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The man behind a classic book that captured 'a part of Utah history that really needs to be told'

OREM — What do you do when you’ve written a book and published it twice and it’s sold out both times?

That’s easy. You print it again.

For James D’Arc, his epic story about moviemaking history in Utah, “When Hollywood Came to Town,” is the gift that keeps on giving. It met with rave reviews when the Layton-based publishing house, Gibbs Smith, first released the book in 2010, then met with more of the same when it was rereleased in 2012.

"When Hollywood Came to Utah" will be released in its third iteration on Tuesday, Aug. 13.
"When Hollywood Came to Utah" will be released in its third iteration on Tuesday, Aug. 13.
Lee Benson, Deseret News

Now comes the third iteration, albeit with a slightly different title, “When Hollywood Came to Utah,” and D’Arc is ready and willing to tell all the great stories all over again, along with several new ones since a couple hundred more movies and television episodes have been shot in Utah since the last printing.

And this go-around he has more time. Two years ago D’Arc retired after 41 years as curator of the highly acclaimed motion picture archive at Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library. At 69, he’s left his day job, and outside of his 15 grandchildren there’s not much he’d rather talk about than movies.

“Once you’re bitten by the movie bug you’re never cured,” he says.

His book reflects his passion. It was more than 30 years in the making, dating back to 1976 when he first started working at BYU — after getting his doctorate in theater and media arts — and began to realize that Utah had a rather rich, and grossly underreported relationship with Hollywood filmmaking.

D’Arc wasn’t from around here. He was born and raised in Glendale, California. He only came to Utah for college, and that might have been that if he hadn’t A) met a beautiful coed from Salt Lake City named Patricia who became his wife, and B) gotten the job offer from BYU.

“I figured, well, I’m not leaving this state so I better get to know it better,” says D’Arc. “And what better way to get to know it than by transplanting my love for movies to the Beehive State.”

He began making a list of movies he knew had been filmed in Utah … and couldn’t stop.

Here was this treasure trove of Utah history that had not been documented.

“No one had written on this, other than an article here and there in a newspaper,” he remembers. “It turned out to be all original research from the ground up.”

Movie historian James V. D'Arc with his personal collection of more than 3,000 movies.
Movie historian James V. D'Arc with his personal collection of more than 3,000 movies.
Lee Benson, Deseret News

You name it, he talked to them, from directors and stars to extras, security guards, location scouts, caterers and more than one amused local — including a Moab rancher who once observed of the moviemakers: “They don’t take anything but pictures and don’t leave anything except money.”

His research richly details the 1930s-through-1960s phase when Westerns were a formidable movie niche and Utah enjoyed a heyday in the southern parts of the state where the canyons, deserts, red rock formations and looming monoliths in and around Kanab, Moab and St. George provided everything a cowboy on his horse could ask for.

After that, Utah enjoyed what D’Arc terms “the Robert Redford era,” when Redford, another transplanted Californian, used his star power influence to lure a number of top movies to Utah in the 1970s.

In more modern history, it’s the northern part of the state that has played the bigger moviemaking role.

Of the more than thousand movies and TV productions that have been made in Utah, asking D’Arc for his favorite is like asking him to single out one of those grandkids. But he does point to the one he finds the most interesting to talk about. It’s the 1947 movie “Ramrod,” shot in and around Zion National Park starring Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake. Utah was celebrating its centennial year in 1947 and “Ramrod” was chosen as the state’s official centennial movie, a decision that sparked a good deal of controversy since the movie is what D’Arc terms a “film noir Western” — stark, violent and dark.

He devotes no less than nine pages to it in his book.

Hollywood moviemaking “is a part of Utah history that really needs to be told,” says D’Arc, who includes many of the films he writes about in his personal collection of more than 3,000 movies.

“When Hollywood Came to Utah” will be released to the public Tuesday, with D’Arc kicking things off with a book-signing event at the Barnes & Noble in Orem, 330 E. 1300 South, at 7 p.m.