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There’s an unpublished paper, “Old Tucson and the filming of Arizona “ by Mary Huntington Abbott in 1968 which is held at the University of Arizona’s Western History.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 .
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.
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.
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.