All the world may be a stage but certainly some places are better to film than others.
Like the Santa Clarita Valley, which has hosted productions since the earliest days of cinema.
Newhall, in particular, was so popular among the film industry in the early 1900s that producers gave it the nickname “Newhallywood.”
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“I believe that originally the term ‘Newhallywood’ meant specifically Newhall, where Tom Mix was filming,” said E.J. Stephens, film historian with the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.
Mix is often considered Hollywood’s first Western movie star, making more than 300 films between 1910 and 1935. While earning unprecedented wages for an actor, Mix constructed film sets throughout Southern California, eventually putting one in Newhall.
Mix, who is emblazoned in rock n’ roll history among other influential individuals on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, died at 67 in an automobile accident in Florence, Arizona. After driving into a gully, Mix was struck in the head by an aluminum suitcase filled with cash, jewels and traveler’s checks. It killed him instantly.
Such is the fascinating information swirling around Stephens’ brain (witness: here), which, along with his years of experience working in and writing about the industry, makes him the perfect lecturer for a class on the Santa Clarita Valley’s cinematic contributions.
Beginning January 8, Stephens will teach his class “The Newhallywood On Location: History of Film/TV in the SCV” at the Saugus Train Station. Over the course of four Saturdays, the class will feature lectures, clips from several of the films and television shows filmed here, as well as trips to the actual locations.
“The term ‘Newhallywood’ is one I resurrected from the earliest days of filmmaking, so I don’t believe anyone uses it today. I also don’t think that most people know about the filming history that has been done here,” Stephens said. “That is the main motivation behind the class, as well as with the upcoming ChaplinFest, to let people know how many world famous film and television images have been captured here.”
The desire to film in the SCV didn’t wane as the industry evolved. Valencia Studios, Santa Clarita Studios and Lindsey Studios have prospered here throughout the last 30 years, offering a quieter atmosphere than their counterparts in Hollywood, often at cheaper rates to boot.
“I think the SCV is a very desirable place to film which is made evident by the large number of productions that are made up here,” said Stephens. “I think the main reason for it is the availability of a large and diverse range of settings, which have mostly disappeared in LA. I think the film office does a great job in promoting this area, and now with the large amount of studio space, it has become a desired location for indoor filming as well.
“There is just such a wide range of possibilities that the SCV offers for a filmmaker. It can look urban, rural, agricultural, mountainous, industrial. It’s all here. When it came to (Charlie) Chaplin filming the final scene of ‘Modern Times’ on Sierra Highway, he was looking for a wide open stretch of highway. The amazing thing is that the setting, apart from a telephone pole or two, still looks the same.
Released in 1936, “Modern Times” was the last major silent film released and raised a white flag of sorts to the “talkie” format. Thus, this tiny spot of Sierra Highway carries huge weight in film history, although many Santa Clarita residents would never realize the connection.
In fact, these cinematic markings are scattered throughout the SCV.
“The most obvious is Vasquez Rocks, which has been used in hundreds of Westerns and in every incarnation of ‘Star Trek.’ Downtown Newhall is best seen in Frank Sinatra’s ‘Suddenly.’ Of course, Melody Ranch has shown up thousands of times, most recently in ‘Deadwood.’ ”
Some others include the Halfway House Cafe on Sierra Highway, Mystery Mesa (the spot of this Conan O’Brien commercial), College of the Canyons, the US Borax building and the Valencia Town Center.
And for those of you lucky enough to experience Christian Slater’s 1990 performance as renegade radio disc jockey in “Pump Up The Volume,” you’ll recognize Saugus High School.
“I love taking the students to the sites. I try to go to different sites each class, and show more films and TV clips,” said Stephens. “As I keep learning more, I get to share more. And luckily, there is a lot more for me to learn.”
The Saugus Train Station is located at Heritage Junction, adjacent to William S. Hart Park in Newhall. The enrollment fee for “The Newhallywood On Location: History of Film/TV in the SCV” is $50 for all four classes or $15 for any individual class. Classes last from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Visit scvhs.org for more information.