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Harper of Del Mar Thoroughbred Club talks Old Hollywood

RANCHO SANTA FE — At a recent “Get Smart” series at the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club, those in attendance had the opportunity to hear Joe Harper, CEO of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, speak about the upcoming racing season. He also spoke about the Hollywood-era of the Del Mar Racetrack.

And Harper knows a thing or two about old Hollywood. Legendary American filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille was his grandfather and his uncle was actor, writer and painter Anthony Quinn.

“Del Mar got its start in Hollywood,” Harper said. “It has an interesting history.”

The history began with Bing Crosby who had an estate in Rancho Santa Fe. An avid golfer, he also had horses and raised them.

According to Harper, Crosby along with some big Hollywood producers and actors all got on board to create the construction of the Del Mar Racetrack.

While Crosby was a pretty good singer, Harper said, he was also a great marketing person.

Back in those Crosby days, the only opportunity people had to see celebrities was on the silver screen.

“There was no place where people could go to see the stars,” he said. “So to actually see one, you came to Del Mar.”

Common faces were Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, Jimmy Durante, and Bob Hope.

And the powerhouse who made that happen was Crosby.

Harper went on to say that Crosby was an influential man in Hollywood.

“He was one of the few guys in Hollywood that managed to get out from under the studio’s control. Most of the stars in that time were under the contract of the studios,” he said. “Bing had some power.”

And when Crosby wanted his Hollywood friends at the track on a certain day, they were there. They never disappointed.

Harper then shared another yesteryear story. There were very few restaurants in Del Mar at the time and there was a particular patio area where everyone congregated. Hope was down in Del Mar for the day and joined in. With music playing in the background, Hope and Crosby started telling jokes and had everyone laughing.

“They really had the crowd going,” he said.

The men looked at each other, Harper said, and the idea spurred to do some road pictures.

A handful of films were made including Road to Bali, Road to Rio, Road to Morocco, and more.

“The Hollywood thing and Del Mar made sense because of the people who came here,” Harper said.

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