Everyone wants to save “Hollywood in the Desert”—the Old Tucson Studios that hosted more than 400 films and television projects in the eight decades since Columbia Pictures decided to build an 1860s replica of Tucson for its gamechanging Arizona.
Until then, Western movies were shot on a back lot in Hollywood, but that wasn’t good enough for Jean Arthur (above, right) and William Holden, starring in a lively story of a determined woman fighting corruption as she makes a new life in Arizona Territory. The $2.5 million film—the equivalent of $46.5 million in today’s money—set a new standard of realism for Hollywood Westerns.
No wonder everyone loves the iconic history of a studio and Western town attraction that once was a top Arizona tourism spot.
Everyone has faith that the recession of 2008, then the Arizona Legislature’s decision to cut back on government support of films (boneheaded comes to mind) and now COVID can’t ruin something that has meant so much to the 48th State and the legacy of Western entertainment.
“Everyone” in this case includes the fans who frequented the theme park—34,000 came to its annual Nightime fundraiser in 2019— the moviegoers who have loved the Westerns shot here, the citizen’s task force that is charged with finding a new life for the old girl and the Pima County government that owns the property and sees it as a cherished part of the county’s history.
It doesn’t hurt that Arizona’s Gov. Doug Ducey’s new communications director is a transplanted Tucson boy who has nothing but fond memories of Old Tucson. “We came out years ago in the middle of summer from Connecticut after my grandparents moved here, and Old Tucson was near the top of the must-see list,” remembers C.J. Karamargin. “If we can increase our tourism attractions and boost the quality and the experience people have when we go there, that’s something that benefits everyone in Arizona.”
That’s the kind of “everyone” that gets things done.
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