According to LA City Nerd, there’s been a rumor going around for some time that the Santa Monica Freeway is built over sets from the MGM back lot, including sets from The Wizard Of Oz. Surprisingly in this digital age, the rumor seems to have been spread entirely and literally by word of mouth. As you can imagine, this makes it difficult to prove or disprove it! (And brings up the question: is it a rumor if you can’t find evidence of its existence?)
First up: a little research into the time line.
The 10 was built from 1960-1965. MGM auctioned off a great deal of their costumes and props in 1970*; photographs exist that include many sets, but those photographs are not online (as best I can tell, the largest collection of photos of the auction are in Owasso, Michigan) .
That’s Entertainment was put together in 1974, and the interstitials take place on MGM sets.
MGM had sold the property to developers and the sets were about to be demolished. That’s Entertainment! was the last major project to be filmed on the backlot.
As far as I’m concerned, planned demolition of the sets in ’74 eliminates the probability of set demolition 14 years earlier. The Onion A.V. Club mentions it as well, in their DVD review:
The series gains from the subtle commentary of the decaying MGM sets where the stars introduce their segments
Step 2: rent That’s Entertainment
This step is purely for my own, um, entertainment.
Step 3: Call CalTrans and Don Schneider of the Movie Museum in Owasso.
I haven’t spoken to anyone yet, but if I get through I’ll post an update.
So here’s what I think, based on my research so far:
Could MGM have sold or thrown away sets before 1970? Of course.
Is it possible that the freeway was constructed using movie sets as filler? Maybe, but it’s unlikely. Someone would have information about it somewhere online, even if it was just perpetuation of the rumor.
Related Trivia: Munchkinland alone was a two acre set, with more than 100 houses**.
Postscript: There is a possible source for this rumor, and it’s a rumor itself: An Egyptian city was found buried near Santa Barbara. Believe it or not, this is actually true…sort of. After the filming of The Ten Commandments, director Cecil B. Demille buried the sets in Guadalupe, California, in Santa Barbara County (between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo). Read all about it here.
* John Fricke, Jay Scarfone, William Stillman, The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History p234
** Doug McClelland, Down The Yellow Brick Road: The Making Of The Wizard Of Oz p104
Photo: Big K of Justice