By Worcester P. Bong
Lights, camera, action! Imagine a plane coming over the horizon and landing on a highway. On April 2, 1993 cameras were rolling as a biplane landed on Arizona Highway 69 just south of Mayer’s iconic smokestack. This scene was one of many filmed for the television series “Harts of the West” starring Beau Bridges, his father Lloyd Bridges and Harley Jane Kozak.
“Harts of the West” ran for one season (15 episodes) on CBS from September 1993 to June 1994. In this western/comedy-drama television series, a salesman named Dave Hart (played by Beau Bridges) makes a life-changing decision after suffering a heart attack to pursue his dream of living in the Wild West. Sight unseen, he purchases the Flying Tumbleweed Dude Ranch in the fictional town of Sholo, Nevada. He brings his reluctant family along to revive the ranch, including his wife Alison (played by Harley Jane Kozak) and three children -- L’Amour, Zane Grey and Duke (played by Meghann Haldeman, Sean Murray and Nathan Watt). Lloyd Bridges plays Jake Tyrell, a longtime ranch hand at the now-defunct dude ranch.
The Mayer Business Block and former Mayer Hotel (now apartments), both historic buildings still present in downtown Mayer, were used as the main backdrop of Sholo, Nevada. The front page of the April 7, 1993 edition of the Prescott Sun described the filming process. The Business Block buildings were painted to look rustic and worn, and a “Sholo Hotel” sign was placed on the front of the former Mayer Hotel building. It took the film production crew ten days to set up and three days to film. Upon completion of filming, everything was restored to its original condition by the production crew.
Although Mayer is credited as one of the main filming locations, along with Sable Ranch in the Santa Clarita Valley of California, several scenes were filmed elsewhere in Arizona, including Prescott, the Verde Valley, Humboldt and the Bradshaw Ranch in Sedona.
Two scenes filmed in Prescott appeared in the pilot episode. The April 6, 1993 edition of The Prescott Courier described the filming activities in Prescott. One scene was filmed at the Palace Restaurant & Saloon on Whiskey Row. The saloon’s bar served as a setting for a dream sequence in which Dave dreams he is in a courtroom with his wife as the judge. The other scene was filmed in a patient room in the Domiciliary at the Prescott VA Medical Center campus. In this scene, Dave Hart is in bed recovering from his heart attack and telling his wife about the ranch and his desire to live in the Wild West. In the background of this scene, two of the former Quarters buildings on the Prescott VA campus are visible through the windows.
So was the landing of the biplane on the highway used in the pilot episode of this television series? In the April 7, 1993 edition of the Prescott Valley Tribune, local reporter Heidi Dahms described the filming as beginning at 6 a.m. The film crew, with help from the highway patrol, closed the highway for about 10 minutes as the biplane popped over the smokestack in Mayer and landed. Additional scenes of the biplane flying through a canyon to assist with the roundup of wild horses did appear in the pilot episode, but the landing scene did not make it into the final cut.
Highlighting the small rural community of Mayer, Arizona as a main filming location for a television series was a unique, little-known episode in our local history. Currently, all 15 episodes of “Harts of the West” are available on Amazon Prime Video.
Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at archives.sharlothallmuseum.org/articles/days-past-articles/1. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 2, or via email at email@example.com for information or assistance with photo requests.