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50 years of Mescal Western Movie Set worth saving

Mescal Movie Set in Mescal, Ariz.
Posted at 3:03 PM, Apr 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-19 19:25:48-04

MESCAL, Ariz. (KGUN) — Last week, we were given an exclusive look at plans to bring back to life Old Tucson's sister movie location in Cochise County.

The Mescal Movie Set hopes to again attract filmmakers, as it has for more than 50 years, making it Absolutely Arizona.

The famous Gunfight at the OK Corral scene from the 1993 major motion picture Tombstone was filmed at the Mescal Movie Set.

Today, it looks a lot different.

The dilapidated buildings and overgrown corral need some help.

Main street looks more like a ghost town than a movie location.

But efforts are underway to save the Mescal Movie Set.

"I believe we got in here at the nick of time," said Mark Sankey, Mescal Movie Set Marketing Director. "We've got some great historic buildings here. It's going to take a lot of effort, it's going to take some deep pockets, but we're going to get it rebuilt."

Mescal Movie Set hopes to ride again

The Kartchner family, of Kartchner Caverns, has acquired the Mescal Movie Set.

They plan to rebuild and attract filmmakers back to Mescal, just like the glory days.

As Old Tucson Studios became more of a western theme park in the late 1960s, Mescal Movie Set was built for actual movie making.

The likes of Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Lee Marvin once walked the streets of this mythical western town.

"The first movie was Monte Walsh, the first one," said Sankey. "With Lee Marvin and Jack Palance."

That was 1970.

Since then, more than 80 films and TV shows have been filmed here.

A walking tour with Mark Sankey gives you a sense of just how many Hollywood stars filmed major motion pictures among these old and weathered buildings.

That includes Sankey's favorite actor Steve McQueen and his 1980 film Tom Horn.

"Came out of the saloon, he got in a fight with a professional boxer and lost," Sankey said. "He then slept in the stable with his horse. It was also the false front for the Bird Cage in Tombstone."

Stable at Mescal Movie Set has already been restored

"With The Quick and the Dead, where we're standing now was where the clock tower was," said Sankey. "The famous clock tower that blew up. They built that whole building, it was a major part of the movie, blew up."

The Quick and the Dead starring Sharon Stone and a very young Leonardo DiCaprio.

That move was filmed at Mescal in 1995, two years after, they shot Tombstone.

Sankey and the Kartchner family plan to restore several important buildings from that movie.

"That house there with the peaked roof, that was Wyatt Earps house in Tombstone, with Kurt Russell. To the left that would have been Sam Elliott's house as Virgil Earp."

Wyatt Earps house in the movie Tombstone filmed at Mescal Movie Set

Sankey showed us several other important buildings used in the filming of Tombstone which they plan to preserve.

He also showed us the lot where the famous gunfight scene was filmed.

"This is where they shot the shootout at the OK Corral," said Sankey. "The Earps were here. The McLaury's and the Clanton's where back there, and that happened right here."

Site of the Gunfight at the OK Corral scene in the film Tombstone

It doesn't exactly resemble the movie set anymore. There is plenty of restoration work to be done.

"It will be rebuilt," according to Sankey. "That adobe and such is left from the movie. We will rebuild it, fix this building up, so that it is recognizable."

Sankey points out other important buildings they'll preserve, like the hotel where Frank Sinatra once shot a movie.

Plus, the supply store famous for a Clint Eastwood shootout in The Outlaw Josey Wales.

Also, a home on the edge of the property is where they filmed the 1979 movie Buffalo Soldiers. The remake, starring Danny Glover, was also made here in 1997.

Sankey named off a dozen major stars who filmed here over the years. He said it gives him chills.

"I grew up watching westerns, I've always loved westerns," Sankey said. "To be able to walk down the same streets that some of the most famous scenes in history, western movie history, have occurred is just a great feeling."

A feeling they hope to recapture as they rebuild the Mescal Movie Set.

To volunteer to help, contact Mark Sankey through their Facebook.