A Stirring Of Movie Merriment

A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet (Orson Welles)

As Ruth and I continued our 2018 road trip toward coastal California,we entered a land of nostalgic, movie set paradise. Imagine cruising through small town America reminiscing of a 1950 scene of vintage cars, drive in cafes, and mom and pop motor motels. We felt like we had stepped into a scene from the movie, American Graffiti. Picture a dusty western town where horse-bound cowboys tie up their trusting horses to enter a saloon or country dry goods store. Enter a smoky and dimly lit cafe. Sit quietly on a bar stool where old wagon wheels, rusted trellises, and country piano tunes capture your attention. Feel the loneliness emanating from an abandoned amusement park that subtly reveals its physical remnants of a glorious past. Several road trip excursions following this time travel theme are thus described below.


Arriving the valley of Kingman from the high plateau of Northern Arizona, conspicuous signs for the Route 66 corridor captured our immediate attention. Arriving at the historic Kingman Powerhouse, an extensive collection of artifacts there revealed the historical importance of Route 66 as a trade route, railroad corridor, and more recently America’s first paved auto path for tourists traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles. Adjacent to the museum, a brief glance at an iconic steam locomotive along the tracks provided further evidence of Kingman’s crossroads importance in American History. Strolling along Route 66 now, we spotted Mr. D’z Diner and its quirky ambience of 1950s drive-in culture.. Our Caesar salad lunch order, however, provided a much healthier option than the expected traditional. hamburger, french fries and milkshake indulgence there.


On a busy Easter weekend in Southern California, a hike in the seemingly remote Santa Ana mountains would provide a relaxing excursion close by our three night accommodation with friends in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Walking along the easy , Paramount Ranch Trail, we noted that this area has been occupied more busily than expected as an authentic western town backdrop for TV/movie productions. I would learn Paramount Pictures had leased the area in 1923 as a working ranch, beginning an era of film production that continues through today. Bob Hope starred there in Caught in the Draft (1941), Sandra Bullock had a leading role in The Lake House (2006), while more recent television productions included The Mentalist, Weeds, and Hulu’s Quickdraw (2013-2014). A few miles by car from our western town walk, we would park nearby a densely packed, saloon bar known to be frequented by the Hollywood rich and famous: the Old Place Cafe,I would also discover that celebrity guests visited regularly at this unpretentious cafe over the years including Steve McQueen, Ali McGraw, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Sean Penn, Peter Strauss, Sissy Spacek, Twiggy, Robert Blake, Goldie Hawn, Jack Lemmon, Larry Hagman and Jackson Browne.


Across from the Old Place Cave, our sojourn into film set imagination would now continue in a steep walk along the Peter Strauss Trail. In the 1950s and 1960s, amusement parks sprouted everywhere in Southern California. Many of them tragically went defunct when Disneyland opened in Anaheim. The Strauss site we hiked along today was once purchased and developed into such a fairyland, featuring what was at the time the largest pool on the West Coast. Visible remains that were spotted along our hilltop views of the area included the “Fairytale Land” sign, the faint outline of a baseball diamond, and “Lake Enchanto,” which people used for swimming and fishing,and rowing.

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