SALT LAKE CITY — Almost 80 years ago now, in the early part of 1938, a young sheep rancher from Utah made his way to the United Artists lot in Hollywood to pitch a movie.
Harry Goulding knew next to nothing about filmmaking. He may have never actually seen a moving picture. He certainly didn’t see any at the ranch he shared with his wife just north of the Utah-Arizona border in southeastern Utah — 180 miles from the nearest town.
But times were tough. The Great Depression had taken its toll and then some, with lamb and wool prices sinking lower than a snake's belly. On top of that, for the last couple of years, it had stopped raining.
It was desperation that sent Harry to Hollywood.
He’d heard that the movie people were searching for beautiful locations to shoot their Western films, and he had just the place.
The Goulding homestead happened to sit smack in the middle of what would later become the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, an awe-inspiring land of magnificent buttes and towering sandstone columns.
They could shoot their movies directly out his front door.
Armed with nothing but a collection of photographs that had been taken by a German immigrant named Josef Muench (who would later gain fame for his work with Arizona Highways), Goulding, as the story goes, rolled out his bedroll in the office of the United Artists reception area, determined to wait until someone would look at his pictures.
As fate had it, the location manager for director John Ford happened by.
He was just about to have Harry escorted from the premises when he caught sight of those photographs.
Within months, John Ford and company were on location in Monument Valley to film “Stagecoach,” a movie that, in addition to winning Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Director, ignited the career of a new actor named John Wayne and launched a chain of "Monument Valley" movies — dozens of them, stretching from “Stagecoach” in 1939 to “Transformers: Age of Extinction” in 2014 — that continues to this day.
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And just how is the Harry Goulding story relevant 80 years later?
Because the Utah Film Commission wants to see if it can create another "Goulding moment."
Throughout November, the commission is sponsoring its “This Is Utah Photo Contest,” a competition open to anyone and everyone who thinks they have captured a Utah scene that will entice filmmakers to shoot their movies here.
The top photos will be displayed on Park City’s Main Street during the Sundance Film Festival in January, while the grand prize winner will get a credential to Sundance, movie passes, a year’s subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud and more gifts from Pictureline and other sponsors.
All contest details and submission procedures are spelled out on the Utah Film Commission website, film.utah.gov.
“We hope to show the filmmakers what’s here,” says Virginia Pearce, film commission director. “Utah has so much to offer. We talk about it all the time. Not just the big icons, but all the off-the-beaten-path and unexpected locations that are so appealing.”
Utah’s two biggest icons, of course, Pearce points out, are Monument Valley and the Bonneville Salt Flats. But there’s so much in between, from rugged mountain peaks in Summit County to the red rock desert around St. George to Utah’s forte: Everytown USA.
The most famous movie scene ever filmed in Utah?
“My go-to is always 'Thelma & Louise,'" says Pearce, citing the 1991 film starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis that was shot in and around Moab.
In the movie’s closing scene, Thelma (Davis) and Louise (Sarandon), chased by police, gun the gas and launch their 1966 Ford Thunderbird off a cliff in the Grand Canyon high above the Colorado River.
In reality, the cliff is at a place called Fossil Point at Dead Horse State Park outside Moab.6 comments on this story
Over the past quarter of a century, the spot has become known, even by Moab locals, as Thelma & Louise Point, attracting film buffs from around the world. Tour buses stop there regularly.
“If you Google ‘Thelma & Louise Point,’ you’ll see lots of fan pictures with people standing at the edge,” notes Pearce. “You’ll find the same thing with the Salt Flats and fans of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and ‘Independence Day.’”
Those are the old icons; “The Classics,” says Pearce.
The new icons? As Harry Goulding might put it, that all depends on getting Hollywood to look at the pictures.