It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Locations

Ryan / September 20th, 2008


My favorite movie of all time is It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. It’s essentially a treasure hunt about a group of people trying to find a stash of money buried under a “Big W”. The journey takes them to the fictional Santa Rosita state park, where they ultimately find the W exists in the trees. The general idea that everyone is searching for something resonated with me my whole life. It’s all about regular people who are dreaming of that unreachable fantasy. The archway entrance to the park was like the gates of heaven, but it was all in vain.

I’m 28 years old, but since I was only about 5, I remember wanting to find the Big W. Even though I knew it was only a movie and that there was no hidden treasure. All I wanted was to gaze upon those trees, or at least the ground where they once stood, and just think to myself “I made it.” It was just a little dream of mine and I always considered it the Holy Grail of movie sets.

According to the documentary on the DVD, it’s located in Rancho Palos Verdes, California and the “park” is not public. It’s somebody’s backyard. Also, according to the documentary, only 1 of the 4 trees is still standing. The documentary was from the 1990′s, and the movie was from 1963, so it seemed doubtful that there would be anything to see, on top of that being a private residence.

While visiting Southern California, I decided to at least drive by and see if I could spot the one slanted tree from the road.


The picture on the left, from the movie, shows the characters running in, picks and shovels at hand. On the right, is my picture as my heart raced staring at the very same entrance, the mythical “Santa Rosita State Park” I knew so well.

Many palm trees were visibile from the front of the property, but none looked like part of the Big W. I needed a better look, so I parked the car for only $5.00 at Abalone Cove, a nearby public park. I expected to get a distant glimpse, but there was actually a hiking trail which lead along the shore, behind the property, so I was able to get a solid view without tresspassing. Then I raised my arms and thought to myself “It’s a Big Dubya, I tell ya!” like Jonathan Winters in the movie. I was staring at my favorite movie location…period.

Of course, in the movie, they’re facing the sea, but I am on the opposite side, from the shore, facing back at the property. But were any of these trees a survivor from the Big W? I couldn’t tell. Everything was so overgrown, a faint reminder of how it once looked so majestic. It was like a lost utopia.


I managed to spot one tree, only visible from a certain angle, that appeared to be leaning over (above). It makes sense that a 45 year old palm tree that had been leaning, would continue growing upward. But the chance of it still standing seems pretty doubtful now. Though the documentary says the owners were planning on replanting the other trees, it doesn’t seem that way. My guess is that the Big W is all gone.

But I did manage to spot some neglected looking park benches. Could they have appeared in the movie?

I accomplished one of my childhood dreams. Just as the characters in the film, I went on my own treasure hunt to that same exact location. I can’t say I had as much trouble as they did. I didn’t get locked in a hardware store or left in control of a tiny airplane, but like in the movie, it was all in vain. Though it was very bittersweet, seeing there was nothing left, I still feel like I made a personal accomplishment. In my mind, the Big W still exists and so does the bumpy road to paradise.

I also explored other spots from the movie. Below is a street ramp in Santa Monica. This is a pivotal moment where the police captain Culpepper makes his decision to take the money and run.


Knowing the final chase was filmed in Long Beach, I managed to spot an alleyway which might be where Spencer Tracy makes his getaway, climbing to the top of a building.

Of course, I always wanted to see the building where the climax takes place, but in reality it was a miniature.

The picture above shows the miniature from the movie. The picture below is a video still I took of a real building in Long Beach which seems to resemble the miniature above.

But more so, look at the movie still below! The building seems to appear in the background. Notice there’s only a fire escape on the left side. That can’t be a coincidence.

At last, I drove by Smiler’s Point, the spot where Smiler Grogan goes “sailing right out there!” It’s in the Palm Springs desert, on highway 74.

ABOVE: From the movie.
BELOW: My video still.

 

The ramp has been removed, the guard rail replaced, and the street repainted, but I was able to match the rock pattern. I found it somewhere around mile marker 89 or 90. I wanted to stop the car, get out and gaze down at the crash site. But it was very steep, and its a blind turn, so I would have risked getting run over by a car. It’s a dangerous spot, and I don’t recommend it.

That’s all. If there’s anyone out there who loves this movie as much as I do, I hope you enjoyed my little tour.

Comments

  • Phaedrus

    April 27, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Fantastic! One of my favorite movies of all time. Living in CA, I really should get down and take a drive on 74.

    • joanporteous

      November 28, 2011 at 10:39 pm

      Fabulous. I have the dvd. I have seen it at the theater and at the drive-in and a couple of times on TV. It is one of the funniest movies of all time,

  • pcgamer176

    July 5, 2010 at 12:50 am

    Wow, that is cool. I’ve been watching this movie ever since I was 9. The gathering of all movie celebs from the 30s on to the early 60s thrown into this movie. Stars ranging from Spencer Tracy to Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett even an appearence by Rochester from the Burns and Allen radio show, and Buster Keaton, one of the masters of the silent era. ( his only part in this movie being the guy who tries to help Tracy back his car into the garage when the final chase scene begins.)

    I love this movie and many others like it from that grand old age of movies back in the 30s,40s, and 50s. I love the scenes with Phil Silvers in this movie, he tries so hard to get the money, steals cars, betrays the truck driver, and threatens to kill some kid if he doesnt tell him how to get to the main highway and even impersonates someone working for the CIA. Humor like Its A Mad Mad Mad Mad World is hard to come by these days and it truly is my favorite movie of all time as well.

  • VerveBirder

    January 24, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    The palm trees in the present era are undoubtedly California Fan Palms (Washingtonia). The “W” Palm Trees in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World are Queen Palms. It’s my opinion that these were planted for the movie itself. Queen palms only live about 50 years or so. The trees in the movie would be long gone by now.

  • February 17, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Oh man! I missed you! What a small world! You are one of my favorite internet funny guys and you were in my backyard…literally. My parents own the “W” house 1984-present and I grew up there. You have to contact me and I will give you a private tour!

    Kelly
    kellyswhit@msn.com

  • March 6, 2011 at 5:06 am

    Love the movie!

  • captainhowdy1973

    April 28, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    I live in Las Vegas, and once I was visiting the Palm Casino, and there was a “Big W” palm tree in the parking lot. It was awesome!

  • mjada516

    December 13, 2011 at 6:07 am

    HELP !!!! I’m a huge fan of the film and I have been trying to find the staircase that Spencer Tracy climbs before entering the empty building? Where they tell the women to wait while the gang enters?? Some say its in an alley on 2nd street and some say near Long Beach Blvd and Broadway??? Can you help me locate this stair case aka needle in the hay stack.

  • Andrian

    February 24, 2012 at 1:34 am

    I saw this movie on July 4, 1964 in Asbury Park, NJ (think Bruce Springsteen). I was a language major at Montclair State University (NJ) and was working at the Jersey Shore that summer. I loved the movie so much that the next day I took about ten friends and family members to see it with me. It was the first time I had ever seen the wholesale smashing up of cars. I have shown this DVD to my daughter and other young people of today and although they find it funny, they cannot relate to it the way the folks of my generation did. This is because, aside from the funny plot, the actors were all famous and instantly recognizable to us. We had grown up with Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Sid Caesar. Jonathan Winters had been a regular on the Jack Paar Show; Arnold Stang was famous for his Chunky commercials. Even some of the lesser known characters were familiar. In one scene, an African-American couple are driving up the mountain in a rickety old truck loaded with the meager belongings. Almost everyone in the theater shouted “Lighting,” recognizing the character actor from the old Amos ‘n Andy TV show, and waited in anticipation of what his fate would be. We weren’t disappointed, as we watched his truck get run off the road and barrel down the mountaiside with all their belongings flying off into space; then, his only line: “I told you I didn’t want to move to California!” I have watched this movie at least 30 times and never tire of it. It recaptures that time period of my life when I was coming into young manhood, when there was more decency in humor and America felt lke a safe, happy place to live.

  • dhansen

    December 18, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Wow…. there really IS someone out there with similar memories of this movie. I saw this movie at age 8 and for many, many years it was my “lost movie”. At the time it was released I was taken to see it by my father and of course I laughed all the way through it. Then after that (remember, no internet, no quick access to find these things out), I spent years trying to remember what movie that was and no one could help me! I kept thinking for some reason it was called, “The Big W”. too funny. I was in my late teens before I finally realized what movie that was. Oh, what a sense of closure. I finally knew. Of course today, I have my own DVD copy and my grandkids are enjoying it now. Great movie.

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