Hollywood has long had an interest in Kingman.
It started as early as 1925 when Buster Keaton came to town to film his “Go West” at Tap Duncan’s ranch, known then as Diamond Bar Ranch. The Mohave County Miner at the time reported Keaton arriving in his land-yacht “The Navigator,” which was a desert-going craft on wheels.
During filming Keaton stayed with the family of Ed Laferriere. The film concerned a young man who doesn’t find a job in his small town, and so he tries his luck in New York City.
“To the person witnessing the finished production, if the picture is a comedy, they have the impression the feature is so funny that (Keaton) makes the picture a success,” an article from 1925 reads.
It wasn’t exactly a best seller.
“North of 36” was also filmed here in 1925, but was redone in 1931 as “The Conquering Horde.”
There was a lull in the films until 1954 when Jane Russell and Jeff Chandler used Kingman and Oatman to film the 1954 movie “Fox Fire.” This movie was well-received in comparison to Keaton’s “Go West.” During the first few days of filming, a few Hualapai children were brought on as extras and were filmed playing in the street.
“The Suathojame children are the only performers who are having a good time,” an article in the Mohave County Miner stated. “The heat has been rough on the personnel with stars making liberal use of ice bags and parasols.”
Due in part to the weather, the article stated director Joe Peveney’s patience was wearing thin trying to get the children to follow orders.
Filming wrapped up in August 1954 and both Russell and Chandler had nothing but praises for the people of the area.
“Everybody has made us feel so much at home here that our stay in Kingman has been extremely pleasant,” Russell told the Miner. “I’d like to come back.”
Chandler echoed her statements adding he had never met “a nicer bunch of people than right here in Kingman.”
Eight years passed before another Hollywood film crew came to film “Route 66” with stars Martin Milner and George Maharias in 1962. This was the year of a “production boom,” as two filming crews were in the area.
While “Route 66” was largely filmed in Lake Havasu City, the most opulent production “How the West Was Won” began filming in Oatman in March of 1962. Those who were in Oatman to film included John Wayne, Carolyn Jones, Eli Wallach and George Peppard.
There was another hiatus before “Roadhouse 66” began its production in 1983, which was entirely filmed in and around Kingman. Willem Dafoe could be seen at the Old Trails Court on Route 66, a primary filming site. Other sites including the then Kingman Auto Supply, Dairy Queen, Oatman Road and a car race down Andy Devine Avenue.
Following “Roadhouse” was the 1992 film “Universal Soldier” starring Jean Claude Van Damme. Most of the filming took place at the airport and Cool Springs, which they blew up and then rebuilt.
The next big production was “Mars Attacks!” in 1996. Dozens of Kingman residents were the extras in the film, but the main stars were Michael J. Fox, Pierce Brosnan, Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close and Sarah Jessica Parker.
In 2001, stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Christina Applegate were filmed off Egar Road in Golden Valley for the film “View from the Top.” Other film locations included Lake Havasu City and Bullhead City.
With a Hollywood spotlight comes negativity. Some extras for “Mars Attacks!” said their treatment was bad, and the cast and crew were rude and unprofessional. However, those statements also had counter arguments for people who didn’t experience such behavior.
In 2010, an indie film described as a “cleverly disguised anti-drug” piece was met with concern from local leaders. The film was based on the true story of Dr. Albert Szu Sun Yeh, a Las Vegas physician who operated an illegal drug operation in Golden Valley.
The Kingman Police Department was the agency that first alerted the Drug Enforcement Agency of Yeh’s activities, so the director of this film had approached Robert DeVries about working with the film. DeVries had said he would not agree to the request if the film’s plot stayed the same.
“I’m not going to have a city of Kingman police car involved with any illegal activity,” DeVries told the Miner in a 2010 article.
Several other movies have had actors from the area, filmed scenes in and around Kingman, or even produced by Kingmanites. Mohave Museum of History and Arts has dedicated files about these endeavors in its research facility.
Perhaps it’s the decidedly western feel of the high desert or the iconic Route 66 that draws film crews to Kingman. Either way, there is something about this area and something about Kingman. That something is immortalized in films dating back nearly a century.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to show it was "Roadhouse 66" with Willem Dafoe which was filmed in Kingman.