“Crash” Corrigan, was famous as a movie landlord

August 10, 1976

On this day Hollywood said goodby to cowboy actor Roy “Crash” Corrigan, famous not so much for his  dozens of mediocre movies but for the hundreds of Westerns filmed at his famous California movie ranch, Corriganville.

Corriganville was a working studio

Corriganville, the actor’s 1,500-acre property in Simi Valley, was not only a working studio, but a tourist attraction before it was swept twice by fires in the 1970s.

Corrigan was born Raymond Benitz a long way from back lots in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1902.  At first he was a stunt man and physical fitness trainer.  His film credits were largely made up of a cheap knock-off series of Westerns called the “Range Busters” made between 1940 and 1943.  

While never an A-Lister himself, his supporting roles in films with bigger names apparently made him a number of A-List friends.  Corrigan discovered the future Corriganville ranch in 1937 while on a hunting trip with Clark Gable.  He made a $1,000 down-payment on the property and continued to pay $1,000 a month toward the purchase price of $11,354. 

Corriganville’s Western front street

It was the perfect location for a working studio.  Blessed with natural lakes, impressive boulders, mountains and caves, Corriganville also constructed an entire Western town where movie crews could  live, work and store gear during shooting, cutting down on both cost and travel time.

Just a partial list of Western series and movies filmed at the ranch include Fort Apache, The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, The Adventures of Kit Carson, Have Gun-Will Travel and Sky King.

The Lone Ranger TV series, shot at Corriganville

The business-savvy Corrigan made thousands of dollars leasing the site to movie-makers before opening it up to the public on weekends  in 1949, charging  $1 in admission.   After making a fortune with the property,  he sold the ranch to mega-rich, mega real estate speculator, mega-star Bob Hope in 1965 for a tidy profit of nearly $2 million. 

 The comedian developed only a small parcel near the entrance during the 1960s and 70s and the ranch was swept by two devastating fires, one in 1970 and another in 1979.   Nearly all the original structures were destroyed.  One of the last movies filmed there was Vigilante Force in 1976. 

Corrigan continued to work in movies until  the  late 1950s.  In addition to B-Westerns, he appeared in a number of ape movies, staring in Nabonga and White Pongo.   His uncredited role as Spanky, the wife-stealing gorilla in the 1958 “The Bride and the Beast,” proved to be one of his last.

Corrigan’s realistic ape suit (left) eventually got more movie credits than he did.  When he sold the suit to bartender turned ape impersonator Steve Calvert, neither he nor Calvert cared to be associated with the gorilla roles and studios began listing them as “Corrigan Ape Suit.”

Despite his success as an entrepreneur, Corrigan apparently wasn’t adept at hanging on to his money.  Married and divorced twice, his first wife, Elaine Dupont (left), was an actress with a string of small, uncredited parts in popular films, including “How to Marry a Millionaire” and a number of Elvis Presley movies.  A domestic dispute with one of the ex-wives reportedly cut significantly in to the proceeds from the sale of Corriganville.

 Contemporary sources reported the actor was living in an Oregon trailer park when he died of a heart attack. He was interred at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California, in an unmarked grave.  He was 74.

In 1988, the City of Simi Valley purchased 190 acres of the defunct Corriganville and developed a regional park.  Remnants of the original movie locations, however, can still be seen from the park’s scenic hiking trails.

Corriganville Park, 700 Smith Road, Simi Valley, California, features  remnants of various movie locations and  buildings on Crash Corrigan’s former movie ranch along the park’s scenic hiking trails.  Signs provide information about the film locations from the 30s, 40s and 50s. 

Administered by the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, it’s still a favorite of Western movie buffs and open to the public daily from 6 to sunset.  For more information go to rsrpd.org/Corriganville Park or call (805) 584-4400. 

© Text Only – 2018 – Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.