Western movie stars shine, fans gather at annual Kanab festival

KANAB – The Wild West will live once again as Western movie buffs, cowboys, folk singers and movie stars invade the small town of Kanab Aug. 18-24 for the 16th annual Western Legends Roundup.

While Kanab may seem a small blip on the vast map of Utah to some, the city and surrounding areas have served as backdrops for more than 100 films and television programs over the years and played host to stars like John Wayne, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Clint Eastwood. The natural beauty, dramatic scenery and authentic Western feel of areas like Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon have drawn in filmmakers since the 1920s.

The original set from the television show “Gunsmoke,” now privately owned, is opened to the public once a year during Western Legends Round-up, Kanab, Utah, Aug. 27, 2010 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News

The rich history of Western films set in the area has made it an epicenter for film buffs who want to keep the traditions and stories alive and experience the places where some of their favorite films were made. Western Legends Roundup gives those desiring to share their knowledge or walk where legends have walked an interactive and entertaining forum in which to do so.

In a statement released by the Western Legends Roundup committee, Executive Director Brent Chamberlain said what makes the event so unique and entertaining is the many opportunities it offers for people to learn and interact with the past right where it happened.

“There truly is no other festival in the world that can match what happens the third week (of) August in Kanab,” Chamberlain said.

Monica Wren, a Roundup committee member, said she thinks one draw the event has had for the public over the years is the opportunity to reconnect with the past in a way that can be enjoyable for the whole family.

“It’s a great family friendly event that helps to preserve our Western heritage and relationships with our communities and family,” Wren said.

The theme for the 2014 Roundup is a tribute to the 1944 Western film “Buffalo Bill” and its star, Joel McCrea. Attendees will learn about the story of “Buffalo Bill” and can take a bus tour into the surrounding areas where that film and many others were made. Wyatt McCrea, a television producer and grandson of Joel McCrea, who passed away in 1990, will also make an appearance to speak about his grandfather and share some history of Westerns filmed in the Kanab area.

Having represented his grandfather at similar events, Wyatt McCrea said he enjoys meeting people who are excited to learn, and he loves sharing stories about his grandfather with them. He said he thinks people are drawn to learn more about his grandfather because of the contrast between him and other actors of the period.

“My grandfather was unique in the sense that … he never really saw the limelight and always considered himself a rancher first and an actor second,” McCrea said. “It was never important to him to have that star status. ”

Even though Joel McCrea’s Hollywood career boasted an excess of 90 feature films, the star was so humble about his popularity that Wyatt McCrea said he was not even aware of his grandfather’s celebrity past until a fourth grade teacher mentioned she enjoyed watching his grandfather’s films.

“To me, he always was just a rancher,” Wyatt McCrea said. “Outside of the movies, he was much like anyone else’s description of their grandfather.”

The original set from the television show “Gunsmoke,” located on property that is now privately owned, is opened to the public once a year during Western Legends Round-up, Kanab, Utah, Aug. 27, 2010 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News

The 2014 Western Legends Roundup offers some new activities along with popular favorites. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet with Western film stars such as Clint Walker; Alex Cord, of “Gunsmoke”; Dan Haggerty, of “Grizzly Adams”; and Roberta Shore, of “The Virginian.” Attendees can also enjoy live country music from popular musical groups, listen in on book lectures, and even live the life of Old West travelers on the Western Legends wagon train.

The wagon train, a four-day, three-night event beginning Aug. 18, allows a glimpse into the past as guests travel in covered wagons down the same roads and trails as Western movie greats like John Wayne. At night, wagon train participants will share stories around a campfire and camp out under the stars.

While the wagon train is not a new event at Western Legends Roundup, it has not been offered in recent years. Wren said this year’s attendees are looking forward to the event because it is so unique and offers a taste of the past.

“We’ve been contacted by people from Oregon, Michigan, Tennessee and Texas who keep calling and telling me how excited they are for this,” Wren said. “Even local people going with us are really looking forward to the wagon train.”

Other festivities at the 2014 Roundup  include an Old West shooting contest; cowboy poetry readings; raffles for various items; bus tours of old movie sets and landscapes; and the Kanab street fair, which features food, arts and crafts vendors, and Wild West stunt shows.

Having attend the Roundup in previous years, Wyatt McCrea said he hopes people who attend will understand the importance of continuing to share traditions and stories from the Old West and the genre of movies that emerged in its honor in the early 20th century.

“The stories that came out of that time period in history are uniquely American,” he said. “Festivals like this … are a way that we can hang on to a part of history and time period in this country that was important to get us where we are today.”

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1 Comment

  • Fred August 13, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    Great. We can’t wait to see Clint Walker again. He was in the TV Series Cheyenne in
    the 1950’s. What a great series. Still good.

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