The Movies | Flagstaff
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The Movies | Flagstaff

If Not For A Snowstorm…

Not even many locals know that, if not for a snowstorm and a public feud between the area’s ranchers, their hometown could’ve been the movie capital of the world.

The year was 1913 and legendary film-maker Cecil B. DeMille, at that time a theatrical director and writer, wanted to break into the movies. “The Squaw Man” was a successful play that DeMille and his partner Jesse Lasky decided to film for the big screen. They wanted the movie to be of epic proportions, featuring sweeping landscapes and wide vistas. Along with Sam Goldwyn, the men formed The Jesse L. Lasky Feature Film Company, which bought the rights to the play, and headed west to Arizona. Not only did they intend to film the movie here; they had their eye on establishing their production company in Flagstaff.

When they arrived in town that December, the weather was iffy but Laske was able to film several background scenes that he used in the final cut. Reportedly he was disappointed with the region; Laske wanted a wide, open-range feel in his scenery. Within a day, the rain and snow began in earnest and the production team decided to head west to a little area just outside of Los Angeles known as Hollywood. There, inside an old barn, the men set up a studio and production office and “The Squaw Man” went on to become the first feature-length film shot in California. 

Before I get further into this remarkable story I have to throw in my two cents. Given that this dramatic decision occurred in December and also included the director’s reluctance to film in a mountainous region, it’s strange that they ever even considered Flagstaff. Flagstaff–a mountain town– in December? You can pretty much bet on snow. Anyway….on with the story.  

Snowy weather was the main reason cited for scratching Flagstaff and moving on. However,  the feud being played out in the newspapers between area ranchers over grazing rights was another factor.  The company did not want to invest the time and money to build a studio just to be caught in the middle of legal wranglings over land rights.Despite being abandoned by the Lasky Studios, Flagstaff became an important town in staging the popular Westerns of the early to mid-1900s.

Join us on Freaky Foot Tours to hear stories of the legendary John Wayne and other stars who stayed at the Hotel Monte V while filming. Spoiler alert: the Hotel turned out to be haunted!

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