Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Gower Gulch

Gower Gulch was the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street. Hollywood attracted many newcomers in the 1930s hoping for a career in film, and a lot of them came here. It was also called Poverty Row, illustrating that dreams of success would remain only dreams for most of them.

As early as before the First World War, there was a film studio here, and later on in the Depression the nearby studios of Paramount, Columbia, Republic and RKO made the spot the focus of real cowboys trying for parts in B-westerns, with would-be actors coming right off the ranch.

Gower Gulch has been parodied in a few films, and has a special tribute in the 1951 Warner Brothers cartoon “Drip-Along Daffy” where Daffy Duck plays a “western-type hero” whose noble white horse has an exaggerated mane, and Porky Pig plays his “comedy relief” sidekick looking less heroic on a tiny burro. As they ride along what appears to be a cartoon version of Monument Valley, Porky strums a guitar and sings a cowboy song about Minerva, the “Flower of Gower Gulch,” who is a cowpuncher’s sweetheart true even though “her looks don’t amount to much, ‘cause one of her eyes is blue/She’s got skin just like prairie dog leather. She cooks nothin’ but chuck wagon stew….”

You probably know the rest.

There is a shopping plaza in Gower Gulch now, with a western town fa├žade, but if you want to see traces of what was, mosey on up to the Autry Museum of the American West up in Griffith Park. A terrific exhibit of Southwest history is on display, and in a corner of the impressive reality of the West, there is a small tribute to the movie cowboy and the poignant legacy of imagination and heart, and even parody, he has left to us.

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