Saturday, September 26, 2009

Movies in the Santa Clarita Valley - Part 1

This is my first post on a series I plan over the next few weeks on the Santa Clarita Valley and its role in the early movie industry, especially for Westerns.

Many people drive into Los Angeles via Interstate 5 from Northern California. Once you get past Bakersfield and make it over the Grapevine -- that famous hill where many a car has broken down from overheating in the summer or careened off the road in fog, snow or ice in the winter -- you drop down into the Santa Clarita Valley that now is mainly populated by large subdivisions of new homes, some industrial parks, fast food restaurants and most famously, the Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park. Roller coasters dominate the west side of the highway. Indeed, that is what most people relate the Santa Clarita Valley with: Magic Mountain. When people ask you where it is, just say: it's where Magic Mountain is.

It's a guarantee that most of those people aren't familiar with the rich history behind the SCV and it's close ties with the movies. I never really paid that much attention either until recently. And now that I've stuck my neck out and declared I'm going to do this series, I'm beginning to realize how much history there is. Entire college courses have been dedicated to the history of movies in the Santa Clarita Valley. And here is loony Laurie, once again thinking she can do it all.

Oh well, I'm going to do my best. But I'm still trying to get my head wrapped around this huge topic. So while I do that I'll begin with some basics and then talk about two areas with a couple of photographs.

The Santa Clarita Valley is now comprised of several towns and it can get confusing because they all kind of blend together, and at least one of these towns is called Santa Clarita. But there's also Newhall, Saugus, Valencia, Agua Dulce, Canyon Country, and a few others.
Newhall was used early in the 20th century for filming. Once source says that Newhall was used in 1903 for the filiming of Western movies, and the first feature film, "Bronco Billy's Christmas Dinner," was filmed there in 1912. Charlie Chaplin filmed parts of "The Champion" in Newhall. Tom Mix, William S. Hart and numerous other Western stars spent many a time in these parts. The story goes that Hart, Harry Carey and Will Rogers were close buddies and would spend a lot of time together. Harry Carey eventually settled here, and his home is now part of a public park and museum.


I bet that photo got your attention. This is a famous shot from the film "Three Jumps Ahead" from Fox Films Corp., 1923. Although it's supposed to be Tom Mix jumping over Beale's Cut, it obviously is a composite and it isn't Tom Mix. Several stunt men have taken credit for the jump. And it isn't a jump, according to one source: there was a bridge built underneath the jump off point which was later lifted out of the picture.

Beale's Cut is a famous point in SCV, mainly because it was the only way travelers could get in and out of the valley before main thoroughfares existed. It is just one of many famous locations in the Santa Clarita Valley used in early movie making. This photo is from Stagecoach (1939): it is the only scene from that movie filmed at Beale's Cut.


Another is Vasquez Rocks, located in Agua Dulce. The photo above is Hoot Gibson, Ken Maynard and other at Vasquez Rocks. Here is a selected filmography of films shot at Vasquez Rocks, taken from Jerry Schneider's web site. This is a great site, by the way. Go to Exterior Locations and check out the list for California. Each location has a page you can go to for information.


"The Hard Hombre" (Allied 1931) Directed by: Otto Brower. Cast: Hoot Gibson, Lina Basquette.

"Law and Order" (Universal 1932) Directed by: Edward L. Cahn. Cast: Walter Huston, Harry Carey, Walter Brennan, Russel Simpson, Andy Devine.

"Cross Fire" (Radio 1933) Directed by: Otto Brower. Cast: Tom Keene, Betty Furness, Edgar Kennedy, Edward Phillps, Stanley Blystone, Lafe McKee, Jules Cowles.

"The Throwback" (Universal 1935) Directed by: Ray Taylor. Cast: Buck Jones, George Hayes, Paul Fix.

"Custer's Last Stand" (Stage and Screen 1936) Directed by: Elmer Clifton. Cast: Rex Lease.

"Smoke Tree Range" (Universal 1937) Directed by: Lesley Selander. Cast: Buck Jones.

"The Lone Ranger Rides Again" (Republic 1939) Directed by: William Witney & John English. Cast: Robert Livingston, Duncan Renaldo.

"Colorado" (Republic 1940) Directed by: Joseph Kane. Cast: Roy Rogers, George Hayes.

"Robin Hood of the Pecos" (Republic 1941) Directed by: Joseph Kane. Cast: Roy Rogers, George Hayes.

"Man from Oklahoma" (Republic 1945) Directed by: Frank McDonald. Cast: Roy Rogers, George Hayes.

"Along the Oregon Trail" (Republic 1947) Directed by: R. G. Springsteen. Cast: Monte Hale, Max Terhune, Clayton Moore.

"The Denver Kid" (Republic 1948) Directed by: Philip Ford. Cast: Allan Lane.

"Bagdad" (Universal 1949) Directed by: Charles Lamont. Cast: Maureen O'Hara, Paul Christian, Vincent Price.

"I Shot Billy the Kid" (Lippert 1950) Directed by: William Berke. Cast: Donald Barry.

"Flame of Araby" (Universal 1951) Directed by: Charles Lamont. Cast: Jeff Chandler, Maureen O'Hara, Maxwell Reed, Lon Chaney, Buddy Baer, Richard Egan, Dewey Martin, Royal Dano, Susan Cabot, Judith Braun, Henry Brandon.

"Duel at Silver Creek" (Universal 1952) Directed by: Donald Siegel. Cast: Audie Murphy, Faith Domergue, Susan Cabot, Stephen McNally.

"The Charge of Feather River" (Warner Bros 1953) Directed by: Gordon Douglas. Cast: Guy Madison, Vera Miles, Helen Westcott.

"Taza, Son of Cochise" (Universal 1954) Directed by: Douglas Sirk. Cast: Rock Hudson, Barbara Rush.

"Fury at Gunsight Pass" (Columbia 1955) Directed by: Fred F. Sears. Cast: David Brian, Neville Brand, Richard Long, Lisa Davis, Percy Helton, Addison Richards, Wally Vernon, Katherine Warren, Morris Ankrum, Joe Forte, Paul E. Burns, Frank Fenton.

"Bandit Queen" (Lippert 1957) Directed by: William Berke. Cast: Barbara Britton.

"King of the Wild Stallions" (Allied Artists 1959) Directed by: R. G. Springsteen. Cast: George Montgomery, Edgar Buchanan.

"Apache Uprising" (Paramount 1966) Directed by: R. G. Springsteen. Cast: Rory Calhoun, Corinne Calvet, Arthur Hunnicutt, Johnny Mack Brown.

"Fort Utah" (Paramount 1967) Directed by: Lesley Selander. Cast: John Ireland, Virginia Mayo, Scott Brady.

"Buckskin" (Paramount 1968) Directed by: Michael Moore. Cast: Barry Sullivan, Wendell Corey.

"The Magnificent Seven Ride!" (United Artists 1972) Directed by: George McGowan. Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Stefanie Powers.

"The Godchild" (ABC-TV 1974) Directed by: John Badham. Cast: Jack Palance, Jose Peres, Keith Carradine.

"Hearts of the West" (MGM 1975) Directed by: Howard Zieff. Cast: Jeff Bridges, Andy Griffith.

"The Legend of the Lone Ranger" (Universal 1981) Directed by: William A. Fraker. Cast: Klinton Spilsbury, Jason Robards, Rihard Farnsworth.

In this series, I'll be talking a lot about some of these early stars, some other locations, landmarks, some movies of note that were filmed there and what SCV does now to preserve and celebrate its heritage. And there is a lot. They even has a "Walk of Western Stars," similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society's web site is a good place to start if you want more information.


Richard Prosch said...

Wow! - Terrific post. I wonder if any of those Santa Clarita landmarks might also show up in any specific western novels or stories? Would be fun.

Charles Gramlich said...

Wow, that jump certainly "looks" cool. Interesting landscapes.

Lana Gramlich said...

I once saw (somewhere,) a photo of some area that was featured prominently in many old Westerns (there was this big, volcanic looking outcropping of rock in many scenes cited.) Next to it was the same shot taken more recently, full of McMansions & other BS. Kind of sad, really...

Evan Lewis said...

This is great stuff, Laurie. Keep it coming.

Laurie Powers said...

Thanks, Richard. Yes, it does make me wonder if these have shown up in any novels. May have to check up on that...

Charles and Lana: it's actually very pretty country, even with all the over building now. It's high desert with some very dramatic mountains in the horizon.

Thanks Evan! I plan on it.

Konrad said...

Rancho Camulos down the 126, considered by some to still be in the SCV. is the Home of Ramona. The Main Character in the Helen Hunt Jackson Novel of the same name. Ramona (1884).

Plus I realize that it is not a western series but can you really talk about Vasquez rocks and not mention that Star Trek has filmed there many times. Most famously the Gorn Episode in the original series, and most recently in the latest film, where Vasquez rocks star as the Planet Vulcan.

Live Long and Prosper.

Laurie Powers said...

Konrad, I talk about Vasquez Rocks in another installment and I believe I mention Star Trek. And yes, many other non-Western genre shoots go on out there every day, I was trying to focus on Westerns just for the sake that I need to narrow the topic down - otherwise it all gets too big to handle.

Dave said...

Please sign our Petition to bestow upon Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of WWII, the Nation’s highest civilian honor, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, in recognition of his lifetime contributions and achievements to the Nation as a soldier, best-selling author, actor, songwriter, poet, businessman, and patriot. To view and sign the Petition to President Obama, go to this link:

Dave Phillips

Multiples Mom said...

Great post! Thank you for sharing the history. It was fun to read.