RKO Forty Acres
|RKO Forty Acres|
1965 aerial photo of the Forty Acres property, looking west. Desilu Studios can be seen in the background
|Location||Culver City, California|
|Size||28.5 acres (11.5 ha)|
RKO Forty Acres was a film studio backlot owned by RKO Pictures and later Desilu Productions located in Culver City, California. Best known as Forty Acres, or "the back forty", it had other names such as "Desilu Culver", the "RKO backlot" and "Pathé 40 Acre Ranch" depending on which studio owned the property at the time. For nearly fifty years it was known for its outdoor full-scale sets such as Western Street and Atlanta Street or Main Street and was used in films like King Kong (1933) and Gone with the Wind (1939), and television shows like Bonanza and Star Trek.
The property was a triangular parcel of land that measured 28 1⁄2 acres (11.5 ha), located a few blocks from RKO (now "The Culver Studios") which was situated to the west. It was bounded by Higuera Street to the north, West Jefferson Boulevard, Ballona Creek and Culver City Park to the south and Lucerne Avenue to the west. In 1976 it was razed for re-development and is known today as the southern expansion of the Hayden Industrial Tract. A number of the buildings in the industrial park have been converted to television studios. One of the shows produced at the park is Hell's Kitchen.
The property on which the backlot was located was originally intended to be a lease for Cecil B. DeMille’s production of the 1927 film The King of Kings. On it he constructed the historical City of Jerusalem, which remained for the RKO production of King Kong in 1933. By then it was known as Forty Acres and owned by RKO Pictures.
In 1935, David O. Selznick leased the property from RKO for his new studio, Selznick International Pictures. For his 1939 production of Gone with the Wind, the plantation Tara, the Atlanta Depot (based on Atlanta's 1853 Union Station), and other Atlanta buildings were constructed on Forty Acres. The depot and many of the Atlanta buildings became permanent fixtures on the property until its final days, while the set of Tara was sold in 1959 to investors who planned to open a theme park in the Atlanta area (see Tara (plantation)). From 1943 to 1958, a separate part of the 28.5 ac (11.5 ha) known as the African jungle set, located on the opposite side of Ballona Creek, was used extensively for the Tarzan series by RKO, and later for The Adventures of Jim Bowie television series by Desilu. Following years of turnovers by several owners, including Howard Hughes, the backlot was practically deserted and cinematic productions declined. It was purchased in 1957 by Desilu with the intention of filming for the burgeoning television industry.
Forty Acres is best remembered for providing the backdrop for the fictional town of Mayberry on the television series The Andy Griffith Show. Many of the street scenes and buildings on the backlot were seen regularly on television screens across America and became quite familiar to viewers. The original Town of Atlanta set, comprising a New York style street, a town square and a residential area to the east, was situated in the center of the property and was used on shows like Adventures of Superman, Ozzie and Harriet, Batman, The Green Hornet, and Mission: Impossible. The town square was also used on Star Trek in three episodes entitled "Miri", "Return of the Archons" and "City on the Edge of Forever", while another area of the lot, the "Arab village", was used in "Errand of Mercy" and the first pilot, "The Cage". Sharp-eyed television viewers could note many visual cues that crossed over from one series to the next, including the structures themselves or signs on doors and windows. In Star Trek's "The City on the Edge of Forever" for example, a crossover from The Andy Griffith Show can be seen by noting a window sign for "Floyd's Barber Shop" in a particular scene involving Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), who were strolling by.
Forty Acres was also the backdrop for a 1961 episode of My Three Sons entitled "The Horseless Saddle", and five episodes of the TV series Bonanza where the backlot’s Western Street, next to the Garden of Allah (1936) set, served as a trail town. An added feature was the fact that some portions of the backlot were occupied by fields and scrub and provided the ideal conditions for filming a western. The Tara set, which sat on a sloping rise at the north western corner of the property, was torn down in 1959 to eventually become the Stalag 13 set for Hogan's Heroes. Most of the sets, which included Camp Henderson on Gomer Pyle, were situated primarily in the center, south and west end of the property. The narrower east end was the site of a western town set at one time, and was later home to an unusual, narrow alley set lined by two long facades facing each other. The alley set was constructed for the 1968 Robert Wise film Star! starring Julie Andrews, and it also later made a brief appearance in the film Switchblade Sisters (1975), as did the streets and buildings of the central town area.
Overall, the property was an undulating plateau with a southern slope (by the town square) that led to Ballona Creek. Trees screened the northern and southern perimeter of the property.
List of familiar backlot buildings
Core structures that stood for decades and appeared in many productions are listed here, most of which were constructed to represent, in Gone with the Wind, the antebellum Town of Atlanta, and later used for the fictional Mayberry. This portion of the backlot was the most permanent, and thus the most repeatedly recognizable, existing from 1939 until 1976. Other structures like the Jerusalem set, which was torched to make room for the Atlanta set, or Tara, which was replaced with the Hogan's Heroes stalag set, did not survive as long. The western/European set at the east end of the backlot also did not survive past the mid sixties.
The two main arteries that traversed the Atlanta/Mayberry set were Atlanta or Main Street, which ran east/west and opened at one point onto a town square, and North Street, a cross street that bisected it at the four corners just west of the square.
|Image||Structure||flrs||Location||years||Seen on||Seen as|
|church||2||SE end of town square||1947–76||
|courthouse||2||NE of town square||1947–76||
|residence||2||across from church||1939–76||
|bank||2||SE corner Atlanta/North||1939–76|
|store/cafe||3||NW corner Atlanta/North||1939–76|
|main hotel||2||center, town square||1945–76|
|tall hotel||4||NW of town square||1947–76|
|theatre||2||NW of town square||1939–75|
|buildings||2||rear of courthouse||1955–76|
|shop||2||E of town square||1955–76|
|store plaza||2||N of town square||1955–76||
|depot||1||west of town||1939–71||
|store/cafe||3||SW corner Atlanta/North||1939–76||
|Tara||2||NW portion of backlot||1939–59|
|office||3||NW end of Atlanta St||1939–76|
|cafe||2||S side of Atlanta St||1938–76|
|hotel||2||SW of town square||1938–76|
|townhouse||2||top of North St||1950–76||
|town hall||2||bottom of North St||1950–76||
List of known productions at Forty Acres
- The King of Kings (1927)
- The Godless Girl (1929)
- The Fall Guy (1930)
- Bird of Paradise (1932)
- The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
- King Kong (1933)
- The Return of Chandu (1934)
- The Little Minister (1934)
- Bonnie Scotland (1935)
- She (1935)
- The Garden of Allah (1936)
- Gone with the Wind (1939)
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
- Intermezzo (1939)
- Rebecca (1940)
- Citizen Kane (1941)
- The Devil and Daniel Webster (aka, All That Money Can Buy, 1941)
- The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
- Tarzan Triumphs (1943)
- Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943)
- Tarzan and the Amazons (1945)
- China Sky (1945)
- The Story of G.I. Joe (1946)
- The Long Night (1947)
- Tarzan and the Huntress (1947)
- Miracle of the Bells (1948)
- The Set-Up (1949)
- Tarzan's Magic Fountain (1949)
- The Big Steal (1949)
- Mighty Joe Young (1949) (used Arab village set)
- The Great Rupert (1950)
- Where Danger Lives (1950)
- Tripoli (1950)
- Tarzan's Peril (1951)
- Superman and the Mole Men (1951)
- Two Tickets to Broadway (1951)
- Macau (1952)
- One Minute To Zero (1952)
- Eight Iron Men (1952)
- Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953)
- The Raid (1954)
- Escape to Burma (1955)
- Night of the Hunter (1955, riot scene only)
- Around the World in Eighty Days (1956, jungle set)
- Attack! (1956)
- Death of a Scoundrel (1956)
- Screaming Eagles (1956)
- Jet Pilot (1957)
- Verboten! (1959)
- Blood and Steel (1959)
- The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
- Ride Beyond Vengeance (1966)
- Star! (1968)
- Switchblade Sisters (1975)
- Lepke (1975)
- Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975)
- The Fortune (1975)
- The Four Deuces (1976)
- Vigilante Force (1976)
- Adventures of Superman (first season only, 1951–52)
- The Adventures of Jim Bowie (Tarzan jungle set / 1956-58)
- The Californians (1957)
- The Real McCoys (1957–62)
- US Marshal (1958–59)
- Yancy Derringer (1958–59)
- Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (1958–1960)
- The Texan (1958–60)
- Man With a Camera (1958–60)
- The Untouchables (1959–60)
- Guestward Ho! (1960)
- The Andy Griffith Show (1960–1968)
- My Three Sons (occasional scenes between 1960–67)
- Miami Undercover (1961)
- Window on Main Street (1961)
- Ben Casey (1961)
- My Favorite Martian (1963)
- My Living Doll (1964)
- Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1964–69)
- I Spy (episode "Cops & Robbers", 1966)
- Hogan's Heroes (1965–1971)
- Family Affair (1966)
- Batman (1966–68)
- The Green Hornet (1966–67)
- Star Trek (four first season episodes: 1966-67)
- Mission: Impossible (first two seasons: 1966-68)
- That Girl (at least one scene in first season, 1966–67)
- Bonanza (episodes 271-275) (1967–68)
- Judd for the Defense (1967–69)
- Land of the Giants (episode "Ghost Town", 1968)
- Mayberry R.F.D. (first two seasons only: 1968-70)
- The New People (1969)
- "Back 40" is a term used colloquially in America to describe a parcel of land, specifically, forty acres (16.2 ha) or one sixteenth of a section, constituting the smallest unit of agricultural land commonly surveyed ("back 40", "front 40"); "back 40" also refers to an undeveloped plot of land (as on a farm, ranch, etc.) of unspecified size. Further reading: Public Land Survey System
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