Old Tucson Studios memories

By Julianna Flores/El Inde

It’s been 26 years since Tim Bentley started working at Old Tucson Studios. He still remembers how fun it was working there and he still holds on to both of his name badges.

He also still has an Old Tucson sheriff’s badge that reads “Sheriff Tim” and an old pass to the park with a photo of a younger-looking Bentley on it. He’s around 28 years old in the photo, but today, Bentley is 54 years old and sporting a full gray beard. 

He started working at Old Tucson Studios as marketing coordinator in 1994 and then again as the film and marketing manager from 1996 to 2000. He left in 2000 as its marketing director. 

Being a Tucson native, he thought Old Tucson Studios would be a fun job. Eventually, as he rose through the ranks, he’d make sure there was a “high profile, highly visible advertising campaign” to make sure that people and movies knew to come to the park.

Old Tucson Studios’ history goes back to 1939, when it was made originally to be a set for the movie “Arizona.” After, it became an Old Western movie studio and theme park with over 400 films and television shows that have been filmed there. From “Rio Bravo,” “Three Amigos,” “Tombstone” to “Little House on the Prairie.”  

The studio opened to the public as a theme park in 1960 after an entrepreneur, Robert Shelton, leased the property from Pima County.

One of Bentley’s favorite memories of working at Old Tucson was that when they used to film movies, they would sometimes have employees work as extras in the film.

“I played a dead guy in some movie one time,” Bentley said. These were “a different experience than most people have.” Meeting Danny Glover and Kenny Chesney were also highlights of working at Old Tucson for Bentley.

Once a lively Old Western-themed attraction for tourists and native Tucsonans alike, Old Tucson Studios has become a ghost town. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Old Tucson Studios has closed indefinitely. And since Sept. 14, 2020, Pima County has gained control of the property and will “begin working on a new plan for the park’s future,” according to the Old Tucson Studios website.

Many past and recent Old Tucson Studios employees and visitors have been publicly reminiscing about the park in the wake of its closure. 

This isn’t the first time Bentley has seen the park close. 

Bentley worked at Old Tucson when a fire burned down a huge part of the park on April 24, 1995. The fire destroyed many buildings and film memorabilia — such as costumes John Wayne wore and the wardrobe for the “Little House on the Prairie.” 

The fire caused the park to close for 20 months and then reopened in 1997. The park would never restore completely to its original form. 

Bentley is sad that Old Tucson Studios is currently closed again but he believes something “cool” is going to happen with it in the future.“It’s a unique property that helps give Tucson an identity,” he said. 

Tim Bentley’s name badges and memorabilia from Old Tucson Studios.
Photo courtesy of Tim Bentley.