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, April 17, 2015

Rocks that look like elephants

Elephant, on the Lower Iverson

It's been a while since I rounded up the herd of elephants, elephant parts and other pachydermalia found on the site of the former Iverson Movie Ranch. This beauty is located in the Grove, on the former Lower Iverson.

Elephant and Monkey

A wider shot reveals that the Elephant has what looks like an oversized monkeyhead on its back.

Elephant's Trunk

Should you ever sojourn deep into Garden of the Gods, you might run across this oddity, which I think bears a striking resemblance to an Elephant's Trunk.

Woolly Mammoth — aka Vultura's Trail Rock

The most high-profile pachyderm-related rock feature at Iverson would have to be Woolly Mammoth, which is more properly known as Vultura's Trail Rock.

Woolly mammoth (artist's rendering)

The relationship between the prehistoric woolly mammoth and the contemporary elephant — particularly the Asian elephant — is well-established. As for the relationship between the rock I call Woolly Mammoth and the prehistoric creature ... you be the judge.

"Heroes" (NBC TV series, 2008) — Woolly Mammoth with a rock painting

Woolly Mammoth, or Vultura's Trail Rock, has had countless appearances in movies and TV shows. It's usually seen from another angle — where it looks nothing like a woolly mammoth — but when NBC landed at Iverson in 2008 for the TV show "Heroes," the show captured what I think is the essence of the rock.

Woolly Mammoth just after the "Heroes" shoot (2008)

Shortly after the "Heroes" production team pulled out of Iverson in late summer 2008, Woolly Mammoth still bore what appeared to be a temporary "scar" from the production. Like other rocks in the area, Woolly Mammoth served as a storyboard on the TV show, providing a backdrop for rock paintings depicting the future. It appeared that a little bit of that paint was overlooked during the cleanup.

In the "Heroes" screen shot we can make out the exact spot on Woolly Mammoth where the small triangular patch of white paint originated.

Woolly Mammoth in 2015: The same patch of white paint remains

I assumed at the time that the paint was water soluble and would soon wash away. However, going on seven years later, that white spot remains visible on the rock today. My hunch is still that it's just a spot they missed when they were cleaning up, but I'm amazed that it has lasted this long.

Woolly Mammoth looks less mammoth-like from the other side, but this shot, looking toward the east, provides some context. That's Topanga Canyon Boulevard in the background, with the ridgetop homes of Porter Ranch and a small section of the 118 Freeway visible at top left.

"Rocky Mountain Rangers" (1940): Hangdog, foreground, with Woolly Mammoth

By far the most common angle depicting Woolly Mammoth in the movies is this one, as seen in the Three Mesquiteers B-Western "Rocky Mountain Rangers," an Iverson masterpiece from Republic.

Woolly Mammoth — which has been described as resembling a saddlehorn from this angle — almost always takes a back seat to its higher-profile neighbor Hangdog. Click here to read more about the enigmatic Hangdog.

Woolly Mammoth in 2008, with nearby ruins

Up until a few years ago, Woolly Mammoth could be seen with some ruins nearby. You can read more about these mysterious ruins in this earlier post.

"Tarzan the Ape Man" (1932)

It's worth noting that at one time real elephants roamed the Iverson Movie Ranch. In the final sequence from "Tarzan the Ape Man," shown above, Jane and others rode a live elephant through the Iverson Gorge.

Elephant rock on the Island of Heimaey in Iceland

Iverson doesn't have a monopoly on rocks that look like elephants. In fact, it turns out that elephants are a relatively widespread theme in the "rocks that look like other stuff" universe. Here are a few examples ...

Sardinia, Italy 

The locals report that this elephant rock on Sardinia, the second-largest island in the Mediterranean, was shaped by wind, and I have no reason to disagree.

New Zealand 

I like the mossy-looking foliage effect on this one.

Saudi Arabia 

Here's another variation on the fat-trunked elephant theme — this one is starting to grow on me.

City of Rocks National Reserve, Idaho 

I don't think this rock looks particularly elephant-like, but I had to include it for the obvious reason: It has a sign. Does it reflect poorly on me that this picture makes me want to block the gate?

Point Reyes, Calif. 

I've driven past this thing countless times without ever noticing its elephantine qualities. Thank you for the reality check, Internet!

Washoe County, Nevada 

For some reason I find myself feeling sorry for this one.

Prince Edward Island, Canada

No reason to feel sorry for this character, with plenty of water and fresh air to be found ... although living in a world with a skewed horizon line might get old after a while.


Island of Heimaey, Iceland 

This is the second photo I'm including of the elephant rock in Iceland. This thing looks great from any angle.

Old Hartlepool, England 

The elephant rock in Old Hartlepool was washed away in a storm in 1891, but at least it was around long enough to be immortalized in a colorized postcard.


This post marks the official launch of "Rocks that look like ..." — an occasional series that, needless to say, focuses on rocks that look like other stuff. I anticipate that the series will maintain a connection to the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., where plenty of rocks can be found that look like other stuff.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Off the Beaten Path: Vic Morrow and the fighting 361st patrol L.A.'s Franklin Canyon on the World War II drama series "Combat!"

Vic Morrow — ABC promotional still for "Combat!" (1964)

My guess is the most fondly remembered World War II TV drama series of all time is "Combat!" — even though as a kid who didn't know any better, I was probably more deeply influenced by "Rat Patrol."

"Combat!": Rick Jason, left, and Vic Morrow in season one

While the fictional 361st Infantry Regiment, led by Vic Morrow's Sgt. Saunders and Rick Jason's Lt. Hanley, never managed to fight its way out of France over the course of five seasons, most of the iconic sets representing the French countryside were in fact located much closer to home.

Jason as Lt. Hanley, left, and Morrow as Sgt. Saunders

The series filmed regularly in Franklin Canyon, literally in the middle of Los Angeles — nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains, Franklin Canyon is said to mark the geographic center of the city. Many of the bombed-out hulls of buildings seen on "Combat!" were built in what is now the main parking lot for Franklin Canyon Park.

Franklin Canyon — the geographic center of Los Angeles

These days Franklin Canyon is known more for its natural beauty and stands out as a scenic oasis amid the urban sprawl of L.A. — while much of its movie and TV history remains undocumented.

"The Losers" (Sept. 20, 1966)

Intrepid photographer and location researcher Jerry Condit has been exploring Franklin Canyon, and he recently shared some great shots of locations used on "Combat!" In the above scene from the episode "The Losers," Sgt. Saunders, played by Vic Morrow, mows down German soldiers as he and his unit try to take a bridge.

Here's the same spot as it appears today in a recent photo taken by Jerry, with the old railing still in place. "The Losers" aired early in the show's fifth and final season.

"Nightmare on the Red Ball Run" (Feb. 28, 1967)

In a scene from one of the show's last few episodes, Kirby and Littlejohn take cover behind a culvert during a sequence filmed in Franklin Canyon. "Combat!" aired from 1962-1967 on ABC.

Jerry took this shot of the same culvert as it appears today, almost 50 years after the men of the 361st Infantry Regiment — aka King Company — defended the position.

"Nightmare on the Red Ball Run"

The culvert can be seen again in the background as Kirby, played by series regular Jack Hogan, crouches in the foreground. Season five was the only season of "Combat!" shot in color.

Here's a similar view of the culvert from a recent visit to the site by Jerry.

"Nightmare on the Red Ball Run"

A German half-track sits in a flat area of Franklin Canyon. This area was used extensively in "Combat!," with the crew constructing numerous sets such as farmhouses, bunkers and ruins on the site.

Today the scenic canyon is a popular hiking area, and this spot where the half-track sat is now a parking lot. Jerry mentioned that he had to get to the site in the early morning to get these shots — before the lot filled up with cars.

"The Letter" (Oct. 25, 1966)

The men of the 361st use a large water pipe for cover during a firefight in an episode from early in season five.

In a terrific "then and now" match, Jerry was able to find the old pipe still at the site.

Here's a wider view of the pipe and its setting in recent times.

"It Happened One Night" (1934) — Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable

Franklin Canyon is probably best known for two famous shoots — one of them being the oft-mimicked hitchhiking scene from Frank Capra's classic comedy "It Happened One Night," starring Claudette Colbert's left leg. This sequence has been the subject of a bit of location controversy, with some observers saying it was shot on Foothill Boulevard in Sunland. But the consensus seems to point to Franklin Canyon.

Perhaps the most famous Franklin Canyon shoot of all is the title sequence from "The Andy Griffith Show," with Andy and Opie doing some father-son bonding during a fishing and rock-throwing visit to the site.



Here's a short clip of the "Andy Griffith Show" opening featuring Franklin Canyon — and also featuring that whistled theme song that at least one generation of TV viewers will never get out of our heads.

TV theme writer extraordinaire Earle Hagen

Next time you need to circumvent an ottoman or shout down a "trivia bully," try breaking out this tidbit: The theme song to "The Andy Griffith Show" has a name — "The Fishin' Hole" — and was written by ... AND whistled by ... Earle Hagen. A master of the TV theme song, Hagen wrote much of the soundtrack we have lodged in our heads, including the themes for "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "I Spy," "That Girl" and "Gomer Pyle-USMC."

"Combat!": Guest star Sal Mineo, left, and series star Vic Morrow (1965)

"Combat!" featured an impressive lineup of guest stars during its five-season run. Besides Sal Mineo, above, the guest list included Robert Duvall, James Coburn, Tab Hunter, Luise Rainer, Leonard Nimoy, James Caan, Mickey Rooney, Claudine Longet, Dennis Hopper, Ricardo Montalban, Lee Marvin and many other household names.



Off the Beaten Path is a series of posts that stray from the usual subject matter of this blog, which is the Iverson Movie Ranch. Past subjects have included Bell Ranch, Pioneertown, Corriganville, Oak Park and other old filming locations. You can go directly to the Off the Beaten Path posts by looking up the term "Off the Beaten Path" in the long index of labels at the right of the page, or by clicking here.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Where did Fuzzy Knight place the dynamite in "Boss of Bullion City" ... and how much damage did he do?

Fuzzy Knight, left, Johnny Mack Brown and Maria Montez in "Boss of Bullion City" (1940)

Veteran B-Western sidekick Fuzzy Knight has a scene in the Universal picture "Boss of Bullion City" where he places some dynamite in a rock, and in the process he appears to use an ax to chip away at the rock. I wanted to see whether I could find the exact spot, and whether any actual damage was done to the rock.

"Boss of Bullion City" — Fuzzy Knight at work on the South Rim

Here's a shot of Fuzzy at work on the rock. Finding the spot was easy, as it's in a widely filmed part of the Upper Iverson and the instantly recognizable Wrench Rock appears at the left of the shot. The area where Fuzzy is working is part of the T-Cliff, also known simply as the Cliff, one of the largest rock features on the South Rim.

In this shot Fuzzy is swinging the ax right into the hole as he tries to make the hole large enough to fit the dynamite. Some of the screen shots I was able to get off my DVD version of the movie are a bit ... well, fuzzy. But the shot pinpoints where the ax came in contact with the rock.

Fuzzy checks his work, and we get a look at the hole in the rock.

Even in a wider shot, the hole is plainly visible. One thing that makes this spot relatively easy to locate is a missing piece of rock surface right near the dynamite hole. This section where the surface has fallen off can be seen in other productions and can be easily found at the site.

This version of the shot points out two key elements in finding the dynamite hole: the hole itself, and the nearby area where the surface material has fallen off the rock. I have pondered the question of whether the missing hunk of surface material has anything to do with the production of this sequence for "Boss of Bullion City."

A closeup shows Fuzzy placing the dynamite in the hole he has apparently created in the rock. The question of whether the antics of Fuzzy and the rest of the "Boss of Bullion City" crew may have helped pry loose the nearby surface material is probably unanswerable — but that doesn't prevent us from contemplating it.

Is Fuzzy contemplating the damage to the rock?

Production on the movie would have taken place in 1939, which was still early in the use of the Upper Iverson as a filming location. I have yet to run across any earlier movie shots of this area, which could help determine whether the damage to the rock was fresh at the time "Bullion City" was in production. In the absence of such evidence, I'm willing to assume the slab fell off as part of the natural erosion process.

It may be worth pointing out that I'm not investigating any damage from the dynamite itself, as any explosions would have been handled by special effects. The possible damage I'm tracking involves the creation of the hole in the rock where the dynamite was placed and any collateral damage to nearby rock surfaces.

"Teenage Caveman" (1958): Robert Vaughn, the dynamite hole and the missing slab

Here's the same spot as it appears almost two decades later in Roger Corman's cult film "Teenage Caveman." That's future "Man From U.N.C.L.E." Robert Vaughn in the title role of the Teenage Caveman. I may be stating the obvious, but Vaughn was no teenager at the time — he was about 25 when the movie was made.

The pertinent features seen in "Boss of Bullion City" are easy to spot again here, but to avoid ambiguity, here's a labeled version of the photo.

This is what the rock looks like today, with Fuzzy's handiwork still easy to spot. The site retains both its presumed natural scars — notably the missing slab of surface material — and its movie scars, such as the dynamite hole.

The dynamite hole and missing surface hunk are marked again here. One thing you may have already noticed is that a bigger, better hole for setting up dynamite appears to already be in place at the base of the rock — seemingly a more logical place to do meaningful dynamite work.

The obvious question comes to mind: Why would the filmmakers want to bash a hole into the rock in the first place — especially in such a silly spot, and especially when a better hole was already available directly below that spot. Of course, we're beating our heads against a rock wall if we're looking for logic in a B-Western.

Field operative Cliff Roberts snapped this closeup of Fuzzy's dynamite hole on a recent visit to the site. My faith in human nature tells me to assume the hole occurred naturally, rather than being created by Fuzzy or a crew member swinging an ax into the rock. But it does have the appearance of something that was created intentionally, and I'm probably giving the film crew too much credit.