Classic film lovers: See James Dean’s apartment and more on new TCM tour at Warner Bros.

Los Angeles Times - Classic film lovers: See James Dean's apartment and more on new TCM tour at Warner Bros.

In 2021, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour created new interactive exhibits focused on the company’s recent history, unveiling areas dedicated to the DC Comics universe and the “Harry Potter” franchise.

This week, the popular Studio Tour in Burbank is doubling down on its more distant past.

Warner Bros. is now offering a Turner Classic Movies-branded version of its studio tour that will bring guests to previously off-limit areas of the lot, including vintage animation buildings, a mini rose garden and an apartment that once housed James Dean. The 90-minute tram portion of the jaunt — about 30 minutes longer than the studio’s standard tram excursion — will allow guides to go deeper into the history of the studio’s catalog to deliver factoids related to such films as “Casablanca,” “My Fair Lady,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Auntie Mame” and many more.

“We’re off the leash,” says Brad Taylor, a 15-year tour guide veteran with Warner Bros., noting that the TCM excursion will include time for guides to chat with visitors about their favorite films.

“We get to talk to the guests and really hang out with people who have the same passion that we do,” Taylor says. “I find that ‘classics’ guests are less about behind-the-scenes and more, ‘I can’t believe this is where we are.’ It’s just the look on their faces when they realize ‘Casablanca’ filmed here, or James Dean stood right here.”

The launch of the TCM tour arrives during the network’s 30th anniversary and close to 12 months after classic film fans were given a scare. In June, Warner Bros. announced that layoffs would hit TCM, including some of the network’s top executives, prompting concern from prestige directors such as Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson and Martin Scorsese. After garnering national attention, key cuts were reversed and Warner Bros. sought to assure fans that TCM would continue to be handled with care.

TCM network hosts — Eddie Muller, Jacqueline Stewart, Ben Mankiewicz, Alicia Malone and Dave Karger — recorded new video segments for the outing. The tour will take guests into the lot’s Property House, an area not visited by the standard tour. Here, visitors can get glimpses of materials for a full set, including items for a complete Oval Office setting, but expect guides to highlight vintage items, such as a throne from the Errol Flynn pirate film “Captain Blood.”

Danny Kahn, vice president-general manager of the studio tour, says there have been numerous requests over the years from guests to delve a little deeper into the studio’s animation history. That’s why the TCM tour will for the first time take visitors to an area of the lot once known as “Termite Terrace,” which from 1955 to 1964, says Taylor, housed the animation department, a building with a sloped roof designed to capture sunlight. Animation legend Chuck Jones, says Kahn, had an office in the Termite Terrace area in the 1990s despite Warner’s moving animation production elsewhere.

Another unique tour locale is the exterior of the Dean apartment. When Dean resided there during filming of “East of Eden,” it was actually across the street from the lot, the apartment nesting above a pharmacy. But gradual studio expansion has led to the area now being on Warner Bros. property.

“That was an actual drugstore with apartments, and the studio rented it for him,” Kahn says. “I think it was to keep an eye on him and keep him on a short leash.”

The tour will also give tram riders a look at executive life at the studio, allowing them to briefly walk around a rose garden. The manicured spaces once held a tennis court as well as offices and personal screening rooms for the likes of studio mogul Jack Warner, with many of the structures dating to the 1920s. “It’s a really historic area of the lot that hasn’t really changed a lot in all these years,” says Kahn, noting the area is still in use by studio principals. “Jack Warner, when he ran the studio, privatized the first floor. That was a massage parlor that he had beneath his office.”

Staples of the tour, such as a journey around the backlot city streets, a visit to the “Friends” set and cafe and recent additions highlighting the studio’s modern franchise films are included in the TCM trek, as is a pre-tour reception with beverages and pastries. All told, expect the tour to last about 3½ hours. A tour spokesperson says the first TCM-branded outing is scheduled for Wednesday, with trams expected to depart daily after that date. Adult tickets are $95, but there is a Southern California resident discount available for $75.

“It feels so good to have TCM here,” Kahn says. “People understand that the TCM brand is synonymous with classic film.”