What do you think readers will find most shocking or surprising
about Sedona’s movie history? What did you find most
shocking while doing your research?
I have to say my own biggest surprise was Der Kaiser von
Kalifornien, and I think people are going to be shocked
when they learn of its existence. The second biggest surprise
was finding that some filming for Stagecoach took
place in Sedona and that it had its world premiere engagement
in Flagstaff, not LA. With all the books written about John
Ford and Stagecoach, it’s incredible to me
that these facts have eluded researchers for so long.
EAF: Were you
reluctant to shine a spotlight on Der Kaiser von Kalifornien?
I did worry about how people would react to the news and considered
not disclosing it, but I felt if I suppressed the truth, I’d
be no better than Joseph Goebbels [the Nazi minister of propaganda
who played a role in Der Kaiser’s production] because
that’s exactly what he would have done.
One of the cornerstones
of Nazi doctrine was the need for?Lebensraum – “living
space” for the German people – which was the major
motivation behind Hitler’s territorial aggression. Lebensraum
is at the root of Der Kaiser’s plot, and Sedona
is specifically shown in the film as the promised land.
To deny anything that
happened in Sedona, no matter how repugnant, would be a mistake,
especially because the film still exists and is readily available
in Germany on DVD. Whether we like it or not, Der Kaiser
von Kalifornien is a part of Sedona’s history.
This is important to
keep in mind because even though the town assumes everybody
knows about Sedona’s film history, in fact, the average
person is not aware of it. Sedona was never really known to
the world at large [as a filming location], even in its prime.
Studio PR hardly ever mentioned Sedona by name, and on the
very rare occasion it was credited it was usually incorrectly.
In one instance, Sedona was even misidentified in the main
credits of a B movie as Monument Valley! So the town is dead
wrong to take for granted its movie history––the
true place of importance Sedona should hold in mainstream
You see, the one advantage
Sedona has over most other Western movie locations is the
history. Monument Valley has the cachet of its association
with John Ford. Lone Pine in California has the numbers –
over 400 films have been made there. But Sedona is American
film in microcosm, from silent movies to early talkies to
B Westerns to World War II propaganda to film noir to 3-D
movies to rock ’n’ roll to ’70s road pictures.
Sedona was even the background for an Oscar-winning performance
– Art Carney’s in Harry and Tonto. So
even though there were only 60 movies filmed here in those
50 years, taken as a body of work they make up a visual record
of 20th-century popular culture.
Did you think twice about pointing out the fact that William
Boyd, who played the beloved character Hopalong Cassidy, may
have hidden in Flagstaff to evade the draft in World War I?
all the B Westerns, the Hoppys are my favorites. They are
well-made films with really likeable characters. Boyd himself
was a very likeable man who never hid the fact that in his
younger days he was a party boy and ladies’ man. But
according to an oral history project the Flagstaff Public
Library conducted in the ’70s, one man who knew him
before he became famous claimed Boyd was also a draft evader.
Apparently there were a whole bunch of draft evaders that
hid in Flagstaff during the first world war. It was a very
isolated place back then, but it was a railroad stop, so they
could get out of town easily if they had to. Was Boyd really
a draft evader? A century later, who can say for sure what’s
EAF: You practically
rewrite the history of the filming of Stagecoach
and the involvement of Goulding’s Lodge in Monument
Valley. Tell us about those revelations.
From day one the biggest problem was determining exactly what
was filmed in Sedona because wild claims for titles are all
over the place. The old Coconino Sun was a weekly paper published
in Flagstaff and a good resource. It took years, but we searched
through every single issue from 1923 into the early ’50s.
That was the best way to establish a timeline and how I discovered
that Kit Carson was the first Western to shoot scenes
in Sedona – the Sun covered its production
around the area for weeks during 1928. This one came as a
total surprise because nobody anywhere had ever mentioned
Kit Carson or its star, [silent movie cowboy] Fred
Thomson, in relation to Sedona. It was basically detective
work. But this was how we stumbled upon the information that
some filming took place in Sedona for Stagecoach.
In three separate reports published in the Coconino Sun before,
during and after shooting, it was stated that Stagecoach
locations in Arizona were at Monument Valley, Cameron, Oak
Creek Canyon, Schnebly Hill and areas down south near Phoenix.The
accepted back-story about the making of Stagecoach
is that [Indian trader] Harry Goulding drove to Hollywood
with snapshots of Monument Valley and talked John Ford into
going there to shoot. But the first Sun report states
that about a month before shooting began, the film company
contacted Lee Doyle, the local movie coordinator, who drove
John Ford around northern Arizona for a few days to scout
locations––standard operating procedure for a
film company planning to shoot in the area. I was able to
later confirm this by locating a copy of the telegram that
was sent to Doyle to alert him of Ford’s imminent arrival
in Flagstaff. This challenges accepted film history.
EAF: Your source
listings in the back of the book are quite extensive.
I’m just a messenger delivering the facts, but I know
I’m going to be challenged on a lot of what’s
here, so everything in the book is sourced. It has close to
40 pages of notes and bibliography. I list every newspaper
and magazine article, every book, every document that I consulted
and every interview that I quoted. So anybody who wants to
challenge me can check these sources themselves to see that
I didn’t make any of this up. –– Originally
published in the March 2010 issue of Sedona Monthly.