OLD TUCSON’S MESCAL CHANNELS THE OLD WEST’, IT’S PRICELESS, BUT MOVIE SETS ARE NOT BUILT TO LAST ONLY FILM MAGIC LIVES ON !
Since 1913 over 126 movies and television shows have been filmed in Southern Arizona; from Oklahoma to McCLintock, to The Bottom of the Bottle. Movies and television shows provide an economic boost to southern Arizona as “the homeland of the Old West”. Baja Arizona continues to inspire film companies and continue to pick up movies like the recent Hangover III that was partially filmed in ‘Nogales. The Old West still lurks in these hills, perhaps the Old West Town of Mescal lies forgotten in the desert, but it is still celebrated in the Spirit of the Old West. Old Tucson Studios has set the pace in Southern Arizona for decades beginning in 1939 with “ARIZONA”‘ filmed at the studio. Dozens followed John Wayne, Glenn Ford, John Huston, Steve McQueen, Danny Glover, Clint Eastwood, and the Highwaymen, new generations followed, like Young Riders.
In the 1960’s MESCAL was built originally for TV filming “The Young Riders” and Michael Landon’s “House on the Prairie”, but classics followed like Jose Wales, The Quick and the Dead, Stagecoach with the Highwaymen, Buffalo Soldiers with Danny Glover… For almost 20 years, Frank Brown has been the Sheriff in these parts. Frank is the sole resident of MESCAL except for Samantha, a stray black cat, that follows him everywhere.
Frank is the caretaker of this slice of the Old West. He jokes and laughs about working with some of the greats in todays film making, Val Kilmer told him he regretted his “I’m your Huckleberry” line in Tombstone when facing down Johnny Ringo. Today he says, “No one ever comes up to me anymore and says Hello, It’s always, “I’m your Huckleberry”. Just for the record, there is no way that movie should have been called “TOMBSTONE”, it would have sold out as “DOC HOLIDAY”. Val Kilmer stole the whole show from Kurt Russell. We walk through the Saloon where EARP (Russel) walks into the bar and straight up to Billy Bob Thorton who is dealing cards and bad-mouthing everyone around. Earp back hands Billy-Bob a couple good licks and says “You gonna stand there and bleed or you gonna peel that smoke wagon”? Brown giggles to himself as we exchange lines from the scene and relive the moment. Franks loves this job.
Brown is retired Military, been married six times and all of them got new houses and cars, and he paid for them all so he likes living alone, “I love being by himself”. He is on duty 24/7 week-in, week-out. Sometimes kids show up late expecting to party on the site and when I show up, and slide a shell into the shotgun, you can hear their assholes puckering. Brown hasn’t had much problem, he scares away someone, at least once a week.
Sam the cat is nice and friendly but Frank has an allergy to cats and can’t pet her so she is always underfoot begging for the attention Frank can’t provide. Samantha showed up about two weeks after Henry, the mouser at Mescal for fourteen years disappeared, SAM has been there now for six years.
As we wander through the streets Frank relates stories about each building and points to a staircase constructed for just one scene years ago, the OK Corral where the Earps went toe-to-toe with the Cowboys it is now a grassy lot. The Ghosts of Steve McQueen, Michael Landon and David Carradine linger along the Boot Hill built for the filming of TOMBSTONE. Just West of town stands the dead tree used in the movie “Maverick” where Mel Gibson is being hung on his horse and rattlesnakes are thrown at his horse’s feet.
Brown originally found the tree in the Sonoita area and dragged it to the site for the filming, later in 2007 winds topping 70 mph knocked down the tree and 20 building on the Mescal site, each had been constructed for a scene or a movie in the past. The tree was resurrected by 3300 pounds of concrete, many of those twenty buildings still lie as stacks of lumber aging in the sun, just awaiting the next movie crew to blow in and start hammering away building something new.
“I would leave home for six months at a time, all my wife would get was a phone number she could call to see if I was okay!
Frank is a little frustrated because his efforts to get MESCAL recorded as a historic park or memorial, have gone nowhere, mainly because nothing here is built to be permanent. Nothing but Frank Brown, who is permanent, Mescal has had four caretakers, the first was “Tex”, the second was “George”, then the couple, “Bill and Marlene”, and now, “Frank”, who says “you betcha” if asked if he wants to die there. He has a trailer, Old Tucson provides power, water and septic. He seldom leaves, he likes the peace and quiet, often thinks he was born too late in the last century.
Frank takes pleasure preserving his small piece of the “Old West”. The Oklahoma Land Rush was filmed here and history will remember Mescal as the place where movies were made that glorified the Old West and opened a window to the world here before Statehood. Frank feels history all around him. He thinks his Dad and kin folk would be proud of the fact he wears a badge every day, he comes from a long line of Marshals, Sheriffs and Constables and Franks wants Mescal to last as long as he does. So they can just carry him over to Boot Hill and erect another cross to balance out that composition.
Until that day, Frank’s too busy to worry, “if you want to die–just sit there, but if you want to live, keep moving and honestly the seventy-nine year old “hopes to die getting shot jumping out of some window”. In the meantime, Frank is learning to shoot a 70lb compound bow to fill his Elk tag for this fall’s hunt. So, this summer, arrows will be flying once again where Fort Apache was filmed to grace the BIG screen. MESCAL TOUR INFORMATION
According to Wikipedia Old Tucson Studios was built in 1938 by Columbia Pictures on a Pima County-owned site as a replica of 1860s Tucson for the movie Arizona, starring William Holden and Jean Arthur. Workers built more than 50 buildings in 40 days, many of those structures still stand.
After the filming of Arizona was completed, the movie set lay quiet for several years, until the filming of The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945), starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman. Other early movies soon were filmed including The Last Round-Up (1947) with Gene Autry and Winchester ’73 (1950) with James Stewart and The Last Outpost with Ronald Reagan. The 1950s saw the filming of Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1958), Cimarron (1959) and Rio Bravo (1959) among others.
In 1959, entrepreneur Robert Shelton leased the property from Pima County and began to restore the aging facility. Old Tucson Studios re-opened in 1960, as both a film studio and a theme park. The park grew building by building with each movie filmed on its dusty streets. John Wayne starred in four movies at Old Tucson Studios. Rio Bravo (1959) added a saloon, bank building and doctor’s office; McCLintock! (1963) added the McCLintock Hotel; El Dorado (1966) brought the storefronts on Front Street; and with Rio BRAVO (1970) came a cantina, a jail and a ranch house.
In 1968 Old Tucson began adding tours, rides and shows for the entertainment of visitors, most notably gunfights staged in the “streets” by stunt performers, the 13,000 square foot soundstage was built to give Old Tucson Studios greater movie-making versatility. The first film to use the soundstage was Young Billy Young (1968), starring Robert Mitchum and Angie Dickinson.
On April 25, 1995, a fire destroyed much of Old Tucson Studios. Twenty-five buildings, costumes and memorabilia were lost in the blaze, 100 pieces of fire equipment was deployed and over 200 firefighters from every fire department in the Tucson metro area, including Davis Monthan Air Force Base and the Arizona National Guard fought the wind-driven fire for four hours. The loss included all of Kansas Street and Front street to the wash on the east side, the corner store on the west, and the entire sound stage. The Mission area was destroyed along with the Mission, the Greer Garson house, and the cantina from Rio Bravo. Damages were estimated to be $15 million. Fortunately, there were no human or animal casualties.
Old Tucson served as an ideal location for shooting scenes for TV series like NBC’s The High Chaparral (1967–1971) where the ranch house survived the 1995 fire: Little House on the Prairie, and later, Father Murphy, featuring Merlin Olsen and “Petrocelli”. Three Amigos was a popular comedy shot there in the 80s, using the church set.
From 1989 to 1992 the show The Young Riders filmed at MESCAL Old Tucson’s sister site. The main street appears prominently in 1990s westerns such as Tombstone, a mirror set still exists at Mescal, AZ and is featured in The Quick and the Dead which filmed all of the town of Redemption scenes there.
In 2013, Old Tucson and Mescal was featured in “A Hot Bath An’ A Stiff Drink”.
DIRECTIONS TO MESCAL MOVIE SET: From Tucson, follow I-10 East. Take exit 297 for J-Six Ranch Rd towrd Mescal Rd. Turn left onto South J-Six Ranch Rd (signs for Mescal Rd). Continue onto N. Mescal Rd (dirt road). Turn left into drive. TOURS ARE $10 EACH. EXCEPT FOR TOURS DAY, MESCAL IS CLOSED TO VISITORS.
Elsewhere in Arizona on June 1960 Apacheland Studios opened for business and filmed its first TV western, “Have Gun, Will Travel” in November 1960 and its first full length movie “The Purple Hills”. From the beginning as Superstition Mountain Enterprises in 1959 as Apacheland Studio until its demise in 2004 as Apacheland Movie Ranch, this historic Arizona landmark has seen Hollywood’s finest western actors walk the streets on Kings Ranch Road in Gold Canyon, Arizona.
Actors such as Elvis Presley, Jason Robards, Stella Stevens, Ronald Reagan and Audie Murphy filmed western television shows and movies, such as Gambler II, Death Valley Days, Blind Justice, Charro!, Have Gun, Will Travel and The Ballad of Cable Hogue at the western movie studio for some or all of the filming. The last full length movie to be filmed was the 1994 HBO movie Blind Justice with Armand Assante, Elisabeth Shue and Jack Black.
WELCOME TO APACHELAND….CLICK HERE
On May 26, 1969, fire destroyed most of the Movie ranch. Only 7 buildings survived. The sets were soon rebuilt but then almost 35 years later on February 14, 2004, 2 days after its 45th anniversary, another fire destroyed most of the Apacheland. On October 16, 2004 Apacheland closed its doors to the public permanently.
The cause of both fires remain a mystery.
Many films, not all of them Westerns, were shot at Old Tucson Studios, either in whole or in part;
1945: The Bells of St. Mary’s
1947: The Last Round-up
1950: Broken Arrow
1951: The Last Outpost
1955: Strange Lady in Town
1955: Ten Wanted Men
1955: The Violent Men
1956: The Broken Star
1956: Walk the Proud Land
1957: 3:10 to Yuma
1957: Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
1957: The Guns of Fort Petticoat
1958: Buchanan Rides Alone
1958: The Badlanders
1958: The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold
1959: Last Train from Gun Hill
1959: Rio Bravo
1959: The Hangman
1961: The Deadly Companions
1962: Young Guns of Texas
1964: The Outrage
1965: Arizona Raiders
1965: The Great Sioux Massacre
1966: El Dorado
1967: Return of the Gunfighter
1967: The Last Challenge
1967: The Way West
1967: A Time for Killing
1968: The Mini-Skirt Mob
1969: Heaven with a Gun
1969: Lonesome Cowboys
1969: Young Billy Young
1970: Dirty Dingus Magee
1970: Monte Walsh
1970: Rio Lobo
1971: Wild Rovers
1972: Joe Kidd
1972: Night of the Lepus
1972: Pocket Money
1972: The Legend of Nigger Charley
1972: The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean
1973: Guns of a Stranger
1974: Death Wish
1974: A Knife for the Ladies
1974: The Trial of Billy Jack
1976: The Outlaw Josey Wales
1979: The Villain
1980: Tom Horn
1981: The Cannonball Run
1986: ¡Three Amigos!
1989: Gore Vidals Billy the Kid
1990: Young Guns II
1994: Lightning Jack
1995: Hard Bounty
1995: The Quick and the Dead
2000: South of Heaven, West of Hell
2002: Legend of the Phantom Rider
2004: Treasure of the Seven Mummies
2005: Miracle at Sage Creek
2007: Legend of Pearl Hart
2008: Mad, Mad Wagon Party
2011: To Kill a Memory
2013: Hot Bath an’ a Stiff Drink