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Hollywood and the Real Old West
Main Street and the Saloon
The “real American west” rarely resembled what Hollywood depicted it to be in movies and on TV. But regardless, their productions captured the imagination of many youngsters and adults alike around the world. I was one of them.
As a young boy I was lucky enough to visit a location where many of these pictures were filmed...Corriganville. Today, Corriganville in California’s’ Simi Valley is mostly a memory since all of the sets were later destroyed by fire.
Some films made there were Fort Apache with John Wayne, Jungle Jim with Johnny Weissmuller, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Sky King, The African Queen, The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke and Lassie. In all, over 3500 movies were made there. Roy “Crash” Corrigan purchased the land in 1937 as a place to film movies.
Corrigan, an actor in his own right, was probably best known as one of “The Three Mesquiteers”. It was opened as “Corriganville”, a western themed amusement park in 1949 complete with stunt shows, movie lots, western town, Indian crafts, stagecoach rides and pony rides. “Corrigan Movie Ranch” became one of the premiere movie sets of the day.
My Aunt Helen, a former model, lives in Southern California and has done several well known TV commercials. She is also a distant cousin to Barbara Bain of “Mission Impossible” TV series fame.
Whenever my family visited she would take us to popular tourist attractions and Corriganville was one I remember well. During our stay my siblings and I met Roy Corrigan and had our picture made sitting on his horse. There were also shows featuring shootouts on with stuntmen getting shot and falling off the top of buildings into the dusty streets.
We also saw the secret of how hangings were done. There was a hook attached to the back of a body harness worn under the actors’ garments. The “noose” was hooked to it. During the simulated shootouts we stood outside of the city Jail which had the window bars covered. We heard voices inside, so we ventured a peek. The jail was being used for the actors to change costumes.
Following the shootout and hanging stunts the “Butterfield Stage” arrived amidst a churning cloud of dust. The Butterfield Stage was an actual famous stagecoach line.
Our next stop was the saloon where we quenched our thirst sipping on root beers. It was a typical western movie saloon decked out with trappings from a bygone era. As we nursed our drinks a barroom brawl was staged for our entertainment, complete with faked fisticuffs, broken breakaway tables and cowboys being thrown out saloon windows. That was pretty heady stuff for an eight year old boy.
The rest of our day was spent hiking around the town and surrounding hills where we came across places we remembered seeing in a few popular movies and TV shows. There was the “Hanging Tree”, a staple in many “B”westerns and rocky hills where outlaws shot it out with local town sheriffs and posses.
The day came to a close and it was time to go, although we wished we didn’t have to. But we slept peacefully that night with visions of “The Old West” filling our dreams.