When my son heard I was going to visit Disney’s Golden Oak Ranch near Newhall, California, he predicted I would shed a tear when they took me to the place where heroic Old Yeller was shot.
If you’ve seen many major films and television episodes from the last 60 years or so, you’re bound to have seen scenes filmed at this historic ranch.
Located in the Santa Clarita Valley less than an hour’s drive from downtown L.A. , the ranch was named for the tree where Francisco Lopez discovered gold in 1842 . It’s a spread of about 900 acres, including ponds, meadows, waterfalls, creeks, golden foothills, and numerous frontier-type structures where countless films, starring such Westerner heroes as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and “Bonanza’s” Cartwrights, were shot.
A list of other films shot wholly or in part at the ranch includes “Roots II,” “The Parent Trap,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” I and II, “The Country Bears,” “Follow Me, Boys,” and of course the aforementioned iconic “Old Yeller.”
The list of television series episodes filmed here would fill up several pages. On that list is the most successful Mickey Mouse Club feature: the three-seasons series “Spin and Marty” (1955-1957: starring Tim Considine, David Stollery, and in the second and third series Annette Funicello and Darlene Gillespie).
Wannabe cowboys Spin and Marty spent three gloriously adventuresome summers at the Triple R Ranch in this series that was shot mainly at the Golden Oak. Check out the excellently researched website on this famous Micky Mouse Club program, cinchset.com.
Watching that series unfold in the hills and fields of California convinced me, as it did a lot of other kids at the time, that to have a fulfilled life it was absolutely necessary to get out to the Golden State and wrangle horses, a dream finally realized for me a few years ago when I began volunteering at the Heart of the Horse Ranch near Clovis. California, a ranch dedicated to providing therapy for disabled kids and veterans.
The Golden Oak Ranch does not offer regularly scheduled public tours as some Hollywood studios do. Its business is to encourage film and television producers to inspect the sites for future productions, and it’s, of course, a very busy place. On the day I was there, they were filming commercials, as well as an episode for “NCIS.”
Naturally, once at the ranch, I was particularly interested in seeing where earlier works like “Old Yeller” and “Spin and Marty” were filmed. Of course, there have been several changes since those iconic films were made. There is only one building left from the “Spin and Marty” series and none of the “Old Yeller” set. But many of the natural features are preserved, and you can still spot the meadows, hills, streams, and corral areas that evoke nostalgic childhood memories.
Formerly leased by the Disney Company, the ranch was bought outright by the Disney Corporation in 1959. In recent years, a 14-house residential set and an urban district set (which can double for Chicago or New York scenes, for instance) were added. Current plans include Disney/ABC constructing soundstages at the ranch; however, there will be an ongoing effort to protect the storied rural and wilderness areas of the site.
Now, about my son’s prediction: when I visited the site where iconic “Old Yeller“was tearfully dispatched by the boy who loved him, did I shed a little salt water myself? I won’t say, but critics have suggested that for American guys watching that famous movie scene, it is considered not unmanly to get a bit emotional.
What a beautiful place this is. And I am not sure I could actually face reliving Old Yeller’s death, myself. So glad you eventually got to live your cowboy dream.
So if there are no regularly scheduled tours, how to people get a chance to see this magical place?
I’d love to visit sometime, too, and wondered if there’s any way to see it (aside from pretending to be a filmmaker checking the place out). I told Bill I was going to add the Old Yeller clip at the end, but couldn’t bring myself to watch it. Thus, Spin and Marty.
As you no doubt know, the Disney Corporation is just that — a corporation dedicated to business. Even to get into the Disney Burbank Studio you have to be either officially in the film business or a member of the Disney 23 Club on a special tour. (BTW, it’s worth joining 23 just for the a Burbank Studio tour.) Though the folks who manage the GOR are friendly, they do not regularly give open-to-the public tours. You can check the web site for more information. (Sorry if the Old Yeller clip discouraged you; however, see my reply to Paula Price below.)
The Disney Studios in Burbank used to have a craft fair around November and it was the only day the public was allowed on the lot, but after 9/11 they had to discontinue the fair because of security issues. Even though the public was allowed on the lot they still couldn’t see the really cool things like the underground tunnel between the original buildings (built so they could transport animation cels without exposing them to the outside elements) or the prop house that had lots of recognizable props from movies across the decades.
I love that ranch. I have been there many times. I worked on The Country Bears and they built that big beautiful building there for the movie and then decided it was so nice they were going to keep it up. You see that bridge in many movies!
Yes, the Country Bears building is still there — quite distinctive in style from the other Old West/rustic structures. The covered bridge is sometimes referred to as the Bonanza bridge, having been seen in episodes of that series. Lucky you to have worked at GOR!
Spin and Marty was not just for boys. I loved it. Couldn’t wait to get home from school in hopes that Spin and Marty would be on Mickey Mouse Club that day. It is so great that you got to relive that important piece of our childhood. As for Old Yeller, I was very young when I saw it in Duncan’s Theater. It traumatized me. I had dreams about having to shot some of our pets. But, in hind sight, what a great movie. Thanks for bringing Spin & Marty and Old Yeller back to my life
If you can get a copy of the Disney Spin and Marty DVD, you’ll enjoy extras with interesting background to this series and even a revisit interview to GOR with Tim Considine and David Stollery. The most recent Disney Old Yeller DVD has more extras on the story and ranch. Sorry you had a disturbing reaction to Old Yeller, but seeing it now as an adult you’ll appreciate the fact that this is one Disney film that stuck to the original story without adding a sugar coating. In the end the tragedy is somewhat softened, as it is in Gipson’s fine book, when Old Yeller’s offspring brings back some of the spirit of the iconic dog.
Great fun to visit the sites where favorite films were made! In California, there is always one just around the corner. I had never heard of this place, but I’ve seen it a thousand times.