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The Griffith Park Merry Go Round from “The Mentalist”

Oct 21st, 2010 | By | Category: TV Locations

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One location that I have wanted to stalk for almost two years now, ever since November of 2008 when it appeared in the Season One episode of The Mentalist titled “Seeing Red”, was the merry go round where Patrick Jane (aka Simon Baker) lured murder suspect Travis Tennant (aka Noel Fisher).  The only problem was that I had absolutely NO idea whatsoever where to find it, as in my ten-plus years of living in Southern California the only merry go round that I had ever encountered was the one located on the Santa Monica Pier and it didn’t look anything like the one that had appeared in The Mentalist.  So, I immediately called up Mike, from MovieShotsLA, and asked him if he knew where it was located.  Sure enough, he did!  As fate would have it, the merry go round is located right in the heart of L.A.’s Griffith Park and Mike used to ride it regularly when he was a kid!

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The Griffith Park Merry Go Round is actually something of a Los Angeles landmark and I am extremely shocked that, up until its appearance on The Mentalist two years ago, I didn’t even know of its existence.  The Merry Go Round was first built in 1926 by the Spillman Engineering Company and is currently the only full size Spillman carousel still in operation today.  It was originally commissioned by the Spreckels family, of the Spreckels Sugar Company, to be used at their San Diego theme park, the Mission Beach Amusement Center.  Sadly, the amusement center was shuttered in 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression and the Merry Go Round was subsequently moved to Balboa Park to be featured in the California Pacific International Exposition.  When the exposition ended in 1937, a man named Ross Davis purchased the carousel and transported it over 120 miles north to its new home in Griffith Park, where it is still in operation to this day, over seven decades later. 

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The Griffith Park Carousel is comprised of 68 different hand-made horses, all of which “jump” – ie. move up and down – and boast tails made of authentic horse hair. 

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The carousel also features a custom-built Stinson 165 Military Band Organ, which plays a library of over 1500 different songs.

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And, incredibly enough, the Griffith Park Merry Go Round even served as the inspiration for one of the most famous landmarks in the entire world – Disneyland!  Yes, you read that right.  According to one of my very favorite stalking tomes, Hollywood Escapes: The Moviegoer’s Guide to Exploring Southern California’s Great Outdoors, Griffith Park historian Mike Eberts states, “Walt Disney brought his young daughters to the carousel and this is one of the places where he began to dream up the idea that would lead to Disneyland.”  So incredibly cool!  The bench where Walt used to sit during those outings (which is pictured very poorly above) is still on display at the merry go round to this day.  And, according to the book Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, Walt’s daughter Diane “thought the inception [of Disneyland] took place during the Sunday afternoons when Walt picked the girls up from religious services – he never attended himself – and took them to the Griffith Park merry-go-round, where they would spend hours.  ‘He’d see families in the park,’ Diane would later recall, ‘and say, ‘There’s nothing for the parents to do . . . You’ve got to have a place where the whole family can have fun.’”  Further adding to the carousel’s celebrity status is the fact that James Dean’s very first acting job took place there!  It was a commercial for Pepsi Cola and, in it, the newbie actor was shown handing out bottles of the soft drink to teenagers who were riding the merry go round.  Such incredible history!

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I, of course, had to take a ride on the carousel while I was there and it was so incredibly fun!  Being there brought me RIGHT BACK to my childhood when I used to ride the Edgewater Packing House Carousel on Monterey’s Cannery Row each and every weekend.  In an odd coincidence, I just found out today that my childhood merry go round was also designed by the Spillman Engineering Company, but it is sadly no longer in operation publicly as it was purchased by a Vegas millionaire who had it installed in a room in his home!  Not kidding!  But I digress.

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In the “Seeing Red” episode of The Mentalist, Patrick Jane hypnotizes a young murder suspect named Travis in order to lead him to a supposed Sacramento-area merry go round so that he can be captured by the CBI.

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Mike clued me into the fact that the Merry Go Round was also featured at the very end of the 1988 comedy Twins, in the scene in which Julius and Vincent Benedict (aka Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, respectively) meet up with their wives, Marnie and Linda Mason (aka Kelly Preston and Chloe Webb, respectively), and their new twin children at a carousel in a park.

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Once Mike told me about the Merry Go Round, I started noticing it popping up in all sorts of movies and television shows, including the Season 2 episode of CSI: New York titled “Zoo York”, in which the body of a teenage debutante is found on the supposed Central Park carousel.

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The Griffith Park Merry Go Round also showed up in the 1992 flick Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as the spot where Amylin (aka Paul Reubens) turned Grueller (aka Sasha Jensen) into a vampire.

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And it also appeared briefly in the Season 1 episode of MacGyver titled “Every Time She Smiles” as a supposed Bulgaria-area merry go round.

  

And thank you to fellow stalker Eileen, who informed me that the carousel also appeared in the video for the Jessica Simpson/Nick Lachey song “Where You Are”.

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The Merry Go Round was also featured in the Sally Field-directed movie Beautiful, but I don’t own that movie, so I was not able to make screen captures.

Big THANK YOU to Mike, from MovieShotsLA, for telling me about this location!  :)

Until next time, Happy Stalking!  :)

Griffith Park Merry Go Round Map

Stalk It: The Griffith Park Merry Go Round is located at 4730 Crystal Springs Drive, inside of Griffith Park, in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles.  The Merry Go Round is open each Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.  During the summer months, it is also open on weekdays.  The Merry Go Round can be a bit tricky to find and is not entirely visible from the road.  The easiest way to get there is to take Los Feliz Boulevard to Crystal Springs Drive and head north.  Make a left onto Fire Road and park in the first lot that you come to.  The Merry Go Round is located just north of that lot.

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18 comments

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  1. Dan says:

    I saw these horses an immediately thought of “Face Off”!.. Say it isn’t so?
    Great work btw

  2. Chris Keating says:

    Interestingly, although the story of James Dean and the Griffith Park carousel is oft-quoted, the commercial itself is surprisingly elusive – the only Pepsi ad featuring Dean to be found anywhere is the familiar one shot indoors, featuring a group of young-un’s and a reluctant player piano which JD coaxes into life with a good hard slap.

    The Griffith Park ad (reportedly shot the next day) doesn’t appear anywhere on the ‘Net – not even stills.

    Or if it does, I can’t find it. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough…

  3. Rob Hinrichs says:

    Being a Disney fan of the first order and likewise for carousels, I was fascinated to read this article about the Griffith Park carousel, yes from the Spreckels family ultimately to the Davis family, under whose ownership it remains. Walt wanted to buy it, but Davis refused the offer. (Walt bought a Dentzel from Toronto, and reworked it into 4 row jumper). I too, enjoyed riding the Herschell Spillman carousel at the Edgewater on Cannery Row. I grew up in Salinas and spent lots of time in Monterey and Santa Cruz where the 1911 Looff still turns today. A trip to Disneyland is not complete without a drive to Griffith park to ride the Spillman, and a trip to Santa Monica Pier to ride the PTC carousel. (I recall it is number 65.) Riding the King Arthur’s carousel in Fantasy Land is always a must, however, there is very little of Dentzel left. The mechanism is a Brass Ring entertainment machine which replaced the badly warn and tired original Dentzel. No longer a Dentzel menagerie, I am satisfied to still call it a Dentzel. Thanks for your great posting.

  4. Michael Tomkins says:

    Hi there,

    Just a quick heads-up that the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round appears in the final ten minutes of Quincy M.E. Season 8 Episode 15, “Behind the Open Door”, as the site of Jennifer Jordan’s would-be abduction.

    Hope this information is of interest to you!

    A fellow movie location non-stalker 😉

  5. Rosemary West says:

    Thank you so very much for the loving and fascinating tribute to our Merry-go-Round. I wanted to add that is has recently been featured in the beautiful opening scene of House, “The C Word”. and an episode of Law & Order LA. It was in several episodes of Beauty and the Beast, much to the delight of the show’s fan club, is in a fun scene with Glen Close in the movie Maxi, has Demi Lovato crying in the rain in “Don’t Forget, and was the location for an actual spectacular wedding of 2 magicians!

  6. Lavonna says:

    We went to Merry Go Round on our 2nd visit to LA (2006 I think) LOVED IT! James Dean did a photo shoot or commercial there early in his career.

  7. Eileen says:

    Also from Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey’s Video “where you are” circa 1999
    i remember they shot pretty much the whole thing (sans diner) in Griffith Park. I remember watching making the video on mtv back in the day.

  8. Malinda says:

    Is this the one from Teen Witch? It’s the first thought that came to my mind.

    • Maria says:

      That’s that I thought too! It looks like it! Pause the video at 19 seconds and look at the seat in the back. It’s the same exact design as in the first picture.

  9. Ashley says:

    Ahhhh I kid you not, the second I saw the first pictures I thought “This has to be the one from Buffy!” and sure enough! Woohoo! I love the history of this, especially the Disneyland tie in :)

  10. Dave says:

    Ironically enough, this was also used in last night’s episode of “The Whole Truth” only it was supposed to be in Central Park.

  11. Davidete says:

    Sorry, I wanted to put “my whole life”, of course… LOL!

  12. Davidete says:

    What a beautiful story, Lindsay 😉

    I dind’t heard that name, “merry go round” in my hole life :p I just knew those “things” as “carousels”, didn’t know that expression in english.

    There’s too a beautiful story about another “merry go round” in LA, the one a Santa Monica Pier; I can’t remember the whole story, but I loved it when I saw it on my trip to LA.

    Thanks for today’s post, Lindsay 😉


Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. […] without skipping a beat, he replied, “Oh, the row of trees?  That was in Griffith Park, near the merry-go-round.”  Um, THANK YOU, […]

  2. […] Opening Day attraction and has been in operation since 1955.  (It was in fact a carousel, the one at Griffith Park, that inspired Walt to create Disneyland in the first place.)  The merry-go-round was originally […]

  3. […] around the corner from the Griffith Park Merry Go Round, which I blogged about yesterday, is the location of the park’s former zoo – an abandoned site  which is commonly referred to […]

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