Seeing Stars: The Movie Studios:  


Paramount Ranch Road (off Cornell Road),
Agoura Hills, CA. / (818) 597-9192


In its sixty plus years of film history, this site has posed as Tombstone, Arizona and Dodge City, Kansas. It has stood in for the rolling hills of Montana and the dusty streets of Laredo. Movie-goers have been fooled into mistaking it for the Royal Gorge of Colorado, the Ozark Mountains, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Tom Sawyer's Missouri. Producers have even passed it off as 13th century China, colonial Salem, and the island of Java.

What is it? It's the Paramount Ranch, and its located in the hills just a few miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Westerns used to be a very popular staple for most Hollywood studios, and it's hard to recreate the wide-open spaces needed for cowboy shoot 'em ups on a studio back lot. So rather than trek out to Arizona or Colorado for authentic location shooting, many Hollywood movie studios simply invested in large stretches of undeveloped land closer to home, where the natural terrain could pass for the open ranges of the Old West.

They called them "movie ranches," and many of the films you thought were shot in some exotic locale were actually done right in your own back yard. The studios had to pay the union workers extra if they worked "out of town" (meaning farther than 35 miles from Hollywood), and these studio ranches were within that magic 35-mile circle, saving the studios big bucks. As a result, you once found movie ranches scattered throughout both the Santa Monica Mountains and the San Fernando Valley. A few of these have survived.

One such location was the old Paramount Ranch - and lucky for you, it is now open to the public.

In 1927, just as "talkies" were catching on, Paramount Studios acquired a 2,700 acre parcel of land in the hills between Malibu and the Valley. The property had rolling grasslands, oak & walnut groves, streams, and canyons - everything they needed to create the illusion of wilderness. The studio built numerous large-scale sets on the ranch, including a huge replica of early San Francisco, European village streets, and a Old West town.

Today, those old sets are gone, but a Western Town is here for visitors to admire, complete with a Main Street lined with typical storefronts, such with a Sheriff's office, a blacksmith/livery, a surveyors office, a saloon, a Post Office, barns, and a Wells Fargo office.

Paramount used this ranch and its former sets for making movies from the 1920's through the mid-1940's. Well over a hundred movies were shot there; most of them Westerns.

The dusty streets were filled with the sound of jingling spurs, the smell of gunsmoke, and the sight of horse-drawn stagecoaches rolling by. The tall peaks rising behind the ranch made the perfect backdrop for these sagebrush sagas, and even somewhat resembled the Paramount mountain logo!

The streets were also filled with the numerous Hollywood stars who made movies here at Paramount Ranch, including Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Alan Ladd, Burt Lancaster, Roy Rogers, Kirk Douglas, William Holden, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Fred MacMurray, Charles Laughton, Glenn Ford, Robert Cummings, Basil Rathbone, Charles Ruggles, Cornel Wilde, Eddie Bracken, Joel McCrea, Ray Milland, Walter Brennan, Claude Rains, Robert Preston, James Garner and Warren Beatty. Actresses who worked along side them at the Ranch included Lucille Ball, Barbara Stanwyck, Marlene Dietrich, Jane Russell, Helen Hayes, Susan Hayward, Paulette Goddard, Betty Hutton, Rhonda Fleming, Polly Bergen, and Diane Keaton.

   

There were far too many movies made at the Ranch to list here, but some of the more notable ones included: "Paleface" (1948) and "Son of Paleface" (1952), "Gunfight at the OK Corral" (1957), "Fancy Pants" (1950), "The Virginian" (1946), "Whispering Smith" (1948), "The Forest Rangers" (1942), "Miracle of Morgan's Creek" (1944), "The Perils of Pauline" (1947), "Geronimo" (1939), "The Streets of Laredo" (1949), "Buck Benny Rides Again" (1040), "Ruggles of Red Gap" (1935)," "Gunsmoke" (1931), "The Plainsman" (1936), "Hopalong Cassidy Returns" (1936), "Wells Fargo" (1937), "Union Pacific" (1938), "The Adventures of Marco Polo" (1938), "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" (1938) and "Reds" (1981).

(Click here for an updated list of movies & TV shows filmed at the Ranch.)

             

As the public's love affair with Western heroes waned, Paramount abandoned its old movie ranch. Since 1980, the site has been part of a national park, and has been reduced to 436 acres in size. But the ranch itself has survived, and the Western Town was rebuilt in 1984, and is still frequently used for Western filming.

Best of all, the movie ranch is now open to the public, free of charge. In fact, this picturesque mountain ranch is also available for rent for weddings, group picnics, and other gatherings.

Don't be surprised if the place looks familiar when you visit; the ranch and its surrounding hills have been seen by untold millions in movies and on TV.

Many classic TV westerns such as "The Cisco Kid," "Gunsmoke," "Have Gun Will Travel," "The Rifleman" and "Bat Masterson" were shot here, plus more recent TV series such as "Charlie's Angels," "CHIPs" and "The Dukes of Hazard."

And the history continues. Paramount ranch is still a working movie ranch. For the several years, the Western Town was used on weekdays by CBS for shooting its recent Western hit, "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" (starring Jane Seymour). Many of the "Dr. Quinn" sets remain to be seen today. (See the separate article about the tapings at the ranch.)

Other shooting goes on as well. Since the Dr. Quinn series stopped filming there, elaborate sets for 1999's "The Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas" were built here (such as the Slaghoople mansion), and they also shot episodes of the TV series "Diagnosis Murder", "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" and the 2001 season finale for "The X-Files" at the western town. Other productions included the TV miniseries "The 60's" (they shot the Woodstock scenes here), a Hallmark Channel movie, "Love Comes Softly", Vietnam scenes from the movie "Missing Brendan" (with Ed Asner) and a Volkswagon commercial (the one comparing the shape of the VW bug with arches of a Roman aquaduct).

In December 2002, and continuing into the early part of 2003, construction began at Paramount Ranch to modify the Western Town set into a 1930's town for the depression-era HBO series, "Carnivale". Many of the sets recognizable from "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" were changed and given new looks.

The bank and barber shop were replaced with a furniture store facade. The Bray's Mercantile building now has a red brick facade and is seen as the Red Bird Restaurant in Carnivale. The saloon was changed, and Chinatown facades were added around the corner. Dr. Quinn's clinic was changed a bit, but is still recognizable. A facade of a small Victorian style house was also added to the town.

The Paramount Ranch town was used for exterior scenes of the town of Mintern, California in the series ("Carnivale"). A few interiors were done there, as well. The house facade is seen as the home of the character 'Brother Justin'. Brother Justin's church is at another site, but his ministry for the migrant workers is the large two-story Chinatown facade seen in early episodes as Chin's. The "Carnivale" sets could still be seen.

But by 2004, "Carnivale" was history. All the modern 1930s trappings - lamp posts, cement side walks, etc - are gone. It's now a western town again, and very recognizable as Dr Quinn's home. However, some of the changes remain.

The town was also the location recently for a Hallmark TV movie called "Hope Rose", a western starring Lou Diamond Philips, Ernest Bourgnine, and Lee Majors.

Other TV shows that have taped scenes at the ranch include "Yes, Dear", "Lizzie McGuire", "Diagnosis Murder"

A while back, Ringo Starr and Buck Owens filmed their country & western video, "Act Naturally" here at the ranch. Phone the rangers for advance shooting schedules.

The park also has restrooms, picnic tables (for about 100), and several hiking trails available, including a short 1/8 mile trail (to the south) overlooking willow shaded Medea Creek and the Western Town.

Admission is free, and so is the parking lot.

If you'd prefer to visit the ranch during a more festive time, try early May, when they hold the annual Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest here at Paramount Ranch. It's a traditional music competition featuring live performances, dancing workshops, cowboy storytelling, food, arts & crafts. But while admission to the park is free, admission to this one day festival will cost you $9 (those under twelve are free). In 2000, the festival will be held on Sunday, May 21st. For more information about this year's festival, phone (818) 382-4819 or see the website below.

And in October, the Ranch is the setting for the annual Calabasas Pumpkin Festival, featuring 30 tons of pumpkins, arts & crafts booths, food, four stages of live entertainment, a Native American Indian Village, petting zoo, pumpkin games, etc. In 2000, it was held on Oct. 21 & 22. For information call (818) 225-2227.

(A second movie ranch is located across the valley, in the northern hills near Magic Mountain. Once owned by
Gene Autry, it's called Melody Ranch, and you can read more about it by clicking here.)

Hours: The ranch is open every day, from dawn to dusk, with business offices open 8 AM - 5 PM weekdays.

 Getting there: The Paramount Ranch is located in the Santa Monica Mountains, between the west San Fernando Valley and Malibu. From the Valley, take the Ventura (101) Freeway west to the Kanan Road offramp in Agoura Hills (about seven miles west of Woodland Hills), then turn left (south) on Kanan Road and follow it three quarters of a mile south to Cornell Road. Turn left (southeast) on Cornell Road and take it up about two and a half miles to Paramount Ranch Road. Turn right (west) and follow the road into the ranch.

(To reach the San Fernando Valley from Hollywood to begin with, just take the Hollywood (101) Freeway north (through the Cahuenga pass) into the Valley. You'll emerge in North Hollywood, near Burbank. Alternatively, you can take the San Diego (405) Freeway (through the Sepulveda Pass), and emerge near Sherman Oaks. In either case, get on the westbound Ventura (101) Freeway and head west to Kanan Road.)

[To see more photos of the Paramount ranch, try Hisako's website at: http://members.macconnect.com/users/t/tab/dqmw/dqphoto.html.]

[For more information on the Topanga Fiddle contest,
go to their official website at: http://www.topangabanjofiddle.org]

[For more information on the annual Pumpkin Festival,
go to their official website at: http://www.pumpkin-festival.com]



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Copyright  2014-Gary Wayne
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