Lone Pine Film History Museum pays homage to industry

The celebration of the history of moviemaking in and around Lone Pine, Calif., started as a film festival and morphed into a museum. 

Today, the Lone Pine Film History Museum pays homage to the movie and television industry and the stars of past and present with its exhibits of hundreds of posters, artifacts, memorabilia and one-of-a-kind cars. Think icons like John Wayne; Gene Autry; Roy Rogers; William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy); Clayton Moore (The Lone Ranger); Jay Silverheels (Tonto); Randolph Scott; and Johnny Mack Brown.

Also think Robert Downey Jr.; Demi Moore; Brad Pitt; Kevin Bacon; Mel Gibson; Kirk Douglas; William Shatner; James Garner; and Gregory Peck .

The list goes on, but the common denominator is that all of these actors and dozens more spent days, weeks and months in Lone Pine territory making the movies we know and love.

Early on in filmmaking history, the landscape of the Eastern Sierra was seen as the ideal place to shoot westerns, dramas and sci-fi flicks, according to museum director and an Inyo County film commissioner Christopher Langley. He arrived in Lone Pine, population 2,035, some 40 years ago by way of Dartmouth College and the Peace Corp. The mountains and geological formations, the valleys, the exquisite light both early and late in the day — all made for attractive, dramatic and majestic backdrops.

“Eventually the importance of a museum was evident,” Langley said. And thanks to large donations of money and artifacts from Beverly and Jim Rogers of Intermountain West Communications Company, the idea became reality.

My husband and I discovered the museum driving south on Highway 395 on our way home from Mammoth Lakes. We made a quick U-turn to check it out, and the stop was well worth abandoning our schedule.

The custom, over-the-top, be-horned 1975 Cadillac El Dorado that sits just inside the door tells visitors immediately that this place is a gem. The car, once owned by famed Hollywood costume designer Nudie Cohn, is one of several unique autos given to the museum. Surrounding the El Dorado are posters, artifacts, memorabilia and souvenirs from movies, television shows and commercials that compete for attention in the 10,500-square-foot building.

The extensive list of movies produced in this area includes “Star Trek V” and “Star Trek VII;” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen;” “Around the World in 80 Days;” “The Great Race;” “Gladiator;” “G.I. Jane;” “How the West Was Won;” “Maverick;” “Kalifornia;” “Have Gun, Will Travel;” “Wagon Train;” and the “The Rockford Files.”

The latest Superman movie, “Man of Steel,” also was filmed near Lone Pine.

“We want to tie the museum into the present as well as the past,” said Langley, whose job as a film commissioner is to help filmmakers find what they need in the Lone Pine/Eastern Sierra/Death Valley area.

“(In 2011), we brought in $10.5 million,” he told the Inyo Register last year. Langley also writes a regular column for the Register to keep residents informed about area projects, and conducts several tours of filming and historical sites.

“I think our museum is different than others because we can actually go out to our ‘back lot’ and see where the films are shot — see where John Wayne or Gregory Peck stood.”

The museum can serve as a break room for directors, actors and crew. For instance, in 2011 while filming “Django Unchained,” Quentin Tarantino rented the museum to show spaghetti westerns to cast and crew. When he saw the exhibit dedicated to the first “Iron Man” film, Langley said, “he said he wanted his exhibit to be better than the ‘Iron Man’ exhibit, so he gave us the dentist’s wagon.”

Tarantino also donated his director’s chair and an autographed copy of the working script.

The museum is open every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is $5.

Visit lonepinefilmhistorymuseum.org/, or call (760) 876-9100.

E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at eondash@coastnewsgroup.com.

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