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.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A ton of fun with a gun: Frontier lawman Wyatt Earp hauls a state-of-the-art weapon of war all over the Lower Iverson

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (1958)

Hugh O'Brian appeared as Wild West lawman Wyatt Earp for six seasons on the ABC series "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp," from 1955-1961. Early in season four, he got a chance to play with a Gatling gun — the closest thing they had to the "nuclear option" back in the Old West days — during what I'm sure was a memorable shoot on the Iverson Movie Ranch.

Apparently the bone-jarring weapon raised such a ruckus that even a he-man like the legendary Wyatt Earp had to close his eyes when he was mowing people down with it. Still, O'Brian — or should I say Earp — seemed to have a ton of fun with the gun. But best of all, he got to show it off with a series of Lower Iverson landmarks in the background. These first two shots, which appear toward the end of the episode, are taken just off the Garden of the Gods Trail.

The episode, appropriately titled "The Gatling Gun," premiered Oct. 21, 1958, and was shot mainly in or near the Iverson Gorge. When the gun first surfaces, it's hidden in Zorro's Cave, where it's being stored on a wagon and kept under a tarp by a group of Native Americans. In a common theme for the "Wyatt Earp" TV series, the Indians in this episode are more reasonable than the white settlers or the U.S. military, and even though a group of Native warriors originally stole the Gatling gun from the Cavalry, Earp is able to talk them into giving it back.

As the wraps come off, Wyatt and his odd alliance of Native American pacifists look on. The shot includes a portion of a distinctive diagonal rock found at the back entrance to Zorro's Cave, seen here in the top left corner of the frame.

This shot points out the diagonal rock, along with the direction to nearby Zorro's Cave. The diagonal rock can also be seen with a Ray Harryhausen monster next to it in this earlier blog post — scroll down to the 10th and 11th photos in the entry (but feel free to read the rest of it too, especially if you like monsters).

A wider shot of the area includes Heroes Tower at top center, along with more of that diagonal rock behind Zorro's Cave. With Earp are Chief Joseph, left, played by Richard Garland, and Earp's Indian adviser Mr. Cousin, right, played by Rico Alaniz.

This annotated version of the shot pinpoints Heroes Tower and the distinctive diagonal rock. I came up with the name Heroes Tower after I first discovered this area in 2008 while a shoot for the NBC series "Heroes" was under way.

Here's a photo of the same area from 2008, taken during the period when "Heroes" was taping, with Heroes Tower painted up for the occasion. The videographer in the photo is standing on that same diagonal rock behind Zorro's Cave. You can click here to read more about the "Heroes" shoot in the Ray Harryhausen post mentioned above.

And what a fine killing machine it is. The actor playing the Indian in this shot from "The Gatling Gun" is uncredited. In the background is Zorro's Cave.

The old-fashioned machine gun next surfaces near Overhang Rock, where Mr. Gatling's pride and joy gets a chance to show off its firepower. In this shot Mr. Cousin gets a crack at it while Wyatt observes and theoretically provides backup. That's Overhang Rock at the top left with a guy on top of it.

The view from the business end offers another look at Overhang Rock, on the right this time. Overhang Rock no longer exists, having become one of the casualties of condo development in the Upper Gorge in the late 1980s. But a number of its neighboring rocks, which also appear in the episode, did survive, as I will point out below.

As the camera pulls back — and the smoke clears — we get another look at Overhang Rock on the right (it should be clear how it got that name), along with some of its neighbors. One of those neighbors, the round boulder in the top left corner, is Cagney Rock — named after James Cagney.

This version of the shot identifies both Cagney Rock and Overhang Rock. While Overhang Rock was destroyed by development, Cagney Rock has survived and can still be found among the condos along Redmesa Road.

"The Oklahoma Kid" (1939)

Cagney Rock got that name largely because of this famous promotional still featuring Jimmy Cagney in front of the rock. Cagney rarely did Westerns, but when he did "The Oklahoma Kid" for Warner Bros., he shot it at the Iverson Movie Ranch.

Here's the same promo still with the key players identified. I go into detail about Cagney Rock and Overhang Rock — including photos of Cagney Rock as it appears today — in this blog post from earlier this year.

Here's an interesting shot that takes place just after the Gatling gun leaves the Overhang Rock/Cagney Rock area. It would be easy to miss, but Iverson's famous Saddlehorn Rock can be seen in the background. I've highlighted it in the next shot.

This is the same shot with Saddlehorn Rock pointed out.

Here's Saddlehorn Rock as it appears today, up close — although not from exactly the same angle. It has survived, and now lives among the condos on the west side of Redmesa Road.

The Gatling gun moves past the Three Kings, in the top left corner, a group that includes, left to right, the Pharaoh, an unnamed rock that could be referred to as "King 2," and Tower Rock. Also visible is a portion of the Sphinx, but it is NOT one of the Three Kings.

This labeled version of the previous photo differentiates the Three Kings from the Sphinx. The road seen here, Garden of the Gods Trail, is still in place as a foot trail, and is the main entrance route into Garden of the Gods Park.

"Zane Grey Theatre" (1958): "The Freighter"

This shot from a 1958 episode of the Western anthology TV series "Zane Grey Theatre" offers a relatively common view of the Three Kings, shot from the eastern side of the Gorge with the camera facing generally toward the west. The episode, "The Freighter," first aired on Jan. 17, 1958, and would have been filmed in 1957.

This version of the "Zane Grey" shot identifies the Three Kings, along with an often filmed background hill farther west, which I call Boat Hill.

This view of Garden of the Gods from the eastern side of the Gorge includes the Three Kings as they appear today.

Here's the same recent shot with a number of features noted, including the Three Kings and Boat Hill.

A closer view of the Three Kings from a recent visit gives a better idea of what these imposing rock figures look like today.

In this shot I've identified each of the Three Kings. I've mentioned the Pharaoh before, in a post you can find by clicking here. Tower Rock, besides being one of the Three Kings, is a famous rock in its own right, often seen paired with the Sphinx. For more about Tower Rock, which has also been called Indian Head, please click here.

"The Gatling Gun": This scene takes place in the Arena

In the "Wyatt Earp" episode the gun continues down Garden of the Gods Trail, where Wyatt takes it over and there ensues a massive confrontation with substantial bloodshed. Suffice to say the guys who get mowed down are mostly not nice people. But more important, the rocks: Those seen during this sequence are located in an area off to the side of Garden of the Gods Trail that was rarely filmed, which I call the Arena.

The same part of the Arena as it appears today

The Arena remains intact today, and is seen here on a visit to the site a couple of months ago. You may be able to match up the rocks in the above two photos. The rock at the center of this shot is the same rock that fills the top left corner in the "Wyatt Earp" shot above this one. The well-lit rock in the foreground in the recent shot is also partially visible in the "Wyatt Earp" shot, through the spokes of the Gatling gun's wheels.

This comparison of the two shots — the "Wyatt Earp" shot from 1958 on the left, and the recent shot from a site visit on the right — should help you match up the rocks of the Arena as they appear in the two shots.

Is this not a Wonderland of Rock? The episode makes great use of the Iverson Gorge's rocky terrain.

Here's another unusual shot from the climactic sequence in "The Gatling Gun." How great is this episode? Some readers will probably recognize Doglips at top right.

"The Gatling Gun" — the rock is Bald Knob

The episode also pays a meaningful visit to Bald Knob, the rock featured prominently in the center of the shot above. I talked about this "Battle of Bald Knob" sequence — and about some of Bald Knob's other screen appearances — in a recent post, which you can read by clicking here. A follow-up post, about whether Bald Knob is real or fake, can be found here.

I would be negligent if I didn't point out a hidden delight in the above photo of Bald Knob: Parts of the vegetation along the left edge of the frame are unusually intriguing, especially the top half. If you're the type who sees faces, I recommend you look there for some.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Buster Keaton's "armory" in the towers of Rock Island

Buster Keaton's 1923 silent comedy "Three Ages" is one of the earliest known feature films to shoot extensively at the Iverson Movie Ranch, with virtually all of the footage for the movie's caveman sequences shot on the Lower Iverson. While the bulk of the movie's Iverson shoot is well-documented, I recently spotted a set I haven't seen discussed anywhere else.

"Three Ages" (1923)

This shot from "Three Ages" features what I call an "armory," consisting of a pile of rocks ready to be thrown, that Buster Keaton's caveman character has stashed in a high rock perch. I was able to determine where this is because of the distinctive shape of the rock tower in the top right corner.

"Stagecoach" (1939)

The location for Buster's tower armory can be seen in this shot from the John Ford Western "Stagecoach." Rock Island is is the dominant rock feature in the foreground, consisting from this angle mainly of three large boulders.

Rock Island is identified in the "Stagecoach" screen shot. The site for Buster's armory is at the top of the middle boulder, with a portion of the set built onto the rock to its left.

This version of the shot of the armory in "Three Ages" points out the tower — the same one seen in the "Stagecoach" shot.

Another version of the "Stagecoach" shot highlights the portion of the tower near the top of Rock Island that appears as Buster Keaton's "armory" in the "Three Ages" rock-throwing sequence.

Buster and the object of his affection, played by Margaret Leahy, appear at the top of Rock Island, in the "armory." Note that the wall Buster is leaning on would have been constructed specifically for the movie. It appears to be made of concrete, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn a lighter material was used — especially given the logistics of building a set so high up, and on top of a round boulder.

"They Died With Their Boots On" (1941)

This shot from the Errol Flynn movie "They Died With Their Boots On" gives a sense of the massive scale of Rock Island, with a detachment of mounted Cavalrymen dwarfed by the formation as they ride below it.

Here's the same shot from "They Died With Their Boots On" with Rock Island highlighted.

In this version of the shot from "They Died With Their Boots On" the location of Buster's armory in "Three Ages" is identified. Note how high above the Cavalry detachment the armory is positioned.

In "Three Ages" a battle inevitably breaks out, and the fake movie rocks fly.

The movie provides just one alternate angle on the armory, seen above. As in the other shots, the camera is aimed roughly toward the west. Buster appears at top right in the armory, engaged in a spirited rock fight with the cavemen below. This angle reveals that much of the armory sits atop not the center boulder but the one at the southeast corner of Rock Island — a rock I've blogged about before, which I call Eraserhead. Please click here to read more about Eraserhead and Rock Island.

"Have Gun — Will Travel" (1960): "The Fatalist"

A view of Rock Island that again features the site of the armory can be found in "The Fatalist," the first episode of season four of the TV Western "Have Gun — Will Travel." The episode premiered Sept. 10, 1960, on CBS. One of the most interesting details in this shot is hiding in the background, above Rock Island.

A portion of Saddlehorn Relay Station is visible in the background, as pointed out in this shot.

This photo identifies a group of trees near Saddlehorn Relay Station, which may be the same trees seen at a much earlier stage in 1923, in "Three Ages."

Here's another look at the armory from 1923, along with what appears to be a line of recently planted trees. I have a feeling these trees grew up to be the same ones later seen near Saddlehorn Relay Station, as noted above.

Here are some links to the productions mentioned in this post:

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Is Bald Knob real or fake? Some solid evidence surfaces

"The Grapes of Wrath" (1940)

Bald Knob has a long and illustrious history, including a brief appearance in one of the most prestigious movies filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch, John Ford's Dust Bowl classic "The Grapes of Wrath." In this shot from the movie, Bald Knob lurks in the shadowy background at left, not just portraying a part of the rugged California landscape, but in fact BEING a part of it.

Here's the same shot with Bald Knob ID'd. This iconic sequence shot at Iverson has a poor migrant family, its overburdened truck on its last legs, struggling to reach California's mythic farmland, where the promise of jobs in the fields awaits.

Russell Simpson, as Pa Joad, appears to be pointing at Nyoka Cliff, but in the movie he's pointing to the farm country that lies ahead.

And here's that lush California farmland, as it appears about midway through "The Grapes of Wrath." Looking out over a portion of the western San Fernando Valley, seen from an overlook above the Iverson Gorge, family members can't contain their excitement as they realize their long, difficult journey from Oklahoma is finally over.

"Harum Scarum" (1965)

A quarter-century after "The Grapes of Wrath," Bald Knob makes an appearance in the Elvis Presley movie "Harum Scarum" in 1965, as seen at the top-center of the frame in the above screen shot.

Here's the same shot with Bald Knob spotlighted.

"Have Gun — Will Travel" (1959): "Heritage of Anger"

With the rock's mighty overhang appearing to defy gravity, the question has to be asked: Is this thing for real? Or might Bald Knob in fact be some kind of manmade contraption? Following my recent blog post on Bald Knob, I did some digging in search of an answer to that question, and I found something interesting.

"The Virginian" (1963): "Run Quiet"

The above shot from season two of the Western TV series "The Virginian" tells a part of the story, as a bolt can be seen pretty clearly at top left. I doubt the show's producers realized that the shot revealed a bolt in the rock, but I'm glad it slipped through because it provides a major clue to the nature of Bald Knob.

The bolt, spotlighted here in the shot from "The Virginian," appears to be keeping the top portion of the rock from toppling over. In my mind the presence of a bolt is consistent with the theory that the rock is real — while also indicating that Bald Knob needed some help along the way to remain structurally sound. But I can see how it might be interpreted differently, as the bolt provides clear evidence of human intervention — and therefore might support the conclusion that Bald Knob is a fake rock.

In another shot from the same sequence we get a closer look at Bald Knob. I'm always looking for cement work in these kinds of close-ups, and I do see one area here that makes me wonder. It's toward the right, behind the actor's back.

This shot exposes a second area that could be cement, as highlighted in the next photo. For the record, "The Virginian" aired for nine seasons on NBC, from 1962-1971, with the episode featured here, "Run Quiet," premiering Nov. 13, 1963.

This shot pinpoints two sections of Bald Knob that look suspiciously like cement — and they're right where they would need to be to support the weight of the overhanging portion of the rock.

As for the bolt, now that we know about its existence, we can begin to spot it in other productions, as noted below.
"Have Gun — Will Travel" (1960): "The Fatalist"

Bald Knob is seen from an unusual angle in this shot from the first episode of season four of "Have Gun — Will Travel," titled "The Fatalist." The episode premiered Sept. 10, 1960. The bolt is visible in the photo, although it's little more than a tiny dot.

This is the same shot from "The Fatalist," with the bolt pointed out. If nothing else, the presence of the bolt, combined with sightings of the rock in productions going back at least as far as 1935, makes a case that the rock was in fact made of rock. It's unlikely that a fake composition such as movie rock foam would have survived that long — and it wouldn't have needed this kind of structural reinforcement.

"Have Gun — Will Travel" (1959): "Heritage of Anger"

Taking another look at the "Have Gun — Will Travel" episode "Heritage of Anger," one would never have spotted the bolt in this shot without already knowing it was there. But sure enough, it is right where it's supposed to be.

It's barely visible, but the bolt is doing its job.

"Have Gun — Will Travel" (1959)

Now I'm seeing the bolt all over the place. I posted the above photo in my previous post about Bald Knob, but didn't realize at the time that I should be looking for a bolt. It's another shot from "Heritage of Anger."

In this version of the shot, some of the possible cement work is also noted.

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (1958): "The Gatling Gun"

How about shots from "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp," where the imaginary "Battle of Bald Knob" took place in the episode "The Gatling Gun"?

Yep, the bolt shows up there too. Here's the same shot from "The Gatling Gun" with the bolt pointed out.

Here again, the possible cement work can also be seen.

"Miracle Rider" (1935)

Bald Knob can be spotted in a number of movies from the 1930s, with the oldest I've found so far being the Tom Mix serial "Miracle Rider," from 1935. Of course, nothing from this period is clear enough to tell whether either the bolt or the cement work was in place yet. But it's worth noting that this sighting appears to predate the period when the Iverson family was first known to begin creating "customized" rock formations by cementing rocks together. If Bald Knob turns out to be a manmade stacked rock, then it may well be the first one done at Iverson.

So what's the bottom line on Bald Knob? I'd say the jury is still out, even though we now have some solid evidence that the rock formation may have been created by human intervention — essentially by bolting one large rock on top of another and possibly adding some cement supports to hold it in place. It sure doesn't look like something that would have happened on its own. Given the weight of evidence, I'm warming up to the idea that Bald Knob was fake — but I still don't think we have proof. If anyone out there can shed light, please comment or contact me by email and I'll let my readers know.

Below I've rounded up some links to Amazon in case you're interested in shopping for the movies and TV shows mentioned in this blog post ...