“More Like Texas, Than Texas!” Rancho del Lago on the Silver Screen

By J. J. Lamb

Hollywood came to Vail in 1943 to film Paramount Picture’s Incendiary Blonde starring actress Betty Hutton. Incendiary Blonde is a fictionalized biopic of “Texas” Guinan, a 1920s speakeasy hostess, singer and silent movie star. Paramount leased Rancho del Lago to represent protagonist “Texas” Guinan’s childhood home in Waco, explaining that Arizona looked “more like Texas, than Texas!”

Betty Hutton as young “Texas” Guinen sings and dances her way into the traveling Rodeo Show. This scene may have been filmed at Rancho del Lago.

Extras were instructed to drive east from Tucson on Highway 80 to Vail and head north one mile to the ranch. The gig paid $10 per day – plus meals – but it was the chance to be on the silver screen that brought out business leaders, housewives, millionaires wintering at Dude Ranches, wranglers, Tohono O’odham Tribal members from San Xavier, and even several hundred children; a tent staffed by six teachers taught the children between scenes. Betty Hutton’s own mother, Mabel Adams, joined the extra’s making her film debut at Rancho del Lago. However, the heat and excitement were too much for her and she fainted from exhilaration!

The film’s rodeo scene – filmed in Rancho del Lago’s horse racing track – was a big undertaking requiring some 1,200 extras dressed in calico dresses, sunbonnets, and celluloid collars. Betty Hutton’s wardrobe included blue jeans and gingham, sequined gowns, and a stunning white rodeo costume decorated with Mexican silver that weighed 52 pounds!

Stars and Paramount staff stayed at the Santa Rita Hotel in Tucson. Santa Rita staff fed everyone from the gaffers, extra’s, director, and main characters daily from a large white tent. Between takes, spaghetti, chicken, ham, and box lunches were available. Miss Hutton was happy to share her autograph with all who asked. Even the police officers assigned to the set got in line for her signature. The movie popularized tunes like Ragtime Cowboy Joe and It Had To Be You.

The film is a little tricky to get ahold of, but it’s worth the effort to catch a glimpse at what Vail looked like nearly eighty years ago.

VPS at Work for Vail: What a month May has been for VPS! The Greater Vail Area Chamber of Commerce named Vail Preservation Society the 2019 Non-profit of the Year, for service to the greater Vail community. VPS works to make our local history relevant to the present and to inspire the future through education, public art, research and historic preservation. 

The award was presented May 4th, 2019, at the Vail Takes Flight Gala at Marriott Star Pass. We appreciate this recognition by our friends at the Chamber. Vail Preservation Society is very proud to be recognized for our work to connect community through local history. We want to thank the many volunteers and supporters who make our work possible.

On May 25th the Voices of Vail documentary received a 2019 Tucson-Pima County Historical Commission Historic Preservation Award. America’s stories are written in its small towns, and we have so many stories to share! The documentary was produced by the Vail Preservation Society and a dedicated team of volunteers with the goal of connecting a rapidly growing community’s present to its past and future. The award ceremony was held at the historic Dunbar Pavilion in Tucson. Many of those whose work made the film possible were able to attend! Mark your calendars for the next public showing of Voices of Vail: Sept. 22, 2019 at 1:30 p.m. at The Loft Cinema.

Be part of the community building work of VPS by becoming a member at www.vailpreservationsociety.org.  Together we can do so much to build a strong sense of community, provide experiential education opportunities and leave a legacy for Vail’s future.

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