Old Tucson Studios

Sunday, April 15, 2012
One of the bonuses of having out of town visitors is that I get to go see places that are uniquely Tucson either for the first time or for a return visit. That happened this week with a trip to Old Tucson Studios. Back in my childhood, westerns, both movies and television shows, were extremely popular. America had a love affair with the Old West. Many of these films and television shows were shot in whole or in part at Old Tucson. As the popularity of westerns faded, so did the movie studio on the west side of Tucson. But recently the owners have done some refurbishing with the hopes of attracting more filmmakers and I was curious to see what it looked like now.

We arrived early and took the first tour of the day, led by the cowboy you see here. His knowledge of the history of the studio and western movies was amazing. He's had small parts in several of the movies made at Old Tucson and met many of the major stars over his years there.

In the background you can see a mountain (and a saguaro cactus, but this isn't about cactus). According to the guide, this is the signature mountain of Old Tucson Studios and appears in every film made there. And there have been a lot of them.

The western town was built in 1939 for the movie Arizona, starring William Holden and Jean Arthur. It was five years before the set was used for another movie. The Bells of Saint Mary's in 1945 brought new awareness of the location and it became popular for filming. Some of the films made during its heyday were Broken Arrow, Winchester 73, the original 3:10 to Yuma, Gunfight at the OK Corral, Cimarron, Rio Bravo, McClintock, Hombre, Rio Lobo, The Outlaw Josie Wales, and Three Amigos.

As you can tell by the titles, John Wayne filmed several movies at Old Tucson. James Stewart, Glenn Ford, and Paul Newman have walked its streets.

In addition to movies, several popular television shows have shot at Old Tucson Studios. Michael Landon donated props from Little House on the Prairie, some of which are inside the house shown at right.

The High Chaparral ranch is still there. Other television shows that used the set are Gunsmoke and Wagon Train.

It's pretty amazing to stand in the streets where some of your childhood heroes have stood. Sometimes it felt as if at any moment John Wayne would ride down the street or Jimmy Stewart might come out of the doors to the courthouse.

There's been some resurgence in the popularity of Westerns lately. Our guide mentioned some recent filmings at the studio, including a Russian music video. Yeah, it struck us as weird, too.

As I've said before, I love cowboys and the Old West. If you do, too, a visit to Old Tucson Studios is well worth your time.

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