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 iversonmovieranch@gmail.com 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 iversonmovieranch@gmail.com.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Is a piece of wall art on the spy show "The Americans" inspired by the Iverson Movie Ranch?

I'm a big fan of the FX series "The Americans," about Russian spies pretending to be a normal American family living in Washington, D.C., during the Cold War.

"The Americans" episode "Darkroom" (premiered May 9, 2017)

I never expected to find a reference to the Iverson Movie Ranch in the show, but I did spot something in a recent episode that qualifies at least as an intriguing coincidence.

Take a close look at the artwork hanging on the wall at the left of the frame.

Here's a closeup of the artwork, which depicts something quintessentially "American" — an adobe village.

Adobe Village, Lower Iverson Movie Ranch (ca. 1950)

Is it just me, or does the adobe village in the "Americans" art bear a striking resemblance to the village that stood in the Iverson Gorge in the late 1940s and into the 1950s?

"Arizona Territory" (1950): Iverson's Adobe Village

The Iverson Ranch's Adobe Village appeared regularly in movies and TV shows during the decade or so that it was in place in the heavily filmed Iverson Gorge, roughly 1944-1954.

Lobby card for the 1944 Columbia serial "Black Arrow"

The Iverson adobes also found their way into movie posters and lobby cards. This one includes a note at the bottom that wouldn't fly these days.

I love this poster for "Black Arrow," which includes an artist's rendering of the adobe village on fire. I'm not endorsing burning villages, I just like that someone went to the trouble to draw a version of the Gorge set.

Hopi House, Grand Canyon, Ariz.

It may be that both the Iverson Adobe Village and the "Americans" art draw inspiration from the Hopi House on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, built as a living museum by architect Mary Colter in 1904.

"Hopi House," Iverson Ranch (ca. 1950)

In fact, the Iverson family is known to have referred to the largest structure in the Iverson Ranch Adobe Village as the "Hopi House."

Hopi village in Oraibi, Ariz. (ca. 1899)

The Grand Canyon's Hopi House is said to be inspired by the much older Hopi village in Oraibi, Ariz.

I suppose most Hopi-style adobe villages have design similarities. Still, the best match among all the examples I've found is between the village in the Iverson Gorge and the one in "The Americans."

Lobby card for "Outlaw Country" (1949)

In this lobby card for the Western Adventure B-Western "Outlaw Country," Lash LaRue stands on the first-story roof of Iverson's three-story "Hopi House."

"Outlaw Country": Lash LaRue on the Hopi House

Here's Lash in almost the same spot, from the movie. While the movie shots aren't nearly as sharp as the lobby card, it's interesting to compare the two shots, which were presumably taken during the same filming session.

With Lash repositioned to the right, a dented area is exposed on the adobe structure. If you look again at the color lobby card, you can see this darker, recessed area between Lash's legs.

Also note that the shadows are slightly different between the two shots. Based on the orientation of the buildings, I'd say filming took place in the morning, with the promo shot taken a short time after the movie shot.

"Black Arrow" (1944)

The "Black Arrow" lobby card, from four or five years earlier, appears to show the same section of the adobes seen in the Lash LaRue sequence. "Black Arrow" is the earliest production I've run across that featues these adobes, and it may be that they were built for the serial.

I've noted the spot where Lash LaRue will stand a few years later in "Outlaw Country." It's also worth noting that the rocks making up the Hole in the Wall area can be seen at top left. These rocks remain in place today.

Early shots of the adobes show that back around 1944 they had fake logs sticking out of them near the roofline, similar to what we find in the adobes in "The Americans" and in the real-world examples.

Those logs were gone by the late 1940s. But if one looks closely at the circa 1950 photo, the clearest shot we have of the Hopi House, it's possible to see where the wall was "patched up" after the logs were removed.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

"The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story": Disney brings the jungle of India to the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif.

"The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story" (Disney, 1998)

The halcyon days of the Iverson Movie Ranch were already decades in the past when Disney brought a large crew to the former location ranch to film the 1998 live-action sequel "The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story."

Brandon Baker on the Iverson Ranch, behind the scenes on "Mowgli's Story"

The movie introduced audiences to Brandon Baker, who was 12 years old when he landed the role of Mowgli.

"Mowgli's Story": Brandon Baker as Mowgli, with "wolf" friend on the Lower Iverson

The youngster was practically the only human actor in the movie, working with special effects along with a variety of animal actors who were brought to the ranch for filming in the spring of 1997.

Mowgli, with his wolf pack, faces his nemesis, the tiger Shere Khan

A major shoot took place in a section of the Lower Iverson that longtime Iverson watchers know as the Hangover Rock area. Fake rocks and other props were installed by the Disney crew to dress the place up.

Mowgli's "wolf parents" Akela and Raksha at Hangover Rock

Plenty of artistic license is taken in "Mowgli's Story," especially when it comes to the animals. The many "wolves" in the movie are played by dogs, including the breeds Laika and Canaan Dog.

"Shere Khan" in "Mowgli's Story" — below Heroes Tower on the Lower Iverson

The tiger, on the other hand, is real — and it's a beautiful animal. In this shot the tiger stands on a fake rock, but the grass and rocks in the background are part of the natural setting.

A wider shot of the same area shows the fake rock on which the tiger was positioned in the previous shot.

The fake rock is highlighted here, along with the strip of green grass and the surrounding rocks that formed the background behind the tiger.

"The Nevadan" (Columbia, 1950)

In the Randolph Scott Western "The Nevadan," filmed almost a half-century before "Mowgli's Story," we get a look at the same shooting location that would later be used for the tiger shot.

You can't help noticing a difference in the foliage — the dry, sparse condition of the ground cover as it appears here was far more typical than the lush green grass seen during filming on "Mowgli's Story."

The Heroes Tower area in 2008, covered with paintings for the TV show "Heroes"

I took photos of the same spot on a visit to the Iverson Ranch in the summer of 2008, when the area was being filmed for the NBC TV series "Heroes."

Once again, the original background for the tiger shot is highlighted. You'll notice that here again, the grass is seen in its more typical dry, brown condition.

The paintings that covered the rocks in 2008 were part of an Africa storyline that ran during the third season of "Heroes." I've been using the name "Heroes Tower" to identify the formation ever since.

"Mowgli's Story": A "wolf" stands on top of Heroes Tower

The top of Heroes Tower also appears in "Mowgli's Story," with a wolf placed on top of the rock. The dark vertical "stripes" on the rock are made by running water that was added by the "Mowgli's Story" production team.

Knowing that Heroes Tower is just a big rock, it seems kind of silly to have water running from the top of it. But the Disney crew clearly wanted to make the terrain of the Iverson Ranch appear as lush as possible.

"Mowgli's Story": Shere Khan on his fake rock, with running water at left

The running water installed for "Mowgli's Story" can also be seen in this shot of Shere Khan. The rich green shade of the grass is evidence that the shoot took place in the spring following a relatively wet winter.

The tiger, still on his fake rock, has a conversation with a spotted hyena

This shot provides a good look at Shere Khan's fake rock, along with more of the green grass. If you've been to the Iverson Ranch you probably know it's unusual to see the place looking this green.

Green grass abounds at Iverson in "Mowgli's Story"

The "Mowgli's" shoot followed the La Nina winter of 1996-97. Rainfall wasn't nearly as heavy that year as it would be a year later, when El Nino hit Southern California, but it was wet enough to make the greens pop.

I just like this shot of Shere Khan in the movie — the big cat had some personality.

Khan could also look intimidating when he felt like it.

"Mowgli's Story": Bagheera, the black panther

Another big cat that took part in the shoot was this black panther, which spent the bulk of its Iverson Movie Ranch screen time lounging in a fake tree. My guess is the cat was sedated the whole time, as it barely moved.

Baloo the bear struts his stuff while the panther, still in her tree, appears unfazed

Panthers and black bears don't normally live in the same place, but in Disney's "Jungle Book" universe they do. The bear, too, filmed scenes live at the ranch — including this sequence with the panther and the fake tree.

Bagheera's fake tree in recent times — still located at the site, and largely intact

The fake tree remains at the site today, a little bit the worse for wear. The tree is located on private property and is not generally accessible, but I obtained special permission from the owner to photograph the area.

Howling at dusk in "Mowgli's Story"

In a movie prominently featuring a pack of wolves, there's bound to be some howling. This shot captures the ranch as sunset approaches, along with some of the foothills adjacent to the western San Fernando Valley.

As night descends, the howling just gets that much more intense.

The howling shots were part of the location shoot. This shot features a familiar hill at the right of the frame, located directly west of the Iverson Ranch.

Howling in the daytime on top of Church Rock, on the Lower Iverson

For this daylight howl, someone managed not only to get a dog actor all the way up on top of Church Rock, but also convinced the animal to howl. My guess is the wrangler had a harmonica.

"Cheyenne Takes Over" (Eagle-Lion, 1947) — Church Rock in background

Church Rock gets its name from the church that stood on the Iverson Western street from 1947-1949. As seen in this shot from the Lash LaRue B-Western "Cheyenne Takes Over," the rock stood just behind the church.

Church Rock marked the south end of the Western street, not only during the two years when the church was in place, but also before and after the brief lifespan of the church. The Western street stood from 1945-1957.

Church Rock towers above a tent city from an unknown production, circa early 1930s

This unusual shot captures Church Rock from an angle more closely approximating the angle seen in "Mowgli's Story." The shot is taken with the camera aimed toward the east.

"Circle of fire" scene near the end of "Mowgli's Story"

In a climactic sequence in "Mowgli's Story," Mowgli sets a ring of vines on fire, trapping the tiger Shere Khan inside a circle of flames.

The scene is filmed primarily on the Iverson Ranch, near the house where Joe Iverson had lived for about 60 years. The house and the ranch were owned by Robert Sherman at the time of the Mowgli shoot.

Behind the scenes of the "circle of fire" shoot on the Lower Iverson

An actual circle of fire was created at the location, as seen in this behind-the-scenes photo. The fire can be seen at the right, and above the tiger's head are the propane tanks used to fuel the fire.

"One World" (NBC, 1998-2001) — Brandon Baker, top left

Following up on his title role in "Mowgli's Story," Brandon Baker went on to a fruitful acting career. He's probably best known for his run as Cray Blake on the Teen NBC sitcom "One World" from 1998-2001.

Now 32 years old, Baker continues to dabble in acting, most recently playing the lead role in the 2014 indie film "The Formula."



I couldn't track down a DVD version of "Mowgli's Story," but the above link will take you to a digital version of the movie you can rent or buy on Amazon. This is the version I scanned to get screen shots for this post.