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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Many of the Westerns churned out in the 1960s and '70s didn't come from Hollywood but from Europe. Lauren Frayer finds out what happened to the old film sets and to the actors of yesteryear's spaghetti Westerns.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORSE GALLOPING AND GUNSHOTS)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: If this sounds like a Hollywood Western, that's because it once was. The signs here say Texas, the Yellow Rose Saloon, the First City Bank - but I'm standing in the middle of the Tabernas Desert in southeast Spain surrounded by old film sets built by Sergio Leone, the Italian master of spaghetti westerns. Hundreds were filmed here in the 1960s and 70s.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FRAYER: Clint Eastwood hits like "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and "A Fistful of Dollars." Now, it's a theme park where tourists can stroll through a saloon...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

FRAYER: ...spend time behind bars in a local jail, and reenact a shoot-out in the town square.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

SHADAE TALEBI: It looks quite authentic, like the Wild West, like Arizona a little bit.

ANGELA THOROGOOD: My husband has always watched them, yeah, so John Wayne's always around, and Clint Eastwood.

FRAYER: That's tourists Shadae Talebi from California and Angela Thorogood from England. Many of the workers here are aging stuntmen who assisted Clint Eastwood back in the day and now perform at children's birthday parties. The same people get shot every day, says actor Jose Francisco Garcia Pascual.

JOSE FRANCISCO GARCIA PASCUAL: Because this is very, very, very hard work.

FRAYER: Yeah, I can imagine. You're killing people every day.

PASCUAL: Yeah, every day I kill, yeah, three, four persons per day.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

FRAYER: In a tiny Spanish village nearby, elderly men trade tales of their glory days in the golden age of Westerns.

JESUS LAGUNA: (Foreign language spoken)

FRAYER: This was considered the Spanish Hollywood, says Jesus Laguna, a former stuntman who still wears a cowboy hat. All types of actors came through here - American Oscar winners, they were all here. But not anymore. A Spanish photographer, Alvaro Deprit, recently spent a month living in this desert, documenting the lives of those left behind.

ALVARO DEPRIT: (Foreign language spoken)

FRAYER: It's a melancholy feeling, he says, because their world is finished. It was the golden age of Western films, and now it's an imitation of what it once was. Those left behind here include a member of the Blackfoot Indian Nation, who once worked as a film extra. And a local, Jose Novo, who looks just like the late Henry Fonda. Novo says his mother was friendly with the actor, and he was born exactly nine months after Fonda was here in 1968 shooting "Once Upon a Time in the West."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FRAYER: For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in the Tabernas Desert in Almeria, Spain.

MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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