Young Duke shot his first scene under the name of John Wayne in Yuma, Arizona, the first location of The Big Trail. A few miles from Yuma, at a river flat of the Colorado, Fox had built a pioneer town, then the biggest set ever built on location – more than forty buildings. They shot on this location for 16 days. For the duration in Yuma, the cast stayed at the Hotel del Ming, 300 Gila Street. It was then just a few years old and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Big Trail production then moved on to the Imperial County Sand Dunes, located west of Yuma, for the desert scenes. Interstate 8 travels through the southern portion of the dunes. Most filming took place in the Buttercup Valley area of the sand dunes, north of the interstate.
Two years after The Big Trail, Wayne was back on this location, filming The Big Stampede at a ranch west of Yuma. And he was back on those hot sand dunes the same year once more, for the Mascot serial The Three Musketeers. Wayne always remembered how the temperature hit 120 degrees during the day.
The Yuma Penitentiary (now the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park at 220 Prison Hill Rd) was used as an Arab stronghold in The Three Musketeers. Its Sally Port was used as a heavily fought fort entrance.
The Yuma Penitentiary was pend for business in 1876 and closed in 1909. After that, it was used as a shelter for the homeless during the Depression. It was at this time that the Mascot serial The Three Musketeers put it to good use. They gave the prison buildings a face-lift to remotely resemble the Arab headquarters.
Actual prison cells were utilized to jail Wayne and his fellow „Musketeers“. This is the inside of the cell Wayne was jailed in. During its thirty-three years of operation, a total of 3,069 prisoners did time here.
Wayne put Angel and the Badman on production in mid-April 1946 in Sedona. He stayed in a little cabin at the Sedona Lodge. As the producer, he viewed the rushes at the Rialto Theater in the little town of Cottonwood (today’s location of the Tavern Grill, 914 N Main St). According to the oral history of Cottonwood, Wayne and Gail Russell would sometimes secretly check into the Cottonwood Hotel, just a few doors from the theatre, at 930 N Main St.
Today, the Cottonwood Hotel advertises a John Wayne suite where Wayne and Russell supposedly stayed together. Location shooting lasted from April 22 to July 6, 1946 (photo courtesy of the Cottonwood Hotel).
Angel and the Badman put Sedona on the movie-making map. As producer, Wayne had his first Western town built below Coffeepot Rock.
The town John Wayne built: The western street was erected beneath Coffee Pot Rock in West Sedona. The rock formation is visible from Hwy 89A South. Several other movie productions, like the classic Johnny Guitar, took advantage of it before it was finally torn down in 1959, to make way for a residential community. The neighborhood named the streets after some of the Sedona movies (photo courtesy of Sedona Heritage Museum, Sedona AZ).
The last surviving part of the Sedona West movie town set is the “Telegraph Office”, seen early in the movie when Wayne’s badman needs to send an urgent telegram. The building was actually one hundred years old when they trucked it from the railroad depot in Winona, Arizona, to the set in Sedona. The historic building was moved again and left to deteriorate outside Sedona. The Sedona Heritage Museum restored and relocated it, this time to the museum site at 735 Jordan Rd. (photo courtesy of Sedona Heritage Museum, Sedona AZ).
Near the Elgin area, south of Highway 82 and just east of the Mustang Mountains, Howard Hawks chose Rain Valley for the outdoor scenes of Red River in 1946, and rented part of the valley. The first sequence, as Dunson leaves the wagon train, used the eastern side of the Mustang Mountains as a background, just south of Arizona State Highway 82.
When Tom Dunson sees his dream realized over a montage that gives the impression that 14 years have passed, these scenes were shot at the Empire Ranch, near Elgin. In 1976, the ranch house was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Red River started it as a movie location.
Tom Dunson rides out the ranch gate in the beginning of the cattle drive. The grasslands that surround the Empire Ranch, with the distinctive dome-topped Biscuit Mountain in the background, were later seen in other classics like Gunfight at the OK Corral.
Elgin, forty miles east of Nogales, became the anchor town for the Red River company because the tiny town had a railroad depot back then. The construction of an eighty-eight-mile railroad line had begun in 1882, called the New Mexico and Arizona Railroad. Hawks had the town of Abilene built by adding more buildings to the tiny village. The classic fight scene at the Elgin railroad depot took four days to shoot.
In 1955, the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! used the same set up. The line was discontinued in 1962. If you go looking for this filming site today at Upper Elgin Road, you'll still find traces where the tracks were originally laid. A well and a pump house was visible in the climactic fistfight between Wayne and Montgomery Clift and still exist.
For the famous river crossing scene, Hawks used the San Pedro River near Tombstone.
Starting with location work for Red River, he stayed at the Sagebrush Inn whenever he got to Tombstone, “the town to tough to die”.
McLintock's brick ranch house was the lavish mansion of the cattle baron Colonel William Greene, thirty-six miles east of Nogales. Wayne and Bob Shelton, founder of Old Tucson studios, asked personally for permission to use the Old Scharp’s Ranch House. On their first try, Mrs. Green threw them out. The ranch house on 2036 Duquesne Road in Patagonia is now the San Rafael Ranch, preserved in the San Rafael State Natural Area.
Not far from the San Rafael Ranch, east of Nogales, McLintock goes pheasant hunting on the Ralph Wingfield Ranch.
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All pictures posted on this website are from the collection of the author, unless otherwise noted