Real Sets from the Reel West – Kanab, Utah

Posted on November 11, 2014

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downloadKanab’s Little Hollywood Movie Museum brought back lots of childhood memories, including – as you will see later  – an unexpected one for my husband.

Most of us of a certain age grew up in a make-believe world of cowboys and Indians, chasing one another across the plains of our imagination with pot metal cap guns and rubber-tipped arrows.

The 1930’s through the 1950’s were the golden age of the Western movie cowboy, and much childhood playtime was spent imitating white-hatted  heroes, first seen on the big screens of hometown theaters, then later on the little screens in our own homes.

The first sagebrush sagas were  filmed either on Hollywood sound stages or on the East Coast, until the wide vistas of the West – where actual cowboys still roamed – opened up for on-location filming.

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The Vermilion Cliffs, Kane County, Utah.

Among those who worked hard to attract film makers to the great American West were the Parry brothers, of Kanab, Utah.

Whitney, Gronway and Chauncey Parry had a successful guiding business at Zion National Park. They believed the  beautiful, rugged landscapes of Utah offered perfect settings for Western film makers, so they began a promotional campaign.

Since Whitney was a pilot, he began taking hundreds of photos of the Vermilion Cliffs and other scenic areas in Kane County. The brothers, photo albums in hand, then headed to California to knock on doors.

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Tom Mix made one silent movie in Kane County, filmed in Johnson Canyon.

Their efforts were wildly successful. Over the next 50 years, beginning with the 1924 filming of Deadwood Coach, starring Tom Mix, the Kanab area scenery and residents were used in over 100 feature films and hundreds of television episodes.

Not only did the scenery provide the perfect backdrop for cowboy movies, the locals made great extras as they were mostly all ranchers for whom riding a horse was second nature.

A number of specials, documentaries, and made-for-TV movies were filmed there as late at 2009.

Today, the Little Hollywood Movie Museum has preserved a small portion of the sets used in local productions, most notably those from the 1976 movie, The Outlaw Josie Wales starring Clint Eastwood.

Interior, house set from the movie, The Outlaw Josie Wales.

Interior, house set from the movie, The Outlaw Josie Wales.

Unfortunately, other sets – including the set used for some episodes of the TV series Gunsmoke, are on private property and are not being preserved.

Gunsmoke set on private property, now mostly in ruins.

Gunsmoke set on private property, now mostly in ruins.

The Kanab Movie Fort, built in 1957 for the filming of the movie Fort Dobbs with Clint Walker, was mostly destroyed by an accidental fire during the filming of The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again in 1979.

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Kanab movie fort, still accessible, but mostly in ruins. This photo shows it before the 1979 fire that destroyed most of it.

Interestingly enough, my husband remembered visiting the filming of a movie, Yellow Tomahawk, during a trip to the Grand Canyon with his uncle and grandmother in 1954.

He didn’t remember where the set was located, but since the movie, starring Rory Calhoun, Peter Graves and Lee Van Cleef, was filmed at the Kanab movie fort – he had been here before.

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Posted in: Travel - Utah