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Published June 21, 2019 | public
Journal Article

Hollywood in Flames


On September 25, 1970, two fires, one started by downed power lines, the other by burning rubbish at a public dump outside Malibu, both stoked by 80 mile-per-hour Santa Ana winds, sparked the most devastating wildfire — to that point — in California history. Over the next 10 days, more than 500,000 acres burned, leaving 350 injured and 13 dead. Among the fire's lesser casualties was the old Spahn movie ranch, just northwest of Los Angeles in the Santa Susana Mountains. Formerly owned by silent film star William S. Hart, the ranch had once been a hotspot of Hollywood world-making as the set for films including David O. Selznick and King Vidor's Duel in the Sun (1946) and episodes of The Lone Ranger. By 1970, production had slowed, and the ranch was better known as the recent home of the Manson family. Meanwhile, the biggest shoot in town was happening 25 miles south at the MGM studio, where French director Roger Vadim was filming Pretty Maids All in a Row, a murder mystery comedy starring Rock Hudson as a lecherous, lethal gym teacher.

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© 2019 Los Angeles Review of Books.

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