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IT IS PERHAPS A LITTLE-KNOWN FACT Marilyn Monroe made one of her earliest movie appearances right here in Silverton, Colo. At the age of 24, she had a bit part as a dance hall girl in the 1950 film, "Ticket to Tomahawk," a big-budget musical comedy set in and around Silverton
Lifelong Silvertonian Gerald Swanson recalled in his memoir, "Swanee’s Silverton," that “the scenes with Marilyn Monroe were shot at the old National Hall. It was on 12th and Blair (on the corner lot next door to the Shady Lady Saloon today.) In the movie, all the dance hall girls were standing on top of the balcony, waving at the train as it pulled into town.” .
Set in 1876, during the era of railroad expansion, Ticket to Tomahawk"…exploits almost every stereotype known to the western genre,” writes Frederic B. Wildfang in his book, "Hollywood of the Rockies: The Spirit of the New Rochester Hotel," which chronicles many of the movies made in the San Juan Basin over the years
This description would just as well suit most of the other Hollywood flicks made in Silverton during its modest heyday as a movie locale in the 1950s and ’60s, including "Across the Wide Missouri," "Run for Cover," "A Great Day in the Morning,""The Maverick Queen," "Night Passage," and "How the West Was Won."
Hollywood had no qualms about remaking Silverton and its surroundings into whatever image was needed at the moment. Historic buildings on Blair Street (re-christened Silverton’s “Hollywood Street”) sported false fronts and fake names. Wooden sidewalks were built and disassembled as the movie du jour rolled through town, Molas Lake Park was transformed once or twice into a teepee village, and the train tracks were extended on at least one occasion from Blair Street to Greene Street, to achieve the desired visual effect.
The locals didn’t mind. “People in town were excited; it was a big deal,” Swanson said, recollecting that “the movie people hired just about every local in town” (including himself) as extras in "Run for Cover," starring James Cagney.
Lately Silverton has been “rediscovered,” as a film locale. In 2006, the horror flick "49th Line" was filmed here, set largely at the boardinghouse in Eureka, with some scenes filmed at the Cow Palace Café. Meanwhile, Silverton eagerly awaits the return of Hollywood and the chance to once again make history on the silver screen!
Top: Filming Ticket to Tomahawk, released in1950, 20th Century Fox. (© James Burke, 1949)
Bottom: A Great Day in the Morning Director Jacques Tourner demonstrates how to wield the bottle to a group of local “extras.” 1956, RKO Pictures. (Courtesy San Juan County Historical Society)