Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hollywood's Monument Valley

If you feel as though you’ve been here before, you probably have, at least metaphorically. Ever since John Wayne saddled up here in the classic 1939 Western Stagecoach, Hollywood has exploited the stark beauty of Monument Valley. My Darling Clementine, The Searchers, How The West Was Won, The Legend of the Lone Ranger, The Eiger Sanction, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Back to the Future III, Mission Impossible II, and many other Westerns, television shows and commercials were filmed here, among the orange and red sandstone buttes that form one of the most remarkable topographies on earth.

A scene from Ford's classic 1939 movie Stagecoach
The credit for establishing Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border as the iconic scene for Hollywood movies goes to director John Ford, a pioneer of shooting on location and the long shot (referred to nowadays as the "wide shot" or "wide angle" by showing the subject and his surroundings). But, few people give credit to the one individual that helped shape America’s vision of the West by bringing Hollywood to Ford’s home.

Pioneer rancher and trading post owner Harry Goulding did just that in 1938. As the story goes, he heard on the radio that Hollywood director John Ford was looking for a fresh location to film a Western. Harry drove to Hollywood to convince the director that his Monument Valley was just the place. When Ford's secretary said that he was too busy to see him, Goulding grabbed his bedroll, came back and said, "I'll wait!" Ford was summoned and saw Goulding's pictures of the Valley. Goulding told Ford that he'd also have all the authentic Indian extras he'd ever need. Ford checked out the prospective site, and enchanted, he filmed "Stagecoach" in Monument Valley. And the rest is history.

Born in 1897 in the mining town of Durango in southwestern Colorado, he was one of the most unlikely contributors to cinema that you could imagine. Stumbling upon Monument Valley, a breathtakingly beautiful, 30,000 acre desert landscape of sand and sandstone, Harry carved out a life for himself and his wife Leone, whom he called Mike, from the 1920's through the 1960's. They went from tent in 1924 to trading post in 1928 from which the local Navajos exchanged items such as pottery, woven blankets and silver jewelry for kitchen wares, canned goods, sugar, flour coffee, tobacco and even guns.

Harry and Mike in 1927
(From Gouldings Lodge)
Harry Goulding trading jewelry and belts for canned goods
(Josef Meunch photo from the Cline Library Northern Arizona University)

Harry Goulding's original trading post is still in operation today. In fact, the original post and their home are fully restored and virtually intact. In addition there is a wonderful museum and dedication to the many movies filmed there. It's a very nostalgic setting. You truly have a sense that Harry and Mike, are still there. Maybe they are.

Goulding's original Trading Post and home upstairs

Goulding's "Bull Pen" of the Trading Post has been fully restored, replete with its original scale,
canned goods and register, as if ready for business.
Customers were free to roll themselves a cigarette with the tobacco
kept in the box on the cedar post seen to the right.

The upstairs 'Living Quarters' restored as it appeared in the 1940's and 1950's

The Goulding's bedroom
An old photogrpah on display of Harry and Mike (situated on the left) in their upstairs sitting room

The kitchen
  The scene in the photo is where Tom Hanks stopped running in Forrest Gump filmed in Monument Valley.

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