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Epic Beginnings for "Hollywood in the Desert"

Old Tucson Studios came to life in 1939 when Columbia Pictures chose a Pima County-owned site on which to build a replica of 1860's Tucson for the movie Arizona . The $2.5 million film, starring William Holden and Jean Arthur, set a new standard of realism for Hollywood westerns, initiating the move away from studio backdrop movies to outdoor epics.

Local technicians and carpenters built the town from scratch, erecting more than 50 buildings in 40 days. Descendants of the Tohono O'odham, Arizona's first inhabitants formerly known as the Papago, assisted in the set production. Without the convenience of running water, they made more than 350,000 adobe bricks from the desert dirt to create authentic structures for the film. Many of those structures still stand today.

After the filming of Arizona, Old Tucson Studios lay dormant under the desert sun. The studio was revived only briefly for the film The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman. Hollywood then began taking notice of Old Tucson Studios, which soon became a favorite filming location. Hence, "Hollywood in the Desert." In 1947, Gene Autrey starred in The Last Roundup, followed in 1950 by Jimmy Stewart in Winchester '73, and Ronald Reagan in The Last Outpost.

During the 1950's, the Western movie era was in full swing nationwide. In the fifties alone, such western classics as Gunfight at the OK Corral (1956) with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1957), and Cimarron (1959) with Glenn Ford were filmed at Old Tucson Studios.

Part One     Part Two     Part Three     Part Four

Movie Posters

During the western movie boom of the 1950's, many of the stars stayed at the nearby Flamingo Hotel, built in 1952. Now renovated, The Flamingo Hotel has on display hundreds of rare and original movie posters, lobby cards, and photographs from nearly all of the over 70 films shot at Old Tucson Studios. Anyone planning to experience Old Tucson Studios in person is cordially invited to plan their stay at The Flamingo Hotel and get a close up look at much more of the unique history of this motion picture location. Visit flamingohoteltucson.com for more information.

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