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Before Sundance: Actors come to Utah

Published: Sunday, Jan. 16 2011 11:21 p.m. MST

Jack Benny played the violin for a charity event at the Tabernacle in November 1964. (Deseret News archives) Jack Benny played the violin for a charity event at the Tabernacle in November 1964. (Deseret News archives)

As star gazers get set this week to stalk their favorite actors at the Sundance Film Festival, photo historian Ron Fox sifted through the Deseret News archives to find some evidence of stars who visited Utah in times gone by.

Sometimes stars dropped by often — like Jimmy Stewart, who came in 1957 to promote his film "Spirit of St. Louis" about Charles Lindberg's famous flight. Twenty years later he was back again — this time promoting "The Magic of Lassie," a film featuring the dog Lassie. Lassie came along for the trip and upstaged Stewart in a joint visit to the Deseret News. In March 1980, Stewart was in town again to film a Christmas TV-special called "Mr. Krueger's Christmas" with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Vincent Price came to Salt Lake City in Jan. 1950 to help raise money to combat polio. He appeared at two events for the March of Dimes — a dance and a fashion show. He was even made honorary governor of Utah for a day. It probably didn't hurt his popularity in Utah that he had played Joseph Smith in the 1940 movie, "Brigham Young."

William Shatner is shown here with a cast member of the play William Shatner is shown here with a cast member of the play "Hypen." The play ran in Salt Lake a month before he began shooting the TV show "Star Trek." __Jack Benny played the violin for a charity event at the Tabernacle in November 1964.__Vincent Price takes a minute to pose with fellow cast members while performing at Kingsbury Hall in May 1952. (Deseret News Archives, Deseret News Archives, Deseret News Archives)

Charity also brought comedian Jack Benny to town in November of 1964. Benny's comedy portrayed him as a miser, but he didn't charge anything for his playing the violin to raise money for the Utah Symphony Orchestra. The concert at the Tabernacle was packed to hear him perform with the orchestra. Jim Fitzpatrick wrote in the Salt Lake Tribune that "Mr. Benny has an eager, dedicated, unswerving ineptness of technique that is awesome to see and excruciating to hear."

But he earned the orchestra $61,000.

Another famous movie comedian, Buster Keaton, first came to Salt Lake City when he was a teenager in 1909. He did a bit of vaudeville on the stage of the Orpheum Theater. He liked the city so much he came back again 56 years later in May 1965 to film an industrial film for U.S. Steel at Winder Dairy and a farm in Hunter (now West Valley City), according to the Trib.

Other actors that came to Salt Lake include John Wayne, Spencer Tracy, Robert Young, Humphrey Bogart, William Shatner and the founder of the Sundance Film Festival, Robert Redford. They came for charities, they came to shoot films, they came to act in plays and sometimes they just came through on their way to someplace else.

William Shatner is shown here with a cast member of the play William Shatner is shown here with a cast member of the play "Hypen." The play ran in Salt Lake a month before he began shooting the TV show "Star Trek." __Jack Benny played the violin for a charity event at the Tabernacle in November 1964.__Vincent Price takes a minute to pose with fellow cast members while performing at Kingsbury Hall in May 1952. (Deseret News Archives, Deseret News Archives, Deseret News Archives)

And just like at Sundance this week, wherever they went, people watched and some even took pictures.

e-mail: mdegroote@desnews.com Twitter: twitter.com/degroote

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