ARIZONA’S HOLLYWOOD IN THE DESERT

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Director Wesley Ruggles (1889-1972), younger brother of Charlie Ruggles, was active In films from 1917 and yet after the big budget Arizona in 1940, he only directed 5 more films. Reasons unknown.

Ruggles, for this western, scouted locations 12 miles from Tucson, and leased a 320 acre site which had a photographically perfect mountain, Golden Gate Peak, for a backdrop.He created 1860s Old Tucson  with the film’s budget of $2.3 million to work with.
There’s an unpublished paper, “Old Tucson and the filming of Arizona “ by Mary Huntington Abbott in 1968 which is held at the University of Arizona’s Western History.  Such a shame we can’t see it.

When the lease to the area  ran out in 1944, Columbia donated the entire site to Pima  County. There was no filming there after Arizona and the 50 buildings which were built for the film fell into disrepair. One report in the Tucson Daily Citizen said that “Phoebe Titus’s pie shop Is almost in shambles.”

Then in the late 40s  filming began again and many westerns were filmed there including  Winchester 73 , Rio Bravo , El Dorado , Buchanan Rides Alone and 3.10 To Yuma. It was a favorite location for John Wayne.

In 1959,  an entrepreneur Robert E. Shelton leased and restored the sets and by 1960, Old Tucson was open to the public and was heavily used for movie and TV.

In 1966 many props from John  Wayne’s The Alamo – cannons, saddles, wagons were given to Old Tucson.  And in 1970 , 100’s of pieces of wardrobe from the MGM auction were also purchased.

There was a big fire in 1995 and many buildings and sets, costumes were destroyed, but the local community rebuilt the movie set town and it is still open today.

So it’s unlikely any of the original Arizona buildings survive, though the Main Street is still there .

 

 

 

Howard Hawks, John Wayne. RIO BRAVO.

 

A shot from Rio Bravo. If you  know the film well, you’ll recognise the scene, with the sleeping Mexican.

 

The cast of McLintock, including John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Chill Wills, Edgar Buchanan, Patrick Wayne.

 

I love how this tribute to the tribal members who helped with the construction of old Tucson in 1939 for Arizona has a picture of John Wayne! Where’s Jean Arthur or William Holden.

 

 

Greer Garson, Dana Andrews. STRANGE LADY IN TOWN.

 

Alan Ladd in Old Tucson for The Badlanders.

 

The Badlanders  under another title ,ARIZONA FEDERAL PRISON.

 

 

This article mentions that the old mission church built for “Arizona” was destroyed.

 

Also filmed in Old Tucson, THE HIGH CHAPARALL .

 

Back to the original reason for the origins of Old Tucson, Columbia’s hope for a block buster western, Arizona.

Jean Arthur has great success with Gary Cooper in the Plainsman and was a good horsewoman. So her casting as ambitious pioneer woman,’Phoebe Titus’ seemed a good idea . According to TCM, the possible casting choices for Jean’s costar were Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea, James Stewart.
Instead William Holden got the role  of Peter Muncie’ , only his seventh film. Many reports on this film like to remind folk that, in total contrast to the norm, Jean Arthur was 18 years older than Holden.

With Warren William and Porter Hall as the villains, “Arizona” was overlong at two hours. Director Ruggles had wanted Technicolor which would have been great for the Arizona location.
I like Jean Arthur a lot but the script for Arizona didn’t match her ‘Calamity Jane’  along side Gary Cooper’s Hickok in The Plainsman.

The New York Times definitely had reservations ,

“It sags  under the weight of its own pretensions.”

I liked it but wouldn’t list it in my favourite westerns. One memorable scene is the climactic showdown between Holden and Warren William. We don’t see them, as the camera focuses on Jean Arthur’s emotions and reactions as shots ring out and she has to wait to see if her new husband has survived.

 

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William Holden, Jean Arthur.

The film lost  half a million dollars which might be one reason why Wesley Ruggles only made five more films and retired in 1946.
Ruggles had directed Cimarron, I’m No Angel , True Confession and Bolero.

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Jean Arthur

 

 

18 responses »

  1. Thanks, Colin. Another example of a studio spending a lot of money on large sets and then just leaving them standing after everyone returns to Hollywood – reminiscent of Cecil B. deMille ‘Ten Commandments’ set in the California sand dunes in 1923.

  2. Having never directed a musical Ruggles was an odd choice to helm that famous British disaster London Town. My late film buff friend Ken Sephton met him in Leicester Square in 1945 and asked for his autograph. Taken aback Ruggles said ‘name one film I’ve directed?’ Ken said Slightly Dangerous and got the signature!

  3. Vienna, I enjoyed your good write-up of the Western movie and TV show location of Old Tucson. A good selection of pictures and I really like the one of Alan Ladd from THE BADLANDERS(1958).

    I have always enjoyed seeing the locations of Old Tucson and the surrounding areas in Western movies throughout the years. The locations are like characters in most Western moves, and rightly so.

    • I love finding a rare on the set picture, like that one of Alan Ladd.
      It was amazing, how much money Columbia spent on re-creating old Tucson.
      Sometimes studios took a chance, splashed out – and didn’t get a return.

  4. Vienna, I don’t know how much money was spent on this Western set, but in 1951, a movie set just outside Tucson’s city limits was built for a Glenn Ford movie. The set was a three-acre conglomeration of Western-style buildings on East Tanque Verde Road. The movie started filming, but for whatever reasons, the movie was never completed. The set was abandoned until 1960.

    In 1960, with the backing of a small group of businessmen, W. Howard Hamm developed the acreage, turning it into a horseshoe-shaped 1890s-style dining and entertainment attraction featuring a mix of Victorian, Mexican and Western-type architecture. This commercial center named TRAIL DUST TOWN has been used to film an occasional commercial, host weddings, community events, debut theater productions; and entertain families who come to watch stuntmen perform in the “Pistoleros Wild West Show.”

  5. Rebuilt is subjective. None of the seats lost in the fire were rebuilt. The main gate still has some original Adobe buildings. After you get to heritage square is where the tourism kicks in. I wish it could be rebuilt somehow. It needs a shot in the arm….just like the rest of us right now….too soon?

  6. Walter, the only Ford 1951 films I could find on IMDB were Secret of Convict Lake and The Redhead and the Cowboy – the latter was partially shot in Sedona.

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