In 1949, the television industry had just begun to blossom, creating a threat to the movie industry in Hollywood. In other news, the Korean War was starting, Liz Taylor was dating Vic Damone, and a famous film director, John Ford discovered Moab, Utah.
John Ford had just finished his fourth movie filmed in Monument Valley and needed a change of scenery for his next movie, Wagonmaster. He came up to Moab and went to the office of L.L. “Bish” Taylor, editor of the local newspaper. The two discussed the possibilities of making movies in the area and Bish was quick to see the economic potential to the Moab area. Ford was introduced to George White who operated a ranch along the Colorado River, near Castle Valley. The White Ranch, in its pristine setting, would later become the location for many movies.
For a panoramic view of the area, George took Ford out on a gravel bar at Nine Mile Bottom, where he could look down the Colorado River past Fisher Towers to the LaSal Mountains. According to George, Ford exclaimed, “That’s the greatest sight I’ve ever seen”. Ford declared the production of Wagonmaster a “go” and proceeded to film the perfect spot for river crossing and the perfect bluff at Fisher Towers. So began Moab’s long association with the film industry and would never be quite the same again.
The early films were mostly westerns with John Wayne, Ward Bond, Maureen O’Hara, Joel McCrea, Richard Boone, Rock Hudson, Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, visiting and staying in Moab. “John Wayne Slept Here” says the Apache Motel on 400 East.
The more modern movies started with Thelma and Louise that filmed in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks; and the famous leap off spot – Fossil Point. Tom Cruise was hanging around for climbing scenes in Mission Impossible II. The Moab desert really showed off in 127 Hours as James Franco survived in Blue John Canyon, Horseshoe Canyon, Sand Flats and even the Moab Regional Hospital played a part! One of the latest films, The Lone Ranger, returned again to Professor Valley, but also left Johnny Depp hanging out at Fossil Point.
The Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission holds the title of the longest running film commission in North America as Moab has been a part of commercials, movies, TV shows, and music videos for well over 6o years. Some of the motion pictures filmed in and around Moab were classics – others too quickly forgotten. All had one trait in common: they displayed the incredible scenery of our Canyon Country for the World.
More film history can be seen at the Museum of Moab, 118 E Center in Moab. Now open from 10:00am – 6:00pm Monday through Saturday.
The June ArtWalk in the Barnes Gallery Larry Christensen will have his oils and watercolors.
Downstairs the Quilt Show is still on display. Join us June 9 5-8pm for the artist reception!
The Root Cellar Project will be June 21, 5-8pm at the Helipad (239 W Center). This month’s theme: The Great Moab Road Trip!
Information on all events, activities, and exhibits are on our website moabmuseum.org and Facebook page!
Red Cliffs Lodge, on the banks of the mighty Colorado River, is home to the Moab Museum of Film & Western Heritage. The lodge is built on the old George White Ranch, a key location for nine of the big westerns including Rio Grande, Cheyenne Autumn, Ten Who Dared, The Commancheros, and Rio Conchos.
The late George White was founder of the Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission, the longest ongoing film commission in the world.
In the museum one can learn more about film locations, how the sets are built, and how the filming process is managed on nature’s own sound stage. On display in the museum are production photographs, movie posters, autographed scripts, props from the many pictures filmed in the area, and displays about the western ranching heritage. For information, call Red Cliffs Lodge at 259-2002.
Through the magnificent landscapes of southeastern Utah, writers have been inspired and stories born here. Zane Grey, the famous western novelist, traveled through the area in 1912. His visit inspired him to write his book Riders of the Purple Sage. The book was made into a movie starring Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, and filmed on locations around Moab.