History and Hokeyness in Old Tucson

12 Jul

Winding on the mountainous road leaving Tucson in the distance, I blithely anticipated Old Tucson would be a hidden treasure tucked between the hillsides.  Certainly tucked away… in the middle of nowhere… it dawned on me that I just might be entering that pesky force field that sucks me into tourist traps once again.

Famed as the studios where many classic westerns were filmed (Arizona , in 1939, was the first), there is an interesting veil of movie history draped over this hokey, low budget theme park.   More than 300 films/tv productions have been created here, but it was a little hard for me to imagine film casts and crews making well known scenes amongst the western facades that seemed so cheaply staged.  The movie credits are quite extensive (check out the Old Tucson website for a full history) with a steady stream of productions flanking the Western primetime of the 1950’s.  Most in that era were unfamiliar to me, but there were quite a few productions that caught my pop culture interest.   I wandered around recognizable sets from Three Amigos, Tombstone, Young Guns, and Little House on the Prairie.  I posed beside “The Reno”,  an 1872 locomotive that carried passengers from President Roosevelt to John Wayne and starred in nearly 100 features. Character actors reenacted a shootout scene from The Quick and the Dead.  Horrendous cabaret ladies made me wince as they sang classic numbers accompanied by film footage shot at Old Tucson.  A miniature train ride around the perimeter of the studios provided many a view of desert dirt and scattered props.  Overall, I think the hokey outweighed the history.

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