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Moab Historic Happenings April 2003

In 1967, Moab was Focused on both Filming and Fun
by Jeff Richards

Some 36 years ago, in the summer of 1967, the town of Moab was abuzz with the filming of two simultaneous productions from Paramount Pictures.

Of course, the scenic wonders of the Moab area had already been gracing movie screens for two decades, beginning with John Ford’s “Wagon Master” in 1949. In the interim, nearly two dozen other major Westerns had also been staged in the area.

But the 1967 dual production was seen as a fairly major coup for the local Chamber of Commerce’s film committee. Committee chairman Norman Boyd reportedly wooed the studio long and hard to shoot the two films in Moab. “You have to let (the studios) know you want them,” Boyd was quoted as saying in the Aug. 3, 1967 issue of Moab’s weekly newspaper, The Times-Independent.

The two films made in Moab that summer were “Fade-In” (1968) and “Blue” (1968). Although neither film was either particularly memorable or successful, both are currently available on video.

In this photo, taken by Robert Full and published in the Aug. 3, 1967 issue of The Times-Independent, shows Burt Reynolds and Barbara Loden in a scene from the ill-fated film “Fade-In,” also known as “Iron Cowboy.”

“Fade-In,” in fact, was never released in American theaters, although it was later shown on television. Released on video under its alternate title “Iron Cowboy,” it is a romantic comedy starring Burt Reynolds and Barbara Loden. Loden portrays a Hollywood film worker who comes to Moab with a film production company and falls in love with a local rancher (Reynolds). It was apparently the first made-in-Moab Hollywood film to feature the businesses and buildings in town as the on-screen setting (as opposed to the usual red rock countryside). Scenes were shot with Reynolds and Loden attending a movie at the old Holiday Theater (where the Wells Fargo Bank parking lot is now), bowling at the old Moab Lanes (currently the ALCO store), and having their car serviced at the American Oil gas station at the corner of Main and Center (currently the site of the Moab Information Center).

The finished film, however, was apparently a disappointment, and director Jud Taylor even removed his own name from the credits. The pseudonym Alan Smithee, traditionally applied to Hollywood’s stinkers, was used instead.

“Blue,” the other film made in Moab that summer, fared slightly better than “Fade-In,” at least making it to theaters. The title “Blue” comes from Terence Stamp’s character, a blue-eyed desperado named Azul (Spanish for “blue”), the adopted son of a Mexican bandito played by Ricardo Montalban.

The film follows Montalban’s character and his sons crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States and raiding a small settlement. However, Azul has a change of heart, and decides he wants to stay in the U.S. He ends up saving and falling in love with Joanna Pettet’s character, and ends up being nursed back to health by her father (a doctor played by Karl Malden) as the rest of the gang heads back to Mexico.

“The movie filming activities have turned out to be one of the biggest tourist attractions in the area,” the Times-Independent noted. “Autograph hounds are active when the stars come in each evening. Restaurants are all experiencing thriving business.” The newspaper also reported that the film’s cast had participated in a friendly softball game against locals, and Moabite Ed Neal was pictured going up the grip of a bat with Montalban to see who got to be the lead-off batter.

The “Blue” cast and crew numbered about 125, and another 65 worked on “Fade-In.” An estimated 300 local Moabites worked on either or both film crews, including many students home for the summer who worked as extras or horse riders.

The Aug. 3, 1967 edition of the T-I featured two special eight-page supplemental sections, one dealing with the film productions themselves, and another touting the area’s recreational attractions. “Welcome to Moab: A Vacation Paradise” read the banner headline of the area scenic supplement.

“Moab’s great variety of things to do and places to see, is a drawing card, to say nothing of the modern, up-to-date facilities in town,” boasted one photo caption.

Various attractions were also touted, including the numerous Jeep trails available for exploration via four-wheel drive vehicle or motorbike (Moab’s now-famous Jeep Safari had been instituted that spring by the local chamber of commerce). Canyonlands National Park, then only three years old, was also hyped, and a large advertisement invited visitors to “see the nation’s newest national park in all its original unspoiled scenic splendor with Mitch Williams Tag-a-Long Tours.”

Visitors were also invited to explore the La Sals by hiking Mt. Peale, to sightsee in Arches National Monument (now a national park), and explore the Colorado River with such tours as “Canyonlands by Night.”

In the same issue, the Times-Independent also reported on several local issues and news items, including the widening of 100 West Street. The photo shows the street much as it appears today (although the Swanny City Park trees have grown considerably). Several teacher vacancies had also been filled as the start of the school year approached, stated one of the main headlines on the front of the local section. One of those hired was English teacher Ron Ferguson, who is now the superintendent of Grand County School District. That 1967 issue of the T-I was edited and published by Sam Taylor, who, along with his wife Adrien, still performs those duties at the same weekly paper today.

Although the 10-cent newspaper’s pages are yellowed with age, they provide an interesting snapshot of what Moab was like in 1967, as it struggled to carve a new niche for itself after the uranium boom petered out. Hollywood, of course, still continues to make movies here (“Thelma and Louise,” “Mission Impossible 2”), and many of the attractions touted then are still as popular as ever, if not more so. This month, for example, marks the 37th annual Easter Jeep Safari. Those various newspaper stories from a not-so-bygone era remind one that although times have certainly changed in the Moab area over the past 36 years, many things have stayed remarkably the same.

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