few other movies. My grandmother also worked in the movie business, playing piano and organ accompaniment to silents and sewing costumes at M-G-M. When I watched silent movies with my mom, she could often name the streets, some of which were dirt roads through orange groves and undeveloped land. I like thinking of the Los Angeles of the early movie days. I grew up there in the late 50s and 60s but feel connected to old Los Angeles through my family’s experiences. Thank you for escorting me on a visit to some happy memories.

    1. Thanks for your comment Christine. You have a great family association with MGM and the movies.My great-aunt worked briefly in wardrobe at MGM before moving on to Fox and then RKO.While we bemoan the loss of the backlots, at least we have the films to remember and these great photos that the studio itself had taken to document the lot.

  19. Hello Christian,

    Note: The sets shown built for Meet Me In St Louis, were not located on Lot 2, but on Lot 3. Secondly, the photos in which you identify overhead lines as being electrical service, not so. Close up visual inspection reveals reveals their meeting points and methods of attachment prove impossible for such a claim. These wires supported overhead tarps positioned for varying degrees of darkness provided for exterior shots which otherwise would have costed the studio huge amount of overtime, if filmed at night. All power was supplied via massive service wires via underground conduit to various fixed points from where large ‘extension cords’ were routed to lighting and equipment.
    Thank you for the beautiful memories.

    1. Alas, too bad these historic lots could not be designated landmarks – today they probably would be. We can thank Kirk Kerkorian for destroying MGM, much the same way Howard Hughes destroyed RKO. Debbie Reynolds made a heroic effort to preserve as much as she could of MGM memorabilia, but she could only do so much.

        1. Hi Christian,
          I found your site this morning after seeing Todd Fisher talking about his life with his mom, and sister, while visiting the MGM sets. I am aghast that Debbie was the only actress who felt the need to preserve the costumes. Where was everyone else? Todd said that he used to climb onto the sets, and play on the ships, etc. Why were they demolished? Not preserved? It makes me ill, thinking about how all of this history was virtually destroyed. It seems that the 70s and 80s made a huge set backwards in “developing” land. How interesting are these photos, though. And, that in a comment above, the roads were actually back roads in the orange groves. It’s like seeing your neighborhood on film, the little paths you trek. So much for progress, I can never get enough of Old Hollywood sets. Especially the general stores! Oh, I always say, “I wonder where that item is now?” when I see something I like. Well, sadly, probably dust in the wind. I wonder how much is warehouses? Anything left?

          1. Hi Marg, thanks for your comment – yes this is a sad episode in movie history and for the history of the Los Angeles region. Those standing sets and back lots – the best in the industry at their peak – are gone forever.
            Debbie Reynolds managed to collect many treasures from he sale of props and costumes from MGM, as my posts on the sale of her items indicate, she had “sets” of items and costumes from the same movie. These ending up getting divided
            at auction and scattered, sometimes to different continents. As you say, dust in the wind.

      1. You can also thank Ted Turner for greedily hoarding all the pre-June 1986 MGM movies and TV shows. Perhaps if Turner hadn’t bought the pre-June 1986 MGM library the studio could be surviving a little better than they are now. (I also understand MGM filed for Chapter 11 in the mid-2010’s, reducing them to the “mini-major” studio they’ve become today.)

    2. Of course one couldn’t have wires of any kind crossing the movie sets that were streets. Think of the problems the shadows would have created when filming.

  20. In That’s Entertainment part III Esther Williams presents next to her original saucer tank. Where was that located? Is one of the lots that was not sold?

    1. The “Esther Wiliams Swiming Pool” was located in Lot Two that was lost. Many of her films, including I believe the scene you mention were filmed in a tank in Stage 30 on Lot One. The Stage and Lot are still there but the Tank is gone.

      1. Hi there, loved reading everything here. The “ Saucer Tank “ was still around 15 or so years ago as I saw it on the Sony tour, sadly its gone now. I’ve been to the Sony tour a few times in the last 10 years. It still excites me to be in the LOT. ?

        1. Thanks for sharing that information Brett. Sad to see one thing after another disappearing. The fate of the old 20th Century-Fox “Movitone” lot is unclear. Warner Brothers is still interesting.

        2. You can still see the location of the saucer tank on Google Earth
          Download Google Earth and search for
          SONY pictures studio tour
          You’ll bring up an aerial view of Lot 1 At the lower right towards the intersection of Overland Ave and Culver Blvd you see a large garage parking lot and to its upper right you’ll see what appear to be 5 roof lines. Immediately below that is a small parking lot and that’s where the saucer tank was, bulldozed in 2003, but all is not lost!
          At the top banner bar select “historical imagery”
          If you move the image towards the intersection of Overland Ave and Culver Blvd and move the imagery pointer to 1989/1994 timeframes you’ll see what looks to be 5 roof lines and below them you’ll see the saucer tank
          I confirmed the location within the book “MGM – Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot”, page 24, item 38
          (and, if you’re interested in an excellent history of MGM Studio, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND purchasing the book)

      2. The circular tank was outside, across from a set shed near where the backlot parking lot stands now.
        As far as I know the big tank still exists. I filmed there several years ago.

  21. Came down fm Seattle 1946 to attend art school Chouinard, stayed at uncle’s home Manhatten Beach. Had to take bus to Pershing Sq, passed MGM lot Culver City daily, see sets looming over fences, particularly large skyscape, must’ve been used countless films. Developed early (16) interest in Adrian after seeing Eugenie Leontovich and Basil Rathborn play Obsession, amazingly dramatic outfits, began collecting ads and pics. Back in Seattle, took summer job as stock boy Best’s Apparel, unpacked, handled countless Adrian’s, heaven! 1949 to Parson’s NYC, wangled way into Gunther Jaeckel spring Adrian collection and paintings at Knoedler Art Galleries, double heaven! Back to LA and got into Adrian Salon for fall African collection, exciting beyond words! Interest began to wane as moved to San Francisco, then Lovely to Look At revived appreciation, out of blue, invite fm J W Robinson for fall ’52 showing, no idea of his heart attack, and this would be end of it. Lovely show, new girls modeling in small Adrian Rm , looser, sportier, would’ve been interesting to see where he was headed, but he and Janet were off to the jungles of Brazil! and retirement.
    T’was end of it, gave my drawings and collection to old schoolmates, for 30 yrs just vague interest, then my mother passed 1995, found she had saved boxfull my drawings, pretty good, hmmm thot I’d try again, checked EBay, got into swing and am again avid fan, enjoy yr book and am collecting all over again, guess I will into dotage. END of SAGA!

    1. Thank you so much Randall for sharing your anecdotes and recollections of MGM and Adrian. How fortunate that you were there for to see his collection at Gunther Jaeckel, at the art gallery, and the finale (little did anybody know ahead of time) at Robinson’s. The end of an era indeed. Neither the Adrian Salon building, Robinson’s or most of the MGM back lots & Wardrobe are in existence any longer. I have a few of his fashion sketches that seemed to have been done after he retired. Quite beautiful and of course very fashionable – a few are in my book but unfortunately the black and white does them no justice. Thanks again for your comments.

  22. Thank you these pictures are amazing. I live in one of the complexes that would have been lot #3 so it’s really interesting to see what was here before. I’m interesting in knowing where you got these pictures because I’d like to have some blown up and hung in our office.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos Lea. That’s great that you live on one of the former lots. I’ve been collecting these, and other Hollywood movie photos for many years. You can find many of them on ebay under “MGM” movie collectibles.

    2. If you get a copy of the book MGM Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot it is full of pictures of the old backlot including a full section on lot 3. There is a map of each lot so you could find out what set stood where your home now is and it also tells you what films were made on each set.

  23. I purchased a digital copy of ” That’s Entertainment” on Vudu for $5.99 ( you can rent it for $2). That’s the impetus for my wanting too see more of the MGM back lot!

      1. I thought I recognized the hardware store from the Twilight Zone episode “Hocus Pocus and Frisby”.

  24. Thank you very much for your very welcome post, Christian, which is especially nostalgic for me. I first stepped on the MGM lot in the 1950s, when my father Lee Le Blanc was head of the Special Effects Matte Painting Department. It wasn’t until 1970 that I began my career at MGM, the year that Kerkorian took over the studio. I was working as secretary to the head of the Property and Upholstery Departments until Property was closed down the following January by Mr. Aubrey, at the commands of Kerkorian and his henchmen. It was just one of the many departments that were closed, but when production began to pick up again it became apparent that some of these departments were essential, so were reopened. I have just one correction. The auction began before James Aubrey stepped on the lot as head of production. When I left MGM in 1991, there was no longer an MGM “Studios”. First, all the secretaries and most department heads were all ecstatic when we thought Ted Turner would be taking over the studio, but that was not to happen. Lorimar succeeded in taking over the lot, but that didn’t last long before Sony had the money and wherewithal to claim it and contain it. In the meantime, the rest of MGM was scattered across town in different buildings until they were finally rounded up in a business park in Santa Monica. I can at least say I remember what a great studio MGM was and how happy I am to have been a small part of it.

    1. Thank you Deirdre for providing this additional information on MGM and its fate. Your father and the department he headed produced such great work for the films that MGM produced. In the days before CGI, entire scenes and backgrounds could still be produced with studio special effects and matte painting. The latter needing high artistic talent and the former years of practice and skill development.How great that you were there to see while it was still MGM.

    2. Hello Deirdre- I would like to ask if your father had known or worked with special effects man Glen Robinson. In particular I am interested if maybe he knew of Robinson’s work for amusement parks. Robinson built and installed the full scale fiberglass MOBY DICK figure for the the PLEASURE ISLAND amusement park here in Massachusetts. It rose out of dark swamp water to scare visitors for the park’s 1959-1969 lifetime. Maybe your dad was present on the lot when this project was constructed? Thank you for your time and enjoyed your comments. Best to you. Robert

  25. What! No pictures of “Tara”? You used to be able to see it from the surrounding streets (Jefferson & Overland?) when I was a kid.

    1. The Plantation House set used for Tara was on the the Selznick Studio lot’s 40 acreas (once the RKO/Pathe lot now the Culver Studio lot). The set was sold off in 1959 to go to Atlanta. MGM had a similar looking building that tour guides used to say was the Tara building but it wasn’t. The Mansion on the Culver Studio lot is sometimes confused with Tara.

      1. The house where “the boy next door” lived in Meet Me In Saint Louis” was used to house Lucy’s relatives in “The Long, Long Trailer”. A gingerbread porte cochere was added to the house, which Ricky knocks down with the trailer.

  26. A few weeks ago I met a guy who told me he would sneak on the backlots and take pictures of the lots when he was a kid. He mentioned the lake and how MGM once owned all the land where the Tara Hill condos now stands. He also said that he visited the lot where Gone With the Wind was shot.

    1. That must have been fun as a kid, although by then many of the outdoor sets were dilapidated. But they did shoot such classic TV shows as the Twilight Zone on the MGM backlot, so its great to see many of the outdoor sets on those shows. Gone with the Wind was shot at the Selznick Studio, which is now the Culver Studio. The Tara plantation house is no longer standing (not to be confused with the mansion house which is seen at the opening of the Selznick movies, it is still there).

      1. When I was about 9 years old I was riding my bike past MGM on Washington Blvd. I noticed a gate with a chain and lock, so I went over and began looking through the crack between the two gates I could see the stages one was open and I could see part of a set. About 12 years later I was working at MGM as a Set Painter and I was riding my bike to get around the lot, most people did, I noticed a gate with a chain and a lock, so I went over and started looking through the crack between the two gates, there was a big church and some other buildings. All of a sudden it dawned on me, It was the same gate that I had looked through years before I guess it doesn’t matter what side your on you always want to know what is going on over on the other side. I was there working on the movie Logan’s Run

        1. What a great story Robby – thanks for sharing it. Logan’s Run was a great science fiction movie and you must have enjoyed working on it, especially now looking back on it. The church must be gone by now, however.

          1. Logan’s Run is a personal favorite. Most people think my oldest boy is named after Logan, The Wolverine, but it’s actually after Logan 5. I had joked with my wife that his middle name should be ‘Cinco’.

            Fantastic site. I love seeing the old back lots!

  27. Amazing. I have the book on the MGM back lots and have read it 3 times already. It is all so fascinating to m e. Being a big fan of Turner Classic Movies , I frequently try to imagine what it must have been like to work at MGM surrounded by the amazing sets and backlots. I am still sad to this day to know that they are gone. This history is part of our culture and the angst is how we treated it. But the back lots will live in the movies for all of us to enjoy. Thank you for the great post and photos . Excellent job.

    1. Thanks for your comment Glen. Yes, as you say it is very sad. The book is great in its documentation. Have you seen “That’s Entertainment” where they show the back lot’s in 1974 when they had deteriorated? That was just before they were all torn down and the lots sold for development. I’m sorry I never got to visit MGM in its heyday.

      1. Yes I saw That’s Entertainment in the movies when it first showed. I was just 16 and fascinated. I wanted to run away to Culver City and see them in person. My interest in how films were made , pre 1960, started then. It has continued ever since. I would have liked to be part of film preservation too. Again I find all the amazing craftsmanship in these temporary sets so wonderful. I thank you again for keeping this alive and for doing such a great job on the subject.

        1. Thank you Glen. My great-aunt worked in the Wardrobe Department at MGM back in 1925, then moved on to Fox and RKO. There were so many people that worked making all those films look so good. I think of her and the others in bringing some of these scenes back to life.

  28. Hello Christian, thanks for presenting these MGM backlot photos. Many unseen before. I found out about the backlots when I began to see similar sets in different films back in the 70’s as a teenager watching the films on late night tv. It began a quest to put it all spatially together for me- how one set segwayed into another- how the designers built it all.

    The picture under the St Louis picture (Minnelli) is actually New England/Andy Hardy Street. Not to prove a point but to show amazingly how one can pin point exact sets after seeing so many film from so many shots.
    Thanks again! I am always searching for new photos of the lots.

    1. Thank you for your informative comments Craig. I first saw many of these films in the 50s on daytime TV, and then much later when I appreciated them more. I collect these photos too, and other Hollywood memorabilia, notably costume design sketches. Thanks for the info on the Andy Hardy set, I’ll re-caption that image.

  29. Dear Christian, I found this concept fascinating. I was fortunate to spend many years sneaking on the backlots and living amongst that history, I collected call sheets, took pictures and saw many amazing productions. i also have pictures from MGM art dept. And coup de gra meeting Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly on Thats Entertainment.On rainy days we danced exactly where Gene did in singing in the Rain. On the Combat sets we pretended to get shot and die recreating the actual scenes. It was marvelous such a special place. Even funner when vacant of employees and it became mine!

    1. How lucky you were to sneak and the lot as a playground! And meeting Fred and Gene during That’s Entertainment. Great memories. And the lots were used for thw Twilight Zone episodes too, which can be seen with a more eery and perhaps more fitting image now. Thanks for sharing your unique experience.

      1. Around 1960, 61, 62 we used to sneak on the lot where the college and the condos are now off of Overland. We lived less than a mile away. None of us kids owned a camera then but we had a great time wandering through the sets. Ironically my daughter now works at Sony ATV.

        1. Sounds like this was great fun. Too bad you didn’t have a camera – those photos would be rare and valuable now. At the early side of this time period we used to go on bikes to see the Dodger stadium being built – not as much fun but good memories.

    2. Yep,I used to hang with you on this lot.AND I believe I saved your life when someone threw a large wooden crate off of the roof of the Logans Run set.I was glad to have saved you from that.

    3. Were you friends with my cousin, Gerald Strachan, who also talked about meeting Fred and Gene?

  30. Dear Christian, I found this concept fascinating. I was fortunate to spend many years sneaking on the backlots and living amongst that history, I collected call sheets, took pictures and saw many amazing productions. You may be interested in my story. It is unique in its perspective and all hands on MGM.

  31. Thankyou for this amazing tour of MGM. I have ‘Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot’ & spend hrs combing thru the pages. Can’t help but lament about MGM’s destruction, if only a wealthy industrial conglomerate like Gulf & Western with Paramount or MCA with Universal had purchased MGM rather than Kirk Kerkorian, all that backlot majesty might still be in place. Meanwhile, while Sony should be praised for retaining & astheticising Lot 1, they’ve also turned it into a bland business park by pulling down stages 18, 19, 20, removing set construction-properties from the lot & converting the amazing stages 5-6 Theatre Stages to recording & an office tower

    1. Thanks for your comment and additional information about the current situation at the Sony lot. There is much to bemoan really in the loss of movie-making heritage at the old MGM lots and in greater Los Angeles. I collect one area, costume design sketches, which have scattered to the winds (those that survived). I started recuperating old MGM lot and set stills by accident. There’s loss everywhere you look.

      1. Hello Christian, thankgoodness for the efforts of yourself & the legendary Debbie Reynolds for preserving artefacts of the MGM legacy. I visited the then Lorimar Studios in the mid 1980s on a holiday to the US. Peering in thru the gates off Overland I marvelled at this place, was like a sabbatical to Bethlehem or the Vatican to me, somehow unreal; the glory was faded & the MGM shingle & lots 2-3 had long gone, but lot 1 was still fully in tact. The place would have been better than Disney Land!

        1. Thanks John. I agree, the lack of vision by the then ownership was staggering. In the case of Universal Studios, even the sale of prime real estate of “Universal City” was a colossal loss of value.

          1. Lack of vision is a nice way for you to put it — I am kind of outraged by it ‘s destruction and of people who think this way. It could have been preserved. Why do some people think if a building is over 40 years old it is of no value anymore. Very stupid and un-enlightened on their part I say

          2. I agree Ava. You could also say they wanted to make a quick buck and weren’t really interested in the movie business .Universal Studios turned part of their sets into an amusement park. 20th Century Fox sold off their back lots and land for cheap, which was developed into Century City in L. A..

          3. It seems that in Hollywood, anything – and anyone – over 40 is of no value.
            The destruction of both RKO and MGM studios by the moneymen is an example of bad management and lack of foresight.

          4. These two cases were indeed shameful. The RKO lot was absorbed by Paramount (after Desilu), but the famous Radio Pictures globe was demolished. MGM was sad all the way around as was well documented. Thanks for your comments.

  32. “The Great Earth”? Try “The GOOD Earth.” Most of the rest of the text is on the same insipid level. The photos are great, of course, but already available to anyone who has the indispensible “M-G-M Hollywood’s Greatest Back Lot.”

    1. My, what an insipid post of negativity.

      Thank you Christian for a most excellent documentation of our cinematic heritage! Bravo!

    2. My, what an insipid post of negativity.

      Thank you Christian for a most excellent documentation of our cinematic heritage. Bravo!

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