“A stream that feeds a rainbow trout fishery and attracts moose and elk...a perfect rural retreat,” the ad reads. “Live like the king of cool...Steve McQueen’s great escape—a sprawling 500-acre Idaho ranch—is being offered for sale for $7.4 million.”
The Hollywood superstar spotted the property—known as Crazy M Ranch—quite by accident on a trip to Idahowith his third wife, Barbi, in 1979, but he enjoyed his piece of Idaho heaven for only a year. He died of mesothelioma in November 1980 at age 50.
“After his death, his widow built the two-bedroom log cabin, and the current owners added the annex in 2010 and remodeled the original cabin in 2004,” the ad reads. “A large stone fireplace creates a cozy atmosphere in the living room, and the property also includes three bedrooms, a library and bar...Another recent addition is a four-bay garage...”
Steve McQueen is just one of many celebrities who have been attracted to Idaho’s pristine natural beauty and the hospitality of its people. But long before him, Nellie Shipman, a star of the silent movie days, may have led the pack when she left the hurly-burly of Hollywood to set up her own production company in Priest Lake in 1923.
Patty Duke, who won an Academy Award for her role in “The Miracle Worker,” a movie about Helen Keller, fled Hollywood with her husband, Michael Pearce, and settled in North Idaho. So too did Ellen Travolta and husband, veteran actor Jack Bannon, and Dennis Franz of “NYPD Blue.” Dawn Wells — the unforgettable Mary Ann from “Gilligan’s Island” — moved to Driggs in southeast Idaho.
Patty Duke — friends and family call her Anna — and her husband, Mike, bought a 40-acre ranch in Hayden in the early 1990s, but now live in Coeur d’Alene. She still accepts acting roles and performs in the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theater, along with Ellen and Jack.
“We love it up here,” Anna said. “I left Los Angeles because it got too crowded and angry...I was there during the Watts riots...The people here are wonderful.”
There are plenty of new Idahoans from out of state who would echo the same sentiment.
Anna regrets that Hollywood has so few roles for older actors, unlike British movies. “Our movies are all for the kids.”
Both Ellen and Jack are veteran actors with a long list of credits dating back to the mid-1960s. Jack co-starred with Ed Asner in the Lou Grant TV series, and Ellen performed in movies and dozens of TV shows—starting with the popular “All in the Family.”
Among the early-bird Hollywood luminaries of the silent film era to land in Idaho was Nell Shipman, a Canadian-born beauty with enormous talent as an actress, writer, director, producer, animal activist and trainer, and conservationist.
She left Hollywood to set up Nell Shipman Productions, an independent movie company in Spokane, moving to Priest Lake in 1923 and bringing a menagerie of about 200 wild animals under her care. Her compound was called Lionhead Lodge, which sadly no longer exists. Except for some interpretive signs on the site, there is no evidence of any of the structures.
An early feminist, Nell liked strong women in lead roles in her stories and films. It was in Priest Lake that she made several short films before the big studios took control of all aspects of filmmaking and pushed indies like Nell’s into bankruptcy. She gave her animals to the San Diego Zoo and left Idaho, never to return.
Nell spent most of the rest of her life writing short stories and screenplays, living in the desert town of Cabazon between Banning, Calif., and Palm Springs.
Glamour star of the 1940s Lana Turner was born in historic Wallace in 1921, daughter of a Tennessee miner turned gambler and bootlegger. It was a hardscrabble life for the little blonde whom they called Judy. Because of hard times, the family left Wallace for San Francisco, where on a December night in 1930, her father was robbed and murdered.
Six years later, she and her mother moved to Los Angeles where she attended Hollywood High School. A writer from Hollywood Reporter spotted her sipping a soda at Top Hat Cafe on Sunset Boulevard and asked her if she wanted to be in the movies. The rest is history.
But away from all the glamour and bright lights of Hollywood, Lana Turner led a turbulent life checkered with failed marriages, failed relationships, money troubles, mobsters, homicide and bad health.
She never again lived in Wallace, but did visit. Lana died at her Century City home of throat cancer in 1995, leaving a legacy of 54 films. Folks in the Silver Valley are still proud to call her one of their own.
Sherry Jackson was born in Wendell in 1942 and became a talented Hollywood actress—appearing in some 110 movies and television shows. She’s remembered as one of the children in the Ma and Pa Kettle movies, and later was on screen with John Wayne and John Garfield.
“Retirement” is not a word in Dawn Wells’ vocabulary. Now in her 70s and living in Driggs, she’s still an Energizer Bunny in pursuing the things she likes: acting, teaching, public appearances and supporting a number of charitable works.
“I am so fortunate to love what I do and been able to do it my whole life,” she told Nashville writer Randy Fox. “I’m just so grateful. I’m going to live to be 100, and I want to be Betty White when I grow up!”
America will always remember Dawn as the wholesome Mary Ann in Gilligan’s Island. “I think Mary Ann would be your best friend,” Dawn said, describing the character she played. “She was obtainable—you could take her to the prom. So many men tell me, ‘I married a Mary Ann!’ “
Not all stories about celebrities who have been a part of Idaho history have a happy ending. Supermodel and actress Margaux Hemingway was one of them. Though born in Portland, Ore., in 1954, she spent much of her early life in Ketchum, Idaho, where her father, Jack (son of writer Ernest Hemingway), was a member of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, and served with the Nature Conservancy.
A statuesque 6 feet tall, Margaux was the first model to sign a multi-million dollar contract, representing Faberge. Her stunning looks appeared on the covers of Cosmopolitan, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, TIME and Vogue.
Helping her up the ladder of success was friend and mentor Zachary Selig. They spent time with the Hemingway family at Ketchum studying Solar Kundalini, yoga, and meditation. She would use those relaxation skills the rest of her life in dealing with clinical depression.
While hobnobbing in New York with celebrities like Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol and Bianca Jagger, she started mixing drugs and alcohol. On July 1, 1996, she was found dead in her Santa Monica studio apartment from an overdose of phenobarbital. She was 42. The coroner called it suicide.
Like Steve McQueen and many other Hollywood celebrities dating back to the 1930s, superstar action hero Bruce Willis also bought a second home in Hailey to rest from the demands of fame — an 8,400-square-foot lakefront mansion with six bedrooms. But now it’s for sale for $7 million-plus.
He also once owned a Sun Valley bar called The Mint, Liberty Theater, E.G. Willis Building in Hailey and the Soldier Mountain ski area near Fairfield. Also the former Dynamite Lounge in Ketchum. Today, he’s selling his Idaho interests and buying New York, New Jersey and Turks and Caicos properties.
Still living in a getaway home across the street from the former Willis estate is his ex-wife, actress Demi Moore (“G.I. Jane”), mother of three of his daughters. She bought the house with her last husband, actor Ashton Kutcher — 15 years her junior. He’s gone but Demi still has the house in Hailey.
Throughout Idaho history, celebrities have come and gone, but some like Patty Duke, Ellen Travolta, Jack Bannon, and Dawn Wells have traded the glamour and tinsel of Hollywood to live among real beauty and real people.