When Hollywood Came to the Grants Area
Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 - Paul Milan, Historical Society - for the Cibola Beacon
In 1946 a snowstorm stopped a train in Grants and Bob Hope was a passenger.
Some students led by Ray Gunderson decided to convince Hope to perform at the high school. The school allowed students from the sixth grade and older to attend. I was in the fifth grade and all we heard from the six graders were the jokes that Bob Hope told.
In 1947 a movie was made in San Rafael titled “Paso Por Aqui.” Hollywood changed the name to “Four Faces West” because they felt that the Spanish title would not be understood. Last year, an article about movies filmed in New Mexico stated that this movie was made in Gallup. There was some filming near Gallup, but most of the movie was filmed in San Rafael.
San Rafael was turned into a typical Western town. The movie starred Joel McCrea, and his wife Frances Dee, known Western stars. The school gave us a day off as a learning experience. We heard that they were hiring persons with horses for a posse. We rode to San Rafael on horseback but found out that they did not hire 12 year olds, with thick glasses, that weighed 90 pounds.
The town was like a giant fiesta. I was lucky, I had so many relatives in San Rafael that I spent the day eating. The most memorable part was watching the movie and recognizing friends and relatives that were hired as extras.
During the late 1940s, the Von Trapp family stayed in Cubero. My Aunt Mary Gunn managed the Villa de Cubero Café and motel where the family stayed. The Von Trapps were famous singers and escaped the Germans during World War II. A musical was made of their escape starring Julie Andrews. According to my aunt, they sang at a Mass at the Laguna Catholic Church during their stay.
Vivian Vance and her husband Phil Ober had a cabin located at the Bibo Ranch near Cubero. Vance played Ethel Mertz in the “I Love Lucy” series. Phil Ober was a famous supporting actor. The Obers dined at the Villa de Cubero Café and became friends with Mary Gunn. When my family gathered at a wedding, in California, Aunt Mary took us to visit the Obers. Phil took us kids around Hollywood in what I thought was a giant convertible and then took us to a Chinese restaurant. We attended the filming of “I Love Lucy,” it was the episode when Little Ricky was born.
Vivian Vance was from Albuquerque and her connection to Grants was that her brother-in-law, Ralph Boyer, had been the Grants’ coach during the ‘40s. In 1958 my Aunt Mary took my new bride and me to visit the Obers in Cubero. My wife was from Mexico did not know who they were and they were delighted to visit with someone that did not know them and could not speak English. There was an article in the Beacon that the Obers were planning on retiring in Cubero. However, it did not happen.
In the late 60s Ann Baxter came into the Grants State Bank; they bought some property from one of our customers off of Highway 53 south and asked us to help them transfer the funds from abroad. Ann was married to a sheep rancher from Australia and he wanted to live in the country. She wanted to live close to an airport that was not more than a two-hour flight from Hollywood. Therefore, this area was perfect. I did not meet Ann Baxter personally although she visited my father’s home in Milan because she wanted to build a house with a Southwestern touch. I went back to school in 1969 so I don’t know when they left.
During the 1950s, Dick Bills was a popular western dance band and played a number of times in Grants. We later found out that Glen Campbell was his nephew and would visit during the summer and played with the band. Since there were so many western dances during that era in Grants it is easy to surmise that Glen Campbell played in Grants a number of times.
Editor’s Note: Paul Milan, a longtime Cibola County resident, is a member of the Cibola County Historical Society.