It wasn’t long in 1977 after my mom and I moved to 514 N. Wilton Place (she liked to call the neighborhood Hancock Park-adjacent, to me it was still Hollywood) that notifications were posted announcing filming of scenes for an episode of “Barnaby Jones” would be taking place in the alley behind the duplex property that we shared with the landlord next door — a youngish fellow named David Bruns who seemed nice in the beginning but turned out to be a more than partially unhinged Vietnam War veteran we had to call the police on a time or two.
I was 13 at the time and while aware of the detective show it aired too late on a school night for me to watch. I certainly was aware of its star Buddy Ebsen who I long knew and loved as the patriarch of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Perhaps even more acutely was I aware of Ebsen’s costar Lee Meriwether, who was a major boyhood crush of mine going back to her time as Catwoman on “Batman.”
It struck me at the time as bit of a big random deal that of all the alleys in all of greater Los Angeles, a popular TV show was going to be setting up shop for a day in the one that dead-ended behind our modest residence. But as bad timing would have it the day of filming was a school day so I didn’t get to see a second of it. To add to my disappointment, Bruns, who was home that day, told me that the scene, which was shot right outside our back fence, involved Meriwether. I was bummed not to have been able to see Catwoman in person!
I don’t remember making too big a deal trying to catch the episode. As I mentioned above, it aired too late during the week for me. And bear in mind, this was still B.V. — Before VCR — when, barring lucking into catching a rerun during the summer, you either saw a show when it aired or you just didn’t.
So ultimately I didn’t, but for whatever reason that’s occasionally irked me throughout my life — especially within the last decade or so with the entrenchment of on-demand streaming that has allowed so many old television shows to be rediscovered by old fans or gain fresh life with new generations of viewers. Apparently “Barnaby Jones” is not among them. Sure, DVD boxed sets existed of the series, which ran for eight seasons from 1973-’80, but I don’t buy DVDs anymore and even if I did I was too cheap to want to invest anything more than my time digging a proverbial episode needle out of a haystack of several seasons. So instead I would occasionally check a variety of streaming platforms to see if the show was available, and most recently found it only available on something called MeTV airing Tuesdays through Saturdays at the ungodly hour of 3AM. No thanks.
Fast-forward to this past weekend and an author named Paul Haddad who I follow on Twitter (his handle is L.A. Dork; @la_dorkout) posted about how the Beverly Crest street his family lived on, Betty Lane, was the location where the gruesome milkman scene from “It’s Alive” was filmed (small world-coincidental to Betty Lane, at that same time in the mid-1970s, my godparents were his neighbors living one street up from the Haddads on Stuart Lane). Paul ended his tweet asking his followers who’s had a movie or TV show filmed at or near their house?
I commented about “Barnaby Jones,” which then led me to another round through Netflix et al to see if my streaming dreams had been answered. They had not. That got me to look up the show’s Wiki page and from a detailed episode listing figured the show in question had to have aired sometime during its last three seasons. I found one in the seventh season that was based in Hollywood, and a subsequent Google search for that episode titled “The Picture Pirates” led me to find the full episode on YouTube through a channel called MovieWorld. Scrolling through its timeline did not reveal a location appearing to be an alley, but it did lead me to discover that pretty much every episode of the series has been posted to the MovieWorld Channel.
So with that resource suddenly available it was time to get to work and with nothing particularly pressing to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I started with the last one of Season 8 and worked backward with a methodical scroll-through of the timelines of each episode looking for any exterior scene that might be an alley. While overall it sa bit tedious, it only took a couple minutes to roll through each episode and the process ultimately led me to finding my alley in Season 6 Episode 20 titled “Uninvited Peril” (link to full episode: https://youtu.be/escGrfETaFk) that aired more than 44 years ago on February 2, 1978.
For context/set-up, Lee Meriwether has just fled from a loyal husband and his batshit crazy wife who were holding her and a doctor hostage at his private practice. The clip below opens after Meriwether has run out with the husband (actor Michael Strong) trying to find her.
The large boxes that Meriwether is found hiding behind were props. I remember those being delivered a day or two before the shoot and being gone immediately thereafter. When the husband comes to a stop by the utility post before turning back toward the boxes, the land yacht briefly visible behind him and the fence is our crazy landlord’s car. I was bummed that none of the duplex and only that bit of the backyard is all that ended up in the episode, but I am pleased that the huge avocado tree towering over the garage in the neighboring backyard got some background screen time. The homeowner, a friendly Hispanic woman, would pay me in avocados for climbing up the tree when they were in season and harvesting as many as I could reach/bring down. She would take what she wanted and from my payment I would leave a few in the kitchen for my mom and then take the rest over to Lucy’s El Adobe nearby on Melrose Avenue across from Paramount Studios and make a couple bucks selling them there for a dime a piece.
And that’s it: the alley I biked up and down countless times, where at the dead end I set up my old Pitchback net and threw countless balls and strikes while entertaining daydreams of pitching in the World Series for the Dodgers — all immortalized in a minute of television. Their’s something pretty poignant about seeing this hidden and personal place after all these years, exactly as it was. Exactly as I remember it being.
I have MovieWorld and YouTube to thank for being a surprise “Barnaby Jones” repository, and I have Haddad to thank for his Twitter post setting things in motion that finally allowed me to cross this off my bucket list.