Hollywood Farm Aid: Reuss Ranch – The Unfinished Symphony

Posted on November 29, 2011 by


While farming and ranching can often be profitable to land owners, sometimes extra cash is needed. One way to earn money off the land is to promote it as a filming location to film studios. That’s what the Ruess family did with their ranch in the San Fernando Valley near Calabasas and near the Paramount Studio Ranch.

 H. J. Ruess bought the property in 1933 after prodding by his wife, intending to use it strictly for a ranch. It contained about 24 acres, with six usable, as the rest consisted of rugged, unbalanced terrain. The property also featured a private lake, which was about fifty feet wide, about 400 feet long, and only 7 feet deep , with fresh water running through it. The lake was surrounded by a pasture with over 80 Live Oaks,along with many other trees. A fruit orchard and vineyard were nearby, with their own electric pumping plants and tanks. Wildlife was plentiful: deer, fox, rabbits, raccoons, quail, mountain lion, and bob cats roamed through the property. Along with the stucco and stone main cabin were two other cabins, a dressing room, bath facilities, shop, and concrete dance floor. As Ruess wrote in family notes, “The lake formed by our home-made dam was a fine swimming pool and the result was we made it into a very attractive location for the motion picture companies.”

His land, which went by the romantic name “The Unfinished Symphony” and only 33 miles from Hollywood, would be employed by Hollywood film studios and producers for about 15 years, standing in for the Midwest, the East Coast, and even tropical paradise!

As Ruess wrote, “Then in the spring of 1934 we had our first motion picture company come in, 20th Century Fox…and gave us the incentive to go ahead and improve towards this use, which we did. Had a hard time getting the picture companies to come, but Once They Did Come And See It the rest was easy.”

He went on to describe the history of filming on the property. “Parts of some 50 motion pictures were made on our place over an 8 or 9 year period, it being used for Eastern US and European scenes, as they could shoot in this environment of a small lake, made to look larger by placing the camera near the ground sometimes, and the magnificent willows, oaks and sycamores we had and the nice lawns, later turned into permanent pasture.” It appears that the children and guests really appreciated eating with the cast and crew during filming.

Selznick International Pictures filmed there in 1939 when they reshot an opening sequence for Gone With The Wind. Vivien Leigh and Thomas Mitchell as Scarlett and Gerald O’Hara walk the land, discussing Twelve Oaks and Tara, and some of her beaux.

Warner Bros. employed the ranch for scenes in the 1942 film Kings Row starring Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan. After the cast of Home In Indiana (1944) spent weeks in Indiana and Ohio, they came back for several days at the Ruess Ranch for additional scenes. The Paramount film Typhoon (1940) starring Dorothy Lamour also filmed around the lake. Other films that shot on the ranch include Madame Bovary (1949), Dodge City Trail (1936), Paris Honeymoon (1939), Monsieur Beaucaire (1946), and Lost Horizon (1937).

By 1954, the Ruesses were ready to move on into retirement in Northern California to be near their children and grandchildren, and they decided to sell. To help generate a quick sale at a good price, the family created a little brochure listing films shot on the premises. It mentioned that they had made approximately “$3,000 to $4,000 annually for location fees; TV prospects are good.” They asked $50,000 for the property.

Posted in: Uncategorized