San Joaquin on the Silver Screen

SilverScreenThe silver screen, film, movie, cinema; no matter what you call it, since first being developed in the 1890s, this media form revolutionized the world. Although the first films were a far cry from what we experience today, they were a novelty, a real moving photograph the world had never even imagined. These early films evolved at a fast rate. Very quickly, technology advances allowed for complex story lines including plots and screen changes. However they remained silent, making it difficult for the actors to portray complex emotions or concepts. Nevertheless, the actors solved these problems by often over exaggerating emotions and antics, additionally the produces would include a scene or so with text further explaining these story lines. To accompany the silent film experience, movie goers would experience live music. This music would assist with the building of tension or humor an enhanced the film. This aspect of the film still persists today and is a very important part of the film. The era of the silent film would come crashing down without warning. The end came in 1927, with the release of the first film with sound, The Jazz Singer. “Talkies” or synchronized sound became a phenomenon and quickly replaced the silent films of yester years. Talkies were new and exciting they even featured their own stars and headliners. The stars of silent films just couldn’t keep with the new advances and could not make the transition. These include such names as Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.

With the technology of film moving forward it was now time to find a home for the growing film industry. In the beginning, the movie industry was centered around New York City and the East Coast. It was here that all the bankers, producers and actors resided. It was also home to the movie-going population class. However, by the early 1900s many production studios began looking for a new home. Many reasons have been explained for this move, some see it as the producers wanting independence from the studios, and others cite the weather. Still more believe it was due to the patents Thomas Edison enforced on the growing industry. With the distance, Edison faced more imposed trying to enforce them. Electricity was widespread but it was not nearly powerful enough to provide the lighting necessary for films. Perhaps it was a little of all of these reasons that the industry looked west to a little known country town in Southern California, Los Angeles. These early moviemakers were drawn here for the amazing year-round weather, open space and the wide variety of different scenery.

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The first studio, opened in 1911, was Nestor Studios. That same year fifteen other studios made Los Angeles their home, officially transforming both the film industry and the area into the Hollywood we know today. As the studios settled they began setting up “Movie Ranches”. They quickly found that setting up scenes in shop was not always easy nor did it add to the quality of the film. With that in mind, they looked for sets in a natural environment for their specific films. The movie ranches were areas owned by the studios and partially dedicated for the production of movies and television. They are typically located near Hollywood for ease of filming and editing. However, with the advancement of transportation and the ease of travel the film industry began taking advantage of the natural scenes further and further away from Hollywood. It was not long until the movie industry and the world found a treasure in northern California; San Joaquin County, the Delta and the Mother Lode, now duped Hollywood North. Join me for an exploration through some of Hollywood’s most classic and timeless films; shot here in our home.

San Joaquin County

Silver ScreenMandalay released in 1934 filmed for ten days in Stockton, most notably along the San Joaquin River. Shirley Temple played a supporting part in this film. Nevertheless, her role was a little more than a walk on and showcased little originally. But, this would not be Temple’s only visit to the county; she returned to help her friend Julia Bortolazzo campaign for the passing of the bond that built San Joaquin Delta College! During World War II, the American industry machine turned to wartime productions, even the film industry. Many films were made in collaboration with the U.S. Department of War and utilized opportunity to promote the war. One such film released in 1944, Winged Victory, was a major box office film with a million dollar budget. For production, the film was given access to seven California Army and Marine posts, this included the Stockton Field Training Base; which saw a large amount of filming time. Perhaps one of the best-known films shot in San Joaquin County is All the King’s Men released in 1949. This movie was very popular, earning nominations for seven academy awards and taking home the award for Best Picture. Filming locations included; Hotel Stockton, the old county courthouse, city jail, Atherton Island, McLeod Lake, the Waterfront, sections of Lower Sacramento Road and the City Hall steps. In addition to the locations, countless local individuals were used as extras including the famous political rally.

Released in 1958, the production crew of The Big Country filled the 252 rooms available at Hotel Stockton. The movie shot scenes in the Sierra Foothills but a large portion was captured in Farmington. Locations in rural Stockton and downtown Stockton’s Washington Street were used for the filming of God’s Little Acre in 1959. The College of Pacific, now University of the Pacific, saw the filming of Bing Crosby’s High Time in 1960. Besides using students as extras, the production team also filmed large graduation scenes at Stockton Junior High Auditorium for scene additions. In 1970, The Strawberry Statement was filmed in Stockton, shooting scenes in front of the Stockton Civic Auditorium and City Hall. Many extras were locals. The film was not without its controversy, gaining hype from its filming process and story line. This controversy surrounded the almost halting of production as crew members were caught in the City Manager’s Office smoking pot. Fat City released in 1972 was based on a novel set in Stockton and written by local author Leonard Gardner. He was also involved in the production of the film, transforming his novel into screenplay. As only fitting, the movie was filmed locally with scenes in the bars and brothels of a long gone skid row, El Dorado Hotel, Red Men’s Hall, Stockton Civic Auditorium, downtown sites including old factories and rural areas including Zuckerman’s Family Farms. Stars of this film include Steacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, Susan Tyrell and Candy Clark.

Supplying both extras and some school spirit with help from the marching band, Tracy High School’s 1972 Homecoming parade was utilized by The Candidate and transformed into a politic rally. In The World’s Greatest Athlete, local locations and University of Pacific athletes were utilized. They played themselves and were shot at both the University and the old track at Delta Junior College. Dirty Mary, Crazy Mary was filmed in 1974 and used many local actors including the Stockton Record Agricultural Editor Bob Minor. Scenes included shots of the San Joaquin Delta Bridge, homes on Charter Way and a fruit stand in French Camp. The movie concludes with a crash on Archdale Road. This scene was attended by the Linden Fire Crew incase the scene caused a real emergency. James Woods’s early film Alex and the Gypsy was filmed at St. Basil’s Greek Orthodox Church on March Lane in addition to the several scenes shot in the Sonora area. In 1976 Bound for Glory was filmed in the County and most of the crew stayed in Stockton, with scenes also filmed in Woodbridge and Isleton.

The Death Machines, also filmed in 1976, starred local martial arts expert Ron Marchini who would later star in eight additional martial art movies; all of which filmed in San Joaquin County with the concentration in Stockton. The first filming did experience some incidents like Marchini requesting assistance from the Stockton police force, as he was unable to unlock his handcuffs. James Woods returned to Stockton for the filming of the made-for-television movie, Raid on Entebee. Filming took place at the Stockton Metropolitan Airport, which required one million dollars in reconstruction costs to alter the façade of the airport to resemble an African airport. Peter Finch stared in this film and gave the Stockton Record an interview regarding production. This would be his last interview, as he died shortly thereafter. While staying in Stockton the crew frequented the Holiday Inn. Based on George Lucas’s teenage years in Modesto he produced and directed, More American Graffiti, as a sequel to his hit American Graffiti. For the sequel, Lucas chose Stockton because he said it resembled Modesto in the 1960s. Perhaps one of the best known franchises filmed in Stockton began in 1981 with Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark. For the movie franchise, filming was limited to the University of the Pacific with only one scene included in the final production. The opening scene shows the exterior of the original Conservatory of Music before it was renovated. It was later renamed the Faye Spanos Concert Hall. For the most recent film, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, this opening scene was also utilized. The scene was digitally updated with the extras in the 1950s attire. As these were the only shots completed on campus, it would appear Harrison Ford has not visited UOP. For the television series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, additional local scenes included the Stockton Deep Water Channel and the San Joaquin Delta. The exterior of UOP has also been utilized in other films including Dreamscape in 1984.

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San Joaquin County has seen its far shares of stars. Not only in Stockton but all throughout the County. For example, Oakdale’s railroad crossing was utilized for a major action scene in Eddie Murphy’s break through film 48 hours. Nicholas Cage’s early film Valley Girl, shot in 1983, included location scenes at the Weberstown Mall. Cage would return to San Joaquin County for the shooting of a major scene in his 1984 film Birdy. The Sure Thing, directed exclusively in Stockton, also launched the careers of John Cusack and Tim Robbins. The City Arts Commission received a lot of praise for having located all the sites the film crew used. Robbins would star in his break out role the following year, Bull Durham. This movie was written and directed by Ron Shelton who has his own ties to the area. He worked for a season with the Stockton Ports when the baseball team was still located at the Billy Herbert Field. Also in 1983, Under Arrest utilized multiple locations in Stockton like the rooftop chases on downtown hotels, which have since been demolished. Shots also occurred at the Tule Flats Ghost Town in Pollardville and in Jackson. Always, filmed by Steven Spielberg included aerial scenes of rural Stockton and the New Jerusalem Airstrip in the southern section of the county. This film reached notoriety as it is the final film appearance of Audrey Hepburn.

Stockton women swooned when the Rampage film crew descended on Stockton; however when Michael Biehn arrived instead of Richard Gere the commotion died down and filming was able to commence. Filming occurred on El Dorado Street, Bristol Avenue and numerous neighborhoods around the courthouse and Stockton City Hall. The regional premiere occurred at the Stockton Royal Theater and an after party was held in the lobby of Bank of America. University of the Pacific was also used for the filming of Inventing the Abbotts, Flubber and Dead Man on Campus. These films included many exterior shots and utilized students as extras.

The Delta

Silver ScreenThe intricate and vast waterways of the Delta have been utilized since the beginning of film making. In 1916 the Rio Vista section was used as the setting for the film, Jim Bledso. Sections of the film used a vintage 1890’s steamer called the Grace Barton and the now dredged Wood Island called for it to catch fire. Something went awry during filming as the fire grew out of control and destroyed the steamer. Although unintentional the fire adds a level of realism to the movie.Released that same year and filmed both on the Delta near Isleton and in Stockton, was Mickey Rooney’s film, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The same locations used in this filming would also be showcased in the 1960s version. Besides the Mississippi River, the Delta has also served as the Yangtze River in China for the filming of Blood Alley, starring directed and produced by John Wayne. Also starring in the film was Lauren Bacall, whose new husband Humphrey Bogart joined her in Stockton for the filming of the movie. The production group stayed at Hotel Stockton and often enjoyed dinner, drinks and poker at Chet’s located on Wilson Way. The movie group continued to frequent the bar even after the police were called when Wayne punched a bartender for a rude remark. Nevertheless, the “Duke” enjoyed his time in Stockton often signing autographs for fans after long hours of shooting.

Due to the proximity of Stockton and the Delta, it was not unusual for production crews to use both locations for movies. This includes the 1956 film, Our Miss Brooks, filmed around Stockton High schools and nearby neighborhoods. It also includes shots on the Delta Pier, most notably the scene where star Eve Arden falls into the water trying to get into a boat. A story from production describes this scene being shot and reshoot while fellow actor Richard Crenna fished nearby, amused by the takes. Sammy Davis Jr. came to Stockton in the late 1950s for the filming of Porgy and Bess. While the filming locations are limited to the San Joaquin Delta Island and surrounding rivers, Davis made sure to visit the University of Pacific and discuss football with the team star Dick Bass. Bass would go on to be the second pick in round one of the 1959 draft and play as a running back for the Los Angeles Rams from 1960-1969.

1969 saw Paul Newman arrive for the production of Cool Hand Luke. This movie called for numerous locations throughout the county. These included shots around Dentoni Park on Davis Road, rural Stockton Roads, and the Delta on the Roberts Island side. As in the past, structures were built to ease filming. The citizens of San Joaquin County have long catered to production and crew. This could not be truer than in the 1970’s The Moonshine War. For this film, sections of the Sierra Hills and Farming was spray painted green to combat procrastination on the production end which left the area looking brown due to summer conditions. By the end of the 1970s the Delta was used as the setting for the comedy, Swim Team. Scenes for this film include the Old Moore’s Riverboat and on the Mokelumne River. The Mother Lode (El Dorado County, Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne, Mormon Bar Mariposa County) The 1930 film, The Storm, was filmed around the Twain Harte community in Tuolumne County. The film was notable for its featured star, Lupe Velez. Velex was one of the earliest Mexican actors to see success in Hollywood. Movie star Lon McAllister who started in Winged Victory, made his way back to the area in 1948 with the filming of Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!. Filming for this movie was completed in Tuolumne County around the Twain Harte area. A notable scene in this films shows then unknown Marilyn Monroe in a boat.

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By 1952 Westerns came to Hollywood North in the form of High Noon. For this film, the production group stayed in Stockton and the San Joaquin Film Commission searched for locations. They found perfect spots in Columbia State Park and State Historic Park, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Tuolumne County and Warnerville in Stanislaus County. The Mother Lode regions offers many beautiful lake front locations, a great example can be seen in Burt Reynolds, 1969 classic, Sam Whiskey. This was filmed in the Sierra Foothills, portraying Camanche Lake as a river. During the filming process the production group stayed in Stockton and rented the nearby Stockton Royal Theatre to watch the film segments each night at 11 p.m. During his career, Clint Eastwood made three trips to the Mother Lode and Stockton area for filming. His first was Honkytonk Man in 1982. Filming included a card-playing scene in the 150 year old Gold Rush Motel and in front of a nearby store. Eastwood would return in 1988 for the filming of Bird and 1992 in Unforgiven. For the filming of Bird, Eastwood and the filming crew stayed at the Stockton Hilton and filmed scenes at the historic Delta community of Locke. In Unforgiven, Eastwood utilized the set made for the 1991 film Back to the Future Part III. This film was shoot near Sonora with the town set created west of Chinese Camp.

It is easy to see how San Joaquin County, the Delta and the Mother Lode have come to be known as Hollywood North. Since the beginning of the film age, we have welcomed an array of aware winning producers, directors and actors. While filming has slowed down in recent years, the area remains iconic and forever intertwined with Hollywood.

Happy Holidays!

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