On Saturday, August 26 at 2:00 pm at the Saugus Train Station in Heritage Junction (on San Fernando Road in Newhall), the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society will present noted film historian Marc Wanamaker who will be giving an entertaining presentation on the history of movie making in the Santa Clarita Valley. The presentation will be preceded by a membership ice cream social event at 1pm to which the general public is also invited.
The Santa Clarita Valley has served as Hollywood's back lot dating back to the earliest days of film making. Beginning in 1903, many of the early Western movies used the Valley's rugged topography as a backdrop. Top Western film stars such as Harry Carey, William S. Hart, and Hoot Gibson filmed here and called the valley home. Carey, whose film career spanned both the silent and talkies eras, introduced acclaimed film director John Ford to the world and starred in Ford's first movie in 1917. He also built a ranch in San Francisquito Canyon and hired a group of Navajo Indians to run a trading post on the property. The trading post and much of the ranch were swept away in the St. Francis Dam flood of March 12, 1928. Carey and Ford were both friends and mentors to actor John Wayne, who also made a number of movies in the Valley.
"Two Gun Bill" Hart was a silent movie actor known for his attention to realism in his Western films. His movie career lasted from 1914 to 1925 ending with the classic "Tumbleweeds". He purchased a ranch house in Newhall in 1921 and later, upon his retirement, built a hilltop mansion in which he lived with his sister Mary Ellen until his death in 1946. Hart in his later years counted among his friends legendary lawman Wyatt Earp and famed Western artist Charles Russell. Hart built and financed the American Theater, the first movie theater in the Valley in 1940. Upon his death he willed his ranch to LA County to be used as a county park which is to this day available for public use.
Hart's later movie career was overshadowed by flashier Western stars such as Tom Mix. Mix filmed some of his movies in Newhall and established one of his early "Mixvilles" there. His most notable film in Newhall was "Three Jumps Ahead" (1923) in which he purportedly "jumped" 90 foot deep Beale's Cut on Tony the Wonder Horse. Mix's heroic jump was in reality performed by a stunt man using a ramp. Beale's Cut was also seen in the 1939 John Ford/John Wayne classic "Stagecoach".
Hoot Gibson made movies in the valley, but was also known for his ownership of a rodeo arena in Soledad Canyon in the 1930's which was later transformed into the Saugus Speedway. A saddle he used in the rodeo in 1934 can now be seen in the Historical Society museum at the Saugus Train Station. The Saugus Train Station itself was seen in Charlie Chaplin's movie "The Pilgrim" (1923), and Frank Sinatra's "Suddenly" (1954).
A number of movie studios can be found in the SCV, the most famous of which are Melody Ranch and Disney's Golden Oak Ranch, both in Placerita Canyon. Trem Carr established a movie ranch for Monogram Pictures in the early 1930's in Placerita Canyon just south of present day Highway 14 at a location which is today used by the Golden Oak Ranch. Ernie Hickson built a Western movie set for Carr. In 1936 Hickson purchased property in Placerita Canyon to the west of Carr's expiring leasehold and moved his entire set to the new Monogram Ranch. Upon Hickson's death in 1952, the property was purchased by Gene Autry and Melody Ranch was born. Countless Western movies and television shows (most notably Gunsmoke) have been filmed at this studio and many famous actors walked the dusty streets and boardwalks of it's Western movie sets. Sadly, Melody Ranch burned to the ground in the raging wildfires of 1962. The Ranch was painstakingly resurrected by the Veluzat family in 1991 and is currently the home of the HBO series "Deadwood" and the annual Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival.
Marc Wanamaker is a world expert on film history. He is the founder of Bison Archives, a research institution and informational archive dedicated to the history of the motion picture industry. He is a professional consultant on motion picture projects and co-produced "Ticket to Hollywood", a documentary on Hollywood history. He has worked on production and research projects for many film and television studios in LA and New York. He is the author of several books, including "MGM, When the Lion Roars" and "Hollywood: Then and Now". Mr. Wanamaker has worked on or appeared in over 100 documentaries or feature films since 1971. He is considered the unofficial historian for Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, and West Hollywood.
The Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society is proud to present this dynamic and entertaining speaker. We hope to see our members and the general public at the Saugus Train Station on August 26. Admission will be free. For more information on this and other upcoming programs from the SCVHS, please call Pat Saletore or Alan Pollack at 661-254-1275.