The Show on KJZZ

Listen live weekdays at 9 a.m.

Old Tucson Founder Robert Shelton Dies

By Stina Sieg
Published: Monday, December 19, 2016 - 4:17pm
Updated: Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - 1:25pm
Audio icon Download mp3 (3.3 MB)
(Photo by Stina Sieg - KJZZ)
Shelton last visited the park on the second-annual Bob Shelton Day, earlier in December. He was mobbed by smiling employees, wanting to shake his hand and take group photos with him.

Robert Shelton, the founder of the Old West theme park and movie studio Old Tucson, died late last week at the age of 95.

Shelton, who was known by many as “Mr. Old Tucson,” last visited the park just a few weeks ago, on annual Bob Shelton Day. Sitting in his wheelchair, the 95-year-old looked ecstatic as employees crowded around him for photos and handshakes.

“Hi! Come on! Get on both sides,” he said, to the smiling crowd.

When one man asked why he’d made it out that day, he replied that he simply loved being here. As his daughter, Candace Shelton put it, he was known as the man who “brought the Hollywood to the desert.”

“That was his life,” she said. “Old Tucson was his life.”

Robert Shelton, along with other business partners, opened Old Tucson in 1959 on a set originally built for the film “Arizona.” For decades, Old Tucson flourished, not just a Wild West theme park, but as a working film and TV set. You might recognize it from “Rio Bravo,” “Three Amigos” and “Little House on the Prairie.”

“He had such vision,” Candace Shelton said. “He had that ability to see what the public wanted.”

The popularity of Western movies eventually waned, and Robert Shelton sold Old Tucson in the mid 1980s, but Candace Shelton said her dad never stopped loving the place. When it came to the park’s employees, insists, the feeling was mutual.

“It was just so wonderful to see how much people loved and respected him, and I think really missed him out there,” she said.

Robert Shelton’s name will live on at Old Tucson, where a film museum is named after him. Right now, it’s draped in black-and-white bunting in his honor.

The Show Obituaries