The First Film Commissioner

March 09’s Vanity Fair has a great feature on Harry Goulding, the pioneering Colorado-born rancher who, it could be argued, did the work of the world’s first film commissioner…..

It’s worth reading the whole article to be once again reminded of how the movies can impact so forcefully on how we see the world, but the bit where Harry goes to Hollywood in 1938, armed with a book of location pics of Monument Valley, is particularly priceless……

The way the story goes, Harry learned that United Artists was looking to film a Western on location. Harry went to work, enlisting the help of Josef Muench, a superb photographer who had first seen Monument Valley in 1935 and, during the course of some 350-odd trips there, would shoot some of the most memorable photographs of the place ever taken. At Harry’s request, Muench made up an album of 8-by-10 scenes of the valley. Then Harry and his wife loaded the “bedroll, coffee pot, grub,” as Harry later put it, and drove to Hollywood. 

……Harry said. “I’m going to get in there or go to jail. I know I’ve got something they need.… You show me the right door to go in down there, their main door, and I’ll go on from there.”

So Harry went over to United Artists with his wife, who waited in the car and knitted. He made it to a receptionist, and he told her he wanted to talk to someone about a new Western that was going to be made. She looked at him as if he were crazy and told him he couldn’t see anybody without an appointment. Harry said he didn’t have an appointment, and she reiterated that there was no way he was going to see anyone. Harry said that was fine, then went to get his bedroll from the car, because he had no intention of leaving and figured he might as well be comfortable. At that point the receptionist called someone.

The location manager for the Western Stagecoach, which was about to be shot, came out all indignant and riled. He was livid at Harry Goulding for wasting his time, this dumb-ass western son of a bitch thinking he knew anything about the movie business, until he got a glimpse of the pictures that Harry had with him. Then he wanted to know where they had come from. Then the director John Ford looked at the pictures. And it wasn’t long after that that Ford decided to use Monument Valley as a backdrop for Stagecoach…..