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.
• Your feedback is appreciated — please leave comments on any of the posts.
• To find specific 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 join the MAILING LIST, send me an email at and let me know you'd like to sign up.
• 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.
• 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 go right to the great Iverson cinematographers, click here.
• Readers can email the webmaster at

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Where did John Ford film the sequence in "The Grapes of Wrath" where the Joads get their first look at California's rich farmland?

Promo still for "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940): Overlook Point

A famous promo shot for John Ford's Depression-era classic "The Grapes of Wrath," taken on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., shows the Joads, a migrant family swept out of Oklahoma by the Dust Bowl, getting their first look at the lush farmland of California.

Screen shot from "The Grapes of Wrath": same location, different angle

The promo shot is significantly different from the corresponding shots that appear in the movie. The most obvious difference is that the promo shot includes the Chatsworth landmark Stoney Point, while the shots from the movie avoid Stoney Point, focusing instead on the farmland to the south and west of it.

The movie shot is taken from a higher angle, allowing for a view of a broader swath of farmland. The high angle of the movie shot hints that the camera crew filming the scene would have used a camera tower or crane.

Promo shot: Much lower angle

On the other hand, the still photographer, who would have been on the set to shoot promotional photos and behind-the-scenes material, settled for a much lower angle for his famous shot. I picture him climbing on a rock to get the minor elevation he used for the photo, but that's just conjecture.

The shots are taken from a vista point in Garden of the Gods known as Overlook Point or the Camera Mount. While the still photographer clearly appreciated the aesthetics of Stoney Point, the rocky outcropping did not fit thematically with the movie scene, which focused on the farmland and its promise of desperately needed jobs.

The camera mount at Overlook Point — still in place today

The name "Camera Mount" comes from the presence of a metal mount and circular rail setup located at the site. The rig appears to have been used for pan shots of the Iverson Gorge, but its exact origin is unknown.

Whatever the backstory on the camera mount, remnants of a circular rail and center mount remain in place today, as seen in these recent photos. The condos in the background were built in what was once Iverson's Upper Gorge, and a number of widely filmed movie rocks are visible in the top right corner.

View of the western San Fernando Valley from Overlook Point

The view of the western San Fernando Valley in recent years contains few traces of the old farmland, as the Valley has since grown into a major population center.

"The Grapes of Wrath": The truck sequence

The Joads' arrival in California's farm country in "The Grapes of Wrath" is put together from two separate location shoots at Iverson, which took place a short distance apart. The above shot — I call it the "truck sequence" — appears just before the Overlook Point sequence and is filmed to the northeast of Overlook Point.

The truck sequence has the Joad family pushing their broken-down truck the last few yards on their westward migration. The shot contains a number of Iverson landmarks, including Bald Knob and Minisub. Some readers may recall that Minisub played a big role in pinpointing the Chinese Bridge in "Tell It to the Marines."

Other landmarks seen in the truck sequence are located adjacent to the Iverson Ranch, south of Santa Susana Pass Road. The railroad cut and Sundial Rock are in an area directly west of what is now Chatsworth Park.

A more subtle feature of the truck shot is the shadowy presence of "RI-3," one of the main boulders of the Rock Island formation. By lining up RI-3 and Minisub — both of which remain in place at the site today — we can get a good idea of where the shot was taken.

RI-3 as it appears today

Today RI-3 and the rest of what was once Rock Island are largely buried, with the tops of the once formidable boulders now serving as decorations in the swimming pool area of the Cal West Townhomes.

Another clue that appears in the truck shot is a section of buttressing alongside the road. It would be easy to miss this relatively small feature of the shot, but on close examination it matches appearances by the stone buttressing in other productions.

"Doomed at Sundown" (Republic, 1937)

The same buttressing is seen from the other side, from the south, in the old Bob Steele B-Western "Doomed at Sundown." Even though the buttressing is pretty distant here, you might be able to spot one angular rock rising above the others. This rock can also be seen in "The Grapes of Wrath," pointing in the opposite direction.

Putting the clues together, we can pinpoint where the "Grapes of Wrath" truck sequence was filmed — in the area marked in light blue on this aerial photo from 1952. The shot takes place along the main entrance road to the location ranch, which the Iverson family called Iverson Ranch Road.

This recent Google aerial photo depicts roughly the same area, noting where the two "Grapes of Wrath" locations would be found today. The Overlook Point location has been preserved as parkland and remains pretty much intact. However, the road as it appears in the truck sequence no longer exists, having been buried during grading for the condos and replaced by a modern private road that sits at a higher elevation.

Friday, September 25, 2015

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" reveals a previously unknown fake cave in Garden of the Gods

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp"

The Iverson Movie Ranch was home to a number of well-used fake caves and fake mines during the filming days, but I recently heard about a little-known one that was set up in Central Garden of the Gods in the late 1950s.

"Wyatt Earp" episode "Frontier Surgeon"

Iverson researcher Cliff Roberts noticed the cave in "Frontier Surgeon," an episode of the TV series "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp." The episode premiered Jan. 19, 1960, and would have been shot in 1959.

Phantom — the north face

The cave entrance appeared over a large crack on the south side of Phantom, one of the most iconic boulders in Garden of the Gods. The above photo from recent years shows the more familiar north side of Phantom.

"Tennessee's Partner" (1955): Anthony Caruso in the crack on the south side of Phantom

The crack on Phantom's south side is famous in its own right, having played a pivotal role in the RKO Western "Tennessee's Partner." Spoiler alert: Skip ahead if you don't want to know that a certain U.S. president gets gunned down near here. As Iverson location shoots go, that "Tennessee's Partner" sequence is a barnburner.

"Frontier Surgeon": Fake cave built over the crack

The crack on the south side of Phantom is right where the fake cave was built that appears in "Wyatt Earp." This area is "Grubstake's Claim," so named after its role in "Tennessee's Partner."

Damian O'Flynn guest stars on the episode as Dr. Goodfellow, the "Frontier Surgeon" of the title. The other two guys are series regulars.

At one point in "Frontier Surgeon," bad guys start pouring out of the fake cave, guns blazing.

This wide shot gives a better idea of where the cave was located. Besides the famous scene in "Tennessee's Partner," the same area in Central Garden of the Gods was where Elvis Presley filmed the original tent scene for "Harum Scarum" in 1965. A few feet away and a few years earlier, wild boars caused trouble in "Old Yeller."

The shot is taken with the camera aimed toward the west, with a hazy view of the Santa Susana Mountains in the distance, to the west of the Iverson Movie Ranch.

This is a shot I took not long ago of that same part of the Santa Susana Mountains. This ridge west of Garden of the Gods, which I call Boat Hill, can be spotted in the background in a lot of old movies and TV shows.

Here's another recent shot that includes Boat Hill. Part of Central Garden of the Gods can also be seen in this photo, including the important marker Getaway Rock.

Getaway Rock turns up again in the "Wyatt Earp" sequence, as noted here. Also note the large bump on the rock on which Wyatt Earp is leaning as he and his associates get the jump on the outlaw gang.

This photo from a recent visit captures the same bump on the rock, near the top left corner, along with a partial view of Getaway Rock, to the left of the bump.

The angle here is different from the one seen in the TV show. You may or may not be able to match up the bumps in the two shots, but other features are readily identifiable.

The horizontal lines can also be seen in the "Wyatt Earp" shots.

This shot from "Wyatt Earp" has it all: the bump, the horizontal lines, a tiny semblance of the diagonal crack where the fake cave entrance construction begins ... and the entrance itself.

The bump, the lines and the cave are all noted here.

A huge diagonal crack appears in the recent shot, near the right end of the horizontal lines, but does not appear in the "Wyatt Earp" shot. That's because in the TV show the crack marks the beginning of the section of the rock that is filled in with material forming the fake cave entrance.

"Tennessee's Partner"

The huge crack is also visible in the shot of Anthony Caruso from "Tennessee's Partner."

In "Tennessee's Partner," we also get a good look at the main cave area, just to the right of the diagonal crack. The cave, which is shallow, appears in its natural state in the movie — in contrast to the "enhanced" artificial cave we see in "Wyatt Earp."

How about a special shoutout to this important little diagonal sliver of shadowy intent — I mean, sliver of a shadowy indent — pointing the way to where the fake cave material begins, to the right.

I'd say roughly this much is fake. I don't know, fake caves can be pretty lame. Speaking from the heart ... I won't come out and say this one is lame, but let's just say it's not the most convincing fake cave ever seen.

Lane Bradford, in "Wyatt Earp"

I'd be remiss not to point out Lane Bradford, one of the most familiar bad guys in the B-Westerns.

He's right here in all those shots of the cave. His character in the "Wyatt Earp" episode is "Swanee." Having a character name can be an upgrade for a TV outlaw. Bradford was often billed generically as "henchman."

Lane Bradford, right, with fellow outlaw Jimmy Noel in the "Wyatt Earp" episode

Bradford never lost his stride when the Westerns shifted to TV in the 1950s. The prolific actor tallied in the ballpark of 250 credits, about evenly distributed between B-Westerns and TV series.

Note the chin on Bradford — his trademark chin signifies both strength and weakness. Mostly strength — he was a formidable thug. On the other hand, as a perennial outlaw, sometimes his job was to make dumb decisions. My guess is Lane Bradford the actor was a man of high intellect who knew how to maximize his assets.

That chin can be hard to miss. In this shot it almost looks as though it's drawn in. Bradford wasn't the only tough outlaw in the Westerns to boast an awe-inspiring chin, but he may have been the most memorable.

Today a tree gets in the way, but this is a look at Grubstake's Claim on the south side of Phantom.

The same diagonal crack and main cave entrance can still be found.

A wider shot shows more of the south side of Phantom, but this is mainly a better look at the tree that makes access to the cave a challenge.

Swanee, played by Lane Bradford, schemes to get the dying man's money

In some "Wyatt Earp" shots we catch glimpses of an indented area on the rock, to the right of the fake cave. In this shot it's near the top left corner.

Take a look at this indented area.

I took this photo of the same indented area on a recent visit to the site.

This is the distinctive indented area on the rock.

Also here we see some worn signs of old graffiti.

Graffiti near entrance to Grubstake's Claim (2011)

The graffiti has been there for some time. It already looked worn-out — and appeared exactly the same as it does now — when I took this photo back in 2011.

One of the many interesting features of the cave area is this hole.

Going back to that original screen shot of Anthony Caruso from "Tennessee's Partner," notice that the same hole is seen in the movie, and it has what appears to be some kind of metal blade sticking out of it.

I have this other angle on the metal blade, but it doesn't add much. The "shiv" and its shadow can be seen in the bottom right corner. The hole's origin story remains untold, although we know it predates the "Wyatt Earp" cave.

"Outlaws of Boulder Pass" (1942): Phantom Shack

It should be noted that the same site was home to the Phantom Shack in the 1940s. If I had to guess I'd say the hole is most likely an artifact of this period and probably originally helped hold the shack in place.

"Six Gun Gospel" (1943): Phantom Shack

But even if the hole originated as part of the support system for the Phantom Shack, it may have been called upon again in 1959 to serve as an anchor point for the fake cave in "Wyatt Earp."

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp"

While many of the fake caves and fake mines on the old Iverson Movie Ranch stood for years and were used repeatedly, the fake cave seen in "Wyatt Earp" appears to have been in place for only a short time — possibly for a single production.

"Tennessee's Partner": Anthony Caruso holds Grubstake McNiven's claim sign

In telling the tale of Grubstake's Claim out behind Phantom in "Tennessee's Partner," the movie goes so far as to display the claim sign. In a way, the sign works not only to stake Grubstake's claim in the movie, but also to stamp this historic filming location as "Grubstake's Claim" ... at the risk of over-romanticizing the movies.