ElectionsVote

Most people have never heard of it. Even the ones who drive by it daily.

For years, it’s been mostly abandoned, a state historical marker on the side of old Sierra Highway in Newhall, California, better known as a place to dump unwanted mattresses. Named after one of history’s most controversial figures, it was, for years, the major link to move people, cows, goods and services back and forth between Southern and Central California.

In the early 1860s, General Edward Fitzgerald Beale was given a nice piece of change — about $5,000 — by the county of Los Angeles to build the all-weather gap that would bear his name. He would use U.S. troops to build it and then later, for 23 years, use it as his own personal toll road.

That’s right. You had to pay to get in or out of the valley.

Today, people of Los Angeles and the rest of SoCal can thank — or curse — the forgotten real estate magnate. In constructing the 92-foot-deep ravine that allowed safe passage through the steep mountains of the SCV,  Beale helped L.A. become the major population hub of the region instead of Ventura.

After the horse-&-buggy era, the first recorded motorized vehicle to drive through Beale’s Cut was a 1902 Autocar. It couldn’t make the grade going forward. Because of the steep incline and state-of-the-art engineering of a gravity-based carburator, the Autocar had to locomote up the hill in reverse.

Besides bedroom furniture, people would drop off dead bodies. In the 1950s, it was the second-to-last final resting place of the Headless-Handless Corpse — a case that has yet to be solved.

In its heyday, that historic road at the southern boundaries of the SCV, at the summit of Sierra Highway, Beale’s Cut was famous as a movie location.

They’ve been filming at the famed ravine for nearly a century.

D.W. Griffith — who once owned a thoroughbred horse ranch out here — made “Broken Ways” at the site in 1913. The Biograph flick would feature one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Harry Carey and an actress named Blanche Sweet. Interestingly, Carey would homestead here in the same year and add to his 1,000-acre ranch in San Francisquito Canyon a few miles across the valley.

The legendary John Ford, who, for some reason, the City of Santa Clarita keeps snubbing in their Walk of Western Stars, made many movies at Beale’s Cut over a 22-year-period.

His first film at the old stagecoach pass was in 1917 and called “Straight Shooting.”

What few film buffs realize that before they became millionaires, box office stars and big-time local  ranch owners, Carey and another celluloid cowpoke, Hoot Gibson, would team up in the World War I-era film.

Amongst other movies, the director filmed “The Iron Horse” and, of course, the Western classic of 1939: “Stagecoach.”

Granted. Beale’s Cut didn’t exactly monopolize the movie. Remember. This was the film that turned John Wayne from a “B” Western actor into one of Hollywood’s biggest stars of all time. In the oater, Wayne is making a trek from Bisbee, Arizona to Lordsburg, New Mexico. Somehow, Beale’s Cut popped into the picture. (John Ford LOVED Newhall.)

In his autobiography, our own legend, William S. Hart, took aim at Ford over the famous chase scene, noting that the Indians would have just shot the lead horses to the stage in real life.

The surly director responded to the criticism: "In actual fact that's probably what did happen, (but) if they had, it would have been the end of the picture, wouldn't it?"

But it was a forgotten cowboy flick that would put Newhall — and Beale’s Cut — on the map and in the hearts of audiences around the world.

Remember this. Back in the early 20th century — all the way up into the 1960s, actually — people were more connected to the Earth. Many still were familiar with horses.

Tom Mix — another Newhall film star — was, in his heyday, the most recognizable person on the planet. He made “Three Jumps Ahead” and the silent film had audiences gasping.

In it, Mix, on his wonderhorse Tony (a native of a neighboring Placerita Canyon ranch) was being chased by a posse of bad guys. Mix was nearly cornered at the brink of Beale’s Cut. He wheeled Tony around, raced back 50 yards, spurred him on then jumped over the 30-yard-deep chasm.

People were screaming in the movie houses.

Stuntman Richard Talmadge, to his dying day in 1982, swore it was he who made the death-defying leap on HIS wonderhorse, Ranger. Another stuntman, Earl Simpson claimed he leapt Beale’s Cut and there are stories that a Placerita young, lanky rancher and future Cowboy Hall of Famer, Andy Jauregui did. Other reports note that the shot was faked close to town as a special effect and later edited in.

Film historians point out that there were three separate trailers for the film, but that the No. 1 Box Office Attraction Mix never made the leap that, at its time, was as famous a media event as was the season-ending question decades later: “Who Shot J.R. Ewing?” on the TV hit series, “Dallas.”

But what few folks know about is an almost completely forgotten film made by Will Rogers.

The famed wit and actor was a close friend of Mix. He made a Western about a year later where he completely duplicated Mix’s “stunt.”

Will was chased to the brink of Santa Clarita’s Beale’s Cut by bad guys.

At the edge, he brakes his horse. Gravel tumbles over the cliff.

Rogers turns his horse around to get some jumping room, sprints to the edge and leaps over certain death to the other side.

One small difference.

In the middle of his jump, Wile E. Coyote style, Rogers and his horse add their own special effects touch.

Horse and rider do a triple somersault in midair, complete with kazoo sound effects, to the howling delight of the 1920’s audience.

For filmmakers, amateur and professional, Beale’s Cut is still there today, the engineering marvel of the 1860s.

Just drive to the top of Sierra Highway, going toward the San Fernando Valley. You’ll see a small chain link fence and a pair of stone monuments (one has the bronze plaque missing). It’s possible to hike all the way through, but be careful. The footing can be treacherous...