RANCHO YUCCA LOMA
Guest Ranches (sometime called “Dude Ranches”) were popular in the Southwest in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. One of the most popular was probably the Yucca Loma Guest Ranch in Apple Valley, near Victorville, California. During its heyday between the early 1920s through the early 1950s, many movie stars and other famous people flocked there.
The ranch began when a young woman, Dr. Catherine Boynton, around 1910 had a vision of a place for mental healing at a time when many doctors only treated outward symptoms. She envisioned a healing center, a place with wide open expanses and a peaceful setting away from the stress of urban life. After she and her family moved from the East coast to Los Angeles, she and some of her friends used to visit the Apple Valley about 60 miles outside of L.A. on weekends and there they found a vacant property which they purchased in 1911. That was the beginning of what was to become Rancho Yucca Loma. Soon the ranch’s reputation became known as a refuge for others, a place to escape from Hollywood or other city pressures. Clark Gable, Loretta Young were regular visitors. Several books and screenplays were written here.
In 1916 Gwen enrolled in the Julliiard School of Arts in New York to study piano. The New York Social Register shows that in 1917, when she was 24, Gwen married Herman Behr, a member of the celebrated New York “400,” a list of the wealthiest New Yorkers.Ceative energetic young married woman that she was, Gwen started a ladies’ designer dress boutique New York. But soon se was found to be susceptible to pneumonia in the eastern climate, and her doctor recommended she move to a dry, desert climate. Her mother, Catherine and Catherine’s new husband Dr. Thayer decided to build Gwen a house on the ranch, painted a rich sand color, where she could spend some lung healing time. Gwen planned to stay for only a year. The Behrs in New York had made many friends in the theatre, as well as in New York Society. Many of them wanted to see “Gwennie” in the West. So people would send a telegram ahed and arrive inVictorville by train. Telegrams were picked up often to bring the news.
Her husband, Hermann, also visited frequently, and Gwen took the train to New York a few times. But soon Gwen found that yucca Loma was her home, and she became indispensable. Over the years, she and Hermann visited back and forth but were finally divorced in 1936.
Gwen’s sparkling personality and genuine warmth, as well as her ability as a manager, were qualities that attracted visitors and encouraged lifelong friendships. Gwen always dressed flamboyantly. She tended to wear bright scarfs on her head and often wore velvet blues and long skirts Many remember her colorful Southwest dresses and her unusual jewelry [as they remember my mother’s striking jewelry as well].Gwen would come to town in her big Packard convertible with the top down with her three big Alaskan Malamutte dogs [which I remember well] sitting there beside her.
Gwen regretted never having had any children; so she welcomed me and cared for me like a mother when my biological mother deposited me in her arms in 1938 when Madole was preparing to sail off to Europe for a year and needed some place to park me. [What could be a better place to leave your two year old baby for a couple of years than a desert dude ranch and Hollywood hideaway, famous with the stars?]
One of the people I remember still from my Yucca Loma days was Nat, an African American chef from New Orleans who prepared marvelous meals for us and used to bring me breakfast on a tray in my little stucco cabin. Hedda Hopper raved about he meals prepared by Nat, and after Gwen died in 1954 and the ranch closed, she hired him to be her own private personal cook. Many famous celebrities from Hollywood and LA used to make the drive to Yucca Loma just to “enjoy Nat’s magic.” Nat also doubled as a chauffeur and would drive to the train station to pick up guests in his bright red convertible. Nat was also a great dancer, having been a professional dancer in New Orleans.
I also remember Neil, who was Gwen’s right hand man, and Tony, who helped Faustine and Maria serve dinner passing the large artistic plates that Nat prepared and arranged artistically.
Who were the clientele of the ranch? Hundreds of guests connected with the entertainment industry developing in Los Angeles and Hollywood in the 1920s ’30s and ‘40s visited the ranch regularly. Some of the most well-known were George Abbott author and producer of Broadway show such as “Damn Yankees” and “The Pajama Game.” Eddie “Rochester”Anderson famous on the Jack Benny Radio Show. Cy Bartlett, author of the novel and later the film script for “Tweve O’Clock High”. Jack Benny, famous radio and later television comedian. Beulah Bondi, character actress, played Ma Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life” in 1946. Marge and Gower Champion, a famous dancing couple who visited the ranch in the 40s and 50s.Clark Gable, who was married to actress Carol Lombard, but had a steamy affair at the ranch with Loretta Young in 1935. Inexplicably, she became pregnant and had to disappear for nine months to have her illegitimate baby. [like my mother] Hedda Hopper, who appeared in dozens films before she started her famous gossip column becoming rival of the gossip columnist Louella Parsons. She became known for wearing large flamboyant hats and having strong opinions. Her columns always had good things to sy about Rancho Yucca Loma, where she was a frequent guest.Jess Oppenheimer, nicknamed “Skinhead” was a frequent visitor to the ranch. When he moved to Hollywood in 1936 he was hired as a comedy writer for Fred Astair’s radio program, and then as a gag writer for Jack Benny. He went on to write comedy for various variety programs and sketches for Hollywood stars, such as Fred and Gracie Allen, Marlene Dietrich, Bob Hope, etc.He later wrote for “The Baby Snooks Show” and for the “I Love Lucy” show. Gregory Peck, best known for his performance of Attcus Finch in the film “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Cesar Romero a film actor who specialiuzedin playing Latin lovers and played the Joker tin the original Batman TV series. Irwin Shaw, author of the novel and later film, “The Young Lions.” Fred Zinnemann, director of such films as “High Noon” (1952) and “From Here to Eternity” (1953).
One other person I want to mention is Carlos del Prado, a young Mexican radio script writer who used the Rancho as a place to write and get away from his other life as a law student at Loyola University in Los Angeles. There he met an attractive 38 year-old heiress and sculptor Marguerite Brunswig, who had just returned to California after a two-year sojourn studying art in Mexico. With similar interests, they hit it off at once and soon became lovers. But like Loretta Young, unexpectedly she became pregnant, and had to disappear to have her baby. When she later was forced by her very patriarchal father to accompany her mother to Europe in 1938, big-hearted Gwen kindly agreed to take care of her baby.
Dr. Catherine Boynton passed away in 1949 at the age of 79. Her daughter, Gwen Behr born in 1893, died a few years later in early January, 1954. That was the end of Rancho Yucca Loma.