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Davis Journal

Local author’s book honors Native American actors and their impact on films

Feb 01, 2024 10:15AM ● By Becky Ginos
Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

CENTERVILLE—Utah has been the backdrop to movie Westerns for years with well-known actors such as John Wayne but behind the scenes there have been hundreds of Native Americans whose faces were never recognized. In his book, “Native American Movie Actors,” Centerville author E. Dennis King honors those unsung Native Americans who helped create those box office hits.

King was raised in Woods Cross and later moved to Centerville where he has lived for the last 50 years. He was in the first graduating class at Bountiful High School in 1957.

“I was employed by Southwest Bell telephone company 40 years ago,” said King. “I was a regional manager that serviced two companies AT&T and GTE. My territory was Idaho, Arizona, Nevada and Utah.”

King said when he was visiting Monument Valley in Southern Utah he went into a large Navajo visitor center. “They had a video and all kinds of other tourist information. A Navajo man came up to me and offered to take me on a tour of Monument Valley.”

It took all day long, he said. “This man was assigned by the Navajo tribe to help movie companies select movie sites. We talked about the movies that had been made and how they had to do all the dirty work.”

What a shame they were not given credit, said King. “They got $5 a day. If they had a horse it was $10 a day.”

King said he took pictures all along the way during the tour then put them in a drawer and forgot about them. “About 40 years later I started writing my personal history. I looked in the drawer and I had those. They were on a 35 mm camera and I had collected all of the information on how movies were made in Southern Utah and had them digitized.”

He interviewed more than 100 people and did profiles on many of the actors, said King. “It took three years and I was about to publish when the COVID crisis hit. I printed 100 copies on my own and either sold them or gave them away.”

It’s been nearly five years now and King’s book was picked up by Dorrance Publishing Co., Inc of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “The process has been phenomenal,” he said. “I had a hard time finding a stopping place. There are literally hundreds of stories in it. I included movies and locations in Utah where they were made, integrating some communities that most people were not aware of.”

The book tells about Harry Goulding, a photographer who had a trading post in San Juan County in 1940. “He was struggling to get by,” said King. “He took his photos to John Ford, a film director but the secretary told him ‘Mr. Ford can’t see you today because you don’t have an appointment.’”

He put his Navajo blanket on the floor and told her he would wait. “When they tried to throw him out of the office during the scuffle he threw his photos in the face of the assistant director,” King said. “Mr. Ford got to see the pictures of Monument Valley. He asked how soon they could start filming on the site. Within two weeks he filmed the movie “Stagecoach” with John Wayne. That’s how Westerns got started in Utah.”

King said his book pays tribute to Native Americans in film. “It highlights the film companies that came through Monument Valley. You can see TV commercials and in the background is Monument Valley. The cartoons, ‘Roadrunner’ and ‘Yosemite Sam’ are in Monument Valley.”

Navajo Jay Silverheels got permission to leave (the reservation) and went to Hollywood, said King. “He played Tonto in the Lone Ranger. He set it up so other Native Americans could learn how to get involved in movies.”

Native Americans were really taken advantage of, he said. “They were eager to be in a movie. They portrayed what was happening to them in real life. They were willing to play parts even though it was tragic for them.”

Native American Movie Actors is available at