"The Arizona Story: In Movies"

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Two pages from Arizona Highways Magazine's 1946 story, "The Arizona Story" In Movies."

“The Arizona Story: In Movies.” Arizona Highways Magazine, May 1949.


The article, “The Arizona Story: In Movies,” from the May 1949 addition of Arizona Highways magazine contains the following excerpt:


"Year in and year out the Western movie, whether a super spectacle or an ordinary 'horse opera,' continues to be one of America's most popular entertainment features. The formula of 'Boy Chases Girl,' this time on a horse, never fails. The villain scowls and in the end justice, with a straight face, gives him what he deserves—sudden death or a long stretch in the pokey. The hero and virtue are triumphant in the end, all wrongs have been righted, the smoke of six-guns has settled, and everyone lives happily ever afterward—everyone, that is, except those of evil ways who do not deserve the happy end.


More sophisticated people may sniff at such entertainment, terming it feeble, indeed, in plot and presentation, but no little boy dreaming his dreams of someday becoming a cowboy will ever grow up and not enjoy a good 'Western.' Good 'Westerns' have things in common which never fail the customers: action, moral pattern, and scenery. Arizona has supplied and is supplying much of the scenery which many millions of people throughout the world each year exclaim over when they see Western movies. The list of movies telling the Arizona story is endless.


Early in the 20's Cecil De Mille made 'The Squaw Man' near Castle Hot Springs [AZ]. Then the 'Rex, King of the Wild Horses' series and the Zane Grey pictures followed, starting a movie rush in Arizona that continues to this day. 'Copper Canyon' is now or will soon be in production near Sedona [AZ]. Cameras will soon start grinding near Willcox [AZ] on 'Blood Brothers,' the story of Cochise, the Apache warrior.


Monument Valley and the Oak Creek-Sedona country have become movie centers because of superb scenery. It was in Monument Valley that John Ford made the magnificent 'Stagecoach,' one of the great motion pictures of our time. He has since made there 'My Darling Clementine,' 'Fort Apache' and 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,' soon to be released…"[1]


The images accompanying the story include several black-and-white stills of iconic Western films such as Randolph Scott in Columbia Film’s Coroner’s Creek (filmed near Sedona), Robert Young and Marguerite Chapman in Columbia’s Relentless (filmed near Tucson), John Wayne in John Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (filmed in Monument Valley), Ida Lupino and Gig Young in Columbia’s Green (filmed in the Superstitions), and John Wayne and Henry Fonda in Ford’s Fort Apache.

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One page from Arizona Highways Magazine's May 1949 article, "The Arizona Story: In Movies."

As mentioned in the article excerpt, Sedona, Arizona’s history as a location to shoot Hollywood films started in 1923, when Zane Grey’s Call of the Canyon was adapted into a film.[2] The Arizona Memory Project, run by the Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records, asserts that, for over 30 years, Westerns “were the most popular movies in America,” and “it was no surprise then that some of the biggest Hollywood stars came to Sedona to film, sometimes more than once.”[3] Frequently, one can watch a Western from the genre’s twentieth-century “heyday,” including Coroner’s Creek, and identify Sedona’s scenic landmarks such as its towers of red rock. In fact, because a great deal of films were made in Sedona throughout the peak of Western movie’s popularity, various directors and producers were afraid that its landscape had been overexposed.[4] Over 100 films have been “shot on location” in Sedona, and as a result, film production became a vital industry in the city. Numerous film sets, a sound stage, and a lodge were set up across Sedona, and the resulting actors and activity surrounding them garnered tourists—establishing the groundwork for Sedona’s present tourism industry.[5] Elvis Presley, John Wayne, and Joan Crawford are just a small sampling of the big names that visited and/or worked in Sedona.[6]


Because Sedona had no mining industry and was not based on a major transportation corridor, as it transitioned “from the agricultural based economy of the pioneers” to a key player in the movie industry, the “influx of money from Hollywood became critical to residents.”[7] However, as the popularity of Westerns declined, and Sedona’s Airport and subdivisions developed, the city’s “golden age” of filmmaking came to a close.[8]

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Two pages from Arizona Highways Magazine's May 1949 article, "The Arizona Story: In Movies."

As indicated in this Arizona Highways article with the inclusion of stills from She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, John Ford utilized Monument Valley often for his iconic Western films. Scholar Scott Zeman argues that, beginning with Stagecoach (1938) and through subsequent films, including Rio Grande (1950) and The Searchers (1956), Ford “created in the popular mind the image of Monument Valley as Indian Country and the West.”[9] Ford’s immense success with his Monument-Valley based Westerns attracted other film production companies to the area and, “in relatively short order, Monument Valley became Hollywood’s generic western geography.”[10] In Ford films such as My Darling Clementine (1946) or Rio Grande, Monument Valley stood in for all of Arizona and Texas, respectively. Historian Richard Slotkin notes that “Monument Valley has become so well established as a ‘typical’ landscape, emblematic of ‘the West,'” that modern audiences fail to recognize that “Ford is invented the Valley as a cinematic (and American) icon.”[11] Instead, over the course of the twentieth and into the twenty-first century, “on-screen shots of Monument Valley signaled viewers that they were entering mythic territory,” a direct result of Ford’s films’ successes and other directors following in his footsteps.[12]


As part of Ford’s mythic West, representations of Native peoples were homogenized and/or highly stereotyped. Extras for Ford’s films shot in and around Monument Valley often were from the Navajo nation, in whose tribal territory the Valley is located. Yet, highlighting “the valley’s symbolic status,” Navajo extras often had roles in which they were members of other tribes such as the Cheyenne and Apache nations. These nations did not historically live in Monument Valley, which further adds to the inaccuracy and mythic nature of Ford’s films, in which both Native peoples and landscapes frequently do not align with the movies’ stated settings.[13] Yet, such historical and geographical inaccuracies did little to dampen the general public’s enthusiasm for such Westerns. Instead, Zeman argues that, as Monument Valley was formed into the “Old West” by Ford, “the valley simultaneously came to embody Anglo America’s popular conception of Indian Country—the archetypal home for archetypal Indians.”[14]


With his creation of Monument Valley as the archetype of the mythic West, Ford “completed” or furthered “the myth-making process begun by Fred Harvey” with his postcards, Harvey Houses, and Indian detours.[15] That being said, by the 1940s, the film industry in Monument Valley had solidified itself as an importance source of employment and income for Navajo actors and extras, and by 1945, the Navajo tribal council “deemed it desirable to encourage the production of such [Western] pictures because of wage benefits to Navajos and other general benefits to the Tribe.”[16] Because of the economic benefit to the Navajo nation from the production of Westerns, the tribe “delegated authority to the superintendent and the tribal chairman and vice-chairman to grant permission for the film companies to make motion pictures and set rates for the use of tribal lands.” Yet, the same council decreed that individual councilmen could fix the wages for the Navajo workers in their districts.[17]


As a whole, with iconic geographical locations throughout the state, including Monument Valley and Sedona, Arizona has been and continues to be an important setting for film production. Since 1913, over five thousand TV shows and films have been filmed in the state. While “The Arizona Story: In Movies,” from the May 1949 addition of Arizona Highways, captures the “heyday” of Western movie production in Arizona, the state still actively markets itself as “America’s Backlot.”[18] The Arizona Commerce Authority promotes “over 300 days of sunshine, no permit application fees for use of state roads and state parks,” discounts from local lodgings and rentals, “plush cash rebates,” in their promotion of Arizona as a filming location. With such factors, they argue that, in Arizona, “everything your production needs is right here.”[19]



[1] “The Arizona Story: In Movies,” Arizona Highways Magazine, May 1949, 14.

[2] “Saddle up for a ride through film making in Arizona’s Little Hollywood,” Arizona Secretary of State, published August 20, 2020, https://azsos.gov/about-office/media-center/press-releases/1214.

[3] “Arizona’s Little Hollywood—Movies Made in Sedona,” Arizona Memory Project, accessed June 30, 2022, https://azmemory.azlibrary.gov/digital/collection/sedonamovies.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Saddle up for a ride through film making in Arizona’s Little Hollywood,” Arizona Secretary of State.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Arizona’s Little Hollywood—Movies Made in Sedona,” Arizona Memory Project.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Scott C. Zeman, “Monument Valley: Shaping the Image of the Southwest’s Cultural Crossroads,” The Journal of Arizona History 39, no. 3 (Autumn 1998): 319.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 320.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] “Navajo Nation and Arizona Commerce Authority Sign MOU to Expand Film Industry,” Arizona Commerce Authority, published August 30, 2021, https://www.azcommerce.com/film-media/.

[19] Ibid.