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AN INTERVIEW WITH JAMES V. D'ARC: When Hollywood Came to Town


James V. D'Arc

What gave you the idea for the book and why this topic?
Moving from southern California to Utah to go to school, I knew that I would be there at least four years and I thought the best way to get to know my new state was to take my love of movies and my chosen major of history and combine them to search out the movies made in the Beehive State. I became locked into the project after two early and important interviews: the first in 1976 was with Paramount Pictures producer Howard W. Koch, who made 10 features in Kane County during the 1950s. He talked of his love for the people there as if it all happened yesterday and provided a behind-the-scenes look at both the importance of the landscape, but mostly the people of Utah in making his production successful. The second, in 1977, was with Rebecca Beckett, ex-wife of Kanab hotelier Whit Parry, the legendary promoter of southern Utah to the movie studios that suggested both a P.T. Barnum and a savvy businessman.  

How long did you work on the book?
Off and on for 32 years to authenticate movie titles, locations and conduct extensive interviews with key movie industry figures as well as those in various Utah communities close to the Utah moviemaking story.

Who was one of the most interesting persons that you interviewed?
The aforementioned producer-director Howard W. Koch, was so dynamic and colorful in his recollections of his love of the Utah people and the sheer delight that he had in working with so many of them in Kanab while making his movies there. Later, as a major producer at Paramount Pictures, Koch flew to Kanab for the sole purpose of giving the eulogy for Kanab rancher and movie contact man Fay Hamblin. In 1990, Kanab held a Howard Koch Days celebration for this beloved man, an indication of the love affair between Koch and this small Utah community.

Image courtesy When Hollywood Came to Town, Gibbs Smith Publisher.

Who, among the great actors and directors, did you interview?
TV and movie actor Peter Graves had a tremendous recollection on working on the films he made in Utah, beginning with "The Yellow Tomahawk" in 1953. Charlton Heston had fond memories of making both "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (as John the Baptist) and in the TV movie "Avenging Angel" (as Brigham Young). Fortunately, I was able to get to both of these industry giants before they passed on.

Is there one location that you particularly enjoyed visiting?
The stunning canyon in Kane County carved by the Paria River, where so many movies, from "Western Union" (1941) to "The Outlaw Josey Wales" (1975) were made, and, of course, the incomparable Monument Valley, home to so many of the classic John Ford westerns. Visiting them now, with images of the great movies filmed there, leaves me with a sense of their being inhabited by "ghosts" of those who made them. Conrad Hall, the celebrated cinematographer who filmed "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" on several Utah locations, reminisced later on how he enjoys visiting later on the locations of movies on which he has worked to bring back the good times had on them.

[See Matt Zoller Seitz' video essay on The Outlaw Josey Wales]

I know that you could not include all of the films and locations that you wanted because there were too many, but is there one film and or one location that you regret not including?
Not really. Fortunately, I was able to include the top films and major locations in the book that focused on the story of how Hollywood moviemaking affected Utahns and how the thousands of Utahns left their impressions on Hollywood studio casts and crews.

Image courtesy When Hollywood Came to Town, Gibbs Smith Publisher.

I was surprised to learn that a scene from the Eiger Sanction was filmed in Zion.  What film surprised you most?
The most surprising was a 1983 3-D movie "Spacehunters: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone," starring Peter Strauss and Molly Ringwald, where the sunbaked desert and canyons near Moab served as another planet. While the film is not a prime example of the sci-fi genre, its use of southeastern Utah landscapes is remarkable.

Image courtesy When Hollywood Came to Town, Gibbs Smith Publisher.

What was the most interesting 'behind the scenes' story you encountered?
Attempting to unravel the puzzle of who first "discovered" Monument Valley for the movies versus the more commonly published accounts. For the answer(s) to this controversy, I direct readers to the book. How's that for drama?

Describe the biggest challenge you experienced in terms of compiling such a book?
Making certain that I had tracked down the accurate titles and locations to the more than 700 feature films, television movies, and television series filmed throughout Utah. Sources had to be checked and re-checked to corroborate names and locations to make sure that the information was as correct as it could be, especially for films that are now considered "lost," where no copies are known to exist. That comprhehensive list provided the initial roadmap to the Utah moviemaking story. That is how the book got started and it was also the last aspect of the book to recieve the last-minute touches before it went to press in April of 2010. It was also the main reason why the book took so long to be finally written.

What are your most rewarding experiences since the book has been published?
Clearly, the greatest payoff has been at book signings where I have had the privilege of talking to so many people who are interested in this long-neglected aspect of Utah's history. These have included relatives of those local Utahns who worked on many of the movies covered in the book, and have expressed their gratitude that this important saga has been given book-length treatment. To bowdlerize the title of a prominently made movie in Utah, the story of moviemaking in Utah has always been to me the greatest story NEVER told, until now.

[This documentary, by Christopher Onstott (a filmmaker in St. George, Utah), is narrated by Dick Norse and features interviews with Harry Carey Jr., anecdotes about Clint Eastwood, John Wayne! It can be found at the University Bookstore in St. George.]

Return to Little Hollywood Trailer from Christopher Onstott on Vimeo.


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