Here's what the Iverson Movie Ranch obsession is all about ...

For an introduction to this blog and to the obsession a growing number of vintage film and TV fans have with the Iverson Movie Ranch — the most widely filmed outdoor location in movie and TV history — please read the site's introductory post, found here.
• Here's a link to Garden of the Gods, the best-known section of the Iverson Movie Ranch (featured in the movie "Stagecoach," the "Lone Ranger" TV show and hundreds of other productions).
• To find other rock features or look up movie titles, TV shows, actors and production people, see the "labels" section — the long alphabetical listing on the right side of the page, below.
• To go right to the great Iverson cinematographers,click here.
• I've also begun a YouTube channel for Iverson Movie Ranch clips and other movie location videos, which you can get to by clicking here.
• If you know of a way I can set up this blog so readers can subscribe to receive future posts via email, please let me know. In the meantime there's a link all the way at the bottom of this page that says "Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)," and if you're inclined to try it, it seems to take you into a world of customizable home pages or something, and you can have blog updates as a part of that page ... whether this is useful to you, who knows, but I thought I'd let you know it's there.
• Your feedback is appreciated — please leave a comment on any post, or email me at iversonfilmranch@aol.com.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

John Payne and Emile Meyer join forces in the Iverson rocks on "Restless Gun"

Emile Meyer

Emile Meyer was one of those actors you probably recognize by face, but almost nobody knows by name. He appeared frequently in Westerns, both on TV and on the big screen, with notable performances in "Shane" (1953) and on the James Garner TV show "Maverick" (1957). And like most of the Western actors of the period, he put in his time on the Iverson Movie Ranch.

"The Restless Gun" (1957): Emile Meyer on the Upper Iverson

Meyer worked the Upper Iverson with John Payne when Meyer made a guest appearance on Payne's TV show "The Restless Gun." Meyer played Sheriff Wade Lawson opposite Payne's idealist cowboy-gunfighter Vint Bonner in the episode "Man and Boy," which premiered Nov. 25, 1957.

John Payne on Iverson's South Rim in "The Restless Gun"

Here's a shot of Payne from the same episode of "The Restless Gun," taken during the lead-up to the climactic shootout at the Miner's Cabin on the South Rim.

The episode features some unusual lighting, at times creating the impression that the rocks are lit by campfire light. This one looks like day for night, given how well-lit the background is.

A unique image seen in the episode is this silhouette of a cactus in full bloom, apparently taken atop Iverson's Cactus Hill. Meyer and Payne are the riders.

Here's a shot of a rider traveling along the top of Cactus Hill against a dramatic Chatsworth sunrise — although I get the impression we're supposed to see it as a sunset. In the distance we can see a little bit of Chatsworth Reservoir from back when it was an actual reservoir. It appears as a tiny lighter-shaded horizontal strip to the left of the horse's snout.

Another interesting shot from the episode is this one filmed against the backdrop of Oat Mountain, with a radar dish visible that was part of the Nike missile defense system that was in place during the Cold War. The missile base slips into the backgrounds of a number of Iverson Movie Ranch productions of the 1950s and early 1960s — to read more about it, please check out this earlier blog post.

The "Restless Gun" episode makes ample use of the Iverson rocks, but they're often shot using lighting and angles that make identification difficult.

The climactic sequence plays out behind the Miner's Cabin, on the Upper Iverson's South Rim. This is a relatively rare view of the back of the cabin, looking north toward Oat Mountain, visible in the background.

Much of Meyer's on-screen time is spent against the same background rocks.

Meyer did break out from that one rocky background just long enough to be shot against a different rocky background. Here Meyer displays his trademark frown — and the rock behind him seems determined to match it.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Tornado's Mine: A little-known artifact of the filming era on the Lower Iverson

"Zorro's Black Whip" (1944): Tornado's Mine

A movie set on the old Iverson Ranch that has been largely overlooked is an old fake mine entrance that once stood in the Iverson Gorge. I call it Tornado's Mine, because it was built at the southern end of a cave that film historians know as Tornado's Cave. The mine entrance had one of its most high-profile appearances in the Republic serial "Zorro's Black Whip," as seen above.

"Perils of Nyoka" (1942): Tornado's Cave (northern entrance)

The northern entrance to Tornado's Cave is much more widely documented than the southern entrance. I've blogged previously about Tornado's Cave, focusing mainly on its north end — seen above in the Republic serial "Perils of Nyoka." For a detailed look at this screen shot and additional views of Tornado's Cave, please click here to read my earlier blog entry.

The Tornado's Mine location in modern times

The mine entrance is long gone now, along with virtually all of the manmade sets that once proliferated at the Iverson Movie Ranch. That is, most of it is gone — but I'm getting ahead of myself. The above shot taken on a recent visit to the Iverson Gorge shows the mine location as it appears today.

Zorro riding Tornado, or Toronado

Tornado's Cave is named after Zorro's horse, Tornado, often called Toronado. By extension, Tornado's Mine also gets its name from the horse. I understand that in real life Tornado, or Toronado, was played during the heyday of Zorro by a champion gelding named Diamond Decorator. Whether there's a connection between "Zorro's Black Whip" and the naming of the cave is unclear, but it appears to be purely coincidence that Tornado's Mine makes one of its primary appearances in the Zorro serial.

"Laramie" TV series (1960): Tornado's Mine

One reason the southern entrance to Tornado's Cave didn't appear to get much airtime may have been because, throughout much of the filming era in the Iverson Gorge, the entrance was covered up by the fake mine entrance. In other words, the area may have in fact been filmed, but because of the mine, it wasn't recognizable. In some form, the mine entrance was in place for a couple of decades, if not longer. I've spotted it as far back as the early 1940s, and more recently I found it in a 1960 episode of the TV show "Laramie," as seen above.

"Laramie"

The mine entrance appears to have gone through some remodeling over the years, and it's possible the whole thing was torn down and rebuilt a time or two. The "doorway" in particular looks different in various productions. The "Laramie" shots are from the episode "Saddle and Spur," which premiered March 29, 1960, on NBC.

"Laramie"

One cool thing about the "Laramie" episode is that it includes this wider shot, which really nails down the location of the mine. Tornado's Mine was a close neighbor of Lone Ranger Rock, which can be seen near the bottom left corner of the frame.

Here's the wide shot from "Laramie" again, with some of the features highlighted. I've blogged about most of these features before, and for example, you can find much more about Split Roof by clicking here. This may be the first time I've mentioned Bust of Kennedy, which I tend not to talk about out of respect for the former president. But from certain angles, the rock formation really does look like JFK — to me, at least.

Here's a wide shot of the Nyoka Cliff area from a visit to the site a few years ago that I think shows the resemblance of the formation Bust of Kennedy to an actual bust of JFK. The base of the statue, if you choose to see it as a statue, is incorporated into the mine set in certain configurations.

"Have Gun — Will Travel" (1958)

Tornado's Mine also appears in an episode of "Have Gun — Will Travel" titled "A Snare for Murder," above. The episode aired during season two of the CBS Western, premiering Nov. 22, 1958 — five years, to the day, before the JFK assassination ... coincidence?

The rocks seen in front of the mine in the "Have Gun — Will Travel" screen shot help pinpoint the location of the mine set. These rocks, which I call the Tornado's Mine Rocks, remain in place today in the Gorge, just below Nyoka Cliff.

This shot from "Have Gun — Will Travel" shows a sign that was placed at the mine entrance for the episode. Other than the sign, the appearance of the entrance is similar to how it would look two years later in "Laramie."  Many readers may recognize series star Richard Boone as Paladin just outside the mine.

"Triple Justice" (1940)

Here's another view of the Tornado's Mine Rocks, from the RKO B-Western "Triple Justice," starring George O'Brien and Virginia Vale. The mine itself is not visible here, but Nyoka Cliff can be seen in the background.

This version of the shot identifies the Tornado's Mine Rocks, along with Nyoka Cliff.

The Tornado's Mine Rocks remain in place today, as seen in a recent photo by film historian Jerry Condit. Jerry was the one who pointed me to Tornado's Mine earlier this year.

Another recent view of the Tornado's Mine Rocks approximates the angle seen in "Triple Justice," with Nyoka Cliff again in the background.

A short distance from the Tornado's Mine Rocks, the mine area can be found.

Tornado's Mine: The site as it appears today

Here's a view of the site of Tornado's Mine on a recent visit to the location, and this is where I think it gets really interesting. We don't have to guess where the mine entrance was positioned, because remnants of it remain at the site — still attached to the rocks.

Piece of the mine entrance — still in position and still upright

It seems that whoever's job it was to demolish the set had the foresight — or more likely, was just lazy enough — to leave behind a few scraps so historians could come along decades later and rediscover it. Thank you!

Another piece of the mine entrance can be found a short distance away, also still upright.

I've marked the first two artifacts, because it may be a little hard to see them in the photos.

Pulling back for a wider view, this shot points out where artifacts A and B are positioned in the context of the overall setting for the mine entrance.

This may be the best find of the bunch: a hunk of concrete still attached to a rock, high above ground level, marking the upper reach of the mine entrance.

In the wider view, this is where the third artifact is situated.

Putting all the pieces together, this is where the mine entrance was located.

I hope to come back soon to the subject of Tornado's Mine because there's a little bit more to the story. But that's it for now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The old "Garden of the Gods" sign on the Iverson Movie Ranch

Most visitors miss this when they make their first trek to the Garden of the Gods, but the rocky filming location on the old Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., once had a sign identifying it, carved into a rock. These days the only word that survives on the sign is "Garden," and the rock is hidden under a tree in a place where it would be unlikely to be noticed by anyone who didn't know where to look.

The sign can be found beneath Tower Rock, along the northern edge of the main Garden of the Gods rock formations. The above Bing bird's-eye shot shows a view of the area from the west. Even having only partially survived, I think the sign is worth a look — it's a pretty cool relic of a bygone era.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Promo still found for "Storm Over Bengal" — Is this the smoking gun that proves the movie was filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch?

"Storm Over Bengal" (1938)

I was lucky enough to track down a copy of the promotional still you see above, which is from the Republic production "Storm Over Bengal" — a movie I've found impossible to locate.

"Army Girl" (1938)

I did some comparing between the "Storm Over Bengal" photo and screen shots from "Army Girl," another Republic production from the same year. In fact, "Army Girl" was released just three months before "Storm Over Bengal."

I was able to determine that the "Storm Over Bengal" promo shot depicts the same building seen in "Army Girl," which is known to be a part of the Sheep Flats adobes at the Iverson Movie Ranch.

Here's another shot from "Army Girl," showing the side portion of the building that also appears in the "Storm Over Bengal" promo shot, in addition to another angle on the front of the building.

In this version of the shot from "Army Girl" I've marked the sections of the building that are also visible in the "Storm Over Bengal" promo shot.

This shot points out an angular section of wall adjoining the side of the building in "Army Girl." This same section of wall is partially visible in the "Storm Over Bengal" shot, as noted below.

This section of wall, seen both in "Army Girl" and in the "Storm Over Bengal" promo still, is one of the keys to matching up the locations in the two productions. Even though only a tiny portion of the area behind the wall is visible in this "Storm Over Bengal" shot, it's enough to reveal that the structure's irregular shape is a match.

Another key point of comparison is what appears to be a slightly dented area in the front of the building. This area is plainly visible in the "Storm Over Bengal" promo still, at left, and appears to be represented by a slightly shaded area in "Army Girl," at right. (You may not be able to see it without clicking on the photo for a larger view.) This shot also points out the irregularity in the shape of the tapered pillar that forms the corner of the building.

So is the promo still for "Storm Over Bengal" the smoking gun that proves the movie was shot at Iverson? Unfortunately, I would have to say no, only because it can be a mistake to equate where a promotional photo was shot with where a movie actually filmed. The two events often take place in different locations.

However, because the promo shot prominently features the building — implying that the building would have been featured in the movie itself — and with all the actors conveniently on the set in costume, the weight of the evidence points to the still being shot during a timeout from production. So even though the ultimate proof will have to come from the movie itself, if it can be found, the promo still does make a strong case that the movie was filmed at Iverson.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Lobby card for the Hopalong Cassidy movie "Undercover Man" paints a graphic picture of what happened in the Iverson Gorge

This lobby card for the 1942 Hopalong Cassidy movie "Undercover Man," from the collection of film historian Jerry England, features a photo that says more about what happened in the Iverson Gorge than just about any single shot I've seen. In the photo, the men in the foreground — including William Boyd, at the far left, as Hoppy — are taking cover behind Shirley Temple Rock, while the men farther back are gathered on and around Wyatt Earp Rock.

Shirley Temple Rock got its name from an appearance by the young actress in the Iverson Gorge in John Ford's 1937 war movie "Wee Willie Winkie." You can read more about that appearance, and about Shirley Temple Rock, by clicking here or, for additional details, by clicking on "Wee Willie Winkie" in the previous sentence.

This shot points out the large and complex feature Wyatt Earp Rock, which derives its name from the TV show "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp." I've blogged previously about the rock's appearance in the show, and you can read that entry by clicking here. I also want to point you to this post that goes into detail about the shoot in the Iverson Gorge for the 1935 movie "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer," which has additional material on Wyatt Earp Rock.

"Stagecoach" (1939) — sequence introducing John Wayne

Wyatt Earp Rock is the same rock that can be seen behind John Wayne during the famous sequence in which he makes his entrance as the Ringo Kid in the 1939 John Ford Western "Stagecoach." In the screen shot above, Wyatt Earp Rock is on the left, filling up much of the left half of the screen. The sequence introducing Wayne's character is stitched together using a number of locations, including Monument Valley, with this part of the sequence filmed in the Iverson Gorge.

Unfortunately, all of the features noted above are now gone. From a movie history standpoint, the story told by the "Undercover Man" lobby card is one of destruction. In the area where Shirley Temple Rock, Wyatt Earp Rock and other important and heavily filmed movie rocks once stood, today we find a row of condos, part of the Cal West Townhomes, which went up in the late 1980s.

One of the few rock features seen in the lobby card that has survived the development of the Iverson Gorge is the Football, along with its distinguishing "grass insert." This important rock feature, which I've blogged about before, enables us to easily pinpoint the location and compare the area as it looked in 1942 with the same location as it appears today.

The Football and grass insert are visible in the recent shot of the condos, as indicated in this annotated version of the photo. With this perspective in mind we can see that the area depicted here, showing two rows of condos, is roughly the same area presented in the lobby card, showing the Football along with the movie rocks that were destroyed when the condos were built. In a broad sense, the key rocks seen in the lobby card were replaced by the row of condos along the right.


One way to get ahold of a DVD copy of "Undercover Man" is on Volume 5 of the Hopalong Cassidy set on Amazon, which I've included as the first link below. The numbered sets are super-cheap and each one contains five Hoppy movies. In addition to "Undercover Man," the others on Volume 5 are "Three Men From Texas," "Stick to Your Guns," "The Dead Don't Dream" and "Colt Comrades." All five movies also feature Andy Clyde. For your Hoppy pleasure, I'm including links to a number of other Hopalong Cassidy sets as well.