The Universal Studios Tour Celebrates Its 60th Anniversary
2024 marks the 60th anniversary of a landmark in Hollywood and theme park history: The Universal Studios backlot tour. The original press release announcing the attraction is dated July 4, 1964. (I’d expect long lines if you happen to visit Universal Studios Hollywood on that day.)
The tour, now part of an entire theme park, was originally referred to as the Universal “Glamor Tram,” which brought L.A. tourists onto the actual Universal backlot. At launch, the trams ran only on weekdays and the tour lasted a whopping two hours. In those days, according to a Universal press release, the sights included “a brief make-up demonstration, a display of costumes by renowned costume designer Edith Head, an energetic two-man stunt performance and a tour of picturesque outdoor film sets.” Today, the ride is closer to 45 minutes in length, and it’s just one attraction in a theme park of movie and TV inspired rides.
Here are a few photos from the history of the Universal Studios backlot tour:
Through the years various elements of the backlot tour have come and gone, although some have remained for decades, like the house from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and an animatronic version of the shark from Jaws. Others have been introduced and then phased out within a few years. Did you know there was once a Battlestar Galactica part of the tram tour?
The last time I rode the tram tour, there was a part inspired by The Mummy movies. (This part of the tour closed in 2013.)
Movie-themed theme parks like Universal and Disney Hollywood Studios are less and less focused on how movies are made and more on giving visitors big thrills inspired by the films and shows they love. And of course Hollywood itself has changed too; the days when most effects were done practically with prosthetics and squibs and various other physical gags that could be shown off to people live and in person are long gone. You can’t really give people a tour of the computer that animated the CGI King Kong.
In that sense, the studio tour attraction is not only one of the very last vestiges of theme park history, it’s an evolving document of Hollywood history too. I don‘t know if they’ll keep the studio tour going at Universal for another 60 years. But I do know anytime I go to that park, I will ride it as long as it is there.