Melody Ranch, California
Before Gene Autry owned Melody Ranch, located in Newhall, California, this Western film studio already had a rich movie history. Known as Monogram Studios, the ranch first opened for business in 1915, filming early sound Westerns that included most of John Waynes Lone Star Monogram titles and early Republic Pictures, such as Genes own Tumbling Tumbleweeds (1935).
In 1952, Gene Autry purchased and renamed the property Melody Ranch and converted the location into a thriving television studio. He filmed his Flying A Pictures series The Gene Autry Show, The Range Rider, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill, Jr., and The Adventures of Champion there. Other popular television programs filmed at Melody Ranch include Hopalong Cassidy, Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Cisco Kid, Sheriff of Cochise and, of course, Gunsmoke, among many others. The ranch also hosted a number of B+ and A Westerns, including Fred MacMurrays At Gunpoint (1955).
Gail Davis as Annie Oakley, c. 1954
Dick Jones as Buffalo Bill, Jr., c. 1955
A desired filming location because every angle was a perfect shot, Melody Ranch enamored cameramen and directors with its ease of use and multipurpose set up.
Gene and Champion on the Western street in the late 1950s.
Gene at the main gate, 1990.
A massive firestorm roared through Newhalls Placerita Canyon on August 28, 1962, destroying virtually all the structures on the Melody Ranch property except the adobe house, another house, the adobe village, schoolhouse, a cabin, and the main entrance. Fifty-four structures were burned on the 110 acre ranch, as well as Genes prized collection of antique automobiles and stagecoaches, his wardrobe and costumes, documents and memorabilia, and an archive of 17,000 recordings. Gene had hoped to convert the ranch into a Western museum, but gave up the plans and, over the next three decades, gradually sold all but twelve acres of the property to developers.
Champion Three at the ranch in the late 1950s.
No longer a filming location, the property was primarily the home of Champion Three, and after the horses death in 1990, Gene sold Melody Ranch to Renaud and Andre Veluzat. The brothers, Santa Clarita Valley natives whose family has operated a film ranch in Saugus since the early fifties, decided to restore the ranch to its former glory. They painstakingly referred to old photographs and videotapes to restore the Western street and church sets to their appearance during the early television era. The only difference being a slight elevation of the street sets beyond their original height to eliminate from the cameras view housing developments perched on the hill north of the ranch. Today the Western street is used as the set for the HBO television series Deadwood.
The brothers have a museum at the ranch that houses vintage cars, photographs, Champions training hoop, and movie and television memorabilia. It is open by appointment. Call to arrange a tour: (661) 259-9669.
Each March, Melody Ranch hosts the Santa Clarita Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival, which began in 1994. You can hear music and poetry at several venues, browse the Gear Show for Western merchandise, order up some authentic cowboy chuck wagon cooking, or enjoy the many other special activities.
Research assistance provided by author Boyd Magers.
Melody Ranch Extra!
- Melody Ranch Brochure
Original Melody Ranch Promotional Brochure
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