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MOVIES MADE SANTA CLARITA.

Byline: Patricia Farrell Aidem Daily News Staff Writer

There were two general stores in 1920s Newhall, a few boarding houses and a trio of saloons.

And there was the sunset, a backdrop to countless Westerns filmed in the '20s and '30s in this dusty desert valley with its dramatic terrain. With vistas unmarred by power poles, buildings and highways, the Santa Clarita Valley drew early filmmakers in search of the Old West.

``It was great for location filming,'' said Philip Scorza, a member of the board of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. ``When they came out here, there was nothing to get in the way, nothing in the horizon.''

John Wayne rode into that Santa Clarita sunset in the early years of moviemaking, when the seeds were sown for a filming industry now booming as the millennium draws to a close.

Also drawn to the valley was every boy's matinee idol, William S. Hart, along with Western stars Tom Mix, Harry Carey and Hoot Gibson.

``The open spaces drew them here,'' Scorza said. ``It was relatively close to Hollywood, but very secluded.''

Remnants still remain of Carey's old movie ranch in San Francisquito Canyon, a filming site established in 1917, and said to be the place where legendary director John Ford made his first movie - ``Straight Shooting'' with Carey and Gibson.

In fact, plans to preserve what's left of Carey's ranch are due for final approval today by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors as part of a housing tract that will be known in the next century as Tesoro del Valle - Treasure of the Valley.

``The thing about Harry Carey was that he filmed his movies on his ranch,'' Scorza said. ``Hart did a lot of location filming, but he didn't move here until he retired and built his mansion on the hill.''

Hart's estate in Newhall is now a county park and museum.

Gibson also had a piece of the local action - Hoot Gibson's Rodeo is now the Saugus Speedway.

And there was Mix, rumored to keep a few lady friends in some tiny bungalows that still stand in downtown Newhall.

``Tom Mix filmed in Newhall in Mixville - he had several Mixvilles around - but in Newhall he used the First Presbyterian Church,'' Scorza said. ``We have photos of a movie company there and he used the old Pardee house for exterior,'' he added, referring to one of the city's oldest residences.

Mix is most memorable for a scene he didn't shoot - astride a horse leaping Beale's Cut, a deep slice through the San Gabriel Mountains that was a favorite location in early filming.

The late local historian Jerry Reynolds wrote in his records that the scene in Mix's 1923 film ``Three Jumps Ahead'' was either done with a stuntman or more likely done with special effects.

Unlike Hart and Carey, Mix just visited what is now Santa Clarita.

``He didn't fall in love with the place and move in, but he did shoot a number of movies,'' Scorza said.

Pieces of those early movie days still stand. Rancho Placerito, built in the '20s and the scene of ``Stage Coach,'' starring Wayne, had a number of name changes until it became Gene Autry's Melody Ranch. The Veluzat family, long on the periphery of the movie business, now owns the ranch and keeps a busy movie and TV filming schedule.

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2 Photos

PHOTO (1) Tom Mix enjoys a moment with his horse, Tony, in 1932.

(2) William S. Hart built an estate in Newhall. It is now a county park.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 18, 1999
Words:594
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