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Deseret News Archives
Lassie and Jimmy Stewart visit at the Deseret News offices with Deseret News staffer Howard Pearson, left.

Utah's role as host to the stars didn't begin with the founding of the Sundance Film Festival 25 years ago. As a cruise through the Deseret News archives shows, movie greats have visited the state, or made it their home, for almost as long as motion pictures have been produced.

The founder of the festival himself, Robert Redford, has lived here about 45 years, presently at his Sundance Resort near Provo.

It was his role as Sundance in the 1969 epic, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" that cemented his status as a major star. He played the Kid to Paul Newman's Butch in the movie, which was partly filmed in Utah.

Famous internationally as an actor, director, producer and environmental advocate, Redford has won acclaim for other notable films including "The Sting," "Jeremiah Johnson," "All the President's Men" and "The Great Gatsby."

Fay Wray, the apple of the big ape's eye in the 1933 classic "King Kong," was born in Canada but moved to Salt Lake City at age 5, about 1912. "I certainly have good feelings about Utah," she told the Deseret News in 1989. She saw her first movie here when she was 6.

"I really didn't know what it was up there," she remembered. "I was fascinated with that because people seemed so happy, and there was the noise of the projector in the back and a beam of light went over our heads onto that screen."

In 1914 the family moved to Lark, a lead- and zinc-mining town in the foothills of the Oquirrh Mountains, 18 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. When she was about 12, they returned to the state's capital and she landed a role in a short historical movie sponsored by The Salt Lake Telegram.

A test shot was made on the grounds of the Salt Lake City-County Building. She was told to hold flowers in her arms, smell them and look pretty. As a result, she was awarded the lead in the film, "Heritage of Souls."

That was the start of a long film career, with "King Kong" probably the most enduring of her movies. She did her own screams, moans and whimpers. Eventually she became known as the first "scream queen," although she also starred in other roles than that of a frightened beauty.

James Maitland Stewart, better known as Jimmy Stewart, had close associations with Utah, visiting the state several times and starring in a 1980 TV film that has become a Christmas treat for many, "Mr. Krueger's Christmas," produced for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Years later he told a Deseret News reporter the film allowed him to fulfill a lifelong dream, conducting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

In 1985, the star of "It's a Wonderful Life," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Harvey," "Vertigo," "Rear Window" and a slew of other productions, donated his papers and memorabilia to Brigham Young University. Covering half a century of his work, this treasure included prints of 25 films.

No less a leading canine than Lassie also visited the Beehive State. In October 1978, Lassie and Stewart made joint appearances in Salt Lake City promoting their film "The Magic of Lassie." At the Deseret News, the late critic Howard Pearson interviewed the stars. Gawking newspaper staffers poured through the Today section, showering much more attention on Lassie than the quiet screen legend who was talking to Pearson. That incarnation of Lassie, who happened to be male, had amazingly fine, soft fur.

John Wayne, one the biggest stars of the 20th century, performed in something like 150 films, a number of them westerns filmed in Utah. One of his lower-budget movies was the 1934 oater, "The Man From Utah," which also starred Polly Ann Young, sister of Loretta Young.

A 1950 article by reporter Pete Eiden, datelined Hollywood, begins with a quote from Wayne. "'You know,' beamed John Wayne, placing a friendly hand squarely on my shoulder, 'I feel just like a brother to the Deseret News and Utah ... Gosh, I've shot so many pictures there!'"

Monument Valley in the southern part of the state was the unlikely location for "The Greatest Story Ever Told," a 1965 drama about the life of Jesus, in which Wayne played a Roman centurion. "Rio Grande" (1950) and "The Comancheros" (1961) were filmed in the Moab area, according to discovermoab.com. Southern Utah was the setting for several other Wayne vehicles. One of these, the "The Conqueror," released in 1956, in which he played Genghis Khan, was shot in the St. George vicinity. The region had been hit earlier by fallout from open-air nuclear bomb blasts at the Nevada Test Site. More than 90 of the actors and crew were stricken by cancer, including Wayne, who lost a lung to cancer. He blamed the disease on his heavy smoking, however. He died of stomach cancer in 1979.

Loretta Young was born in Salt Lake City on Jan. 6, 1913, to the wife of a Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad worker. Gretchen Michaela Young began her movie career in California at age four. As a teenager, her name was changed to Loretta Young, which seemed more suited to a performer. She was one of the few actors to make the transition from silent to talking pictures.

She performed in about 100 films, starring in many of them, including the "The Farmer's Daughter," in 1947, for which she won an Academy Award.

Later in life she made another transition: from film to television, with "The Loretta Young Show" that ran for eight seasons, 1953 to 1960.

The photographs in this story are from the Deseret News archives, retrieved by the collector of political and Utah history items, Ronald Fox.