2004 2004

MTV Italy brings Inyo tourist attractions to youth audience



MTV Italy's Giorgia and Alessandro

July 14, 2005

The towering clouds of dust were rising by sunrise. By ten am when the three car caravan containing the MTV Italy production crew and television hosts was scheduled to pull into Lone Pine, the Inyo and Sierra Nevada Mountains were obscured by dust. The wind was pushing the small gritty particles into your eyes and mouth whenever you tried to speak. Not a great time to present the landscapes that have attracted film companies since 1920, but the show must go on.


The two video disc jockeys came only with first names: Giorgia and Alessandro. She had beautiful, delicate features under the straw cowboy hat and a figure to match. He was similar dressed in the latest youth fashions, even to the tops of his boxer shorts showing over his baggy pants.


The producer of the show took me aside to let me know they were big stars in the Italian youth market. After all they were on MTV Italy, the television channel with the largest youth audience there. Giorgia had been a successful model, then after an appearance on JTV, a talent scout had discovered her. She now was an established star on MTV, having just left TLR after four years to try a new program called "Absolutely 90's."




Alessandro posing in the Red Car

Alessandro was newer to the MTV fans, having moved from ALL MUSIC to MTV recently. Before that he had established himself as the Italian Ju Jitsu champion and a successful soccer athlete.


Today they were all business, but off camera they lacked any star pretensions. It was a small crew: producer, director, writer, cameraman, make-up; and a couple of liaison workers. Some spoke fluent English, but most didn't.


When American Locations Manager Dawn Dennis called me a few weeks before, she had explained MTV Italy was producing a travel show based on the adventures of two young stars, who happened to be traveling together through the American West in a red convertible with flame decals.


The show would contain about twenty minutes of their travels interlaced with the latest music videos. The hour long shows had been developed for at least thirty-two episodes, and they wanted to do the west, working out of Las Vegas. They wanted to branch out, and she had arranged for them to go to places like the Grand Canyon. They wanted to come to the real west, the Owens Valley.


I told her that besides Death Valley and the historic film region of the Alabamas, the timing was right for the Mule Days weekend. We developed that idea and she was enthusiastic, but it was not to be because the Italian production company was delayed in Italy.


It looked like they wouldn't make it even to Death Valley because they had trouble contacting Dave Rinehart, the ranger in charge of movie permits. Then came the call. They wanted to spend a few hours in Lone Pine the next day after visiting the Death Valley sand dunes, Bad Water and Ubehebe Crater. "Do you mind speaking on camera?" I immediately thought this would give a great boost to my budding MTV career, so I said I was ready and willing.



Giorgia and Alessandro were the epitome of professionals as they would come alive before the camera. Their enthusiasm and glibness made me want to join in, but my Italian was non-existent. Then they would turn to me speaking in English and we were off and running. The conversation would swing from English to Italian and back again, as they made my discussion of the film history that stretches for eighty-five years palatable to people who think Gladiator marks the beginning of the story.


The next day brought the worst dust storm I can remember in the last few years, and it was difficult to talk about the movie landscapes that you couldn't see, but we managed. The creative group would talk through the scene, the dialogue and the "blocking" of the action, all in Italian. Then just before filming, they would gesture me onto the set with Giorgia and Alessandro and we would film.


It was when we came to John Wayne's room in the Dow Villa, the one he occupied during his last appearance in Lone Pine, that their enthusiasm seemed greatest. It turned out to be his last appearance before a camera, for a Great Western bank ad. Owner Lynne Bunn had filled me in about the details, which I was able to retell for my new pals on camera, even adding the hint of a ghost, if I recall correctly.


Then we were filmed with me introducing the two hosts to the Totem and Indian Trading Post with its autographed walls. Alessandro was driving down Main Street and Marco the cameraman was perched on the back of the red convertible while we discussed the high points. The wind and dust were whipping around. The production's writer was dying to see a tumbleweed, but that day all we had were the sweeping clouds of dust. Still, everyone was very pleased with the atmosphere of the Old West we had blowing by. I can hardly wait for my first request for an autograph from my new Italian fans.


4 films added to the Lone Pine list through research and stills

Still from Fighting Fury


February 06, 2005:

Just when we think we're nearing the end of the list we find four more films that can be added to the list of films with scenes shot in Lone Pine. Some of these have been identified through stills others through stories discovered in the archives of the local paper, the Inyo Independent.


We just saw a still on eBay for a Jack Hoxie film called Fighting Fury. Packy Smith bought the still for his collection but he will share it with the archives of the Museum. The film was released on August 24 1924 and the still clearly shows Hoxie in front of the Alabamas and the Sierra and it is clearly labeled with a snipe on the back. We keep adding to our Hoxie list and in all likelihood, there are still more Hoxie films with Lone Pine locations to be identified. If only more of them still existed.


The second film we have added to the list is called The Eagle's feather and it was released in 1923. The still comes from a Film Fun magazine at the time of release and show the film company in a pasture with an erosion bank behind. The pictures is not the best but appears to be located north of Lone Pine in Manzanar looking south with the Alabama Hills appearing as a blurry mound and the Sierra to the right. We are now searching for other stills or material from this film that will prove once and for all it was shot near Lone Pine. It starred Mary Alden and James Kirkwood, who for a long time worked as a well know director before he went to acting as his directing jobs dried up. He directed several Mary Pickford films but went on in later years to work in several Lone Pine films as a character actor including The Untamed Breed (1948), The Nevadan (1949), Stage to Tucson (1950), Man in the Saddle (1951) and The Last Posse (1953). Anyone who has stills in their collection, please check them to see if we can be sure of this identification.



Still from The Eagle's Feather


We found a still at Danny Schwartz wonderful shop from a 1928 Universal Picture starring Fred Humes called Arizona Cyclone that is clearly Lone Pine. In fact, if you walk straight back from the Museum site on Hopalong Cassidy Lane to the DWP leases, you will find the location, maybe even the tree, now a tortured dead stump in the still. That location is what is called The Old Place where filming began in Lone Pine in the 1920's on the land used by Russ Spainhower and family before they purchased what is now the Anchor Ranch, just south of there. The film was directed by Edgar Lewis and starred George B. French and Margaret Grey as well.


The final film is Sundown Jim (1942) starring John Kimbrough. It was the same year as his other film Lone Star Ranger. While prints of the second film exist they are rare. We would like to show it at a Festival if we could locate it as several scenes were shot on the streets of Lone Pine it has been reported. The Independent carried a story o0n January 9, 1942 that Fox was in town making the picture. The articles stated, "More than 75 members of the 20th century Fox studios arrived in Lone Pine Monday morning to begin location work on Sundown Jim, a semi-western picture starring John Kimbrough, former all-American football star."


At the time the company expected to be in the Alabama Hills about a week according to the director James Tinling. Interestingly, the article concluded, "Sunday several in the cast shot pictures on a humor short entitled "Ski Whiz" taken on the Palisade Ski slopes near Big Pine.


Again if any collector can find a copy of Sundown Jim or stills from it, we would appreciate hearing from them.

Range of Light Productions sets up permanent facilities in Lone Pine


January 19, 2005:

There is nothing like coming to where the action is, in rock climbing as well as film and video. So when Mike Strassman relocated his video business from Mammoth to a house in the Alabama Hills, it made perfect sense.


Strassman is one of those technical experts with specific film resumes that make filming in Inyo County attractive for film companies coming on location. It is not only the varied locations, predominantly sunny days, and inexpensive permitting. Inyo County also has a small cadre of experienced people to make filming here successful.


strassman-in-studios.jpgFor Mike, several of his interests come together near Lone Pine. Not only is he trained in film making, but he is a climber and author who published A Rockclimber's Guide to the Alabama Hills in 2002. Film Festival personnel gave movie names to specific geologic formation like the Hoppy Rocks, Cattle Pocket and Gunga Din Bridge to identify movies that shot scenes there. Strassman has give evocative climbing names to many areas of the Alabamas. In his book he gives specific instruction how to ascend The Poodle Wall, The Eye of Horus and Schamaltz/ Friday the 13th.



Born in 1959, Mike is the son of a Beverly Hills psychiatrist, but spent his youth in Illinois where his father took a teaching position. He attended high school in Winnetka where he became involved with a fully equipped studio on the campus. Eventually his path through life led to the UCLA Film School, but when employment beckoned to work in Mammoth, he jumped at the chance. There he was shooting footage for Bennett Kessler and working at the local television station, but he wanted to go in new directions.




Doug Robinson, the owner of Patagonia, put up $30,000 and Mike's first video Moving Across Stone was created. It was an instant success. Mike formed Range of Light Productions in 1986. At present Strassman offers ten videos for sale on his website. Some of the titles include Bullet, Groms, Know Limits, Victims of Gravity and Kamikaze-10 Year Anniversary. As Mike admits, life was pretty good. He was an independent producer, living in the mountains having achieved his goal at the age of 26.


Having accumulated a library of marvelous footage of skiing, snowboarding and extreme sports, his business expanded to stock footage for programs like Real TV. "By the 1990's Mammoth was the extreme sports capital of the world" Strassman offers. But it went from sports to "eye candy" as Mike calls it, and they wanted more and more violent footage, to the point where the audience (and thus the producers) were calling for real blood.


Then the demand other stock footage collapsed and so did business for Mike.


Mike was drawn to the Alabamas. He would spend more and more time pioneering routes up the various climbing rocks and formations. This led Mike to help sponsor the first climbing festival a year ago. Recently he founded Friends of the Alabama Hills, a group that includes all the stakeholders and parties of interest for the area. The Organization works to keep the Alabamas in its primitive state, while not excluding anyone who wants appropriate access to this unique spot. As Mike stated in a recent press release, "The Friends re-iterated their commitment to preservation of existing uses in the Hills; be it grazing, OHV use on trails or target shooting. It is not the intent of the friends of the Alabama Hills to advocate the elimination of any current activities, but educate users to what is appropriate in keeping the hills a semi-primitive area that everyone can enjoy."




strassman-on-top-of-boulder.jpgRange of Light Productions here in Lone Pine offers many production services where production companies need them. Services include graphic design, tape dubs, voice-over sessions, editing, sound recording, screening room, on-line editing; the list goes on and on. Mike also is an experienced mountain rigger and has already worked with National Geographic up at Walt's Point in his new location.


Behind Mike's house there are typically large Alabama Hills boulders and somehow he talked me into free climbing them. I thought it was a bad idea, but Mike is the kind of instructor who supports and coaches you to do something you think you might be able to do, but are not sure. So there I was up above and behind his studio with the beautiful Owens Valley before me. I felt very accomplished, if stiff and sore, the next day.


I had experienced first hand another one of Mike's skills. Filmmakers on location are lucky to have Mike Strassman to depend upon here in Inyo County.


(This is the first of a series of occasional articles on the professionals who work with the film industry on location here in Inyo County.)




Lone Pine to open Film History Museum and host the 16th Film Festival


View of Museum Facade

February 05, 2005:

Lone Pine will be a hub of activity the first weekend of October when the town's citizens and out-of-town fans open their Film History Museum That event will be followed by the sixteenth film festival celebrating Inyo County's long movie history.


The grand opening of the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History will take place the afternoon of October 6th with various guests, dignitaries and celebrities in attendance. The celebration will continue into the evening with a dinner and then will dovetail into the annual three-day celebration of western heritage, films and fun in a small town. The event has gained worldwide notoriety and has become the premier western film festival. Recently, "western life style" has attained noteworthy popularity in Europe.


Final negotiations and contract signing are now complete with M and L Keith in Victorville to provide the ten thousand five hundred square foot Butler building which will house the film history collection and exhibits, as well as a museum store and movie theatre. Beverly and Jim Rogers of Sunbelt Communications have championed the project from the beginning, supporting the Festival and then the concept of the Museum with enthusiasm and financial sponsorship. Mr., Rogers guaranteed one million dollars if the building was completed by October 1st, an opportunity for the small town that is too good to be passed up.


In a meeting on Wednesday, February 2 in Las Vegas, Mr. Rogers signed off on the plan presented by the Building Committee. Representatives there from Lone Pine were Jaque Hickman, Brian Webb, Chris Langley, Lynne Bunn, Dave Haas, and Acquisitions Director and exhibit designer Bill Hunter. The first check has been cut and sent to M and L Keith to purchase the building components.


Clearly that makes for a very challenging timeline. Present plans call for site preparation in March to be accomplished by Hickman Construction and various local subcontractors. Building elements arrive on site April 1 and the building will be finished by September 1st. That allows for two months of exhibit installation and a "soft" or test opening before the big day. The timeline is based on no significant delays during construction.


"It's a challenge, but our local and non-resident volunteers, fans and enthusiasts are definitely ready. Support has been growing continually for the Museum since we raised over three hundred thousand dollars to purchase the land and create a reserve fund to support initial operating expenses," Chris Langley, Executive Director of the Museum explained. "I guess I like to think of it as an old time barn raising but with all the complications of life our times have placed on us."


The inspiration has always been the diverse and rich film history of Lone Pine and Inyo County. The group of volunteers have worked year round to create the Festival. This year's edition of the Festival will have "Our Cowboy Heroes and Their Horses" as its theme and will feature Tom Mix and his horse Tony on the button. Mix and Tony worked here several times; with the first film starring Tony called simply Just Tony in 1923. Jack Hoxie actually found Scout on a ranch here and Roy Rogers "met" Trigger in Lone Pine.


Petrine Mitchum who will soon publish a book on the subject will be a guest premiering her book at the Festival. Petrine is the daughter of Robert Mitchum who rode Steel here in West of the Pecos. The Festival will have many of its old favorites with new events penciled in as well. The very popular Geology Tour will be expanded and a tour combining science fiction film locations with the birds of Owens Lake will be added and led by local authority Mike Prather.


The Friday night concert will feature recording star Belinda Gail and Curley Musgrave.


Because of the extended combination of the Museum opening and the Festival, many more volunteers will be needed. "Clearly we will need lots of very practical help in the crunch time of September to get the exhibits up and functioning. Construction of the exhibits will begin in May, but you know we will need painters, and crafts people to get everything done. Remember those old Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney films? 'My Dad has a barn, let's put on the show!' That's our group. It will be fun and a little crazy getting ready," Langley enthused.


The Museum will have seventy-five hundred feet of exhibition space with exhibits celebrating the heroes, the films, the locations and critical issues concerning the films as cultural artifacts. The museum fa├žade is based on an actual 1930's western movie theatre in Montana. It will have a forty-foot art deco tower, a lobby area and large faux movie posters down both flanks that will advertise exhibits and events inside.


However, the Museum will not just tell a western film history story of bygone days. Exhibits will also include the car from High Sierra, graboid worms from Tremors, and the gate to Paradise from Star Trek 5 The Final Frontier. The Museum and Film Festival Board are planning other events and fundraisers during the year including the annual Concert and Dinner in the Rocks on June 11.

News from the 2004 "Golden Boot Awards"

The Lone Pine Film Festival bought its annual table at the Golden Boot Award, held this year at the Universal Sheraton. Festival Director Dorothy Bonnefin and her daughter Donna, and President Chris Langley and his wife Sandy entertained several friends of the Festival at the evening event. House Peters Jr. and his wife Lucy sat at the table. House attended the Festival two years ago. He told us that night he was the original MR. CLEAN! one among his many other roles.




a.c.-lyles.jpgWoody Wise who oversees much of the digital projection at the Festival, locate DVD and vhs vesions of rare films was at our table with his wife Sandy as well. The Golden Boots wentdorothy-and-house-peters-jr.jpg to Val Kilmer, Scott Glenn, Robert Horton, Pat Hingle and Randy Quaid among others. Presenters included Fess Parker, Sydney Poitier and Robert Osborne to name a few.


The night before members of the Festival group attended the "Pre-Boot" Party put on by Jim Roberts at the Sportsman Lodge. We got to say hello to Dave Holland, Loren Janes, Mark Bedor, A.C. Lyles and Neil Summers there. Jerry Rosenthal, owner of Sagebrush Entertainment, told us about a 35mm nitrate print of stock footage of Lone Pine shot for Hopalong Cassidy films. He gave it to Packy Smith and it will be converted into digi-beta format perhaps to be shown at the Festival this Fall. Jerry promised we would see him once again at the Festival and was excited about the progress being made on the museum.sandy-and-woody-wisejpg.jpg




Dave Snowden told us of many gifts to the museum from Burt Kennedy's estate and Dave's own collection including scripts, posters and personal items. He said that there would be several items from old friend Pierce Leyden's estate as well. Al Frisch told us he was donating the Hopalong Cassidy holsters from the first two films. He hopes to be able to film a few scenes in Lone Pine soon.two-sandys.jpg


All in all, it was a fun and productive weekend for Lone Pine.


Contact Info

The Museum of Western Film History
701 S. Main Street
Lone Pine, CA 93545