Jesse L. Lasky and Cecil B. de Mille released a motion picture in December of 1913 called The Squaw Man, based on a play starring William S. Hart. The Squaw Man was unique for several reasons: It was a Western; it was the first American-made feature-length movie, at five reels; and it was not shot in New Jersey or New York, but in a barn set in a wilderness called Hollywood.
Within a few years Hollywood was the motion picture capital of the world, while the Santa Clarita Valley, with its rugged scenery and old-fashioned towns, functioned as Hollywood's back lot. The area was especially suited as a location for sweeping outdoor melodramas.
William S. Hart was using the streets of Newhall and the Walker Ranch in Placerita Canyon as early as 1914 for location shots. Three years later Universal Studios hired John Ford to direct a series of films. His first effort was Straight Shooting, using Beale's Cut and other local landmarks as sets, and starring two men who would loom large in the "B" Western industry — Harry Carey and Hoot Gibson, both of whom would settle in Saugus.
Carey owned a ranch, trading post and part-time movie set which, for a while, had its own post office in San Francisquito Canyon. His wife, the former Olive Golden, made her last film appearance in The Searchers with John Wayne.
The Carey Ranch was destroyed in the St. Francis Dam disaster of 1928.
In 1930, Hoot Gibson purchased the forty-acre tract east of Bouquet Junction where Roy Baker, in 1924, had built a rodeo arena (Baker had purchased the property in 1923.) Gibson used the ranch and stadium to put on shows that attracted such stars as Tom Mix, John Wayne and Clark Gable.
In 1934 Gibson sold out to Paul Hill, who ran the Western Livestock Yards and leased the property to film companies for three years until a huge flood filled the home and arena with mud and debris. Unable to make his payments, Hill lost the property to the bank. It was eventually taken over by a professor of economics at Occidental College named William Bonelli.
When William S. Hart retired in 1925, his position as "King of Cowboys" was quickly appropriated by Tom Mix. The son of a Pennsylvania coal miner, Mix drifted west at an early age to become a cowboy. After serving a hitch in the Spanish-American War he became a rodeo rider with Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Show.
Mix purchased his own ranch, which he called the 101, and in 1911 consulted on the film Ranch Life in the Great South West. This started his career in the most commercially successful series of small Westerns in the history of the movies.
Several outdoor sets known as "Mixville," consisting of false-front buildings and boardwalks, cropped up around California. The most famous of these was on Glendale Boulevard on the former Winna Brown Ranch, but one early "Mixville" ran along Newhall Avenue at Market Street.
Mix used the old Pardee House as a dressing room and retreat and set up a film office in a house on Spruce Street. Between the two structures sat cottages where wayfaring actors and producers could spend the night.
Rumors persist about liaisons between Mix and young ladies of easy virtue, as well as tales of Mix racing down Spruce Street in sports cars of incredible speed. Mix married five times and made films until 1935, after which he performed only before live audiences. On October 12, 1940 he crashed his classic yellow Cord in Florence, Ariz., and died. Buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale, his honorary pallbearers included William S. Hart, Gene Autry, Harry Carey, Hoot Gibson and many other familiar names.
In the 1923 film, "Three Jumps Ahead," Tom Mix and his Wonder Horse, Tony, appear to make a death-defying leap across Beale's Cut. Theories abound, but one thing is certain: Tom and Tony did not make the jump. According to local rancher Andy Jauregui, who was a friend of Mix, the whole scene was dubbed in. Stuntman Richard Talmadge, on the other hand, claimed to his dying day in 1982 that he made the jump aboard a horse named Ranger. Still others credit the jump to Earl Simpson, a stunt double for Mix who trained stunt horses on a ranch in Searchlight, Nevada.