Monday, June 4, 2012

Was Billy the Kid (1930) filmed in Porter Ranch?

During my early research of Santa Susana Mountains filming locations I encountered a credit for Billy the Kid (1930) that said it had been filmed at Porter Ranch.  That was it--just Porter Ranch--not Porter Ranch, California or Porter Ranch, San Fernando Valley.  

Publicity still for Billy the Kid (1930) depicting Lincoln, New Mexico

Having ridden horses in the San Fernando Valley's Porter Ranch I was skeptical because I believed the chaparral should have been denser than that depicted in the movie.

Recently I found another Billy the Kid (1930) movie still (above), and because--in my opinion--the photo resembles Oat Mountain I decided to do some additional research.

I've discovered two books that state Porter Ranch, California had a Western town set (built by MGM) that was used to portray Lincoln County, New Mexico (the home of William Bonney, also known as Billy the Kid, circa 1880). 

Those books are Location Filming in Los Angeles (Page 113), written by Karie Bible, Marc Wanamaker and Harry Medved, published 2010 and When Hollywood Came to Town: A History of Moviemaking in Utah (Page 286), authored by James V. D'Arc, also published in 2010.

I won't say whether or not I'm convinced, so I'll just borrow a line from one of my favorite movies…  

At the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) a newspaper man, finally understanding the truth about the killing of Valance, burns his notes and says: "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend".

Billy the Kid (1930) was filmed at Porter Ranch, California

Directed (in widescreen) by King Vidor and starring Johnny Mack Brown, Wallace Beery and Kay Johnson.

Billy the Kid (1930) is a tale about the relationship between an 1880s New Mexico outlaw Billy the Kid (Johnny Mack Brown) and sheriff Pat Garrett (Wallace Beery), the man who later killed him.  The movie is based on the book The Saga of Billy the Kid, written by Walter Noble Burns.

Behind the scenes Johnny Mack Brown gets a little coaching from William S. Hart (the original two-gun man).  The pistols carried in the movie by Johnny Mack Brown were the real pistols that had belonged to the real Billy the Kid.  William S. Hart had them in his private collection and loaned them to MGM.

For more information about the Chatsworth filming locations visit and learn about my books: Rendezvous at Boulder Pass: Hollywood's Fantasyland © 2010 (ISBN: 978-0-615-21522-8) and Reel Cowboys of the Santa Susanas © 2008 (ISBN: 978-0-615-21499-3)


  1. As always, Jerry, thanks for the information! Having grown up with the Westerns in the 40's and 50's, it's fun to live at Cal West where so many films were made.
    Gary Washburn

  2. Always good to hear from another "front row kid."

    Stay tuned...

  3. I'm a native of Porter Ranch, and I'm trying to figure out where this little valley where the film set is could have been if this is indeed in Porter Ranch, in the Valley. The OP is right that the highest peak in the background may be Oat Mtn. If so, that helps one a little bit. My guess is maybe in Limekiln Creek Canyon area? Though the valley there looks too wide for Limekiln. There has to be a map somewhere of where that MGM set was located...

  4. Plenty of folks are sure it's the Northridge Porter Ranch. I'm still not sure.

  5. I think I would put this more toward Granada Hills (when it was the Sunshine Ranch). Check out top of Shoshone/Bull Canyon area. Near Cagney Ranch

  6. I rented the movie. I think it's Aliso Canyon. Old photos show a possible dirt road and a stream that crosses the road. Its bends are similar in the movie as the stagecoach rides into town. The images from that area/angle of Oat M seem to match the movie. More investigation is needed.