The Hertz family revitalized the ranch's Western theme in the 1950s and then again in the 1980s; today, it still serves as a backdrop to movies and TV series that need a Western theme.
By Vicki Talbot / Special to the Malibu Times
William Hertz moved out to California in 1946 to be a cowboy. Instead, Hertz brought back the legendary glamour of the old Western sets for Hollywood filmmakers and the movie-going public at Paramount Ranch, which was the backdrop for numerous movies. Stars who filmed there included Mae West, Marlene Dietrich, William Powell, Gary Cooper, Jackie Coogan, Bob Hope, W.C. Fields, Barbara Stanwyck, Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrae. Films included "Klondike Annie," "The Last Outlaw," "The Texas Rangers," "Beau Geste" and "The Virginian."
Hertz had started out in the soft drink business, but war changed things. He had the vision to remodel his plant into a scrap metal recycling plant for bottle caps. He made a killing and retired at the age of 45. That's when the family left New Jersey and moved to a small ranch in North Hollywood, where Hertz bought three horses.
It was his dream to be a cowboy, said his son, Robert Hertz, at a special presentation on his family's history with Paramount Ranch at the National Park Service Visitors Center in Thousand Oaks on Saturday.
When the urbanization of North Hollywood began with streets being paved over, William Hertz searched for a new venue. So, in 1952, borrowing money from his brother, he acquired the 326 acres of the southern portion of Paramount Ranch for $52,500.
"This is the story of how the Hertz family brought it back to life," Malibu resident Robert Hertz said.
Robert Hertz, a retired dental surgeon, standing in front of the packed National Park Service visitor's center crowd, looks more like a cowboy than a dentist. He wears the traditional garb: jeans, hat and cowboy shirt. He is a storyteller and a writer. Hertz calls his genre "fabulism," describing it as "regular people to which very unusual things happen." In addition to his storytelling and writing, Hertz has served as a docent at the Adamson House for nine years.
Located at the corner of Mulholland Highway and Cornell Road, the Paramount Ranch was next door to the first Ronald Reagan Ranch. Originally, the ranch was part of the Rancho Las Virgenes Spanish Land Grant. Paramount Pictures purchased the 2,700-acre ranch in 1921 for $425,000. The studio invested some $60,000 in building Western streets. More than a hundred films were made there until the Western genre declined in popularity. In 1943, it was auctioned off to Eiser Wickholm for only $39,500. Wickholm subdivided and sold off parcels, including the 326 acres to Hertz.
William Hertz and son Robert built a Western town to create a dude ranch, but upon completing the process, they placed an ad in the film industry publications Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. Within one week the old Paramount Ranch was back in business. When RKO sold the sets from Rancho Encino, Hertz moved them to his ranch.
Once again the ranch became a popular location. Filming of the movie "The Cisco Kid" and Dick Powell's television series "Zane Grey Theater" took place there. Other activities included stallion fighting, fox hunting, Easter programs and Native American Pow Wows.
The Hertz family continued to live in North Hollywood. When they stayed at the ranch, the only building that had any plumbing was the hotel. All the cooking was done across the lot at the Longhorn Saloon.
In 1956, William Hertz became ill and his brother wanted out. He was forced to sell the ranch. By then, the ranch had grown to 526 acres and it sold for $212,000.
For a couple of years, the ranch became a racetrack until two people were killed. It changed hands and eventually, became the focus of a 130-home development. Then, Robert Hertz said, "The Cavalry came. The [National] Park Service was the Calvary that saved the ranch."
The NPS contacted Robert Hertz in 1981, and together they rebuilt the sets as they were when the Hertz family owned the property, using old black and white photos that documented the ranch's film history.
Since then, the NPS has opened the ranch free to the public. It has served as the backdrop for "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" with Jane Seymour, and the HBO series "Carnivàle." It will continue to be rented out for a backdrop as long as people still like Westerns.