Lights, camera, action! These words evoke countless images of movies and television filmed and taped around Hollywood during the past 100-plus years.
Hollywood — the epicenter of the film industry! What would it be like, we wondered, to ride our own horses around Hollywood in locations where movies and television shows were filmed?
We set out with our Missouri Fox Trotter geldings, Cowboy and Nate, to find out.
Fade In: Our Arrival
As a young man, I, Kent, had fun being an extra in Heaven’s Gate, starring Kris Kristofferson. The director, Michael Cimino, was given a huge budget, due to his success with The Deer Hunter. And that’s how Heaven’s Gate became one of the most expensive films ever made.
It was also a box-office bomb. I was never hired to be in a movie again!
Now was my chance, along with Charlene and our trusty steeds, to do something even more exciting: ride where movies are made.
Pulling a living-quarters trailer through Los Angeles to Hollywood can be intimidating! We were told not to drive before 9:00 a.m. or after 3:00 p.m. to avoid heavy traffic. Even with midday driving, it took us more than two hours to drive across L.A. to our first camp.
We settled in at Circle K Boarding, also the home of Rocking K Horse Rentals,
in Newbury Park, west of L.A. There, we visited with the manager, Robert Perez, who rents out horses for film and television productions. His brother, a stuntman, trains horses for the big screen.
Robert Perez supplied the horses used in the film Django Unchained and the TV show Vegas. While at the Rocking K, we had the good fortune of meeting Rudy Ramos. Rudy played the character Wind in the TV series The High Chaparral, which aired from 1967 to 1971. Rudy was kind enough to rent us his small bumper-pull trailer so we could drive more easily to our nearby riding locations.
At the time of our visit, Rudy was hard at work on his one-man play, Geronimo, Life on the Reservation (www.geronimo lifeonthereservation.com). Last spring, we went to the world premiere of Rudy’s play in Tucson, Arizona. We both agreed that Rudy has an amazing ability to bring Geronimo to life.
Scene 1: Malibu Creek State Park
Armed with a tasty lunch and Rudy’s trailer in tow, we set out for our first riding adventure, which would take place in Malibu Creek State Park, located in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Our goal was to ride where M*A*S*H (both the movie and the TV series) was filmed. Our tour guide would be avid trail rider Barbara West.
To get to the trailhead from the Hollywood Freeway (U.S. Route 101), we drove south onto Las Virgenes Rd. The park entrance is just a few miles down on the right-hand side.
The park’s land was once owned by 20th Century Fox, which used it as a movie ranch. Movies have been made there since 1936, when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer filmed a number of Tarzan movies.
The area is ideal for the film industry, with rugged terrain that can double for far-off locations, such as Old Mexico, the Wild West, and even outer space.
At the parking lot, we met up with Barbara, who was riding her Rocky Mountain Horse mare, Lola.
“I’m so fortunate to live in a place with great weather and wonderful changing scenery,” she told us. “One day, I can ride and see cactus and palms, and the next day, ride in mountainous terrain and see pine trees.”
Joining us was Maria Nelson aboard her horse, Jonah, and Leslie Saeta aboard her horse, River.
“Trail riding is a connection with nature, seeing things I might not otherwise reach on foot or by car,” Maria noted.
We set off into an extensive trail system closed to motorized vehicles. We rode in on High Road, a fire road that runs through a series of old oaks, whose branches intertwined overhead, encasing us in a natural tunnel.
This trail connects with Crags Road, which is near a walk-in visitor center. Movies filmed in this valley include Planet of the Apes, Sand Pebbles, Roots, and Pleasantville.
We then left the valley and followed Crags Road uphill and downhill. A sharp spur to the left leads to the scenic Century Lake.
After the lake, we turned left and single-tracked through a narrow canyon to our destination, the site where all the outdoor scenes for M*A*S*H were filmed. Picnic tables invite visitors to sit and have lunch.
We climbed up to the spot where the helicopters landed. From there, we could see the layout of the camp, the same view as seen in the opening scenes of M*A*S*H.
An old Jeep and ambulance still remain. There are interpretive signs explaining where tents and buildings were located.
Scene 2: Paramount Ranch
We left Hawkeye, B.J., and Hot Lips behind, and trailered to Paramount Ranch, site of moviemaking since 1927. Legends such as Bob Hope, Gary Cooper, and Claudette Colbert created memorable roles here.
To find the ranch from the 101, we took Kanan Rd. south, then turned left on Cornell Rd. Within a few miles, we arrived at the ranch, pulling into a spacious parking lot. We rode our straight out of the Western TV shows!
Series filmed in this town include The Cisco Kid, Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater, Wells Fargo, and, more recently, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. As we rode through town, we could imagine Clint Eastwood or Ward Bond peering around a corner, gun in hand.
Even Cowboy got caught up in the excitement. Conjuring up thoughts of Roy Roger’s Trigger, Cowboy spied unsuspecting tourists from South Africa and proceeded to perform several tricks for their children.
We left Cowboy and Nate tied up at the Sheriff’s Office for a moment and went into the sound stage where Dr. Quinn and other shows were filmed.
We then rode north out of town up to Marco Polo Hill where The Adventures of Marco Polo was filmed in 1936.
From there, our horses happily fox-trotted across the grassy expanses of the Bwana Trail. This area was used as the grasslands of Africa in the movie Bwana Devil. Filmed in 1952, this was the first 3-D movie released in the United States.
Our ride became a loop by taking the Backdrop and Hacienda Trails back to town. The Hacienda Trail was the site of a homestead for Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.
For an overview of the town, we rode back to the parking lot and south to the Medea Creek Trail, which leads to the Western Town Overlook.
For a longer ride, you can go a short distance east across the Mulholland Dr./Cornell Rd. intersection (used as a scene in Spinout starring Elvis Presley) into another section of Malibu Creek State Park.
Scene 3: Griffith Park
Our quest for more riding to filming locations took us to Griffith Park, located in central Los Angeles on the south side of the Ventura Freeway. This park covers 4,310 acres, contains more than 50 miles of trails, and is one of the largest urban parks in North America.
Griffith Park is one of the busiest filming locations in Hollywood; something is being filmed here on the average of 346 days per year. It all began in 1915 when famed director D.W. Griffith filmed battle scenes for his epic film, The Birth of a Nation.
A good staging point for adventures into Griffith Park is the Los Angeles Equestrian Center on the north edge of the park. Gene Autry helped establish these stables as a place to keep horses close to the studios. This is also where Mr. Ed, the talking horse, lived.
From the L.A. Equestrian Center, we rode across the L.A. Aqueduct, then through a large tunnel that passed under eight lanes of freeway traffic and through two more under-highway tunnels, finally emerging into Griffith Park.
Our ride took us up the Skyline and Mineral Wells trails to the Mineral Wells Picnic Area, where there are hitching rails set in stone, as well as picnic tables. This was a favored stopping point for dude rides of yesteryear.
Amir’s Garden is another fun place to stop. There, you’ll find two hitching rails, picnic tables, and a watering trough. (In fact, there are numerous watering troughs scattered through the park.) Amir’s Garden is a beautiful, shaded area filled with flowers and plants, making it a delightfully cool stop on a hot day.
Cowboy and Nate labored their way uphill past Mount Bell and finally to Mount Hollywood, 1,625 feet in elevation. This area is the center of the park, where you can look out to locations from countless movies, such as Rebel Without a Cause, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Back to the Future, and The Terminator.
On our return, we headed north on the Toyon Trail to catch views of Disney Studios and NBC Studios to the west. To the south is Bronson Cave, where the climactic scene from John Ford’s 1956 Western, The Searchers, was filmed.
In the film, John Wayne corners his niece, Debbie (Natalie Wood) with the intent to kill her. But then he relents, and in the film’s most famous shot, he picks her up to carry her home.
To wrap things up, we left our horses in camp and visited two famous Hollywood spots. The first was Grauman’s (now Mann’s) Chinese Theater in downtown Hollywood. Stars have been leaving their handprints and footprints in cement in front of this theater since the 1920s.
We found Roy Rogers’ prints next to Trigger’s horseshoe print, then Gene Autry and Champion. John Wayne left behind his signature, footprints, and a fist impression!
A fitting end to our trip was our last stop: Will Rogers’ home, preserved in Will Rogers State Historic Park. By the 1930s, Will Rogers was the most popular and highest-paid actor in Hollywood. He was also a successful newspaper columnist. He spiked his columns with his unique wit and dry sense of humor.
In 1935, Will Rogers died in an airplane crash with aviator Wiley Post in Alaska. His wife, Betty, lived at the estate until her death in 1944. Then the property went to the state, which preserved the interior furnishings in their original condition. Items include a stuffed calf Rogers used to practice his roping.
Rogers’ office was at the back of the estate, on the second floor. Here, he penned his famous newspaper column. From the office was a staircase leading to the outside. Rogers would race down these stairs to where his favorite roping horse, Soapsuds, would be waiting, tied to the hitching rail.
The hitching rail remains today; Soapsuds is buried nearby.
Kent and Charlene Krone combine their interest in photojournalism with a passion for horses. They’ve sold photographs to magazines, books, calendars, postcards, and video producers for more than 20 years. (For a sampling, visit www.superstock.com, and type “supplier:1314” in the search box.) They enjoy sharing their horseback adventures in the United States and Western Canada. Reach them at email@example.com.
Los Angeles Equestrian Center
Malibu Creek State Park
Rocking K Horse Rentals at Circle K Stables
Will Rogers State Historic Park