Red rock provide wonderful background for Western Movies
by Jim Eaton
In 1913, the Jesse Lasky movie company sent a young, man named Cecil B. DeMille on the train from New York to find a good Western location for shooting an epic named Squawman.
He arrived in Flagstaff and thought it was great for the purpose. But the crew got hit with the worst snowstorm in half a century and decided to head on west to Los Angeles. Hollywood became a suburb of L.A. rather than Flagstaff.
Who knows, but for the snows of yesteryear, Sedona might have become the mecca for film glitterati and awards shows.
But Sedona did develop a rich film history, beginning with Zane Grey’s Call of the Canyon in 1923starring Richard Nix, Noah Beery and Lois Wilson. Grey had written the book while staying at a lodge near West Fork. Weather again played a role in this Jesse Lasky production.
A raging flood stranded the company without food or supplies, giving Sedona’s film history a further setback until the’1930’s. SINCE THEN, more than 70 feature motion pictures have been shot here in whole or part.
Our red rocks have provided a natural backdrop also for hundreds of TV productions, commercials and print ads – and that continues today. But the prime was back in the era of the great Western films, before the area became built up.
Many hundreds of movie greats have graced our grounds here. John Wayne made Tall in the Saddle and Angel and the Badman in the mid-1940s. For the latter, a Western town set was built – now the site of the Sedona West subdivision, where streets are3 named after films shot there.
Sterling Hayden, Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge, later used the same town set in Johnny Guitar, a very unusual, gender-bending show where the woman wore the six-guns and fought the duels.
For scones where the bad guys entered a “hole-in-the-wall” camp through a cave under a waterfall, the producers used the tunnel under North Hwy. 89A at the Point.
Water from Walter and George Jordan’s irrigation ditch was diverted over the tunnel entrance to make the waterfall.
DURING THE heyday of the oater* films, many of the stars stayed at the Sedona Lodge – Sedona’s first professional-scale hospitality facility.
The lodge had previously been a camp of the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930s, until about 1941. A professional sound stage was built on the Lodge property and was used for several films until both it and the Lodge were destroyed to make room for construction of the King’s Ransom motel on Hwy. 179.
Space doesn’t allow us to name even all of the top stars who have worked here, but the list includes Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda. Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, Gene Tierney, George Montgomery, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Ray Milland, Barbara Stanwyck, Gregory Peck, Randolph Scott, Robert Mitchum, Dick Powell, Tyrone Power, Maureen O’Hara, Glenn Ford, Robert Young -where can we stop?
The Sedona Heritage Museum set to open May 17 this year at Jordan Historical Park. is organizing an exhibit which will tell the story of the movies made in Sedona and the people who made them.
If you’ve ever been a movie fan, you’ll enjoy this exhibit. It’s one of the most important and most fascinating parts of Sedona’s history.
And if you have some information, stories, photos, props or other material which can make this exhibit better, the Sedona Historical Society would love to hear from you. Their phone is 282-7038. Their address is P.O. Box 10216, Sedona, AZ 86339 and their web site is www.sedonamuseum.org
First printed in: What’s New in History at the Sedona Red Rock NEWS, P.O. Box 619, Sedona, AZ 86339. Reprinted by permission of Jim Eaton (c) 1998 All rights reserved.
* “oater” is the old term used for western movies