Also on exhibit will be profiles of eight celebrities who lived in Valley Center or Pauma Valley who where were nominated or won a total of 16 Academy Awards. They include actors Fred Astaire, John Wayne and Gary Cooper, and producer Sam Zimbalist.
By — Dan Weisman, The Graepevine
While nobody has been able to pinpoint the attraction of Palomar Country to some of Hollywood’s best and brightest, it appears several factors have been at play over the years.
The area is close enough to Tinseltown to be convenient, while offering quiet, rustic charm and western amenities. Couple that with the early pioneering efforts of stars and celebrities attracting friends to the area and voila: the perfect celebrity storm.
The names are legendary: Gary Cooper, Fred Astaire, Randolph Scott, Steve Reeves, Dick Powell, Merle Oberon, June Allyson and Jack Haley.
And the “Duke” — John Wayne. He was a longtime Pauma Valley resident who called an old stagecoach route between Cole Grade and Lilac Roads his favorite riding trail in the world, which is saying something.
The list doesn’t stop there, although it could and nobody would mind. Benji, the shaggy haired canine hero of the film of the same name, lived at Valley Center with his family, including Joe Camp who wrote and produced the “Benji” films. So did silent film legend Ramon Navarro, one of the original Latin lovers of “Ben-Hur” fame.
Guinn T. “Big Boy” Williams, a famed Hollywood stuntman lived in Valley Center. Sky King of 1950s and 1960s TV fame (real name Kirby Grant) flew out of his Valley Center ranch until his death in 1985.
Wandering a bit off-script, so, too, did the legendary real-life folk hero Wyatt Earp. Betty Crocker (given name Agnes White) lived for 40 years in Valley Center.
For those more politically inclined, Eleanor Roosevelt spent considerable time visiting the area, staying at the residence of former United Nations delegate Col. Irving Salomon. President Dwight Eisenhower also visited the colonel on occasion. Celebrity attorney Martin Gang lived locally, too.
Valley Center also has been the scene of some very memorable award-winning movie productions.
“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” was filmed locally in 1963. It won an Academy Award for best sound editing and was nominated for Oscars in color cinematography, film editing, sound recording, music score and original song for the title song.
The 1933 “Invisible Man” was filmed at Lake Wohlford Road on a 300-acre site. The campy sci-fi flick “Invaders from Mars” was filmed at various sites around the community.
“Uncertain Glory” directed by Raoul Walsh, starring Errol Flynn and Paul Lukas, was filmed at Melrose Ranch on Guejito Road. Sam Zimbalist produced “Quo Vadis” in 1951, while he lived at Valley Center.
Valley Center historian Robert Lerner has considered the famous names to be dropped around Palomar Country. Astaire “frequently visited and hunted with a family friend whose adobe spread he later purchased,” Lerner said in a historical column.
“The hacienda designed by noted architect Clifford May for June Allyson and Dick Powell in 1945 remains a splendid spread in my neighborhood,” Lerner said.”
Safely stored at the Valley Center History Museum under Lerner’s direction is a 2004 manuscript by Helene Davidson. The Tanners, her family, owned a store and restaurant for years along Valley Center Road. Davidson lent some personal insight to Palomar Country’s Hollywood story.
Working at the family restaurant, she saw John Wayne and his entourage ride in to town. “You knew immediately it was John Wayne crossing the street,” Davidson said. Wayne, and party, ordered milkshakes.
“No profit was made on his milkshake because I loaded it to the hilt with ice cream,” Davidson said, adding that Wayne was cordial and very talkative. He asked if Randy, known to the rest of us as Randolph Scott, was at home that weekend, Davidson said.
Scott was the most locally connected of all the stars on Valley Center’s horizon, according to Lerner.
Davidson said Scott attended Farm Bureau meetings “and just rubbed shoulders more with the natives. He also worked shoulder-to-shoulder with his hired hands when he was on the ranch. He raised pork and beef and grew hay or wheat.”