Old Tucson Studios looks to the past for a path forward

Group plans to turn space into Western film museum
Posted at 5:16 PM, Nov 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-18 11:49:14-05

TUCSON, Ariz. — Could the future of Old Tucson studios lie in the past?

One group is planning to turn the space into a Western film museum, and bring movie making back to the abandoned property.

The stunt fighting and gunfights are gone. Old Tucson has become a casualty of the pandemic.

Its future is now in the hands of a 14-member task force created by Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

Now, there's a small group hoping to impress the task force and take over the lease of Old Tucson.

"There's a connection there, there's a love there," said Harry Alexander, a Tucsonan and Podcaster. "It's something that needs to be preserved."

Alexander hosts a podcast called "Voices of the West" along with Steve 'Bunker' de France.

de France is a veteran stuntman of movies and TV shows like High Chaparral, Gunsmoke and Bonanza, all shot at Old Tucson.

They want to pay tribute to Old Tucson and its past with a museum.

"National Museum of Western Film and Culture, and we'd also like to have a stuntman museum there," said Alexander.

He said their vision is to make it a living history museum with gunfights and Wild West stunt shows for visitors.

They have the backing of the late Bob Shelton's family, who founded Old Tucson Studios.

The group says it has financial backers lined up as well as two of legendary actor John Wayne's sons.

"We'll take it over," Alexander said. "A dollar a year, and we'll make it work."

A former Old Tucson stuntman is excited by the prospect of turning Old Tucson into a Museum honoring the movie making and stuntmen of the past.

"I just can't imagine not being around," former stuntman Jerry Woods said. "I think would be the honorable thing to do."

The group hoping to take over Old Tucson also has plans to building a new sound stage.

It's a key piece to attracting big movie productions that was never rebuilt after the fire in 1995.

"That would be a great, great addition in order to have the movie business come back out here and film entirely on location," said Alexander.

The group plans to make a presentation to Pima County's Old Tucson Task Force sometime after the first of the year.

The Task Force is made up of tourism experts as well as film industry insiders.