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 iversonfilmranch@aol.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 iversonfilmranch@aol.com.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

"Gunsmoke" goes on location: The Iverson Movie Ranch

"Gunsmoke": Dennis Weaver, Amanda Blake and James Arness in Dodge City

When it comes to the old TV Westerns, it's pretty hard to top "Gunsmoke." Besides lasting 20 seasons, banging out 635 episodes and setting a batch of longevity records for prime-time TV, it was a darn good show.

"Gunsmoke" on the Upper Iverson Movie Ranch

More than a few fans of TV Westerns rank "Gunsmoke" as their favorite. It's not that every episode was a masterpiece, but on average, it set a pretty high bar for its day — especially the early half-hour episodes.

"We're off to see the Marshal — the wonderful Marshal of Dodge"

It wound up as the longest-running live-action prime-time show of the 20th century. It was also the top-rated show on TV — not just the top-rated Western — from 1957-1961, back in its half-hour days.

"The Hunter" (Nov. 26, 1955): Matt rides the Upper Iverson's South Rim

The show premiered on CBS on Sept. 10, 1955, part of the first wave of the TV networks' Westerns for grown-ups — a wave that also included ABC's "Cheyenne" and "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp." The three shows all rolled out within a few weeks of each other.

NBC's "Wagon Train": Ward Bond on the Upper Iverson

NBC showed up a little late to the prime-time "horse opera" party, but finally got serious about it by 1957, when the network brought out "Wagon Train" and "Tales of Wells Fargo."

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp": Hugh O'Brian shoots up the Lower Iverson

By the late 1950s, Westerns were dominating prime time — and business was booming on the Iverson Ranch. Just about all of the TV Westerns of the period filmed at least part time on the ranch. 

Matt Dillon and his contemporaries (Time magazine, 1959)

Time magazine took notice of the explosion in TV Westerns, reporting in March 1959 that eight of the top 10 shows on television the previous week were Westerns.

Time deserves credit for spotlighting some good TV shows back then, but there's no excuse for giving Matt Dillon the dorkiest cover drawing of any of the magazine's featured Western heroes.

"Brother Whelp" (1959): Marshal Dillon braces for some gunplay on the Middle Iverson

Dillon deserved more respect. In his 20 seasons as Dodge City's soft-spoken but fast-on-the-draw U.S. Marshal, he racked up a body count that would've made Wild Bill Hickok look like he wasn't trying hard enough.

"Outlaw's Woman" (1965): Another one bites the dust

Hardly an episode went by where Dillon didn't gun down a bad guy or two or three. One of the greatest Western heroes on any size screen, Dillon was big, tough, good-looking and packed both a keen sense of humor and a keen sense of justice — quick, decisive Western-style justice.

A memorable "Gunsmoke" sequence shot in the high rock towers of the Garden of the Gods

These shots are from the episode "Outlaw's Woman" from season 11, filmed by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Harry Stradling Jr. — who went above and beyond to shoot these high angles.

"Outlaw's Woman": Harry Stradling Jr.'s adventure in the tall towers

Stradling's groundbreaking sojourn into the highest rock towers of the Garden of the Gods for "Gunsmoke" is detailed in a post we did on the legendary cinematographer back in 2011.

"Cimarron Strip": Harry Stradling Jr. tackles the Upper Iverson

The 2011 post also delves into Stradling's Iverson shoots for another beloved TV Western, "Cimarron Strip," along with some of his other Iverson Movie Ranch work. Please click here to see the post.

Matt and Kitty — James Arness and Amanda Blake

One thing that kept viewers tuning in for more "Gunsmoke" was the long-running "are they or aren't they" love affair — if that's what it was — between Dillon and saloon owner Kitty Russell, played by Amanda Blake.

Matt and Kitty in season one's "The Hunter," which premiered Nov. 26, 1955

The true nature of their relationship remained shrouded in mystery — a conscious decision by the producers that kept "Gunsmoke's" audience in suspense for almost two decades.

Fans of the show have always drawn their own conclusions, but if you ask me it was kind of obvious that there was something going on between Matt and Kitty.

Amanda Blake was just 26 years old when she made her debut as Miss Kitty — beginning a run that would last for 19 of "Gunsmoke's" 20 seasons.

Amanda Blake with Ron Randell in "Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard" (1950)

She had already been working in feature films and on TV for five years, chalking up some noteworthy roles.

"Miss Robin Crusoe" (1954): Amanda Blake and George Nader

One year before beginning her career-defining role on "Gunsmoke," Blake received exposure in the title role of Twentieth Century Fox's comedic shipwreck adventure "Miss Robin Crusoe."

"Kitty Caught" (Jan. 18, 1958): Miss Kitty held hostage in Iverson's Ambush Pass

It's a good bet that none of the major cast members knew what they were getting into when they signed on with "Gunsmoke." Amanda Blake would go on to appear in 569 episodes of the show.

"Gunsmoke's" three most durable cast members

Other than Matt, the only "Gunsmoke" character who was around longer than Miss Kitty was Doc, who was played by Milburn Stone for the show's full 20-year run, from 1955-1975, turning up in 605 episodes.

Milburn Stone: "Gunsmoke's" Doc, when he was a cowboy

Dodge City's beloved Doc Adams was once a cowboy himself. A veteran of more than 150 movies by the time he landed his role on "Gunsmoke," Milburn Stone had been appearing in feature films since the mid-1930s.

"Colorado" (1940): Milburn Stone prepares to slice into a wounded Roy Rogers

He even practiced a little frontier medicine during his pre-"Gunsmoke" days. In this lobby card for "Colorado," Stone faces the unpleasant task of cutting a bullet out of his brother, played by Roy Rogers.

"The Master Key" (Universal serial, 1945): Milburn Stone on the left

After 20 years on "Gunsmoke," Stone will always be "Doc" to most people. But earlier in his career he had a wide variety of roles — including battling Nazis as Government Agent Tom Brant in "The Master Key."

"The Master Key": Chase scene at a historic L.A. crossroads

"The Master Key" has come up before on this blog. Click here to see a post I did a few years ago about an interesting L.A. location that popped up in the serial. 

Chester and a grumpy Matt on the Upper Iverson in "Custer" (Sept. 22, 1956)

Matt — who appeared in all 635 episodes of "Gunsmoke" — had two main sidekicks on the show: Chester, played by Dennis Weaver, for the first nine seasons, followed by Ken Curtis as Festus for the last 11.

Matt isn't the only one in this picture who's crabby. The rock at top right, which I've always called "Grumpy," was in an especially sour mood in the mid-1950s, as its Hollywood career was literally falling apart.

"Marshal of Heldorado" (1950): Grumpy, at left, when it still had its "stiff upper lip"

"Grumpy" used to look like this, but in late 1952 or early 1953 it lost the bulbous "upper lip" that gave the rock its trademark grumpy appearance. Click here to read a post from 2011 about Grumpy and its alter-ego, Diplodocus.

Matt and Chester on the Lower Iverson in "Sky" (premiered Feb. 14, 1959)

Matt and Chester went practically everywhere together for the show's first nine seasons. In the episode "Sky" they visited the "Heroes" area of the Lower Iverson — notice the rock between the two men in this screen shot.

NBC's "Heroes" (2008): Future-predicting rock paintings on the Iverson Ranch

The same rock appeared almost 50 years later in the NBC series "Heroes." It's the rock nearest actor Greg Grunberg in this photo — one of the few rocks that isn't covered in mysterious paintings.

I call the location the "Heroes" area because of its appearances throughout season three of the NBC show. You can click here to see a post I did a while back about the unusual Iverson Movie Ranch shoot for "Heroes."

Matt and Chester dropped by the Middle Iverson Ranch Set in the episode "Brother Whelp," which premiered Nov. 7, 1959. As they overlook the ranch from the south, we get a view of the set's three main buildings.

Located north of what today is the 118 Freeway, the Middle Iverson was connected geographically to the Upper Iverson but was run by Joe Iverson as part of his Lower Iverson operation.

"Gunsmoke" episode "Killer at Large" (premiered Feb. 5, 1966)

Another Iverson Movie Ranch set that surfaced in "Gunsmoke" was a rarely seen group of buildings near the Saddlehorn Relay Station on the Lower Iverson.

The Saddlehorn Relay Station itself, which stood from about 1940-1970, is fairly common in movies and TV shows. But the adjacent "village" first appeared in 1958 and was only seen in a few productions.

"Killer at Large": Festus arrives at Saddlehorn Village

The cluster of buildings seen here was dressed up for "Gunsmoke" as the "Harris Forwarding and Freight Station."

If I remember right, Festus was on the run in this episode and was hiding out at this location. Whatever the circumstances, much of the cast wound up coming together at the site.

I believe the fake "adobe" facade was installed on the front of the building especially for the "Gunsmoke" shoot. A fake well was also put in place and a handful of chickens were brought in to complete the illusion.

He's kind of hidden in this shot, but one of the quintessential "geezers" of the movies and TV was relaxing on the front porch of the freight station during this scene.

Cyril Delevanti and child actor Craig Huxley in front of the freight station in "Killer at Large"

Does he look familiar yet? He's Cyril Delevanti, and there's a good chance you've seen him in one or more of the 200-plus movies and TV episodes he appeared in — often playing "Old Man" or somebody's grandpa.

Delevanti as Grandpa Harris in "Killer at Large"

The British-born Delevanti appeared in eight "Gunsmoke" episodes, playing a different character each time. His final "Gunsmoke" performance, at age 77, was in "Killer at Large," where he played Grandpa Harris.

Cyril Delevanti and Deborah Kerr in "The Night of the Iguana" (1964)

One of Delevanti's many memorable performances was as Nonno in "The Night of the Iguana" — a performance that helped earn him a Golden Globe nomination.

"Night Incident" (Oct. 29, 1955): The first Iverson Movie Ranch appearance in "Gunsmoke"

The first time the Iverson Movie Ranch ever turned up in "Gunsmoke," it was the Saddlehorn Relay Station that did the honors. "Night Incident" was shot by Ernest Miller, one of the great Iverson Ranch cinematographers.

Matt and Timmy climb the side of the relay station in "Night Incident"

Shot day-for-night, the sequence includes a fun scene where James Arness and child actor Peter J. Votrian climb up the side of the building. This may have been done on a soundstage, but my hunch is it was shot on site.

"Night Incident": Marshal Dillon rides past Saddlehorn Rock

Later in the episode we see Matt riding past the rock that gave the relay station its name: Saddlehorn Rock.

The rock is shot from an unusual direction for the "Gunsmoke" episode. We typically see it from the other side and from a higher angle.

Saddlehorn Rock in its modern setting

Saddlehorn Rock remains in place today, among the Cal West Townhomes on the east side of Redmesa Road, a short distance north of Horizon Place.

"Sky" (Feb. 14, 1959): Guest star Patricia Huston at the Hangover Shack

Another Iverson Movie Ranch set to appear in "Gunsmoke" is the Hangover Shack, seen in the season four episode "Sky." We recently did an in-depth report on this enduring set — click here for the full story.

Matt and his new buddy Quint, played by Burt Reynolds

Burt Reynolds joined "Gunsmoke" in 1962 — around the start of season eight — and stuck around to play blacksmith Quint Asper for three seasons.

Burt tries to look intense on the Iverson Ranch's Fury Set (1962)

To publicize his addition to the cast, Reynolds did a photo shoot in 1962 on the Upper Iverson, where he struck a series of poses on the Fury Set — the ranch set built in the mid-1950s for the TV show "Fury."

Reynolds shows off "The Guns" on the Fury Set

As the photo shoot went on, Burt shed a few layers of clothes — eventually stripping down to what would soon become his "Quint-essential" look on the show, his sleeveless blacksmithing shirt.

"Navajo Joe" (1966): Burt Reynolds' next sleeveless fashion choice

Reynolds wasn't exactly a newcomer when he joined "Gunsmoke," but the role helped raise his profile. Within a year of his exit from the show he was starring in his own movies — including the spaghetti Western "Navajo Joe."

Reynolds deals harshly with naughty mountain man Bill McKinney in "Deliverance" (1972)

Higher-profile projects followed, leading up to his breakout role in "Deliverance." But even when Burt tackled serious roles, "The Guns" he flaunted tirelessly as "Gunsmoke's" Quint remained two of his main calling cards.

"Fuzz" (1972): Reynolds as we knew him best — not taking himself too seriously

Another calling card — and one Burt later said he regretted — was that nude centerfold he did for the April 1972 issue of Cosmo. The spread was spoofed later that same year in the poster for "Fuzz."

"Dutch George" (June 30, 1956): Matt, Chester and some other guy below Eagle Beak Rock

The season one "Gunsmoke" episode "Dutch George" filmed heavily on the Upper Iverson. In this shot three riders, including Matt and Chester, arrive below the ubiquitous Eagle Beak Rock, at top right.

James Arness and Tom Pittman on the Upper Iverson in "Dutch George"

At this range we're able to see that the "other guy" is actor Tom Pittman, in one of his two "Gunsmoke" appearances. The scene plays out on the Upper Iverson's South Rim.

Tom Pittman, as Jimmy McQueen, talks things over with Matt

Pittman had a promising career in the mid-1950s, appearing in a few films while also making the rounds of the TV Westerns. For a few years he could be seen in guest spots on "Cheyenne," "Wagon Train," "Trackdown," "Cimarron City," "Have Gun — Will Travel," "Tombstone Territory" and many other shows.

Article published Nov. 20, 1958, about Tom Pittman's fatal car crash

Sadly, Pittman was killed in 1958 when he crashed his Porsche Spider through a guardrail in L.A.'s Benedict Canyon. His body was found three weeks later in the wreckage of the sports car at the bottom of a ravine.

In another shot from "Dutch George," Matt and Chester size up the view from Roosterfoot Gulley. This area up on the Iverson Ranch's Cactus Hill is sometimes called Lookout Point.

"Ten Little Indians" (Oct. 9. 1965): Marshal Dillon at the Gorge Arch on the Lower Iverson

"Gunsmoke" did a series of shoots on the Iverson Ranch in 1965, filming multiple episodes for the show's 11th season. These shoots marked the show's final round of filming on the movie ranch.

"Ten Little Indians": Dillon reacts as a stranger emerges from the arch

The season 11 shoots took place entirely on the Lower Iverson, where filming would soon wind down as Joe Iverson shuttered the business. His brother Aaron carried on a little longer with the Upper Iverson.

"Kioga" (Oct. 23, 1965): The Iverson Gorge, looking south

The season 11 episode "Kioga" features a nice shoot on the Lower Iverson, showcasing both the Iverson Gorge and the Garden of the Gods.

"Kioga": Indians in the Gorge, with Crown Rock in the background

The plot of "Kioga" concerns a conflict between a group of Indians and a white trader — and as was often the case on "Gunsmoke," it's the trader who's the heavy.

Neville Brand at the Devil's Doorway, in the Gorge

Neville Brand plays the trader, and his character is such a slimeball it almost made me hate Neville Brand.

Neville Brand as trader Jayce McCaw, up to no good

Here Brand's character is about to cause trouble in the Garden of the Gods, near the camera mount.

Matt rides in from the north in "Kioga"

Matt eventually arrives to sort things out, riding past the Mailboxes en route to the Garden of the Gods.

The Mailboxes may seem like a minor feature, but they have proved helpful time and again in trying to figure out locations on the Lower Iverson.

"Honor Before Justice" (March 5, 1966): Garden of the Gods

In "Honor Before Justice," Matt heads into the inner recesses of the Garden of the Gods to mete out one or the other, probably justice. Along the way he passes a rock with a big vertical crack.

Matt forges ahead in "Honor Before Justice"

Proceeding deeper into the interior, he works his way past other rocks featuring trademark cracks.

"Old Yeller" (1957): Old Yeller runs past the same rocks

The rocks featured in the sequence are also seen in other productions. This shot from the Disney classic "Old Yeller" finds the movie's star dog racing along the same route where Marshal Dillon would follow nine years later.

Notice the vertical crack and triangular cave identified in the "Old Yeller" screen shot.

The same rock features can be found in the "Gunsmoke" shot.

Looking again at the "Old Yeller" screen shot, we find a rock with an L-shaped crack along with another rock with a pronounced horizontal crack.

Once again, the same features can be identified in the "Gunsmoke" sequence.

The same location in modern times (Jerry Condit photo)

All of these features remain in place today in the Garden of the Gods, as we can see in this shot taken a few years ago by photographer and film historian Jerry Condit.

Jerry's photo is a nice match for the "Old Yeller" screen shot.

"The Brothers" (March 12, 1966): Marshal Dillon in familiar surroundings

Dillon was right back at the rock with the horizontal crack — I call it "Moray Eel" — in the episode that aired the following week. Presumably the two episodes filmed their "horizontal crack footage" on the same day.

Matt and Chester in the office: Coffee everywhere

No discussion of "Gunsmoke" would be complete without a little coffee talk. The show may have been mainly about Matt Dillon gunning down bad guys, but after that it was all about Matt and everyone else drinking coffee.

Just about every episode included coffee in some form — usually more than once. Coffee had an especially high profile in the early years, when Chester's coffee-making abilities were a constant topic of discussion.

"Gunsmoke" coffee pot — supposedly a real one from the show

You can find a fun story here that ran in The Independent in 2017 all about Chester's coffee. In one exchange highlighted in the story Chester mentions that two prisoners in the jail were "surly as could be when I took them coffee this morning" and Matt fires back: "Well, I can't say as I blame them for that."

Coffee Pot Rock in Sedona, Ariz.

I wish "Gunsmoke" had filmed at least once at Coffee Pot Rock, a natural landmark in Sedona, Ariz. But as fitting as it would have been, the show apparently passed up that opportunity.

"Angel and the Badman" (1947): Coffee Pot Rock

That's kind of a shame — especially considering that Coffee Pot Rock was an actual filming location. Here's a shot of it in the John Wayne movie "Angel and the Badman."

Still, the show did some terrific location shooting over the course of its 20-year run, and we'll be examining other interesting "Gunsmoke" locations in future posts.