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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Escort West" and thoughts on widescreen — CinemaScope in this case — vs. so-called "fullscreen" (which we used to call pan-and-scan)

I recently revisited the 1959 Victor Mature movie "Escort West" — which has been on my list of the Great Iverson Movies for years — and I was surprised to realize that last time around I probably missed about half the picture just because I was watching the movie in the wrong format.

"Escort West" (1959) — "pan-and-scan" or "fullscreen" format

This is what the movie looks like in the 4:3 aspect ratio, the way it was hacked up originally for TV and later circulated in various video formats. This shot shows the rarely seen Saddlehorn Village on the Iverson Movie Ranch, and when I first saw this, I thought I was getting a good look at the place.

"Escort West" (1959) — original CinemaScope format

Here, though, we can see what I was missing, which is just about half of the picture and much of the set. Of course, the picture as seen here is significantly narrower from top to bottom, and the individual images appear smaller than in the "fullscreen" version. In the living room it takes a bigger screen to alleviate that problem, but here on the blog all it takes is clicking on the photo to see a larger version.

Comparison of "fullscreen" format with widescreen CinemaScope

Here's another way of sizing up the two formats. I've placed the fullscreen version on top of the widescreen version to show how much widescreen adds to the picture. Once again, you may want to enlarge the photo by clicking on it to get a better look.

"Escort West" — promotional still

In another example from "Escort West," a fake stone structure is seen not only in the movie but also in this widely circulated promotional still for the film. The promo shot duplicates a scene toward the end of the movie in which the characters walk under what is generally thought of as a stone bridge, although it's apparent that the horizontal "stone" beam across the top of the frame is fake.

While my CinemaScope screen shot taken from a less-than-sharp digital file of "Escort West" doesn't come close to the clarity of the promo still, it does offer a much more complete view of the fake stone beam. The wider view makes it even more obvious than it is in the promo still that the beam is fake.

"Escort West" — Devil's Doorway Cluster ("fullscreen" version)

Here's another example from "Escort West." This scene showing the aftermath of an Indian attack was shot in front of the Devil's Doorway rock feature on the plateau just above the Iverson Gorge, with a portion of Cactus Hill visible in the background.

Same scene in the original CinemaScope

The same scene as it was shot in the original CinemaScope reveals much more of the Devil's Doorway formation — including the "doorway" itself — along with a wider section of Cactus Hill.

Here's the widescreen version of the shot again, with a few features noted. The south entrance to the actual Devil's Doorway arch is visible in this shot, but was deleted from the "fullscreen" version of the shot.

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel

The debate over fullscreen vs. widescreen was a bigger deal a few years back, before the proliferation of huge TV screens in people's living rooms. Back then it was a favorite topic of movie critics such as Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel — who found common ground on the issue — not to mention prominent movie directors such as Martin Scorsese, who frequently appeared on TV to "school" viewers on the merits of keeping a movie's original format. I'm not trying to resurrect the debate, which I'd say has been settled. But I did find it interesting how the format issue dovetails with location research.

Regarding the two links below, according to information on, both DVD sets apparently contain the widescreen version of "Escort West." The first link — to the cheaper of the two sets, listed at $7.53 at the time of this post — offers three movies, combining "Escort West" with "The Way West" and "Chato's Land," with all three movies reportedly in widescreen. The far more expensive second set ($20.95 as I post this) apparently contains both widescreen and fullscreen versions of only "Escort West."

Friday, December 12, 2014

How cool is James Coburn? Cool enough to be filmed at Zorro's Cabin ... which is extremely cool

James Coburn, right, at Zorro's Cabin in "Bat Masterson" (1959)

I'm going "Off the Beaten Path" here — veering away temporarily from the Iverson Movie Ranch — but I was pretty excited to find shots of Zorro's Cabin during a recent scan of some old episodes of the "Bat Masterson" TV show. Best of all, I ran across shots of one of my favorite actors, James Coburn, at the cabin and out in the nearby rocks.

Coburn had a major shoot on the Bell Location Ranch for a guest appearance in an episode called "The Black Pearls," playing a character named Poke Otis. The episode premiered July 1, 1959, toward the end of the show's first season. The rocks seen here are just across from Zorro's Cabin, on Bell Ranch's Upper Plateau.

Coburn had kind of an innately menacing look that made him a natural for Westerns — maybe not Lee Van Cleef menacing, but menacing enough. He appeared on just about every TV Western of the late 1950s and early 1960s — "Wagon Train," "Bonanza," "Have Gun — Will Travel," "Cheyenne," "Wanted — Dead or Alive," "Zane Grey Theater," "Black Saddle," "Rawhide," "The Rifleman" ... the list goes on.

Bad guys defend Zorro's Cabin in "The Black Pearls"

Zorro's Cabin played a pivotal role in the "Bat Masterson" episode, with a couple of bad guys holed up in the place before Poke, Coburn's character, and Bat, played by Gene Barry, partnered up to flush 'em out.

They also dragged Carol Otis, played by Jacqueline Scott, into the dispute. In this shot the three main protagonists are out in front of the cabin.

James Coburn in action, in front of Zorro's Cabin

The rocks seen here come up a lot during the action sequences shot at Zorro's Cabin for the episode. The same rocks can be seen in the shot above this one, and in a shot higher up with Coburn walking among the rocks.

Here's Bat Masterson himself — Gene Barry — at the front of Zorro's Cabin.

Bat regroups after dispensing with one of the ne'er-do-wells. The last couple of shots offer a good look at the fake movie wear and tear applied to give Zorro's Cabin that "lived-in" look.

They used the other side of the cabin for this shot, which appears elsewhere in the episode.

Bat comforts Jacqueline Scott's character, Carol, after rescuing her from being drug by a horse. Everybody except Bat gets a little messy in this one, with all the action taking place around Zorro's Cabin.

Zorro's Cabin in recent times

Zorro's Cabin still stands on the site of the former Bell Location Ranch off Box Canyon in the hills above the western San Fernando Valley. This portion of what we now think of as Bell Ranch was previously owned by the Berry family and has also been called Berry Ranch.

Zorro's Cabin, up close

I've heard a couple of different origin stories about Zorro's Cabin. One widely circulated story has it that the place was built by Disney for the old "Zorro" TV series, although another version of the story says the cabin was built by the owners at the time, the Berry family, and was not originally meant to be a movie building but served as the family's weekend getaway.

James Coburn as Leo Talley, with Carol Ohmart as Lisa Truex,
in the "Bat Masterson" episode "Six Feet of Gold" (1960)

James Coburn subsequently made a second guest appearance on "Bat Masterson," playing a different character, Leo Talley, in "Six Feet of Gold" in early 1960. Coburn's character in this one is more of a "dude," and Coburn never has to get his boots dirty much — although on the downside, I believe he gets killed off in both episodes.

"Bat Masterson" (1961) — the Western town at Bell Ranch

"Bat Masterson," which aired for three seasons on NBC, from 1958-1961, shot quite a bit on the Bell Location Ranch, and is a good source for screen shots of not only Zorro's Cabin, but also the Bell Western town. The above shot, from the episode "Run for Your Money," which premiered March 2, 1961, provides a sample of what the Western town looked like. To read an earlier post about a "Bonanza" shoot at Bell Ranch, please click here, and to read about a "Star Trek" shoot at Bell, try this link.

Off the Beaten Path is a series of posts that are not specifically focused on the usual subject matter of this blog, the Iverson Movie Ranch. Past subjects have included 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.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Old Man of the Gorge and the Three Amigos — as seen in the TV show "Laramie" and in the real world today

"Laramie" TV show (1960) — the Three Amigos (the rocks)

Here's a screen shot from a "Laramie" episode titled "Saddle and Spur," which premiered March 29, 1960, late in season one of the show's four-season run on NBC. The rocks featured in the shot consist mainly of a group I call the Three Amigos, which have been featured before on the blog.

The Three Amigos as they appear today

I'm always glad when I can point out that old movie rocks have survived, and I'm happy to note that all of the main rocks seen in the Laramie shot are still with us. These days they share their world with some nearby condos, but the rocks remain one of the star attractions in what's left of the Upper Gorge on the former Iverson Movie Ranch.

These are the three distinct "Amigos" seen in the "Laramie" shot.

One of the Three Amigos is also known as the Old Man of the Gorge. (The other two Amigos are pretty much just the "other Two Amigos.")

The Old Man of the Gorge — as he appears today

Here's a closeup of the Old Man of the Gorge in recent times.

Even the smaller rocks seen in the "Laramie" shot have survived.

This shot highlights the smaller rocks, as they appear in the recent shot of the area. In another bit of good news, all of the rocks seen here stand on park property and are openly available to be visited by the public.

Take the 118 Freeway to Topanga in Chatsworth, Calif., head south on Topanga to the first light, which is Santa Susana Pass Road, turn right at Santa Susana Pass Road, then take the first right onto Redmesa Road. Park before you get to the condos, and these rocks are on the east side of Redmesa, the right side.

Lone Ranger Rock

You'll also find Lone Ranger Rock in that part of the Gorge — on the east side of Redmesa Road. (Watch your step as you make your way down into the Gorge, and be on the lookout for rattlesnakes and poison oak.)

Gate into Garden of the Gods on the other side of Redmesa — the west side

The park is not marked as a park on the east side of the road, where the Three Amigos and Lone Ranger Rock can be found, but the area is open to the public (below the condos only). On the other side of Redmesa Road, the west side, you'll find the slightly better-posted Garden of the Gods park preserve, including the gate shown above.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Off the Beaten Path: The Barkley family mansion and barn in "The Big Valley" — and where in tarnation did they drop off Miss Kitty in "Gunsmoke"?

The Barkley family mansion, as seen in the title sequence for "The Big Valley" (1965-1969)

It's fairly well-known that the Barkley family mansion on the TV series "The Big Valley" was located on the old Republic backlot in Studio City, Calif. But I recently uncovered a few tidbits about the sets used for the show that I don't think have been publicized much, if at all.

The Mansion, as seen on "The Big Valley"

Here's another look at the Barkley family home on "The Big Valley." This screen shot comes from the episode "Under a Dark Star," which premiered Feb. 9, 1966, during the show's first season, and would have been shot during 1965. The building on the Republic lot that served as the Barkley mansion tends to be referred to somewhat generically as "The Mansion," or the Mansion set.

"The Mansion," on the Republic backlot in Studio City

The above shot of the mansion is unrelated to "The Big Valley" or any other production, as far as I know, but has been circulated as something of a reference shot of Republic's Mansion set, and also appears in Tinsley E. Yarbrough's quintessential reference work "Those Great Western Movie Locations." Tinsley suggests in the book that the mansion was originally built for the 1949 John Wayne movie "The Fighting Kentuckian."

"The Big Valley" — closing credits

Here's the shot of the mansion that appears while the closing credits roll at the end of episodes of "The Big Valley." The one-hour series aired for four seasons and 112 episodes on ABC, from 1965-1969, and was part of a group of Western TV series including "Bonanza," 'Gunsmoke" and "The Virginian" that helped elevate the genre from its primary role in the 1950s as children's entertainment into a well-regarded adult dramatic format.

The Barkley family barn, as seen on "The Big Valley"

A less well-known fact about sets for "The Big Valley" is that the Barkley family's red barn, which appears in a number of episodes, was also located on the Republic backlot, and in fact was adjacent to the Mansion set. The shot seen here comes from the episode "The Fallen Hawk," which premiered March 2, 1966.

This version of the screen shot identifies the barn and the small gray house, both of which were part of the Duchess Ranch set. This set and the Mansion set were two completely different sets, but they happened to be right next to each other.

"Santa Fe Passage" (1955)

In fact, the Mansion set occasionally snuck into the shot in productions that featured the Duchess Ranch set, as in this example from the Republic Western "Santa Fe Passage," starring John Payne and Rod Cameron.

This version of the shot from "Santa Fe Passage" points out the Duchess Ranch set along with the Mansion in the background.

Additions and upgrades to the Duchess Ranch barn for "The Big Valley"

Even though the barn as it appears in "The Big Valley" is seen from close to the same angle used in "Santa Fe Passage," its appearance is markedly different in the two productions. For "The Big Valley," along with a new red paint job, the barn had a number of additions built on — such as the new covered entry area highlighted here. A new corral area was also set up using white fencing.

Here's another look at the new covered entry area that's part of the barn set for "The Big Valley."

The barn also boasts a new turret on top.

"The Golden Stallion" (1949) — Duchess Ranch

The same set was featured in countless productions over the years, but usually looked more like a typical dusty old Western ranch set, as in this example from Republic's Roy Rogers vehicle "The Golden Stallion."

"The Big Valley" — notice the gate to the corral area

I want to call your attention to the gate to the new corral area seen in "The Big Valley," because it was used to help establish the setting where the producers wanted viewers to believe the Barkley family compound was located.

"The Big Valley" — another version of the gate, from the episode "Image of Yesterday"

This screen shot of a similar corral gate — presumably meant to represent the same gate — comes from the "Big Valley" episode "Image of Yesterday," which premiered Jan. 9, 1967, during season two, and would have been shot in 1966. This gate appears in a number of episodes, with characters riding through it as they arrive at or depart from the Barkley compound.

"The Big Valley" — "Image of Yesterday" (1967)

The location of the gate is clearly meant to define the setting surrounding the Barkley family home on "The Big Valley." However, in the real world, the gate was nowhere near the buildings, but was located miles away in what is now the suburbs of Oak Park, Calif., near Thousand Oaks. It appears that the only part of the "Big Valley" set that stood in this location was the replica of the gate.

A close look at the gate and fence that stood in modern-day Oak Park reveals that it's not a perfect match with the gate at Duchess Ranch on the Republic lot in Studio City. While the supports on the crossbar at the top and the diamond-shaped bracing on the gate itself are a good match, the configuration of the fence is a giveaway.

Another bend in the layout of the fence belies the producers' attempt to replicate the Duchess Ranch set.

"The Big Valley" — shot in the Oak Park area

Another shot from "The Big Valley," this one from the episode "Wagonload of Dreams," was taped near where shots of the gate were taken. You may be able to spot the similarity in the background hills between this photo and those featuring the Oak Park gate set. (See the next photo, for example.) This episode first aired Jan. 2, 1967, one week before "Image of Yesterday," and would have probably been a part of the same location shoot.

"The Big Valley" — "Cage of Eagles"

The gate and background hills appear again in the episode "Cage of Eagles," which aired later in season two, premiering April 24, 1967. Here again, the scene is shot in Oak Park.

Here I've combined parts of the two shots above to show that they contain the same rocky bluff in the background. It's obviously much more distinct in the top half of the composite, from "Wagonload of Dreams," but you may be able to match up the bluff's overall shape with the shot on the bottom, from "Cage of Eagles."

"Branded" TV show (1966) — same bluffs in the background

It wasn't easy to determine the location of the "Big Valley" gate set, in part because Oak Park isn't one of the first sites that come to mind in film location research. But this particular locale did see some action, especially in the mid-1960s, with the above shot from the TV show "Branded" being another example.

I wanted to point out which bluff from the "Branded" shot matches the bluff seen in both shots from "The Big Valley," because some of the other bluffs are similar in appearance and it would be easy to get the wrong impression. The "Branded" shot comes from the episode "Call to Glory, Part 3," which wrapped up a three-part series of episodes that aired in February and March 1966.

The bluff at the right in this shot can also be seen in "The Big Valley," in the shot from "Wagonload of Dreams," where it appears above and to the right of the wagon. The bluff in the center of this shot is not seen in any of the "Big Valley" shots, but surfaces here because the "Branded" scene was shot from a much higher angle.

Google Earth photo: Hiking trail in Oak Park

A photo I found posted on Google Earth, taken by a hiker along a trail on the outskirts of suburban Oak Park, captures the same bluffs seen in "Branded" and "The Big Valley," albeit from a different angle.

I've labeled the bluffs appearing in the photo posted by the Oak Park hiker to show how they match up with the "Branded" shot, which appears below with similar labels.

Here's the "Branded" shot again, labeled to show how the bluffs match up with the photo posted by the hiker.

"Gunsmoke" (1965) — the Miss Kitty dropoff point

The Oak Park shooting location first came to my attention as part of a search by Michael DeMarquette, one of the readers of this blog. Michael is a "Gunsmoke" fan and mentioned that he had been searching for the remote location seen above, where Miss Kitty gets dropped off by the stagecoach in the episode "Gold Mine."

This clump of rocks in the "Gunsmoke" scene was the focal point of Michael's location hunt.

Amanda Blake as Kitty, stranded at the clump of rocks

In the "Gunsmoke" episode, Miss Kitty is dropped off by the stagecoach and left at the clump of rocks — and it's pertinent to the theme of the episode that she was indeed stranded in the middle of nowhere. The episode premiered on Christmas Day in 1965 as part of "Gunsmoke's" 11th season.

As it turned out, the same clump of rocks also appeared in "Branded," although it was shot from a different direction and contained different hills in the background.

The hiker who posted the Google Earth photo taken along the trail above Oak Park, with the bluffs in the background, also posted this shot, taken from close to the same spot. The shot contains the same hills seen in the background during the "Gunsmoke" sequence.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the hills above Oak Park as they appear in the background of the hiker's photo and in the "Gunsmoke" sequence. The same hills appear in both photos.

While I had a hand in helping to put a few of the pieces together, it was Michael who nailed down the "Gunsmoke" location as Oak Park. Between the two of us, we were able to determine that the site of the original clump of rocks where Miss Kitty was dropped off was approximately here — in what is now a residential back yard. And in an enticing twist, it's possible — although far from certain — that some of the original rocks may have survived.

Off the Beaten Path is a series of posts that are not specifically focused on the usual subject matter of this blog, the Iverson Movie Ranch. Past subjects have included Corriganville, Bell Ranch, Pioneertown 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.