Monday, October 20, 2014

The Lone Pine Film Festival: Anchor Ranch and More

The third tour I took at this year's 25th Lone Pine Film Festival, following the DYNAMITE PASS bus tour and the "Backlot" car caravan tour, was the Anchor Ranch car caravan tour.

The Anchor Ranch tour was offered several times during the festival, and we went on Saturday afternoon. The car caravan tours begin in a parking lot south of the museum, with different rows coned off for each tour, and volunteers are available to make sure everyone gets in the right line. It was obvious they've been doing this for a while because it was very well organized!

The volunteers also helped people who needed transportation line up rides. When we went on the Backlot tour, we took a couple who came to the festival in a motorhome along in our van, as their vehicle wouldn't have been appropriate for some of the bumpy, narrow roads.

The Anchor Ranch is on the left side of Highway 395 as you drive north just before you reach Lone Pine; on previous trips up the 395 I had never noticed this anchor near the ranch gate!

Our volunteer guide for this tour had also worked as a state and federal parks guide, including a few summers at the ghost town of Bodie further up the 395, an area we know well. She pointed out that when mining dried up in Bodie and the town was abandoned early in the 20th century, the businesses which had supported Bodie, including Sierra ranches and farms, needed to find another way to make money.

Russ Spainhower of Lone Pine's Anchor Ranch, seen below, found plentiful work with the film industry.

Spainhower helped film crews scout locations, hired riders to work as extras, and provided film companies with wagons and livestock.

Spainhower used lumber left from the GUNGA DIN (1939) set in the Alabama Hills to build a hacienda set on his ranch. Years later, in the spot right below, he also built a Western town set on the Anchor Ranch; the street set was dubbed Anchorville.

Anchorville was designed so that one end of the street opened looking toward Mount Whitney and Lone Pine Peak; the other end faced the direction as seen above.

Anchorville appeared in many Tim Holt and Hopalong Cassidy Westerns; portions of the hacienda set can be seen in a post I found with screen captures of a BONANZA episode filmed at the ranch.

The Anchorville sets were three-sided sets, with the backs exposed to Lone Pine's harsh weather, and between that and a lack of maintenance, as Western filming gradually dried up, the sets fell into disrepair. Eventually the sets were dismantled as they were no longer safely usable.

Prior to the tour, I enjoyed a talk by William Wellman Jr., author of THE MAN AND HIS WINGS: WILLIAM A. WELLMAN AND THE MAKING OF THE FIRST BEST PICTURE and the forthcoming WILD BILL WELLMAN: HOLLYWOOD REBEL which will be out in 2015.

I also had the pleasure of hearing Wellman speak at a screening of SAFE IN HELL (1931) at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival, and it was a pleasure to hear him talk again. He shared many interesting stories about his father in the museum theater.

One of the stories which I enjoyed the most was learning that Fred MacMurray was one of his father's closest friends, but his father refused to work with Fred again after MEN WITH WINGS (1938) because Fred muffed his lines frequently and took too long to get usable takes. He felt it was better for their friendship not to work together! Wellman Jr. said he thought for years that his father had exaggerated the issue until he himself had a small acting role in THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE (1967) and saw MacMurray work firsthand. He said Greer Garson was endlessly patient with the retakes of her scenes with Fred and that what MacMurray put on film was superb, it just took a while to get there.

Wellman described Garson as "a perfect person" and said she was always professional, friendly, and elegant. He also particularly mentioned his love for his father's friend Clark Gable, who took him fishing when he was a boy.

Late in the afternoon we saw a talk by Edward Faulkner, who gave an hour-long extemporaneous talk on "the Duke" in the high school auditorium. Ed was engaging and articulate as he told several stories about working with John Wayne, always mentioning how kind and thoughtful Wayne was.

He particularly remembered when they were shooting on location in the middle of nowhere and he was supposed to call the hospital to speak with his wife after she had a c-section -- those were the days when men weren't necessarily expected to be there! -- and although he had never mentioned it to Wayne, Wayne had his driver take Faulkner from the location back to town so he could make that all-important long-distance call.

Faulkner's credits with Wayne included McLINTOCK! (1962), in which he played Bruce Cabot's son; THE GREEN BERETS (1968), HELLFIGHTERS (1968), THE UNDEFEATED (1969), CHISUM (1970), and RIO LOBO (1970).

Faulkner was also full of praise for Richard Boone and Andrew McLaglen; Faulkner's first role in Hollywood was on Boone's HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL, which McLaglen often directed, and he appeared on the show an additional dozen times.

On Saturday I also saw part of the enjoyable documentary BROTHERHOOD OF THE POPCORN (2014), about a group of men who've been watching movies together for 35 years; I received a review copy of the film in last week's mail and expect to review it here in the near future.

Finally, my day included the purchase of the 2014 edition of Lone Pine in the Movies, which includes articles on Lone Pine and Tim Holt, BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955), and GUNGA DIN (1939). It has many photos and is the size of a softcover book. Highly recommended.

A final note, when you're in Lone Pine, be sure to eat at the best place in town, the Alabama Hills Cafe. I also wrote about it in July. Consistently outstanding meals and service, and be sure to buy some chocolate chip cookies for the road! Unfortunately they're only open for breafast and lunch, and we have yet to find a good dinner spot in town.

I have one more Lone Pine post coming, on Bruce Boxleitner and THE MACAHANS (1976), and then that will be a wrap on the festival coverage!

For more on the Lone Pine Film Festival, please visit The 25th Lone Pine Film Festival in Review, which includes all links to all of my festival coverage at the end of the post.


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