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Cover Story October 28, 2004


by lyle e davis

by lyle e davis


Many a star or celebrity has, or does live in Valley Center.  A fact that is not well known.  Herein, a look at the stars, past and present:


Randolph Scott


Few actors are more identified with western movies than Randolph Scott.  He made 102 motion pictures - most of them westerns and was a leading man in almost every one.


His Valley Center ranch sprawled across several hundred acres overlooking Woods Valley where he raised cattle.  Unlike many actors who lived here, Scott was active in the town's community life - even when he was involved in motion picture production.


During WWII, unable to serve, he provided Marines at Camp Pendleton with pork and beef from his ranch.  He died in 1967 at age 69.


Fred Astaire


Entertainer Fred Astaire came to Valley Center about 1933 to visit and hunt with his friend  Colonel M. James at James' historic 120-acre ranch, featuring an adobe home built in 1879.  Astaire later purchased the property, raised two racing horses, and spent considerable time here when he retired from show business in 1946.  He returned to film-making in 1948 and sold the ranch on Valley Center Road.  Since about 1950, it has been known as Valley Stream Ranch (see below).


Fred Astaire’s House in Valley Center


Benji Lived Here


The shaggy haired canine hero of eight "Benji" movies lived in Valley Center with his family which included Joe Camp, the writer and producer of the "Benji" series.  Benji made his screen debut in 1974.


The Hacienda of June  Allyson

and Dick Powell


Motion picture stars June Allyson and Dick Powell commissioned famed architect Clifford May to design their Valley Center hacienda in 1945.  The home is one of two in Valley Center designed by May, creator of the California Spanish-style ranch house.


Allyson and Powell appeared in dozens of popular movies in the 1940s and 1950s including "Reformer and the Redhead" (MGM).  Portions of that film were said to have been filmed at the Valley Center estate, but were not included in the final film.


The historic home has been owned since 1999 by Glen W. Bell, Jr., founder of Taco Bell, who also established Bell Gardens Farm in Valley Center.


Gary Cooper's

"Party House"



A dramatic 70-foot long living room with cathedral beam ceilings is the focal point of this house, built about 1940, and frequently referred to as Gary Cooper's "party house."  The western actor's initials once appeared on the massive fireplace, and western memoriabilita graced the room.  A screened verandah surrounds the home whose other rooms are quite modest. The property, long known as "Rock Hill Ranch," sits amidst a 250-acre avocado grove.


Gary Cooper



Wyatt Earp in Valley Center


The legendary folk hero of the old west, Wyatt Earp, photographed about 1926, when he was a regular visitor to the Valley Center home of his niece, Peggy McNally.  She was said to be as colorful a character as was her uncle.


In 1920, she built a large adobe house on a 310-acre site.  The home still stands on McNally Road, part of the Stehly Ranch.  McNally once was a popular route of the Butterfield Stage Line.


Earp died in 1929; McNally died in 1968.


Wyatt Earp during a visit
to Valley Center


Steve Reeves:

local rancher and international film star




 Steve Reeves



 From 1957 until his death in 2000, Steve Reeves lived and raised horses in Valley Center.  He was pleased that citizens showed an interest in his career, but never intruded on his privacy.  During 1959-61, he was the Number 1 box office star in America, ahead of Doris Day and John Wayne.


John Wayne's Favorite Riding Trail


An old stagecoach route through Valley Center - McNally Road, between Cole Grade and Lilac Road - was said to be the favorite riding trail of John Wayne.  A newspaper item for the 1930s noted:  "John Wayne and Loretta Young went riding Sunday last on McNally."


John Wayne rode the trails
of Valley Center


Ramon Novarro's

Adobe Estate


Actor Ramon Novarro, the original "Ben-Her," was a major MGM star.


From 1916 to 1960, he appeared in dozens of movies, two of which were filmed in Valley Center at the 15-acre adobe Mission-style estate he built on Lilac Road in 1945.


The house remained unoccupied for more than three decades following his death, but was sold and restored in 2003.


Hollywood Comes to Valley Center


A number of motion pictures and television shows have a Valley Center connection.  Here are a few examples . . .


"Mad World" is set in Valley Center and was filmed on location at several sites.


"Quo Vadis" was produced by legendary MGM mogul Sam Zimbalist while he lived on "Fruitvale Road.”  "King Solomon's Mines" is another of his films.  "Invisible Man" was filmed at a 300-acre lot on Lake Wohlford Road.


"Uncertain Glory" takes place in France in 1944, but was filmed at the Melrose Ranch on Guejito Road, currently owned by Arie de Jong.


"Invaders from Mars" was filmed at a number of local sites.


Big Boy Williams


The exhibit at the Valley Center Museum was inspired by the wildfires of 2003 that engulfed many homes in Valley Center, including that of a cowboy and motion picture actor whoseclosest lifelong friend was the cowboy humorist, Will Rogers. 


Guinn T. Williams, Jr., was his real name, but Rogers dubbed him "Big Boy" in 1919 on the set of their first silent film together.  Until the deadly fires of 2003, the presence of Big Boy inValley Center was not commonly known.


He was one big cowboy


Big Boy Williams was on the rodeo circuit and a Hollywood stuntman before making his movie debut in 1919.  Over the next 40 years, he starred in 208 films, most of them low-budget westerns.  When TV arrived, he appeared in "Gunsmoke" and"Wagon Train."  Critics called him a fine actor, but in an era that produced many cowboy stars, Big Boy never became famous.


He was successful financially.  While at the height of his movie career, Big Boy moved to Valley Center, built a home, and acquired an impressive ranch where he raised Polo ponies. 


He died in 1962 after appearing in "The Alamo" with John Wayne.  His Valley Center home was lost in the wildfires of 2003.


The actor lived nearby on Pauma Valley Road in a rambling adobe house.  When not making a film, it was his primary residence.  In 1962, the home was converted to the clubhouse of a new country club.  Four years later, it was demolished.


“Big Boy” Williams



Two Governors

Visit Valley Center


At least two Governors of California have visited Valley Center. The first was Pio Pico who attended a local rodeo in 1845 as Governor of the Mexican state of Alta California.  He was the last Mexican Governor before the American takeover of 1846.  In 1971, Governor Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy celebrated his 60th birthday at a party at the 28 acre estate home of their friends, Robert and Elizabeth Helms Adams at 32430 Cole Grade Road.  Mrs. Reagan and Mrs. Adams had been college roommates, and Mr. Adams was a member of the Governor's "Kitchen Cabinet."




A note from Bob Lerner, Historian with the Valley Center Museum:

As best as I can determine, none of the celebrities moved here because some other movie star was already here.  Each appears to have been an independent move.  And, only John Wayne and Randolph Scott appear to have socialized.


A couple of other tidbits ...  actress Myrna Loy spent her honeymoon at the Salomon home on Lilac Road (she and Ambassador Irving Salomon were both active in the UN) ... and actor Jack Haley, the tin man in "The Wizard of Oz," was often thought to be a resident of VC (he was in town so often during the 1940s and 50s), but he actually was just a very frequent house guest of the Salomons, AND he owned a cattle ranch in nearby San Pasqual.  Actor George Segal owns several hundreds acres along Cole Grade Road and is said by the caretakers to be a frequent visitor with his family -- picking oranges. 



Gary Cooper outside his Valley Center Ranch.


Merle Oberon



 Randolph Scott tending his Herefords on his Valley Center Ranch




Many photos and much of the text used in this cover story were courtesy of the

Valley Center Museum. 29200 Cole Grade Road, Valley Center. Phone: 749-2993