I now know why I felt so comfortable in Big Bear the first time I visited it twenty years ago. Although I was an East Coast transplant, it felt like home. Or to be precise, the locale was something that was familiar; etched in my brain as a child watching countless hours of westerns. Big Bear is what the real Old West was all about, at least as portrayed on the big screen and perceived by an innocent child.
For more than a century, Hollywood has made Big Bear its backdrop for iconic productions. Films that might ring a bell include When a Stranger Calls, Next, Dr. Doolittle II, Gone with the Wind, The Insider, Frankenstein, Magnolia, Beethoven’s 3rd and War Games. According to IMDb, there have been 334 movies filmed thus far with locations in the Big Bear area.
The years 1912 and 1913 were busy years for filmmaking in our local mountains. Most of these films were one or two reels, with each reel being 10 to 15 minutes long.
Birth of a Nation was filmed here in 1915. Big Bear scenes start about 2:09. Uncomfortable subject matter but interesting view of Big Bear and the lake from Castle Rock.
It was also a popular place for shooting on location, as they did for the filming of the 1920 version of Last of the Mohicans and a number of Bonanza episodes in the 1960s at Cedar Lake. Parent Trap with Hayely Mills, Bluff Lake YMCA camp and Old Yeller were filmed in Big Bear too.
When you watch Island in the Sky – you will recognize Big Bear in some of the wide shots. Gold Mountain is clearly visible. Home for the Holidays was shot in Fawnskin. That’s how the Fawn Lodge got a paint job and windows.
Rocky Mountain Mystery (1935) was an early Randolph Scott western based on a novel by Zane Grey. Also known as “The Fighting Westerners” it has some interior shots of the Doble stamp mill and others areas. Once thriving Doble is now a ghost town.
Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Hoot Gibson, Hopalong Cassidy, & dozens more actors made hundreds of movies here in the valley. A large percentage of them were shot at Shay Ranch. The movie sets were a permanent fixture right near the old ranch house.
Their location was just a few hundred yards east of the old cattle guard that was located right about where Baranca & Shay Road join at the beginning of the straight away on Shay Rd.
Next time you watch one of those old cowboy movies you will see different parts of Big Bear and the old sets at Cedar Lake. Don’t Fence Me In, with Roy Rogers was filmed at the Peter Pan Club and around Big Bear.
Locals recalled Cedar Lake was very cool. You could go in with a small fee. It’s closed except to members now. If you see North to Alaska that is where they had the loggers picnic. Lots of locals are in those scenes. Good times.
Other movies filmed in Big Bear were To the Last Man (1933) filmed at Shay Meadows in Bear City, and Skull and Crown (1935). Actor Henry Fonda starred in Trail Of The Lonesome Pine which was shot at Cedar Lake.
In the 1969 movie, Paint Your Wagon, Ben Rumson (Lee Marvin) and Pardner (Clint Eastwood) go on a gold prospecting mission in a tent city boomtown. The twist to the story is that they both have the same wife, whom they had purchased from a Mormon—Elizabeth (Jean Seberg).
Some exterior scenes were shot in California, specifically in Holcomb Valley, north of Big Bear Lake. This is located in the real gold rush country of San Bernardino National Forest; overland travelers from Salt Lake found gold here in 1849.
The San Bernardino mountains beckoned the early film makers with the promises of tall timber and grassy meadows. Location shooting was easy because hunting and fishing lodges were already available to house the film crews.
Although films were probably already being made in the mountains, the earliest documentation was an item in the Redlands Daily Review, January 19, 1913, indicating that the Selig Bear Valley Co. was in our mountains filming The Cattle Rustlers.
Famous film director/producer Cecil B. DeMille was one of the first Hollywood producers to use Big Bear as a location for a filming.
Just three years after the Bison Motion Picture Company had arrived in Big Bear, DeMille was in Big Bear making a silent film called The Call of the North.
This was only the second film that DeMille had ever made. But it was a critically acclaimed success, and it firmly established him as a major director. One of DeMille’s favorite locations for filming in Big Bear was the famous Fisher family estate located just west of the village. Today the Fisher property is known as Logonita Lodge.
Cecil B. DeMille not only went on to become a giant in the film industry, but in 1919, he was also founder of one of the first aviation companies in this country to carry freight and passengers. It was called Mercury Aviation.
On the same day Fleming was shooting Bonnie’s riding scene, B. Reeves “Breezy” Eason, one of Hollywood’s most dependable second-unit directors, began filming the Shanty Town scene for Gone With the Wind at Big Bear Lake in Southern California.
Work had begun before dawn, when five large trucks carrying construction equipment, set dressings, props, wardrobe, lights, and generators left the studio for the Big Bear Lake location. The crew included carpenters, set dressers, painters, landscapers, and a first aid technician. A large amount of red brick dust was hauled there to simulate the red dirt of Georgia.
The film’s historical advisor, Wilbur Kurtz, traveled by car to observe the construction of the camp, and production designer William Cameron Menzies arrived later to supervise. A third car arrived at noon with Aline Goodwin, Scarlet”s double, Lydia Schiller, the script supervisor, and other support staff.
The next morning, one of the generators broke down due to the altitude, and Eason was forced to film that day without sound. The generator was repaired overnight so they were able to shoot with sound the next day.
After lunch, they began filming the scene in which Scarlett is attacked. The scene had undergone considerable revision in an effort to avoid trouble with the Hays Office, which had cautioned Selznick to avoid any suggestion of rape in this scene.
Though the novel featured an African American man attacking Scarlett, Selznick cast the attacker as a white man. Upon acquiring the rights to Gone With The Wind, this was one of the first changes Selznick made to the story, mindful of concerns about the depiction of African American characters in the film.
Big Sam’s fight scene with Scarlett’s attacker was shot on Thursday, June 15. Fay Helm took over as Scarlett’s double. Aside from the occasional car horn or spectator wandering into the frame, filming proceeded quickly and efficiently for the next two days, with only two or three takes made for each camera angle.
The scene was substantially finished on June 16, though some of the crew stayed the next day to film “moving process plates” at various speeds (easy trot, gallop, runaway) that would be used as backgrounds for Vivien Leigh’s close-ups.
These close-ups, as well as the close-ups of Yakima Canutt, Blue Washington and Everett Brown as Big Sam, were filmed by Victor Fleming two weeks later.
The Cartwright’s one-thousand square mile Ponderosa Ranch is located near Virginia City, Nevada, site of the Comstock Silver Lode, during and after the Civil War. Each of the sons was born to a different wife of Ben’s; none of the mothers is still alive.
Adventures are typical western ones, with lots of personal relationships/problems thrown in as well. Wow, Virginia City looks just like Big Bear Lake!
In Kissin Cousins (1964), starring Elvis Presley, an Army officer returns to the Smoky Mountains and tries to convince his kinfolk to allow the Army to build a missile site on their land. Once he gets there, he discovers he has a lookalike cousin.
Notice again the iconic Cedar Lake Mill.