Actress, historian, film commissioner, writer, business owner, adventurer--none of these titles alone capture the force that is Bette Larsen Stanton. A very short list from her memoir introduction, A Zillion Adventures, gives you a better idea. “I’ve refereed gang/racial fights in Salt Lake City, busted a drug pad with the police in San Diego, been shot at in the deserts of southern Arizona, doubled for film actress Arlene Dahl in The Outriders, tracked a cougar in southern Utah, helped trail 2000 head of cattle in Wyoming, eaten grub worms with the Aborigines in Australia, traversed the Panama Canal, sailed the Greek Isles, and glided over the Serengeti in a hot air balloon. . .”
Yet, Bette isn’t just some professional adventurer. Many of those events listed above were part of a job or business, and they prepared her for her crucial role in helping Moab pull itself out of the economic devastation caused by the collapse of mining in Southeast Utah. She worked in the film industry in Kanab, wrote grants for Salt Lake and Tooele Counties, and owned her own businesses in Salt Lake City. Her fearlessness and energy, she was born with . . . “Can’t isn’t in my vocabulary.”
In the late 1960’s, Bette moved herself and her three children to Moab. She was working for Riley Drug as a cashier/bookkeeper when, as she said, “Skinny Winn from Texas hit town with the Canyonlands by Night Sound and Light Show.” After Bette took the trip as part of Winn’s promotional for locals involved in tourism, she made some suggestions about the script. Soon after, unable to support her family on the drug store job, she moved back to Salt Lake City accepting a position with the public safety commission.
“I had no more begun work for the commission when I got a call from Winnco, Inc. asking me if I would consider contracting with the company to rewrite the script, reproduce the soundtrack, promote the show, and sell the Winnco board on putting up $65,000 to cover costs for the redo and a new barge for the river. He said he would pay all expenses for me to fly to Texas. How could I refuse?” Bette created a docudrama that replaced the straight narrative text. She hired professionals for voice and special sound effects. She did this and her job in Salt Lake, commuting to Moab on weekends.
Bette came back to Moab in 1982. Unable to get a job, she asked Adrien Taylor how to get involved with local economic and community development organizations. Upon contacting those organizations, Bette learned that they had little or no budget for office space nor staff. To help fill this gap, Bette started Moab’s first temp service.
Working with Moab Community Development, Bette applied for a state grant to develop the second nine holes at Moab Golf Club. They got the grant which supported their goal of attracting tourists and retirees. Another idea originating with Community Development was for a slick photo booklet that would highlight the attractions in and around Moab. Bette contacted a group of interested people who became Moab Area Promotion. They gathered the photos, wrote cut lines and produced the The Magic of Moab. People could then add an insert to highlight their own business or organization, or it could be sold as it was.
Bette Stanton in Thailand with a python snake
Bette Stanton as a stand in for actress
Next, Bette approached the city and county with the idea of writing a grant that would house all of the organizations that were working to recover the local economy. She offered to write the grant and stay involved in the implementation of it. Conditions of the grant included the preparation of a five-year economic recovery plan, annual evaluations and progress reports. To this end, Central Services Unit was organized, and held town hall meetings for community input. Moabites packed the weekly meetings. Bette said, “A young man named Tom Kuehne suggested that we have a contest for the most scenic dump site.” The Chamber picked up the idea, hired Michaelene Pendleton to handle national promotion, and hired a professional firm to judge the entries. The winner, Kodiak, Alaska became Moab’s sister city of most beautiful dump sites.
Eventually, Central Services came to house the film commission and economic development as the other groups moved out on their own. Bette put more and more of her efforts into the film commission. The film commission attracted companies making commercials, TV specials, and music videos in addition to the feature length films. Over 100 movies have been filmed in Grand and San Juan Counties. You can see a history of filmmaking at Moab Film and Heritage Museum, founded by Bette, and housed at Red Cliff Lodge just fourteen miles up the Colorado River on Highway 128. The museum is free. It is a fitting location both in terms of movies and Bette’s own heritage. Many westerns were filmed on the site, and Bette’s father was born just up the road in Professor Valley.
Bette retired from the film commission in 1996 just after the filming of Geronimo. About this same time Canyonlands Natural History Association published her book Where God Put the West: Movie Making in the Desert. It is available at the Moab Information Center.
As an historian, Bette says, ”There is no truth, only perception.” My own perception of the 1980’s bust era in Moab is that we are lucky Bette Stanton returned to her roots in Grand County with her rich background, love of people, and prodigious energy.