Thoughts of movie and TV stars conjure up images of sprawling palm-tree lined estates along Sunset Boulevard. But a scattering of entertainers have also made the 209 their home.
Child silent movie star Diana Serra Cary, known as “Baby Peggy” to millions in the 1920s, has called Gustine and Newman home for many years.
Character Jack Elam lived in the Modesto area during the 1930s. Elam, who made a cameo role in “High Noon” and served as James Garner’s sidekick in “Support Your Local Sheriff” (1969), spent some time studying at Modesto Junior College where his brother was a professor. The cock-eyed actor died in 2003.
Here’s a recap of the famous past residents of the 209: ■
Erin MoranIn the 1990s, “Happy Days” actress Erin Moran lived on a 10-acre ranch in Stevinson in Merced County. She left years before her death in 2017 at the age of 56.
George Walton Lucas, creator of “Star Wars,” grew up at 530 Ramona Avenue after his May 14, 1944 birth in Modesto. His father, George Walton Lucas, Sr., ran the L.M. Moore stationery and office supply store. The Lucas’s later moved to a walnut orchard north of Modesto.
From 1958 to 1962, Lucas attended Downey High School and on June 12, 1962 – two days before graduation – Lucas suffered a serious car crash while driving his Fiat Bianchina on rural Claribel Road. He felt his life was spared for a reason; he attended Modesto Junior College and a film school at the University of California. He produced a short film on racing, which led to the Modesto-based film American Graffiti shot in Petaluma.
Carol ChanningCarol Channing became a Modesto resident in 2003 after marrying junior high school sweetheart, widower Harry Kullijian. The couple shared his home on Rumble Road in Modesto. She once caused excitement at the courthouse when she showed up for jury duty. Channing and Kullijian later appeared at a fundraiser at the Barkin’ Dog Grill where she sang. Upon Harry’s death after Christmas 2011, Channing moved to Rancho Mirage where she died this year.
Ben JohnsonStuntman, rodeo cowboy and western movie actor Ben Johnson lived on Skiff Road in Escalon. Best known for his roles in “Shane,” “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” and “The Wild Bunch” the Oklahoma born actor returned to the area several times. In 1982 he filmed “Shadow Riders” in Knights Ferry, Sonora and Columbia with Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott. He also attended Sonora Wild West Film Festivals.
Actress Janet Leigh was born in 1927 as Jeanette Helen Morrison in Merced where she lived two years. Her parents, Fred and Helen Morrison moved her to Stockton where she excelled in music and dance at Weber Elementary School. The Stockton High School graduate gained fame in the Hitchcock thriller, “Psycho.”
“Wild, Wild West” TV series star Robert Conrad spent decades in a 5,000-square-foot chalet in Bear Valley near Arnold. Starring as James West in the 1960’s series “The Wild, Wild West,” and fighter pilot squad commander Pappy Boyington in the 1970’s series “Baa Black Sheep,” Conrad purchased the property in the early 1980s.
Conrad’s time here was marred in a March 2003 DUI crash on Highway 4 west of Arnold. Seriously injured Conrad was Medi-Flighted to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto. Later a Calaveras County judge sentenced Conrad to six month’s house arrest and ordered him to complete alcohol counseling.
1950 Modesto High graduate Harve Presnell who appeared in “Paint Your Wagon” and “Fargo,” was born in Modesto in 1933. As a teen he picked peaches on his family’s ranch on Ladd Road. He is best known for his role in the Broadway play “Annie.”
Former lead singer of “Journey,” Steve Perry was born in Hanford to Portuguese parents. The 1967 graduate of Lemoore High School later spent time near Tracy.
While in high school Steve sang and played drums for the band, “the Sullies. They competed and won over 80 other bands at the Calaveras County Battle of Bands in Angels Camp.
In his 20s, Perry moved to Sacramento to start the band “Ice” with future music producer Scott Mathews. In 1975, Perry formed Pieces, another unsuccessful rock band, in Thousand Oaks. Perry ended up in Banta near Tracy where he fronted for “Alien Project.” He nearly gave up music in 1977 when bassist Richard Michaels was killed in a crash. Returning to Lemoore, Perry’s mother begged him to answer a call from Walter Herbert, manager of the struggling San Francisco band “Journey.”
Perry and Jonathan Cain were traveling through the 209 from Bakersfield to San Francisco when they wrote the hit song, “Who’s Crying Now.”
Best known for roles in “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Dr. Strangelove,” character actor Slim Pickens retired in Columbia where he was listed in the telephone directory. He occasionally shopped in the Valley and in 1981 showed up at Sears at the Vintage Faire Mall to rent a tuxedo for his daughter Margaret’s wedding.
Pickens was born Louis Burton Lindley in Kingsburg and attended Hanford High School. He traded dairying for the excitement of the rodeo circuit. Pickens appeared at many rodeo events in Oakdale and rode in the 1977 Oakdale Rodeo Parade. Pickens died at Modesto’s Evergreen Convalescent Hospital on Dec. 8, 1983. His funeral in Columbia attracted western actors Rex Allen and Burton Gilliam.
Successful actor Jeremy Renner was born in Modesto and graduated from Beyer High School in 1989. He attended Modesto Junior College, where he studied computer science and criminology, before he took drama as an elective and decided to pursue acting. He has starred in 36 movies to date, including “Dahmer,” and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” “Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation,” “The Avengers” and “The Bourne Legacy.”
Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr called Turlock home during her marriage to Lewis W. Boies Jr.
Boies was an attorney in Beverly Hills who met Lamarr when he served as her divorce attorney. They wed in 1963 and regularly stayed at the five-bedroom colonial home at Sierra and Shasta streets – built in 1941 by Boies’ father, founder of Boies Pharmacy. They divorced in 1965 and Lamarr never returned to Turlock.