Winter 2009, Volume 25.2
READING THE WEST
read-ing [from ME reden, to explain, hence to read] _ vt. 1 to get the meaning of; 2 to understand the nature, significance, or thinking of; 3 to interpret or understand; 4 to apply oneself to; study.
Kanab, Utah, "Little Hollywood"
Kanab is the county seat of Kane County, Utah. Locals refer to Kanab as "Little Hollywood" due to its history as a filming location for more than 300 western movies and television series. Later, in the 1950s, the center of gravity shifted to the east, as Moab became the state’s major center for filmmaking. Old movie sets dot the Kanab area, most in disrepair. https://KanabGuide.com, maintained by Southern Utah News, lists the following:
Paria Movie Set is nestled at the bottom of a towering, multi-colored sandstone canyon in what locals refer to as "the Paria." The Paria Set can be accessed by taking Highway 89 east of Kanab for 35 miles, and turning north into a dirt parking lot with a stone monument to the Pareah Townsite. The set was used to film western movies and TV shows from 1963-1991. As a location, it was used for several episodes of Gunsmoke and Sergeants Three. Those willing to take the bumpy trip will be rewarded with film history and remarkable canyon views. While the movie set withstood the test of gunfights and saloon brawls, it couldn’t withstand the ravages of nature. Flooding several years ago left a 20 foot gully running through the middle of the three-building town. Through a cooperative effort between local volunteers and the BLM, the buildings were dismantled and rebuilt on more stable ground above the original location. Vandals have since burned the buildings that had required so much cooperative labor.
Johnson Canyon Movie Set can be seen by traveling east on Highway 89 ten miles, and then turning north and traveling on Johnson Canyon Road for five miles. The set was built for Westward the Women.
Kanab Canyon Movie Set is located about five miles north of Kanab near Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. The Canyon was the location for a number of movies including Lone Ranger, Westward the Women and The Apple Dumpling Gang… [F]ew significant film-making sights remain.
Frontier Movie Town is located in Kanab at 297 West Center Street. On the back lot is a western town comprised of original and maintained sets from the movies Desperate Hours (Micky Rourke and Anthony Hopkins), One Little Indian (James Garner, Jody Foster and Vera Miles), and Outlaw Josie Wales (Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George and Sandra Locke). You can sit on a bench from F Troop or gaze through the same gunport that Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. did in Sergeants Three.
Source: Dixie Brunner, "Movie History Memories in Color Country," https://KanabGuide.Com, 2008, https://www.kanabguide.com/articleDetails.cfm?recordID=16
Kane County’s scenery and climate attracted movie producers as early as 1922, when Tom Mix filmed Deadwood Coach, released in 1924. Although based on The Orphan by the pulp writer Clarence E. Mulford, who also created Hopalong Cassidy, the film took its title from the most famous stagecoach to travel the West.
William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody and another man sit on the Deadwood Stagecoach, which is pulled by three teams of mules. The photograph was taken in the yard of the Abbot-Downing Co. by W.G.C. Kimball, July 4, 1895. The coach was built by the Abbot-Downing Co. in 1863 and shipped on February 18, 1864, from Boston in the clipper ship "General Grant" to Louis McLane of San Francisco. Mr. McLane was president of the Pioneer Stage Co. of California. This was one of thirty-two similar coaches shipped to him round the horn in 1863-64. It traveled across the ocean with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, visiting all the principal cities in Europe, across the Mediterranean Sea twice, and then to Concord, N.H., where it was built. It was exhibited by the Wild West Show, July 4, 1895.
Source: The Photography Collection, Denver Public Library; https://photoswest.org/cgi-bin/imager?00105227.
Not until 1930 did another film company set up in Kanab. The Big Trail was directed by Raoul Walsh, who had intended to play the lead role himself, but while filming In Old Arizona two years earlier, he lost an eye. Walsh wanted Tom Mix or Gary Cooper for the role, but Fox Film Corporation had lost a great deal of money in the stock market crash. They ordered Walsh to economize by either filming on the backlot or using an unknown actor in the lead. Walsh chose the latter and, at the behest of John Ford, noticed a young extra working on another film and thought him appropriate for the role. Marion Michael "Duke" Morrison had recently changed his name to John Wayne; this was his first leading role.
An early "talkie," the film cost over 4 million dollars, used over 20,000 extras, traveled over 4,000 miles, involved 93 speaking roles, churned up 1,300,000 ft. of film, and took 4 months (8 weeks in Jackson Hole) before its completion.
The Big Trail was an early widescreen movie, even though the movie was poorly received—critically and financially. Theaters could ill afford the equipment necessary to show a film in 70mm grandeur. As a result, Fox filed for bankruptcy shortly after the film’s release. After making The Big Trail, Wayne found stardom only in low-budget serials and features (mostly B-westerns). It would take another nine years—and the film Stagecoach, also filmed in the Kanab area—to return Wayne to mainstream movies.
In 2006, the United States Library of Congress deemed this film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Source: Walt Farmer, Wyoming, A History of Film and Video in the Twentieth Century, https://www.theastrocowboy.com/Mlist/trail.htm; Alternative Film Guide, https://www.altfg.com/blog/.
A few additional films were made in the Kanab area during the 1930s. However, it was the area east of Kanab—Monument Valley—which became the "star" of so many films made by director John Ford. Ford became interested in the area after being convinced by pleadings of Harry Goulding, who ran a trading post at the base of Rock Door Mesa, and the photographs taken of the region by Arizona Highways photographer Josef Muenich. At Goulding’s Lodge, a hotel and museum, about two miles off Highway 163, the main road to Monument Valley, the story is told:
While trying to run a trading post at the depths of the Great Depression, Harry Goulding heard that a Hollywood director was looking for the perfect Western backdrop for his next oater. Goulding showed up at Ford’s office with pictures of Monument Valley and, after a three-day wait, won him over.
John Wayne’s performance made him a star. In 1995, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry. In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Stagecoach was acknowledged as the ninth best film in the western genre. The New York Times lists the film as one of their Critic’s Picks, because "Thousands of films have followed Stagecoach’s path, but none has ever improved on its formula."
Source: Timothy Eagan, "Monument Valley: Endless Earth, Infinite Sky," New York Times, 2 April 2006; https://travel.nytimes.com/2006/04/02/travel/02explore.html; Goulding’s Lodge and Museum: https://www.gouldings.com/english/museum.htm. Mark Deming, "All Movie Guide," New York Times, https://movies.nytimes.com/movie/46399/Stagecoach/overview.
The picture industry provided a needed economic boost for Kanab during much of the twentieth century. In 1998, the Western Legends Roundup was created to continue that economic link between the film industry and Kanab, even though fewer films are now shot there. With support from the Utah Office of Tourism and the Utah Film Commission, the Western Legends Roundup has become a three-day event, which includes not only appearances by actors who worked in Westerns, but an art show, a Mountain Man Rendezvous, cowboy poetry presentations, a Dutch Oven cookoff, a quilt show, a parade, and various other events. The American Bus Association recently designated Kanab’s Western Legends Round Up and Cedar City’s Utah Shakespearean Festival as two of the top 100 Events in North America for 2008.
Source: Utah Travel Headlines Blog: https://www.utah.com/travelheadlines/; Western Legends Roundup: https://www.westernlegendsroundup.com.