When did Montana celebrities start coming to the state, and how do locals feel about that?
The internet can only take you so far with that question, and if you want to get to the bottom of things you have to go to the archives. I did that a week ago when I visited the Montana Historical Society Research Center.
On a whim I pulled open a drawer, looking for “famous Montana people.” I got more than I could have hoped for, and today I’ll share it with you. First, though, let’s list all of the Montana celebrities that we’ve profiled so far, with links to the article they appear in:
- Stephen Ambrose
- Jeff Ament
- Ed Bearss
- Dirk Benedict
- Brad Bird
- Tom Brokaw
- Dana Carvey
- Connie Chung
- Liz Claiborne
- Gary Cooper
- John Dahl
- Monte Dolack
- Patrick Duffy
- Bob Dylan
- Dwan Edwards
- John Elway
- Al Feldstein
- Mel Gibson
- James Grady
- Jack Hanna
- Jack Horner
- Chet Huntley
- Phil Jackson
- Ted Kaczynski
- Michael Keaton
- Evel Knieval
- David Letterman
- Huey Lewis
- John Lithgow
- Christopher Lloyd
- Howie Long
- Myrna Loy
- David Lynch
- Andi MacDowell
- Norman Maclean
- Mike Mansfield
- John Mayer
- Steve McQueen
- Joe Montana
- Brent Musburger
- Wayne Newton
- Christopher Paolini
- Maury Povich
- Charley Pride
- Dennis Quaid
- Marc Racicot
- Jeannette Rankin
- Steve Reeves
- Charlie M. Russell
- Steven Seagall
- J.K. Simmons
- Kiefer Sutherland
- Ted Turner
- Michelle Williams
These are the celebrities you said you wanted to hear about, at least in the comments of those posts. I’d like to add that I never would have started writing about Montana celebrities and famous Montana people if it wasn’t for this November 2013 post called Montana, What do You Want to Read?
The only person who commented on that post was a woman named Andrya Perez, who I knew while living in China. She wanted to know about famous Montana artists, something I thought was kind of silly. Boy was I dumb! Since writing these pieces they’ve become the most popular articles on my website, each and every month. They’ve also made me hundreds of dollars in advertising income. Shows you what I know.
Alright, let’s stop wasting time and get to what you came here for – famous Montana celebrities. You won’t be disappointed!
Montana Celebrities in 1982
- Joe Robbie, “proprietor of the Miami Dolphins pro football team,” has a ranch near Ennis.
- Christopher Parkening, “an internationally known classical guitarist,” had a home in Bozeman.
- Colonel Robert Stevens had a ranch near Two Dot. He was former secretary of the Army “and his family runs J.P. Stevens, the textile firm that’s had frequent squabbles with unions in recent years (it was the villain in the film ‘Norma Rae.”)
- Vang Pao, “the Laotion [sic] guerrilla who fought communist troops with U.S. aid during the Vietnam War, has settled on a farm in the Bitterroot Valley.”
- Michael Cimino, “who won an Oscar for ‘The Deer Hunter,’ has a place near Glacier National Park.
- Actor John McIntire, known from “Wagon Train” lived in northwest Montana in “the isolated Yaak country” with his wife Jeanette Nolan, who is known from the TV show “Dirty Sally.”
The Helena IR Profiles Montana Celebrities in 1986
In the piece you get a lot of older celebrities, people from the early- to mid-20th century. You also get some newer folks, and here are the highlights:
- F. Scott Fitzgerald “spent the summer of 1915 on a ranch near White Sulphur Springs, which set the stage for his short story ‘The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.’”
- Comedian Red Skelton visited Flathead Lake a lot during World War II, “but once he bought the wrong kind of hunting license and got caught.” The comedian was “given a stiff fine and had his gun taken away.” That caused Skelton to leave the Flathead Valley “with a bad taste in his mouth,” and he never returned.
- Earnest Hemingway was heading up to Billings with John Dos Pasos in late-1930 for a hunting trip. They were coming from Northern Wyoming “when their car went off the road between Park City and Laurel. Hemingway’s arm was fractured and he spent two months in St. Vincent Hospital in Billings, passing time by listening to the radio, getting to know a Mexican gambler who was also a patient, and talking with a nun.” This led him to write a story called “The Gambler, the Nun and the Radio,” which was eventually changed to “Give Us A Prescription, Doctor,” when it appeared in Scribners Magazine in May 1933.
- Hank Williams, Jr. “fell off Ajax Mountain in Big Hole Country and was in critical condition” in 1975. “He recuperated at Missoula Community Medical Center and in 1983 came back to Missoula to help dedicate a new emergency center.”
Famous Montana Celebrities in 1990
He mentions that “the Boulder River Valley is where most of the well-off have recently settled.” He describes the place as
“End-of-the-road territory, a sublime stretch of dun-colored, boulder-strewn prairie, with hayfields and a narrow two-lane road that peters out beneath the mountain ramparts of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area, which lies northeast of Yellowstone National Park.”
“Miss Shields is a recent addition to the valley. Michael Keaton has a place here. The novelist Tom McGuane has one on the West Fork of the Boulder River. So does Dave Grusin, the musician, and Robert D. Haas, chairman of Levi Strauss & Company, and owner of the Oakland A’s. Just north of Yellowstone National Park, Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan have a house. Jeff Bridges is a neighbor. So is Peter Fonda.”
“In southwestern Montana celebrities have swarmed to the Bitterroot Valley. The musicians Huey Lewis and Hank Williams Jr., the investment broker Charles Schwab, the actor Christopher Lloyd and Russ Francis, formerly with the New England Patriots, are among those with spreads here.”
“People come here and say they’re trying to escape places like California, but they’re not. They bring the world they come from with them. Since I’ve lived here I’ve seen more fences go up. You can’t do business with a handshake anymore. You’ve lost that sense of community.”
Much of the animosity that Montanans feel toward celebrities can be traced to Ted Turner.
“The foreman of the Turner ranch placed an advertisement in the local papers warning hunters off the property. ‘Turner ranches are patrolled and all violators will be prosecuted,’ the advertisement advised. ‘Know your boundaries.’
Sportsmen were incensed. In response, one rancher near Helena, Harvey Irby, placed an advertisement in response that read: ‘Attention. Ted Turner. You are positively the only one denied permission to hunt on my ranch!’
Mr. Turner, who refused to be interviewed about his Montana property, apologized for the advertisements in a letter to Mr. Irby, but the damage had been done.”
USA Weekend’s 1990 Look at Montana Celebrities
During that time the state had “11 of the USA’s 100 best trout streams.”
According to the Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce in 1990, “an average square mile of land in Montana holds 3.3 deer, 1.2 elk or antelope (depending on where you happen to be), 896 keeper-size fish and five people.”
In 1990 a “typical 2,500 square foot house on five acres goes for $100,000,” the article said.
Besides those great economic numbers, the article is a treasure-trove of Montana celebrity information. Here are some highlights:
- Movie stars have been coming to Chico Hot Springs, “a celebrity hangout in Paradise Valley,” since 1974 when the film Rancho Deluxe was shot nearby. That starred Sam Waterston and Jeff Bridges, and that’s where Bridges met his wife, Sue, who was a hostess there.
- In Stevensville there’s the Lonesome Dove Riding, Drinking and Flying Saloon, which was owned by Russ Francis, former tight end for the San Francisco 49ers. Huey Lewis was a regular there.
- The Livingston Bar and Grill “has been transformed from an old Western bar into a local hip hangout for Jeff Bridges, Michael Keaton, and Dennis and Randy Quaid.”
- Pabol Elvira, “a leading baritone for the New York Metropolitan Opera, has a house on 100 acres near Bozeman.” He was from Puerto Rico originally and “founded a local opera company,” in his new Montana town. His wife was from there, and when he went to meet her parents he “fell in love with the place.”
Montana Celebrities in 1991
- Hoyt Axton “owns a home on seven acres near Victor.”
- Carol Burnett, who “owns property outside Whitefish, on The Big Mountain.”
- Liz Claiborne “owns a home in the Swan Valley and land near Canyon Creek.”
- Glenn Close “owns a farmhouse outside Bozeman, and is co-owner (with a sister) of a Bozeman coffee house.”
- Emilio Estevez “owns a home near Whitefish.”
- Lon Hinkle “is the touring pro for Eagle Bend of Bigfork, where he owns a home.”
- Steve Howe “owns property outside Kalispell.”
- Jim Nabors “owns a home outside Whitefish, on The Big Mountain.”
- Jack Nicklaus “owns a hunting lodge in the Noxon area and is building another near Essex.”
- Charlie Sheen “owns property in the Swan Valley along with basketball player Frank Brickowski, and 420 acres near, reportedly, Nirada, in Lake County.”
The Celebrity Impact on Montana Land Values in 1993
“In Livingston, where much of ‘A River Runs Through It’ was filmed (because the real river in Norman Maclean's novella is polluted), land values have increased from $1,500 to $6,500 an acre in 10 years. A woman in the town's largest real-estate office tells me only land speculators are happy. ‘Nothing is moving,’ she says. ‘No one can afford to sell because no one can afford to buy.’
Still, is this really the issue? Bowler doesn’t think so, for he sees their arrival as a benefit:
“But it's not those outsiders who are the big problem under the Big Sky. The movie stars (who are fun to watch and seldom seen in winter) and the newcomers do little harm and generally help the economy. Because they've moved here for a better life, they insist on good schools and municipal services. If enough of them come, perhaps Montana will regain the second congressional seat it lost in the last round of reapportionment.”
“No, Montana's big problem is that it has always been a resource-exporting state with little clout in Washington and other places where natural resources are regulated. First its copper, then its coal, then its timber were taken away by outsiders. And companies like Anaconda (which literally removed part of the city of Butte to get to the copper beneath) did not replace their divots when they left the state. The result is scarred land, thousands of acres of cleared forests. (One of the largest timber companies is selling out now and leaving the state.) And there's heavy pressure to open more federally owned wilderness to loggers and miners.
Because Montana is so vast, it's easy to discount any damage that might have been done. A population equivalent to Baltimore, Towson and Parkville is squeezed into a state the size of Michigan, Illinois and Indiana combined. The Bozemans of Montana, even the stripped forestland, are like tiny splotches on a wall mural. More than 6 million people visited the state last year, but precious few found their way to out-of-the-way Ekalaka, Madoc, Yaak or Belt.”