Lorne Pratt: Arizona’s Hollywood-Connected Developer
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
By Douglas Towne
Most fathers in the 1950s taught their sons how to throw a curveball or catch fish. Lorne Pratt, who helped create successful real estate developments across the West, including Lake Havasu City and Fountain Hills, passed along other lessons. “Dad would teach me marketing by simple techniques,” Dave Pratt, a longtime Valley radio personality, says. “He would hand me a candy bar and then ask me to sell it to him. Why should he buy it? Describe the taste? How were the price, name, and packaging determined? He trained me this way with just about everything, including how to sell my radio show and career.”
Growing up, Lorne Pratt found he had a knack for marketing and in his career, he used this skill and connections to team up with some business heavyweights. The story involves Hollywood A-list movie stars and sports figures and resulted in the creation of communities in five states stretching from California to Arkansas. Not too shabby for a kid who grew up in the Great Depression and possessed only a third-grade education.
Lorne Pratt was the son of Waverly and Lovetta Pratt, born in Long Beach, California, in 1922. He dropped out of school to work in his family’s grocery store in Sierra Madre, a small town located east of Pasadena. “He was an unusually large baby that had to be birthed with forceps, which compressed his hearing for his entire life,” Dave Pratt says. “He always struggled with flying but was tough as nails.”
Through his upbringing in southern California, Lorne Pratt made some essential connections and became general manager of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. One of his critical early projects was creating the Hollywood Walk of Fame. “The idea was to bring more business, tourism, and attention to an area that was starting to decline,” Dave Pratt recalls. “Dad was friends with E.M. Stuart, Harry Sugarman, and the entire gang that did the project.”
Around 1957, Lorne Pratt became connected to two business heavyweights who would influence his career. Cornelius Vanderbilt (C.V.) Wood Jr. was a Texas native who was the first general manager of Disneyland and had previously attended Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, on a rope twirling scholarship. Robert McCulloch Sr. was an entrepreneur known for his engines, chainsaws, aviation, and energy development. Wood had met McCulloch when he visited the Disneyland construction site to test one of his electric golf carts a year before the park opened in 1954.
“I remember the McCulloch family and C.V. Wood being like uncles,” Dave Pratt says. Wood reportedly clashed with Disney and left the theme park in 1956 to form Marco Engineering, a consulting firm that supervised the creation of the first Six Flags Adventure parks. Marco merged with McCulloch Corp in 1961. Wood was also quite the chef, having taken first place in the World Championship Chili Cook-Off in Terlingua, Texas, in 1971. He called his dish "Three-Alarm Chili."
According to Dave Pratt, there are several stories about how the power trio came together. “My dad probably met Woody [C.V. Wood] through celebrity circles, connected to his work with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce,” he says. “Woody likely brought him to McCulloch when he joined the company a few years later.”
“Another possibility is that my dad, a young marketing sensation, was introduced to Bob McCulloch by a developer named Penn Phillips,” he says. The M. Penn Phillips Company developed and promoted two southern California developments, Salton City and Hesperia. Pratt, a California native, became senior vice president of property developer Holly Enterprises, which McCulloch acquired to become the real estate arm of McCulloch Properties Inc.
No matter how the friendship occurred, Dave Pratt is unequivocal about its fun for his family. "C.V. Wood was awesome. His wife, Joanie Dru, was an actress and the brother of Peter Marshal of the TV game show, The Hollywood Squares. Dru, who co-starred with John Wayne in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, married Wood in our living room. Altogether, they knew everybody and had their hands on everything!” Dave Pratt recalls visiting the Woods at their Beverly Hills home next door to Danny Thomas. “I would stay there in the summer and meet just about every celebrity that you can imagine,” he says.
Equally memorable was hanging out with Robert McCulloch and his son, Bob Jr., who owned the McCullough Office Building in downtown Los Angeles. “Every time I went to Los Angeles, they always found ways to make it fun for a kid,” Dave Pratt recalls. “When Star Wars came out, they rented an entire movie theater just for my dad's staff. We had suite tickets to sporting events, and I remember my dad walking down the Hollywood Walk of Fame and telling me personal stories about most stars.”
Dave Pratt recalls celebrities stopping by his house, including Robert Stack, Rowan and Martin, Shirley Temple, Conrad and Barron Hilton, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Fuller, the President’s son Steven Ford, the Reagan family, Jerry Lewis, Frankie Avalon, Paul Lynde, Debbie Reynolds, Robert Mitchum, Connie Stevens, Jackie Gleason, Paul Anka, and Gene Autry. “Again, I was just a kid, so it all seemed normal to me,” he says.
Some people created unforgettable memories with Dave Pratt. "The Amazing Kreskin changed the time on my watch during a family dinner. After his fight with Ali, I played basketball at my house with Jerry Quarry. I sat with Telly Savalas and Shirley Temple at a San Diego Charger’s football game, owned by my dad's developer friend Alex Spanos. Golfer Lee Trevino picked me up from school. Tony Orlando helped me locate a peach-colored tuxedo for my high school prom as it was my date’s favorite color. My dad flew his football friends Dan Fouts and Lynn Swann to speak at our high school’s sports awards banquet. Marlo Thomas took me to McDonald’s. LOL!! So many others, too.”
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Jul/Aug 2022 issue, Vol. 11, No. 4.