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WILD WEST LASSOS VISITORS TO KANAB

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"Yeah, he catches a lot of 'em off guard," said Ray Lopeman, proprietor with wife Marcia of Lopeman's Frontier Movie Town on U.S. 89, where it runs through the heart of country famed for its film history.

A life-size cardboard cutout of Wales - a.k.a. Clint Eastwood - stands at the roadside attraction, out back beside a cabin used in the 1976 movie, which was shot nearby. The renegade glowers just a few paces from "Boot Hill," around the corner from a cow skull atop a fence post, right near a coyote hide on a lodge pole.All of this is for the sake of ambience. Dinner is beef and beans, and afterward there's usually a gun-fight in the courtyard.

"What we do here is create homage to the Old West and try to preserve something of the local movie industry," said Lopeman. The "town" is hidden behind a facade of old-time storefronts and caters exclusively to busloads of tourists who have to book ahead to get dinner and an evening of campy entertainment.

"We came here to retire and raise horses," said Lopeman, who has been a Hollywood stuntman but spent much of his life on a ranch in Kansas. "We found out retirement was kind of expensive."

Lopeman, who keeps a hand in local politics as one of three county commissioners, started Frontier Movie Town five years ago. Relying largely on word-of-mouth, it has developed something of a following overseas, especially among the British.

A group of polite and reserved tourists from suburban London at first seemed out of place when they stopped at Frontier Movie Town on a recent evening, but they quickly warmed to the hospitality and homey humor.

"Can you understand me?" asked Marcia Lopeman. "Does everybody understand me? Do you speak English?"

A Jim Reeves record played in the background, Lopeman explained how beer biscuits are kind of like scones, the dinner bell rang and chow was served in a hall graced with scores of autographed photos of movie stars who made films in or around Kanab - Glen Ford, Burt Lancaster, Ronald Reagan, Lee Marvin, Lee Van Cleef, to name but a few.

More than 100 movies were shot in the area: John Wayne made "Fort Apache" near Kanab. Burt Reynolds starred here in "The Man Who Loved Catdancing." Roddy McDowell dressed up like a monkey to make "Planet of the Apes."

The list is long, and branches out into television series: "F Troop," "Gunsmoke," "Lassie," "Wagon Train," "Daniel Boone," "Death Valley Days."

Why Kanab?

"Mainly because we have everything within 40 miles," said Lopeman. "We have snow, trees, rivers, streams, cliffs, desert, moonscape."

Not many of the old film sets remain standing. There is one at Paria Canyon 40 miles east of town, another at Johnson Canyon about 15 miles in the same direction.

Indeed, much of Kanab's cinema industry - which flourished from the 1930s well into the 1960s - seems on the verge of being forgotten and wouldn't be apparent if not for Lopeman's place and a local hotel that still uses the history as a marketing tool.

But Lopeman said once the celluloid past comes alive at Frontier Movie Town it infects the average tourist with a whimsical longing for something lost.

"They'll wander out onto the grass after dinner, lie on their backs, and just look at the stars."