Bob Shelton, a land developer from Kansas City, headed west in 1959 looking for a place to start an "Old West" tourist attraction and found what he was looking for after seeing the Old Tucson film set. He formed the Old Tucson Company and took over the lease from the Jaycees. Shelton invested about a half million dollars of his own money on the buildings and an amusement area. On opening day about 15,000 people showed up to see Dale Robertson shoot through a ribbon and complete the miniature railroad by driving in a copper spike. By 1995, the number of visitors at the park topped 500,000 and was second only to the Grand Canyon in Arizona as a tourist destination.
Shelton and his wife, Jane, (whose family was part of the founders of the Lowe's Theatre chain that eventually became Paramount Studios) were very successful in attracting production companies to use Old Tucson as a filming location. One hundred ninety films and television programs were filmed at Old Tucson or Mescal from the time Shelton acquired the site in 1960 until it burned down in 1995.
Chris Limberis did a great job describing Bob Shelton in his Tucson Weekly article "The Battle Over Old Tucson" - click here to read the entire article.....
BACK IN THE DAY, Robert Shelton was Tucson's movie man, a charismatic, energetic sort who befriended John Wayne (who became a partner in Old Tucson), Elizabeth Taylor and scores of other movie and television actors, producers and directors. He single-handedly lured movie after movie to Tucson.
He loves--without boasting--to tell the story about how he once had five production companies working at Old Tucson at one time. He had Wayne, Burt Lancaster, Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin simultaneously working on films. Shelton could configure five or six sets at Old Tucson, he says.
Shelton had a knack with movie folks. Eastwood built Old Tucson's courthouse. Paul Newman built the boarding house for Hombre. Shelton got the Reno, the oldest operating locomotive, from MGM.
Click here to read an article about Old Tucson in Tucson Weekly where Tim Hull pays tribute to Bob Shelton....
In Shelton Tucson found its most active impresario.
Shelton is credited today by many in the industry for single-handedly making Tucson, for a time, a major film location. When Tucson's film industry was at its peak, between the 1960s and the early 1990s, the community was doing $20-25 million in film business per year, according to Shelton.
"It grew very substantially to the point where, at the peak of our prosperity, we could field three full film crews out of Tucson, and that was attractive to the industry," Shelton said.
"There was a time when I had John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin and Burt Lancaster all working on films at Old Tucson at the same time."
Go2SevenPosted at 11:58h, 25 September
These are some real nice pictures!
tomN165Posted at 09:47h, 29 September
Is bob still around with old tucson?
Cowboy1Posted at 09:41h, 07 October
Bob is still in Tucson and in great health. His involvement unfortunately ceased when he sold the leasehold interest in 1985. It is unfortunate he was not consulted after the fire.
tomN165Posted at 11:02h, 10 October
what about the new buildings? 🙂
just an opinionPosted at 10:33h, 03 November
The new buildings unfortunately were built out of scale and worse the original buildings were not replaced. The magic has been gone since.It can come back. The new structure in Town Square has compounded the existing problems, unfortunately.
Wendy HowellPosted at 06:01h, 10 July
I agree, they should have used his knowledge when they rebuilt the place. There is no reason why they could not have rebuilt it to look almost exactly like what was there before the fire and still be within code.
Nothing north of the Chapman building (in the photo for this background) is recognizable. And that is the area where most everything was filmed. With all the photos and footage there is no reason for it to not look like it did pre-fire.
I worked at Old Tucson in the late 80’s and was disappointed by the way it looks now.
As for Bob Shelton, the man is phenomenal. He knew my name when I worked there. Was always friendly, took the time to talk to people, and never seemed (ever) to be in a bad mood.
I ran into him in the late 90’s when I was working for another company, he remembered me! He took the time to talk to me in the blazing June sun. When I asked him about the fire the twinkle went out of his eye. You could tell it devastated him.
I now live in another part of the country. When people ask me about Tucson, I try to avoid talking about Old Tucson, just because it really isn’t the Old Tucson like what most film buffs will remember.
KatyPosted at 12:16h, 28 April
I worked in the cash office and seen Mr. Shelton almost every day. I worked there from 1981 through 1986. Many great memories and the employee parties were great. I moved back to Mich and heard about the fire. I am sure it was because the company was hurting and he fire was deliberately set for ibsurance purposes. This happened in 1982 when the cash office was broken into after the park closed. That was another big mess to say the least.
Lisa RussellPosted at 00:33h, 13 November
My husband and I went to Old Tucson after having been away for 20 years, and were shocked at how different it is. We wanted our son to experience the magic we remembered as kids, but it was difficult have enthisiasm when things there are so neglected. They told us 40% of the place was destroyed in the fire, but it seems more like 80. So much of it is left uncared for…the train in the back, the mission (which now looks like something designed to fit around a couple of crash pads), the faded and yellowing pictures in the High Chaperal home, the Laura Ingals ride, the ghostly gallows…do we really need to have a man hanging up there!? I don’t understand why they didn’t rebuild the soudstage or try to recreate the town as it was. It is heartbreaking to see a place that contributed so much to Tucson slowly fading away.
Wayne youngPosted at 22:36h, 02 December
About time someone spoke the truth.someone should rebuild it how it was…my great anut Barbara kane worked there for 30 yrs, during the heyday. ..someone plz help bring back the magic
c.m.maverick mccullinPosted at 08:41h, 27 April
I’m in need of Bob shelton’s personal contact e-mail or phone. I lost it. We had lunch together discussing the
buying and building up of western towns for film-making. This was @ 2004 0r 2005. I very much need to talk
to him again. Ready to roll now. cmm
Gary Halsey Sr.Posted at 09:00h, 29 May
I had the honor of having breakfast with Bob, while asking his expertise in buying an old western town named “Buckskin Joes” in Canyon City Colorado, he gave my wife and I lots of great advice, and was a pure pleasure for my wife and I do meet with. It turned out that the owner of “Buckskin Joes” did not sell the town after all, so we ceased plans to purchase it after business plans had already been made. Oh well, that is how this business goes. It was all in all a great experience. Thanks Bob for your help and advice on this.
Brian GrundhoeferPosted at 20:57h, 23 August
I have known bob since 1985, he is probably one of the nicest down to earth people you could ever meet!
firstname.lastname@example.orgPosted at 08:12h, 20 January
I have a painting signed by Bob Sheldon. Are you aware if Bob Sheldon did paintings?
Randy KleinPosted at 11:29h, 08 September
I am trying to make contact with Robert Shelton on a business matter. I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is interested in liquidating his private collection of western artifacts and movie memorabilia. If you know of a contact means, please E-mail me. Your time and effort are very much appreciated.
MarkPosted at 18:28h, 05 June
I have the ability to contact Bob Shelton if you are still trying to reach him.
David WagnerPosted at 15:03h, 22 January
I was born and raised right here in the old pueblo 47yrs ago this coming February. I truly thank MR. Robert S. for all his hard work out at OLD TUCSON STUDIOS! I am still sadden by the fire of 04-24-1995. I will always remember the memories of films, TV shows etc. that I have. I WANT TO THANK BOB SHELTON AGAIN! I AM SO PROUD OF WHAT YOU ACCOPLISHED THERE AT Old Tucson Studios !
Norman FiskPosted at 10:55h, 18 August
I met Robert many years ago when I was flying as a captain for the old Cochise airlines. His son was a pilot also. He was a very cool guy. Lots of class and a real interest in the history of the old west. It was a pleasure knowing him.
Kelly A. WilleyPosted at 18:52h, 16 April
Where did the movie actors stay while filming? I’m told John Wayne stayed in a residential home on S. Jamie Ave. while filming in the 1950’s. Would enjoy knowing what the movie actors did in their past time in our area for relaxing or entertainment.
Tom BettsPosted at 21:35h, 16 December
Bob Shelton died in Tucson on December 15, 2016.
Trent AndersonPosted at 02:20h, 18 December
Robert was a great, wonderful friend and colleague. During my 20 plus years in the film business, he was a great help to me. RIP Bob.
Jack YoungPosted at 18:37h, 19 December
I joined Old Tucson in 1962 and Bob Shelton molded my life as my mentor for the next 12 years. I was a raunchy, wore out stuntman and he turned me into a person that understood Corporate Management which changed my life. Then, after going out on my own our friendship continued throughout the rest of our lives. The last time we stood together was at Old Tucson’s 2014 75th Anniversary. I miss my friend and since I am 90 years old, will be looking him up someday soon.
Gregory N TullPosted at 01:41h, 14 April
My name is Greg Tull & Bob Shelton was my step brother in law. He & his wife at the time Jane ( who was my step sister in law & my mother was married to Jane’s father Arthur Loew) used to come back east to Glen Cove to visit & we used to go water skiing together on Long Island sound. I just want to say hi & give him all my best. Hope you are in good health & spirits. If you get this message my email is email@example.com.
Gregory N TullPosted at 02:09h, 14 April
I have to apologize for my lack of not being up to date on my blog on Bob Shelton. I just found out he passed away in December of 2016. He was very kind and loving to my mother Jacqueline Loew and me. Rest in pease Bob & I will always remember the times spent at Pembroke, Long Island water skiing. & the times spent when we were all together in Tucson way back when..
Rob KleinPosted at 07:58h, 05 January
Does anyone know any information about the Bonanza Wardrobe that was offered for sale at Old Tucson? I have reciepts and tags from some of the wardrobe and would like to hear any information from anyone who remembers anything?
please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org