ROUTE 66 IN THE MOVIES
In light of the diverse landscapes that embrace Route 66 as well as a popularity that spans decades it should be no surprise to find this old highway has a lengthy association with the motion picture and television industry. What is surprising is the obscurity of some of this history.
In 1937, at the junction of US 666 and US 66 in Gallup, New Mexico, R.E. Griffith, brother to legendary movie mogul D.W. Griffith, opened the El Rancho Hotel & Motel. The stunning western landscapes that surrounded Gallup and extensive Hollywood contacts enabled R.E. Griffith to profit greatly as movie companies flocked to the area and his luxurious hotel became home away from home for the actors.
The guest register during the first thirty years for this Route 66 landmark is a veritable Who’s Who of Hollywood celebrities, Marx Brothers, Ronald Reagan, Errol Flynn, Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy to name but a few. Today the rooms named for past guests provide visitors with a tangible link to the glory days of Hollywood as well as Route 66.
There is a very persistent legend in Gallup that before World War II a member of the Navajo tribe, after an evening of sampling an excessive amount of hooch, liberated an automobile from the parking lot of the El Rancho for his return to the reservation rather than hitch a ride. As with many legends and fish stories size as well as value grow with each telling. In this instance the automobile is variously described as a Rolls Royce or Packard.
Rather than face the consequences of automobile theft, especially one belonging to a very important individual, the vehicle was abandoned somewhere in the vast expanses of the Navajo reservation. An alternate ending is that it served the remainder of its days as a truck meeting the needs of sheep herders deep in the desert wilderness near Monument Valley.
The inspiration behind Wallace and Mary Gunn’s decision to relocate their small trading post to the village of Cubero, New Mexico in 1937 was the endless stream of traffic on Route 66 that flowed through town. The trading post quickly morphed into a tourist court and café.
This remote oasis in a sea of awe-inspiring scenery became an unlikely outpost for celebrities during the 1940s and 1950s. Gene Tierney and Bruce Cabot stayed here during the filming of Sunset. Lucille Ball and her husband were frequent guests, as Vivian Vance owned a ranch nearby. Ernest Hemmingway spent several weeks here while writing The Old Man and the Sea.
The open spaces, the colorful and stark landscapes, and the proximity to Hollywood via Route 66 led a number of early movie companies to film in the area of Victorville, California. Many scenes in movies starring Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and William Hart, as well as in episodes of the Cisco Kid http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B001072DFM&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrand the Lone Ranger, are still identifiable in the hills around this high desert community.
Roy Rogers became so enamored with the landscapes he purchased a ranch along Route and the Mohave River north of Victorville. Until its recent relocation to Branson, Missouri, the Roy Rogers Museum was located here.
The use of landscapes surrounding Victorville to add texture or feel to films was not limited to western epics. Nor are all of these associations ancient history. Movies filmed here include Harvey Girls, 1942, It Came From Outer Spacehttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B000063UR0&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr, 1954, The Hills Have Eyes, 1977, Breakdown, 1997, Hitcher, 1986, and Kill Bill Volume 2, 2004.
The Green Spot Motel in Victorville, dating to 1937, remains as a tarnished gem on an older alignment of Route. For more than twenty years, the motel served as the focal point for the Hollywood crowd while staying in Victorville.
Perhaps the most notable association the Green Spot Motel has with movie history is the role the establishment played in the creation of Citizen Kanehttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B00003CX9E&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr. It was here that John Houseman and Herman J. Mankiewicz wrote the first two drafts of the script for this film.
The Oatman Hotel in Oatman, Arizona, no longer rents rooms but it still preserves the “suite” rented by Clark Gable and Carol Lombard who married in Kingman, Arizona in 1939. Oatman also figures prominently in several movies filmed in the area, Edge of Eternity, 1959, and Foxfire, 1955.
As an interesting foot note Edge of Eternity also featured scenes filmed at the site of the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West, about sixty miles north of Kingman and Route 66. These scenes incorporated the then abandoned cable car system that crossed the canyon at this point, an engineering marvel built by a mining company during the early 1950s.
Only a snowstorm prevented Flagstaff, Arizona, from becoming the center of the motion picture industry in the United States. In 1911, Cecil B. DeMille and Jesse Laskey had decided to relocate their New York based motion picture company in an effort to find an area with access to more suitable landscapes for the filming of outdoor films.
When the train arrived in Flagstaff the deep blue skies, the towering pines, and the frosted San Francisco Peaks in the background immediately appealed to their artistic sensibilities. The euphoria was short lived, as two days after their arrival a storm that brought ferocious winds and an icy rain that soon turned to snow transformed the town into an artic landscape.
From Chicago to Santa Monica, Route 66 and its landmarks have appeared as backdrops in literally hundred of motion pictures. The original Colorado River crossing, the 1916 Old Trails Bridge, figures prominently in a scene in John Ford’s classic rendering of John Steinbeck’s, Grapes of Wrathhttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B0000DJZ8R&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr. The bridges replacement that now serves as a river crossing for I40 is featured in the opening scenes of Easy Rider starring Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda.
The Big 8 Motel in El Reno, Oklahoma, dating to the 1940s, was but one of hundreds of motels lining Route 66 that enticed travelers with the colorful use of neon. It was as a backdrop in Rain Man http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B0000YEEGM&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrstarring Dustin Hoffman that the old motel had a brief moment of glory before its closing.
The Tavern, now a machine shop and an old store turned residence, now demolished, on the original alignment of Route 66, Old Trails Road, in Kingman, Arizona, figured prominently in Roadhouse 66, starring Judge Reinhold. Cool Springs, now a refurbished time capsule, was the location for an explosive action sequence in Universal Soldier, starring Dolph Lundgren.
For this same movie, on the east facing wall of the old cafe next to the Hotel Beale, now razed, a mural was painted to imitate a vintage bus company advertisement. What the movie company did not know is the Hotel Beale served as a stop for the Picwick and Greyhound bus lines.
In an odd twist the television program, Route 66http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B000F9RL9Y&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr, that debuted in 1960 and that starred George Maharis and Martin Milner was instant success at a time when the popularity of its namesake highway was waning. Even more ironic is the fact that in the filming of the program few scenes were filmed on Route 66.