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, November 15, 2015

Glenn Strange and his "Strange Rock": Sam the Bartender on "Gunsmoke" wasn't always such a nice guy — just ask the Lone Ranger!

"Gunsmoke": Glenn Strange as Sam the Bartender

Fans of "Gunsmoke" know Glenn Strange mainly as Sam Noonan, the mild-mannered, albeit occasionally shotgun-wielding, bartender in Miss Kitty's Long Branch Saloon.

Glenn Strange: B-Western baddie

But before he settled down in 1961 for what would turn out to be 12 years and 238 episodes of steady, law-abiding work keeping Dodge City liquored up, Strange spent three decades in Hollywood piling up a resume as one of the baddest — and busiest — bad guys in the Westerns.

"Last Stagecoach West" (1957): Glenn Strange in the Iverson Gorge

As one of the most prolific actors in B-Westerns and early TV Westerns, Strange was a regular on the Iverson Movie Ranch. Between his career in movies going back to 1930 and his TV work starting with "The Lone Ranger" in 1949, Strange appeared in close to 600 productions.

Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's monster

Strange also played Frankenstein's monster in a series of Universal horror films in the 1940s, taking over the role made famous by Boris Karloff after Karloff reportedly got tired of being the monster all the time.

"The Lone Ranger," Episode 1: Glenn Strange as Butch Cavendish (1949)

One of Strange's signature roles came in the TV series "The Lone Ranger." Starting in the show's first episode, Strange played one of the most hated characters of his career — the brutal killer Butch Cavendish.

The Cavendish Gang gathers in Iverson's Garden of the Gods to plan an ambush

In a way, Strange's character created the Lone Ranger. Early in episode one of the TV show, Cavendish masterminded an ambush of a group of Texas Rangers that left almost all of them dead — all except one, who would recover from his injuries and would go on to become the Lone Ranger.

L.A.'s Bronson Canyon: Members of the Cavendish Gang lie in wait

The ambush scene was edited together from two location shoots in two different parts of L.A. — one in Bronson Canyon, near Griffith Park, and one on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth. Many of the shots of the bushwhackers were filmed in Bronson Canyon.

Texas Rangers ride into trouble in L.A.'s Bronson Canyon

The "box canyon" configuration of Bronson Canyon — a setup that a layman might call a "dead end" — makes it the ideal spot for an ambush.

Glenn Strange as Cavendish — the Phantom in the background

But shots of Cavendish himself during the ambush were filmed in front of a distinctive rock located on the Iverson Movie Ranch: the Phantom, one of the many sandstone giants found in the Garden of the Gods.

Cavendish, center, is joined by members of his gang at his ambush perch in front of the Phantom. The Phantom is readily identified by the smaller rock protruding over the edge at the top of the larger rock.

This is what the Phantom looks like today, from farther back. Here again we can see the smaller rock, at top center, sticking out over the edge of the larger rock.

The rocks seen in the "Lone Ranger" shot tend to blend into each other, but the shot includes three main rock features, as noted here — the Phantom in the background (Rock A), a rock immediately behind the bushwhackers (Rock B) and the rock in the foreground that provides cover for the bushwhackers (Rock C).

The same site as it appears today (photo by Tony M)

The general location for this shot has been known for several years. I blogged about the sequence back in 2010, soon after identifying the Phantom as the rock in the background. But it was only a couple of months ago that the other rocks in the shot were identified.

Iverson aficionado Tony M pointed out the site to me when he was here in September on a tour of movie locations. Tony also took this photo at that time — and I've taken the liberty of marking it up to show the three main rocks.

Rock C: "Strange Rock," in foreground

The identification of Rocks B and C is historically significant, given the central role the site played in the "Lone Ranger" story. After Tony showed me the spot, I found I couldn't resist calling Rock C "Strange Rock," in honor of Glenn Strange. The rock's slightly "strange" shape only makes the name that much more appropriate.

"Desire" (1936): Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich

Rocks B and C turn up in a number of other productions as well, although they're generally not seen from the angles used in "The Lone Ranger." Both rocks are visible in the background in this screen shot from the Marlene Dietrich-Gary Cooper movie "Desire."

I mentioned Rock C — referring to it generically at the time as "the pointed rock" — when I wrote a couple of years ago about the Garden of the Gods shoot for "Desire." You can see the original post by clicking here.

Where Glenn Strange was positioned during filming of the "Lone Ranger" ambush

Taking a closer look at the "Lone Ranger" ambush site today, we can see that the almost 45-degree slope on the south side of Strange Rock, where Cavendish and his henchmen were positioned, would have made this a precarious shoot — even without the dried brush that now occupies much of the space.

Presumably Glenn Strange and the other actors had some kind of scaffolding to stand on during filming.

"The Flying Deuces" (Laurel and Hardy, 1939)

"Rock B" from the ambush sequence has its own claim to fame, having provided the foundation for a mountain of laundry during the famous "laundry scene" in the 1939 Laurel and Hardy movie "The Flying Deuces."

The Phantom and "Rock B" in modern times

Here's "Rock B" without the laundry piled on top of it. I posted a blog item last year providing additional details about this shoot, which you can find by clicking on this link.

Map to Strange Rock and the "Lone Ranger" ambush site

If you can find your way to Redmesa Road in Chatsworth, Calif., you can probably find Strange Rock and the site of the "Lone Ranger" ambush. Park on Redmesa, just before the condos, and head for the blue gate on the west side of the road. Behind the gate, take Garden of the Gods Trail; at the top, continue straight ahead.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tinsley E. Yarbrough's seminal Western movie location book has been updated!

One of the top reference works in the field of location research

I just heard from Tinsley Yarbrough, one of the most respected experts on Western filming locations, who broke the news that he has reprinted and added an update to his book "Those Great Western Movie Locations," one of the seminal works in the field — and a reference that has been invaluable to me in my own location research.

Tinsley notes that the new printing comes with a "2016 Supplement" that updates some of the existing entries and adds entries on some locations that weren't covered in the original, such as Victor Valley and Towsley Canyon.

The new book will be available in a few weeks on Amazon, but in the meantime, Tinsley has an "Early Bird Special" that's an amazing deal: From now until Dec. 1, people can buy the book directly from Tinsley for only $39, plus $5 for domestic shipping. Send a check or postal money order to:

Tinsley E. Yarbrough
337 Glenn Court
Greenville, NC 27858

You can also pay by PayPal, by sending the payment to:

Amazon listing for the original edition of Tinsley E. Yarbrough's 
"Those Great Western Movie Locations"

Here's how amazing this deal is. The original run sold out a couple of years ago, and the few copies that are still around have been offered online for upwards of $1,000, as you can see in the above listing from, which I just pulled from the site today.

If you miss the deadline of Dec. 1, 2015, for the "Early Bird Special," the new printing is still a great deal. After Dec. 1 you can buy the book directly from Tinsley for $49.95 plus shipping, and it should also be available on Amazon starting Dec. 2, 2015, for the same price.

The new book has 402 pages and nearly 500 photos, with material on more than 110 filming locations and references to more than 1,200 movies and TV series. The original book has been praised by noted film critic Leonard Maltin, who said it is "as good as any [location book] I've seen."

Insiders in the movie location research universe have known about Tinsley's work for years — and have all raved about it. Jerry Schneider's Movie Making Locations website lists Tinsley's book as "highly recommended," and Boyd Magers of Western Clippings calls it "the ultimate locations guidebook."

Personally, I've learned so much from Tinsley — who still checks in from time to time to keep me honest in my own research — I can't say enough about the body of research he has produced on filming locations. His book is one of the most important documents we have in this field. Thanks for the update, Tinsley!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Was Gary Cooper the first person to play the swimming pool game "Marco Polo"?

Clip from "The Adventures of Marco Polo" (1938)

As a footnote to the recent post about the 1938 Gary Cooper movie "The Adventures of Marco Polo," while I was doing research into the movie I got to thinking about the game "Marco Polo," which we always used to play in the swimming pool when I was a kid.

You know, the kid who's "It" covers his or her eyes and starts yelling "Marco!" The other kids then yell back "Polo!" and the kid who's "It" has to try to find them by following the sound of their voices. So it turns out nobody really knows the origin of the game.

Ernest Truex

I think the clip at the top of this post — in which Ernest Truex, as Marco Polo's faithful assistant Binguccio, searches the canals of Venice for his womanizing friend — may in fact be where the game comes from. This particular version of the clip happens to be dubbed in French, which I think makes it work even better. (You may have noticed that the person whose voice is dubbed for Truex sings like Elmer Fudd.)

Other origin stories are out there, including one about the real Marco Polo hallucinating in the desert and imagining that people were calling him. But almost no one seems to think this anecdote has any real connection to the swimming pool game. It was a long time ago. Way before the modern swimming pool.

The Great Bath in Mohenjo-daro, built ca. 2500 BCE — often cited as the first swimming pool

Not that the idea of a swimming pool is anything new. Public pools have been around for close to 5,000 years, since well before the bath houses of ancient Greece and Rome popularized the concept. But it wasn't until much more recently that swimming pools became associated in particular with kids — and games.

Swimming pool at Dolores del Rio's house, circa 1930s

It was when the swimming pool moved into the back yard — a trend that the stars of Hollywood's Golden Age helped launch — that the pool started to become a fixture of everyday life.

Hey, look — it's Marco Polo himself, Gary Cooper, in the pool! Taken at the home of Dolores del Rio and Cedric Gibbons in Santa Monica, Calif., the photo also has Dolores lounging on the diving board and actress Sandra Shaw at right.

Dolores del Rio with James A. Marcus in "Revenge" (1928): Garden of the Gods in background

Incidentally, Dolores del Rio starred in at least one silent movie filmed on the Iverson Ranch, "Revenge," directed by Edwin Carewe. Born in Durango, Mexico, del Rio had a 40-year career in Hollywood, and is considered the first Latina to cross over and become a mainstream movie star.

Dolores del Rio with Joel McCrae in "Bird of Paradise" (1932)

Speaking of water games, del Rio's skinnydip with Joel McCrae in the sexy pre-Hayes Code tropical romance "Bird of Paradise" made quite a splash in 1932. McCrae kept his skivvies on, but del Rio — or her body double — went au naturel. But I digress ...

The backyard pool

In the decade that followed the 1938 release of the "Marco Polo" movie, the private swimming pool would experience a boom. In the U.S. in particular, the postwar years brought a mass migration to the suburbs, and with it came the proliferation of the backyard pool. The timing was right for the dawning of a new game.

It was probably some kid's dad who first got the idea. My guess is Dad never quite forgot the gondola scene, and in the middle of playing with the kids in the pool and singing about "Marco Polo," a lightbulb went off: "Wait, I'll say 'Marco' and YOU say 'Polo!'"

I don't suppose we'll ever know the game's origin story with any certainty, but I'm sticking with my theory. One thing we do know is that the game wound up being a cultural phenomenon.

These days you can even find your phone by yelling "Marco!" If you have the right app, your phone will yell back "Polo!" This is apparently a real thing.

A new TV series about Marco Polo is currently running on Netflix. I haven't seen the new "Marco Polo," but I got a kick out of this interview clip with a couple of the show's actors, Mahesh Jadu and Remi Hii, who were asked about, among other things, the Marco Polo game. It's interesting that Hii, who's Australian, knows all about the game while Jadu, who also is an Aussie, didn't know about it.

Thursday, October 29, 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.