Celebrating the life and career of JUDY GARLAND since 1999

Judy Garland on the MGM Backlot - Part Two

This second part of Judy Garland on the MGM Backlot focuses on Lot Three and the unknown sites of various scenes from Judy’s films.  These unknown locations were obviously part of the backlots but their exact locations are unknown.  Lot Three was the site of several of Judy’s biggest musical moments, “On The Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” in The Harvey Girls (1946), the big finale to Easter Parade (1948), and the marvelous St. Louis Street built for Meet Me In St. Louis (1944).

Much of the information here has been provided by the book “M-G-M – Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot.”  It is a comprehensive and expertly executed love letter to the grandness and uniqueness of the MGM Studios detailing every square mile of these magical backlots (and the main lot, too).  It’s also filled with many rare photos and exhaustively researched information.  This book is a “must-have” for any fan of MGM and classic Hollywood.  big thanks to the book’s authors Steven Bingon, Stephen X. Sylvester, and Michael Troyan for their amazing work and for sharing the high-resolution versions of the lot maps and other images featured here.  These pages couldn’t exist without the information shared by these great guys!  

Notes:

  • Lot One wasn’t a “backlot” it’s included here because, of course, that’s where so many magical movie moments were created.
  • Judy’s guest appearances in Till The Clouds Roll By (1946) and Words And Music (1948) were filmed entirely on the soundstages on Lot One.  However, non-Garland scenes shot on the backlot are featured here because they give us a look at more areas of the backlot.  Plus, they’re still Judy Garland films even if she didn’t go on the backlot to film them.

Click on the titles below or simply scroll down.  Enjoy the interactive maps, too!

Go to Part One of this spotlight here (Lots One and Two).

Judy sitting on the lawn of the Smith home on St. Louis Street with producer Arthur Freed at her left and an unidentified man on her right.

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LOT THREE

Not many Garland films were made on Lot Three, but what was made was and is brilliant perfection.  There’s the St. Louis Street built specifically for Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) which has become iconic.  Then there’s the showstopping “On The Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” number filmed for The Harvey Girls (1946) on Billy the Kid Street.  Finally, there’s the grand finale to Easter Parade (1948) with the beautiful final shot of the Easter Parade in 1912 New York filmed on Drumhead Road.  When it came to Judy Garland’s musicals, MGM spared no expense.

The image below was taken in the 1950s after Judy had left the studio.  Click on the stars in the image to see what films were shot at those spots.

Billy The Kid Street
Girl Crazy
The Harvey Girls

St, Louis Street
Meet Me In St. Louis
Till The Clouds Roll By
In The Good Old Summertime

Drumhead Road
Easter Parade

The map below goes into a bit more detail than the image above.  Click on the “hotspots” in the image to see what films were shot at those spots.

Billy the Kid Street
Girl Crazy (Cody College)
The Harvey Girls (Sandrock)

St. Louis Street
Meet Me In St. Louis
Till The Clouds Roll By
In The Good Old Summertime

Drumhead Road
Easter Parade

The areas in bold text below correspond to the pulsating “hotspots” above and are links to more detailed info and images below.

44 Lot Three Entrance Gate

45 Monterey Street

46 Western Street

47 Cloudy Street

48 Fort Canby

49 Fort Scott

50 Billy The Kid Street

  • Girl Crazy (Cody College)
  • The Harvey Girls (Town of Sandrock & “On The Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe”)

51 Ghost Town Street

52 St. Louis Street

  • Meet Me In St. Louis
  • Till The Clouds Roll By
  • In The Good Old Summertime

53 Rock Formations

54 Lot Three Jungle and Lake

55 Eucy Road

56 Salem Waterfront

57 Process Tank

58 Farmhouse

59 Kismet Staircase

60 Drumhead Road

  • Easter Parade (part of the finale)

61 Circus Grounds 62 Army Base

63 Dutch Street

64 Melbury Street

65 Brooklyn Street

66 Rawhide Street

LOT 3 - BILLY THE KID STREET

It’s been assumed that both Girl Crazy (1943) and The Harvey Girls (1946) were filmed on Lot Three’s Western Street.  However, that is incorrect.  It’s understandable considering the street is called “Western” street and there was a train track that ran through part of the set.  But when comparing the buildings to photos of the backlot it’s very clear that both “Cody College” in Girl Crazy (1943) and “Sandrock” in The Harvey Girls (1946) were both located on Billy the Kid Street.  

It would have been easy to run a track for the vintage training engine and two train cars (purchased specifically for The Harvey Girls but used in subsequent films) through one end of Billy the Kid Street.  The choice of the street for “Sandrock” makes sense when thinking that the fictional town was supposed to be on the edge of civilization.  It was a frontier town that wasn’t as established as it would have looked if Western Street had been used.  The latter was more a western town.  Considering the money spent on The Harvey Girls (it was definitely an “A” picture) it’s not unreasonable to think they added tracks to be able to move the train back and forth in the location they desired.

This portion of an aerial shot from the 1950s (possibly early 60s) shows Billy the Kid Street (top) and Western Street (below).  The photo clearly shows the same buildings seen in the screenshots below.  What’s noticeable is the Blacksmith Stable with the building that stood in as the Alhambra Saloon in The Harvey Girls (1946) to the left, and the attached building on the right.  The location of the church that’s seen in the background of all of the shots is clear, but the building is gone.  The train tracks going through Western Street to the backside of the lot (as seen in the blueprint above) are partly gone in the photo here.  This is more evidence of the fact that even on MGM’s backlots some things didn’t last forever.

To the left of the Alhambra Saloon is where the temporary train tracks were laid.  The building that stood in as the Harvey House looks a bit different than it did 10 plus years earlier and on the screen.  More movie trickery and more evidence of the ever-evolving backlot.

Girl Crazy (1943)

Billy the Kid Street became Cody College for this, the last of the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney “Let’s Put On A Show!” musicals.  It’s also the best thanks to a mature Judy and a flawless Gershwin score.  

There are several scenes on this street, most played for comedy effect with Mickey’s city slicker fish-out-of-water Danny Churchill character learning how to be a man.  Judy’s character, Ginger Grey, gets a lot of laughs out of it all.

The Harvey Girls (1946)

As noted above, it’s been assumed that the nearby Western Street was the location of the film’s fictional town of Sandrock as well as the phenomenal production number centered around the Oscar-winning song “On The Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe.”  However, it was actually filmed here on Billy the Kid Street.

The street was also the location of the Alhambra Saloon (the “bad” girls) and the Harvey House (the “good” girls) as well as several scenes.

The deleted “March of the Doagies” and its deleted reprise were partly shot on the street over several nights.  The main number began on the Harvey House set on one of the soundstages on Lot One.  It then cuts as Judy, Ray Bolger, Cyd Charisse, Marjorie Main, Chill Wills, and the rest of the cast sing and dance down Billy the Kid Street.  They make their way through some rocks along a river that looks more like a soundstage than the backlot, but it’s not for certain.  The climax of the number is definitely on a soundstage, the now-famous “Judy of Arc” or “Judy the Phoenix” with Judy positioned in front of a big bonfire.

The deleted reprise features Judy leading the crowd coming back from the desert down Billy the Kid Street to the Alhambra Saloon.  Judy is temporarily left alone to finish the song and rejoin her group.  

MGM spend quite a lot of money filming this sequence only to delete it due to time constraints.  It left a hole in the narrative.  As it plays now, the Harvey Girls are all mysteriously out of the house when the climatic arson happens.  

LOT 3 - ST. LOUIS STREET

St. Louis Street was built specifically for Meet Me In St. Louis (1944).  MGM wanted to dress up the New England (Andy Hardy) Street but director Vincente Minnelli insisted on building new homes.  He felt that for the film to be successful in creating a believable turn-of-the-last-century St. Louis, Missouri, as seen through a nostalgic sentimental lens, it needed a convincing Victorian home on an upper-middle-class street.  By this point, producer Arthur Freed had enjoyed such great success with his previous musicals (of which much of that success was thanks to Judy as his star) that he had the blessing of studio head Louis B. Mayer. The set cost $208,275 to design and build.

In the end, it was all worth the time and expense.  Meet Me In St. Louis became MGM’s biggest moneymaker of the year, and its biggest all-time moneymaker at that time excepting Gone With The Wind (1939).  While many at the studio initially thought it was a white elephant, St. Louis Street turned out to be one of the most versatile, and popular, of all the sets on the backlots.  it popped up in many films, including two more of Judy’s films although in scenes she wasn’t in.  The only time she spent on the set was during the filming of Meet Me In St. Louis.  It became profitable, too, with other studios paying for the use of it.  In the 1960s it turned up in several TV shows, most notably the “Twilight Zone” series.  The Smith House also made a short appearance in the background of an early scene in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest (1959).

Other studios had similar streets but none were as grand nor as beautiful as St. Louis Street.  It had a magical essence and style all its own.  Although it’s been lost to the ages, thanks to the films it still inspires wistful dreams of living in a bygone era that, perhaps, only lived in the movies to begin with.

In this aerial shot taken in the 1950s (possibly 60s), both the Smith and Bluett (“Truitt” in the film) homes are clearly seen.  Behind them on Drumhead Road is a row of newer homes in a more New England style built for an unknown film.  Part of Billy the Kid Street is seen at the bottom of the pic.

Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)

Here are some studio set reference stills of St. Louis Street.  There were seven homes numbered from left to right around the street beginning with #530 (the Smith home) and ending with #536, which was across the street from the Smith home (ass seen in the first two photos below).  Twenty years after Meet Me In St. Louis, #536 became the opulent Molly Brown home in 1964’s The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Note that the landscaping was changed over the years depending on what a film called for.  In the last photo, walled fences and curbs have been added for a more manicured look used in at least one film. 

Note that one of the pics of the Braukoff home (#533 – where Margaret O’Brien as Tootie throws the flour in Mr. Braukoff’s face) shows a winter scene.  It’s unclear if this was for an unknown shot planned for Meet Me In St. Louis or some other film.  The home is not shown in the winter segment of the film.

Below:  Director Vincente Minnelli is seen standing on the camera crane (left photo) shooting the opening scene of the film.  In the second photo, the scenes seen toward the end of the film are being shot, when the Smith family heads to the fair.

The film is broken into seasons.  Each season opens with a shot of the home and how it looked for that season:  Summer 1903, Autumn 1903, Winter 1903, Spring 1904.  This device is very effective in that it sets the tone for each of the film’s four segments.  By the final segment, the home has become as familiar to us as if it were our own.

Here are some behind-the-scenes shots, studio promotional photos, and screenshots of various segments of the film that feature the homes/locations on the street as it originally appeared in Meet Me In St. Louis.  The famous Halloween sequence was filmed on the street at night and not on a soundstage as most lower-budgeted films would have done.  The nighttime shooting was expensive.  Only the backyard of the Smith home was a set on a soundstage which makes sense as these buildings on the backlot were the fronts and sides only.

In order below:  

  • Judy as Esther Smith in her tennis outfit being dropped off at the home at the film’s beginning.
  • Tom Drake as John Truitt.
  • The two sisters, Rose and Esther Smith (Rose was played by Lucille Bremer) spy on the boy next door (Drake).
  • The ice wagon delivering ice with the Braukoff home in the background.
  • The scary Braukoff home is seen on Halloween through the eyes of Tootie (Margaret O’Brien).
  • Esther on the porch.
  • Esther runs across the yard to beat up John Truitt (mistakenly believed he hurt Tootie) and then apologizes.
  • The backyard in winter is rendered on a soundstage on Lot One – note that the home in the painted backdrop looks nothing like any of the homes of the street.  This is more attention to detail as that home would be on a different street behind the Smith Home as seen from their backyard.  Left to right are: Marjorie Main (as the maid Katie), Lucille Bremer, Margaret O’Brien, Judy, and Henry Daniels (as the son, Lon Smith, Jr.)
  • Candid shots of Judy, Tom Drake, and producer Arthur Freed.
  • Summer 1904 with Margaret O’Brien, Lucille Bremer, Joan Carroll, and Judy.  The parents (Mary Astor and Leon Ames) and grandpa (Harry Davenport) coming out of the home.  Note the incredible detail on Astor’s costume.

The photos below show St. Louis Street in 1970 prior to the MGM auction with various buggies lining the streets for auction.  Note in the fourth and fifth photos, a solarium (sunroom) had been added to the right side of the home, which also altered the porch.  The railing that Judy sat on when admiring John Truett is gone and side stairs were added.

Till The Clouds Roll By (1946)

Judy wasn’t in any of the scenes filmed on the backlot for this Jerome Kern (Robert Walker) biopic.  But St. Louis Street did, with the Smith home standing in for the Hessler (Van Heflin) country home.  A fence had been added just before the lower steps that lead to the street.  Over the years, the landscaping of the lawns and the pavement (or lack of) changed many times depending on the needs of the scripts.

In The Good Old Summertime (1949)

Early in the film, Van Johnson is seen meeting up with Buster Keaton.  Judy wasn’t in this scene.  The only time she filmed on this street was for, obviously, Meet Me In St. Louis (1944).

The 1960 TV special “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood” featured this quick tour around St. Louis Street.  Hopper misidentified the home “that Judy Garland lived.”  The Smith home is the first seen in the clip.  The home Hopper identifies and its two neighboring homes weren’t seen in Meet Me In St. Louis.  Note that the video is corrupted in a couple of spots.

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LOT 3 - DRUMHEAD ROAD

Most people assume that the finale to Easter Parade (1948) was filmed on Fifth Avenue street in the New York Streets section of Lot Two.  However, that street was too modern to accurately portray Fifth Avenue in New York in 1912.  So, MGM simply built a section of the 1912 Fifth Avenue on Drumhead Road with the bottom ten feet of the buildings as shown in vintage photographs.  A matte painting completed the effect.  This is another great example of MGM’s attention to detail.  They could have easily created their own version of what they assumed was Fifth Avenue.  However, they wanted it to be as accurate as possible.  Because the film is in Technicolor, they couldn’t just use the black and white photos, they had to create the matte paintings. to match the footage shot on Drumhead Road.  It was worth the effort.  The final effect was breathtaking on the big screen and in some showings, it generated spontaneous applause as the shot pulled back and up to reveal the full view.

The image below shows the original photo of the real Easter Parade, the studio matte painting, and the completed shot with Drumhead Road and the matte painting combined.  In the screenshots of the final shot, it’s obvious where the sets built on Drumhead Road meet the matte painting when watching the film it’s not as noticeable.  Again, it’s a great example of the attention to detail with the lower sections the studio built matching the buildings in the vintage photo.

This aerial shot taken in the 1950s (possibly 60s), shows Drumhead Road with a row of homes in a middle-class New England style created for an unknown film.  The temporary Fifth Avenue built for Easter Parade was just that, temporary and dismantled after filming was completed.  St. Louis Street can be seen at the bottom of the pic.

UNKNOWN LOCATIONS

The following are screenshots of scenes from Judy’s films that were filmed somewhere on the backlots but the exact locations are unknown.

Every Sunday (1936)

Judy’s first film for MGM after signing her first contract with the studio at 10-years-old in 1935 is this 1936 short subject.  The short was meant as a showcase for Judy and fellow adolescent singer Deanna Durbin (billed as Edna Mae Durbin).  The two girls are featured performing in their very distinctly different styles, with Judy singing “hot jazz” and Deanna singing the more traditional opera.  

The short was filmed on MGM’s backlot at unspecified locations.  Considering that it was filmed in 1936 some of it or all of it might have been filmed on the old backlot when it was still a part of Lot One before everything was either torn down or moved over to the new Lot Two.  In the short, the girls are seen mostly in a park setting, with a few shots at nondescript home sets.  The gazebo that figures so prominently in the short is the same gazebo that was used in the studio’s 1935 adaptation of O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!”  That film was the studio’s first to use the newly constructed New England Street which was constructed for the film and based on that film’s director’s (Clarence Brown) hometown of Clinton, Massachusetts.  

Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1937)

The film is Judy’s first with Mickey Rooney and centers around horse racing.  The horse racing scenes are a combination of scenes shot on location at a race track with Mickey (but not Judy), probably at the Santa Ana racetrack.  The bleacher scenes were filmed at some unknown location on the backlot as were the scenes in the stables. The studio had stables on Lot 5 as well as on Lot 2 next to the Girls School.  Those stables are thought to have been built around 1939 but it’s possible they could have been built earlier.  The stables seen here were used in many films into the late 1940s if not later.  Considering the resources available on Lot 2 for filming it’s logical that it would have been filmed there instead of over at Lot 5.

In the photos here, Judy is seen with Sophie Tucker, Ronald Sinclair, C. Aubrey Smith, and Eugene Jackson as the stable boy.

Everybody Sing (1938)

Here are the front and back entrances of the Bellaire home (Judy played the character Judy Bellaire) in the film.  It’s unclear which sets on the backlot were used.  That’s Judy’s co-star Allan Jones in the second photo, literally singing his way into the home’s kitchen.  The way the entrance is filmed in this and one other scene it could have been a facade on a soundstage.  That might seem elaborate today, but it wasn’t uncommon due to the need to better control the lighting, the cameras, and the schedules (no need for nighttime shooting outdoors).

Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)

Lana Turner made only one appearance in an Andy Hardy film.  In Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), she played Cynthia, the budding sexpot girlfriend of Andy’s (Mickey Rooney) friend “Beezy.”  Although the front of the building that is her home is shown in detail, it’s another mystery building. 

Listen, Darling (1938)

In Listen, Darling (1938), the bulk of the film is devoted to the plot featuring Judy, Freddie Bartholomew, and Scotty Beckett kidnapping Mary Astor and hitting the road with their trailer to find her a suitable husband.  The scenes in the woods, on the road, and at a huge home (the owner played by Alan Hale, Sr.) were filmed mostly on the backlot with a few scenes obviously filmed on location (probably not far from the studio), while some scenes were likely filmed on a soundstage on Lot One.  The backlot scenes could have been shot on any of the wooded areas of the backlot.  The mansion-style home of Alan Hale, Sr. doesn’t match up to anything of the backlots, so it was either a matte painting or stock footage.  Included here are various shots from these various locations.

Babes in Arms (1939)

On June 28, 1939, the production notes note that more filming of the “Babes in Arms” number took place on the “Exterior Lumber Yard” set.  It’s unknown where this was, or exactly what part of the number was being shot there, but it was most likely the bonfire section.  It’s also unclear just which building on the backlot was the “Hall of Science” seen in the background.  I would guess that this section of the number was filmed on the “Prison” set on Lot Two which was near New England Street where most of the exteriors of the number were filmed, plus it had high walls and an open area similar to what we see here.

Little Nellie Kelly (1940)

In Little Nellie Kelly (1940), the Noonan farmhouse in Ireland was represented by some building on the backlot that doesn’t match anything in the photos or on the blueprints.  The Camille Cottage on Lot One would have been a great candidate but it’s completely different.  The Old Mill House is similar but wasn’t built until 1941 for the Joan Crawford film When Ladies Meet.  It’s possible it was a temporary set built for something filmed on either Copperfield or Quality Streets.  When Charles Winninger (as Nelly’s dad, Mike Noonan) stumbles out of a bar before going to the home, the exterior also looks like something on Copperfield Street.

Life Begins For Andy Hardy (1941)

In this quick scene in Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941), Judy and Mickey Rooney pull up to a building that looks very similar to the left wing of the large Embassy/School set on Fifth Avenue, but it’s not the same.  It doesn’t match anything else seen in the various photos of buildings on the backlot.

Girl Crazy (1943)

Judy, Mickey Rooney, Nancy Walker, and Rags Ragland traveled to what was supposed to be the state capital of Arizona in Phoenix.  One would this that this was filmed either on the Southern Mansion or Courthouse sets.  However, neither of those have columns and steps that match those in this short scene.  It’s unclear as to which location on the backlot this scene was filmed.

Easter Parade (1948)

This short scene with Judy and Peter Lawford was filmed somewhere on the backlot, probably one of the facades on either Eastside Street or possibly Waterfront Street.  The first photo is a behind-the-scenes shot with Judy and Peter Lawford getting direction from the film’s director Charles Walters.