In 1936 Warner Bros. was in a race to put out a movie called “Boulder Dam.” The movie company wanted this film to open the same weekend as the completion of Hoover Dam hoping to cash in on the press attention surrounding the massive engineering project. The Six Cos. turned over Hoover Dam to the federal government on March 1, 1936, more than two years ahead of schedule. “Boulder Dam” the movie premiered six days later.
The construction of Hoover Dam involved thousands of workers and resulted in the tragic loss of over 100 lives during a time when work and money were hard to come by. Since its construction, rumors of hauntings, curses, satanic rituals and alien life have added a shroud of mystery to the Hoover Dam.
A Google search of the phrase “Hoover Dam mystery” seems to back up all the peculiar speculation. And I can’t help but feel a chill run down my spine when comparing the tragedies associated with the movie “Boulder Dam” and the place where it was partially filmed — the actual Hoover Dam.
“Boulder Dam” has a simple plot. Rusty Noonan is played by actor Ross Alexander. Noonan kills his boss in Detroit and takes off West. Noonan meets a Las Vegas girl named Ann Vangarick (Patricia Ellis), gets a job at Hoover Dam, and eventually returns home to confess to the murder and seek forgiveness — of course, with the support of his new employer and his new girl.
“Boulder Dam” was co-written by author Sy Bartlett. Bartlett was actually born Sacha Baraniev in Ukraine and, in spite of his literary and movie successes, he was no stranger to scandal and tragedy. His wife, actress Alice White, was at the center of a major Hollywood sex scandal when she left her wedding ceremony with another man. Both Bartlett and White’s careers were impacted by her questionable behavior at her wedding, and the pair continued to run into spells of bad luck throughout the rest of their lives. One such incident involved White falling off of a ladder in her backyard and landing on top of gardening sheers. The actress was blind for months.
Then there is Alexander, the star of “Boulder Dam,” who shot himself less than a year after the movie debuted. Alexander was considered to be extremely charming and incredibly good looking for his era. In fact, he was considered the Keanu Reeves of his time. Alexander killed himself using the same rifle his wife, actress Aleta Freel, used to kill herself with a year earlier in the garden of their Hollywood Hills home. The house is once again for sale; the listing can be viewed on Zillow at 7357 Woodrow Wilson Drive.
Freel’s father felt Alexander actually killed his daughter and he pressed the Los Angeles Police Department to further look into the matter. Paul Donnelly’s book “Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries” further documents Freel’s alleged suicide, and it is worth a read.
Before his own suicide, Alexander continued to be involved in controversies and tragedies, including a violent fight with Bette Davis’ husband after it was discovered that he was stalking the actress. Alexander also had a bisexual incident with a male hitchhiker that had to be buried by Warner Bros. in an attempt to not overshadow the positive press for “Boulder Dam.”
While all the tragic occurrences related to the movie “Boulder Dam” may just be coincidence, the subject matter of various strange happenings and mysterious energy certainly seem to add to the allure that provokes over a million visitors to tour Hoover Dam every year. And, in my opinion, the suspected strange energy and rumored mysteries surrounding the dam would make for another great Hollywood movie!
The Hoover Dam Visitor Center is open daily except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are two different guided tours to choose from and tickets can be purchased online at http://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/service/.
Special thanks to my “Hollywood Insider” (who has a home here in Boulder City) for the tip on “Boulder Dam.” You can send your tips and TBT requests to me, via email, by visiting TanyaVece.com.
Tanya Vece is an entertainment and music writer who resides and volunteers in Boulder City. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @hollywoodwriter.