A look at the history of cinema in the desert


The history of filming in the desert dates back to the 1930s when Frank Capra came out on the railroad, and back then there were a lot of big studio movies in production.

The movie “Last Horizon” was filmed here. The horse scene at the top of Tahquitz Canyon, requiring them to ride horses to the top of the waterfall.

Image from “The Lost Horizon” (Courtesy of Columbia)

Independent filmmakers have also discovered the desert because if you’re on a budget with an independent film, you don’t want to worry about the weather. The desert has one of the most consistent climates you can find.

Pioneertown (courtesy Evan Sanford)

In the 1950s and 1960s, when Hollywood was doing all the westerns, they needed sets. They were going out and building cities, they were building main streets for cities, and one of the cities they built was in the high desert, called Pioneertown. It was a small main street with all the shops and stores and everything you would expect from the old Wild West. Ever since they left him, and he’s been there, a whole little community has grown up around the town that was built with nothing but storefronts. Real shops have been added behind some of them, and it is open as a tourist attraction for residents.

Over the years there have been many different films, both major films and independent films that have been shot here in the desert. Many of them actually premiered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, as the focus is on locally made films and local filmmakers.

The city of Palm Springs has also been very film-friendly and has sometimes waived location fees and tried to encourage filmmakers to come here.

A young Lucille Ball (Courtesy of KESQ)

The stories say the stars might be far from Hollywood and far from all the gossip columnists, but not too far to respond to a studio if they called and needed them for something. These were the years when actors and actresses were under contract with the studios. So if they were to get back to Hollywood quickly, they could come back from the desert.

Whatever their original reason for coming to play here, celebrities have come to the desert to play. They enjoyed the sun, the tennis, the swimming pools and all that the desert has to offer.

Directors, producers and writers have also made their home here. While you might not hear about them as much, they’re the people who are at the end of the credits, and they’re the people who actually make the movies and are responsible for financing, writing and of the assembly.

We have people who were in all aspects of the movies here.


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