Many film buffs recall the frantic search for the buried treasure in the hit 1963 movie It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World starring Spencer Tracy and Milton Berle. The movie’s eccentric characters raced throughout Southern California looking for the treasure hidden below a giant “W” they later realized was comprised of four leaning palm trees.
Although the location for the “Big W” in the movie was at a fictional place called “Santa Rosita State Park,” these scenes were actually filmed at Portuguese Point in the Portuguese Bend area of Rancho Palos Verdes overlooking the Pacific Ocean. (The “Big W” was also recreated in Peck Park in San Pedro for another scene.)
A 2-acre set was constructed at the cost of $40,000. A local resident who was on site as a fireman remarked that all the stars of the film were there except Jimmy Durante, whose character was killed off earlier in the film. Actor Jonathan Winters was the “real comic” on the set, and was described as fun and friendly. Alas, only one of the leaning palm trees remained as of late 2004 according to the Daily Breeze, with none remaining now.
To find out more about this and other stories of Palos Verdes, please visit the Local History Room at the Peninsula Center library. The Local History hours are here, and this movie is in the library’s collection.