Clutching my pillow as a ship, I sail through the night to wherever my dreams may land. Such unscripted adventures is one of life’s little intrigues. One never knows where tonight may take you.
Long before the days of reality TV, “Westerns” seemed to populate the entertainment scene. The history, lifestyle, and attitude of this film genre all had a romance which captivated America. Sunday night was not complete without a viewing of “Bonanza”. Consequently, many an adolescent dream was spent dodging tumbleweeds while perched upon a galloping stallion.
On a recent business trip to Los Angeles, I made sure that I scheduled a little expedition to the Mojave Desert. My destination was Pioneertown. This enclave of buildings was built in 1946 as a live-in movie set. It was here that over 50 spaghetti westerns were filmed, including: The Cisco Kidand Edgar Buchanan’s Judge Roy Bean.
While the concrete jungle of L.A. might be just a few miles away, the landscape drastically changes with the inclusion of cacti, boulders, sand, and scorpions. It is easy to understand why Roy Rogers and Gene Autry thought this would be the ideal setting to create such a town of make believe.
And there it is…..a one-road, four-block town amid the open desert and big sky. The tattered, 1880’s-style edifices are all built in 2/3 scale, giving the place a rather surreal feeling. Mane Street (yes, that’s right….it is called Mane Street) is an extra wide dirt road. Its abundant width accommodated the narrative action + the camera crew and equipment. No cars are permitted. This town must be experienced on foot.
Stepping out of my car with my feet firmly planted on the dirt road, I breathed the desert air and felt the sun warming my cheeks. I stood tall, as if my city-boy soft soles had sprung heels, spurs, and pointed toes. The town seemed nearly deserted. Gone were the sounds of charging horses, gunshots, and player pianos from the saloon. It was as if it had become a ghost town of sorts. Only a bit of life was spotted amid a one-model fashion shoot.
There is a post office, jail, hotel, saloon, livery, bath house, and on. Although the typical movie set might contain only a collection of facades, these are complete buildings which were built to accommodate the actors and crew during the actual filming. For their entertainment, a bowling alley (Pioneer Bowl) was built where local school children were hired as pinsetters--until it was automated in the 1950’s. It is here that Gene Autry taped his show.
Although it was hauntingly quiet, all is not lost. I soon discovered that many of the buildings were now home to artist studios and galleries. Artisanal furnishings, fashions and art could be found. It was quite interesting. Somehow or another, they all seemed to be right at home among the empty saddles, rocking chairs, and weathered wood walls.
Completing a tour of the town, I returned to my car. While opening the door, my eyes lit upon a most familiar sight. It was the entrance to the “O.K. Corral”. Although the infamous horse lot was empty, memories began to flood my mind. I could only sigh and shake my head.
Exhausted, I hobbled back to my hotel room where I nearly fell into bed. I closed my eyes and stretched my toes.