Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
"The Big Bus"
Angeles National Forest

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A nuclear-powered bus named Cyclops teeters over the edge of Big Tujunga Canyon Road in the imaginatively titled "The Big Bus" from Parmount Pictures in 1976.

A spoof on all the mind-numbing disaster movies that were pouring out of Hollywood ("Airport '75," "The Towering Inferno"), "The Big Bus" featured a cast of thousands — OK, hundreds — and their plight aboard a 106-foot-long, 68-foot-tall bus that carried 108 passengers.

Sad to say, filming took place in and around the Santa Clarita Valley, from Soledad Canyon Road eastbound past the Saugus Speedway (it had grandstands on both sides of the arena then) to the "foam" scenes that were shot on San Fernando Road (now Newhall Avenue).

The scene shown here was staged on Big Tujunga Canyon Road (see map below) just west of Angeles Forest Highway, overlooking the Big Tujunga Reservoir that is impounded by Big Tujunga Canyon Dam No. 1. The dam was built in 1931 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is administered by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

Contributor Pony Horton, who observed the fiming at Big Tujunga, remembers that the fake 20-something-foot-long guardrail that the bus crashed through "weighed only about 2 pounds. I was able to lift the entire guardrail in one hand. Seriously, the engineering needed to dangle that thing over that cliff is impressive."

And expensive. Budgeted for $2 million, production ended up costing $6 million [syndicated column by Marilyn Beck, June 1976].

"Too bad great locations and effects could not save that crummy movie," Horton said.

Critics agreed. Stockard Channing couldn't save it. Sally Kellerman (recently Hot Lips Houlihan) couldn't save it. Ned Beatty couldn't save it (although he could run up the budget). The wonderful Ruth Gordon couldn't save it. Even costar Joseph Bologna was "acutely aware that the odds for Big Bus' success are questionable," as one reporter put it [Beck: ibid.].

As a disaster movie, it was a disaster, all right: "more likely to kill through sheer boredom than humor," the Pocatello (Idaho) State Journal said. And as a spoof — to paraphrase — "Young Frankenstein" it ain't.

Of course, critics had similar things to say about another movie with a strange-sounding plot that was in production at the time and ended up with a strange-sounding name: "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." So you just never really know.

"The Big Bus" was written by Fred Freeman and Lawrence J. Cohen, directed by James Frawley and produced by Freeman, Lawrence J. Cohen, Julia Phillips and Michael Phillips. Special effects were created by Gail Brown, Bob Dawson, Lee Vasque and Kevin Pike. Stunt performers were John Ashby, Gregory J. Barnett, Whitey Hughes and Gene LeBell (at least one of whom dangled from the bus as it was suspended over the Ridge Route).

The rest of the cast reads like a Who's Who of the 1970s: John Beck, Rene Auberjonois, Bob Dishy, José Ferrer, Harold Gould, Larry Hagman, Richard Mulligan, Lynn Redgrave, Richard B. Shull, Stuart Margolin, Howard Hesseman, Mary Charlotte Wilcox , Walter Brooke, Vic Tayback, Murphy Dunne, Raymond Guth, Miriam Byrd-Nethery, Dennis Kort, James Jeter, Vito Scotti, Harry Holcombe, Morgan Upton, Beans Morocco, Della Thomas, Jess Nadelman and Michael W. Schwartz.

Passengers on the bus: Selma Archerd, Chuck Bergansky, Joe Brooks, Alex Brown, Bart Carpinelli, Richard Crystal, Jerry DeWilde, David Essex, Karalee Fenske, Mickey Fox, Harry Frazier, Laurie Hagen, An Tsan Hu, Gregory C. Johnson, Walter Lott, Vincent Milana, Judy Motulsky, Erin Kathleen O'Reilly, Nick Pellegrino, Eugenie Ross-Leming, Cynthia Szigeti, Ann Weldon, Bert Williams, Andrew Winner and Carol Worthington.

Filming location of scene shown at top. Identification by Pony Horton. Click to enlarge.

LW3397: 9600 dpi jpeg from screenshot.

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Cultural Resources: Verizon Facility, Mt. Baldy


Film: The Big Bus 1976

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