The Fixer Uppers - Location Shooting
In making THE FIXER UPPERS, the production unit never had to leave the "lot of fun." This economically made short was essentially shot on two interior sets, both already standing. The one exterior sequence which concludes the picture was filmed at night, on the backlot -- most particularly on the spot where Dorothy Coburn had her backside painted eight years previously in THE SECOND HUNDRED YEARS (1927). And, also, where memorable street scenes were filmed for both THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY (1927) and YOU'RE DARN TOOTIN' (1928).
Both the Cafe des Artistes, and THE FIXER UPPERS street locations, as well as scores of other familiar and easily recognizable Hal Roach Studios backlot views, can be visited on film again at a much later point in time, although just as their time was about to run out. Several episodes of the legendary science fiction television series THE TWILIGHT ZONE were filmed right there on the same hallowed Hal Roach ground in Culver City. These shows offer varied glimpses of the Roach backlot, but none so many as the one episode made during the summer of 1961, entitled TWO.
The TWO stars were Charles Bronson, and Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of Hal Roach's polo pal and M-G-M leading man, Robert Montgomery. Also seen at the outset of this episode was TWILIGHT ZONE creator Rod Serling, who introduced the show on camera standing in the backlot street where THE FIXER UPPERS fade-out scenes were filmed 27 years before. "It's been five years since a human being walked these streets," Serling tells us in his greeting.
TWO offered an ironic twist, and a subtext unknown to the show's general audience. The episode portrays a post-war world in ruins, with apparently only two people left alive following a doomsday conflict between Russians and Americans. Not coincidentally, Hal Roach Studios itself was barely alive, in bankruptcy, reduced to being a rental lot leased by outside producers, and accommodating overflow production from other studios. The offbeat TWILIGHT ZONE operated primarily out of nearby M-G-M, but here was a story that called for a setting of desolation and ruin. The bleak scripted material was perfectly suited, the filmmakers reasoned, to that place down Washington Boulevard, then the vacant shell of what had been, for so many decades, the backlot of a fun factory. Here, reflecting its disuse, actually because of its abandonment and deterioration, Hal Roach Studios was sought out to serve as the last grim refuge, of two people, just two ... alone, in the Twilight Zone!
The entire half-hour shows Bronson and Montgomery prowling the streets and buildings that had been used to film Hal Roach feature films and shorts since the company relocated to Culver City in 1919. "This has been a love story," Rod Serling concludes in the closing segment. They were two lonely people, two weary people, the last two people, who found each other, and found themselves ... in The Twilight Zone.
"We shot (the episode) at the old Hal Roach Studio when it was still standing," explained TWILIGHT ZONE producer Buck Houghton. "It had weeds in the streets, theater marquee letters hanging sideways, and we didn't have to do hardly a thing to it. At M-G-M, we'd have had to put out our own weeds and tear up our own windows and everything. This was an old backlot street that was about to be torn down, plowed under."
And then, hauled away off into the distance as little more than debris and garbage, just like Oliver Hardy was for the very ending depicted in THE FIXER UPPERS!
TWO was a story about survival. Presumably the couple depicted in the story was going to survive, even if only in The Twilight Zone, but the television audience did not know, suspect, or probably care that the former "lot of fun" they were watching was going to be bulldozed flat in just a couple more years.
There would be no need for any further fixer upper activities.
As revealed in a sweeping crane shot, when Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery glide off together into the figurative sunset, in fact they walk towards the department store picture window we associate -- to cite just one example -- with a happier scene: Patsy Kelly and Thelma Todd demonstrating products with mock-cheerfulness for passersby in BABES IN THE GOODS (1934). The pre-BEWITCHED Elizabeth Montgomery, already deceased, was then an infant not a year old.
"You're travelling through another dimension," were the familar words spoken by Rod Serling. "A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Your next stop, The Twilight Zone."
The studio property's next stop, unfortunately, was also a new dimension -- demolition. Its boundaries today are marked by a modest monument which more closely resembles a lone gravestone in a tiny cemetery.
-- by Richard W. Bann --