Just a few days from now, a number of Texans will compete at an event that judges their skills and the quality of their performances. They’ll make a grand entry, looking their best and wearing a signature item that they hope will set them apart from the rest. Musical entertainment will be provided during breaks, and an announcer will keep everyone informed and entertained.
But before images of livestock and cowboys come to mind, let me be clear: while it’s one of my favorite events of the year, I am not talking about the Houston Rodeo. In fact, I’m referring to the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. Each year, Texans—and movies filmed in or about Texas—are recognized and honored at this event. This tradition got an early start, with the silent film Wings, shot in Bexar County, winning for best picture at the very first Academy Awards show on May 16, 1929.
Since then, Texas has kept her place among the winners at the annual awards show. A slew of actors not only have had the privilege of earning an Academy Award but also of being a native Texan, like Rip Torn, Tommy Lee Jones, Jamie Foxx, Sissy Spacek, Joan Crawford, and Renee Zellweger. Oscar-winning movies filmed in Texas include The Last Picture Show, Bonnie and Clyde, JFK, Apollo 13, No Country For Old Men, Traffic, Terms of Endearment, and There Will Be Blood. This year, True Grit, which had filming locations in Austin, Blanco and Granger, Texas, has been nominated for 10 Oscars.
Over the years, movies have been filmed across our great state – from Marfa to Austin, and Garland to Archer City. But perhaps the one location that best represents the Texas film industry is a ranch located just north of Brackettville, in Kinney County. It was here, at the Shahan Angus Ranch, that then-Brackettville mayor James Tullis “Happy” Shahan would construct a life-sized replica of one of the cornerstones of Texas history – the Alamo.
Brackettville, originally financially supported by the soldiers and families of nearby Fort Clark, saw its economy dip dramatically with the fort’s deactivation in 1946. Mayor Happy Shahan saw an opportunity for Brackettville, with its authentic Old West look, to be used as a filming location for westerns. Shahan reached out to Paramount Studios and convinced them that Brackettville was the ideal location for the movie Arrowhead, which was filmed there in 1951. But one film was not enough for Shahan.
After hearing that John Wayne was planning on shooting The Alamo in Mexico, Shahan went to work building the case for Brackettville as the appropriate and common sense location for a film whose theme was so central to Texas history.
Shahan succeeded. Set construction for The Alamo began on the 22,000-acre Shahan Angus Ranch in 1957. Unlike traditional Hollywood sets that used facades of building fronts and sides, Alamo Village was a true-to-size recreation of what the Alamo and the surrounding village of San Antonio de Bexar looked like in 1836, including buildings with four walls, floors and roofs. This was a strict requirement imposed by Shahan; there would be no “false fronts.”
Employing more than 5,000 workers who used at least 1.5 million adobe bricks and 30,000 square feet of imported Spanish tiles, it took two years to complete the set. Filming began in the summer of 1959.
Over the years, Alamo Village would serve as the set for more than 100 other westerns, in addition to television shows, documentaries and commercials. Many famous actors have worked on the Alamo Village set, such as James Stewart, Dean Martin and Raquel Welch. Robert Duvall worked at Alamo Village when he starred in the popular mini-series Lonesome Dove, which was filmed there.
For decades, Alamo Village served not only as a movie set but also a tourist attraction that drew visitors from around the world. Each summer, the set was open to tourists and offered live musical shows, stagecoach rides, western melodramas and shoot-out reenactments. Sadly, this Texas-sized attraction, which brought notoriety and economic growth to the region for more than 50 years, closed its doors in 2009 after the death of Shahan’s widow, Virginia. It was briefly re-opened without shows or events last summer, but has since been closed indefinitely. Supporters and local historians hope it will be purchased by investors willing to make repairs and re-open the site to the public.
In 1995, President George W. Bush named Happy Shahan the “Father of the Texas movie industry.” Though the doors to his village have been closed for now, Happy’s dream for Texas to be a leader in the world of cinema has certainly been accomplished.
So as you and your family settle in to watch this year’s Oscars, remember, Texas stars are truly big and bright enough to be seen all the way in Hollywood.
Sources: Helium.com; San Angelo Standard-Times; San Antonio Express-News; Texas State Historical Association; Thealamovillage.homestead.com