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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"The Roy Rogers Show"

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If I had to limit myself to a single TV series to get my Iverson fix, I would be tempted to go with "The Roy Rogers Show." So far I've seen about half of the 100 episodes made from 1951-1957. I'd love to get my hands on the rest, but they've been a little hard to find. The episodes I've watched are a treasure trove of Iverson rocks.

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans lived in Chatsworth around that time, so Iverson was their home court. And they made great use of the place. Roy was an iconic Western hero, and even today he defines cool, exhibiting a genuineness that transcends the silliness of 1950s TV and rises above the amateurish production values that typified the TV Westerns of the period — including his own show.


Above is a screen shot from the show that includes Batman Rock at the far right, along with a small wooden building that was located for a short time near Saddlehorn Relay Station, north of Garden of the Gods. This little building turns up in various productions, and I've dubbed it Saddlehorn Shed. A lot of temporary buildings went up in that area over the years for various productions, and John Ford made ample use of the area for "Stagecoach" in 1939. (Click here for a detailed post about Iverson locations in "Stagecoach.") Saddlehorn Shed, seen above, was off by itself, more or less east of Saddlehorn Relay Station.

They're all named after nearby Saddlehorn Rock, above — still found at the site, amid some condos, and still boasting its distinctive saddlehorn shape. Saddlehorn Shed was one of a number of structures that were built in the Saddlehorn area around the late 1940s, adjacent to the widely filmed two-story relay station known as Saddlehorn Relay Station (sometimes called Batman Relay Station). The relay station, as it is remembered today, was named after either Batman Rock or Saddlehorn Rock, two of the better-known rocks in the area north of Garden of the Gods, and a small cluster of buildings that existed for a short time to its west is sometimes referred to as Saddlehorn Village. The whole area is full of condos now.

Here's a screen shot from "The Roy Rogers Show" that features a small but distinctive marker rock that I called Chewy's Chirpy early in the research, due to its proximity to another rock, known as Chewbacca. I also briefly called it the Finch. It's the rock at the top of the shot with what looks like a beak, pointing toward the left of the frame. It's located in the Above Nyoka area of the Lower Iverson, part of the same cluster as Chewbacca, which is around the corner to the right, out of the shot. That entire rock cluster, visible here above the grille of an old car traveling along one of the Lower Iverson's chase roads, has also been called Outlaw Rock. My guess is that the small pile of rubble in the lower left corner of the shot is the partial remains of Hangover Shack. The shack was almost always in disrepair, but survived in some form long after most of the structures of Iverson's filming era, being used in a production as recently as 1996.


This photo is a distant shot of part of Outlaw Rock, including the small, pointed marker rock — the beak-shaped outcropping known briefly as the Finch or Chewy's Chirpy — from a recent Iverson visit.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Some must-have DVDs if you're serious about the Iverson Movie Ranch

This is a shameless plug because I think if anyone clicks through here to Amazon and then buys whatever they clicked on from Amazon, Amazon might send me a few pennies. Did I say the word "Amazon" enough in that last sentence? Anyway, that's how it works in theory. But it is true that you can get some terrific Iverson DVDs and Blu-rays at Amazon.com. I've bought my share there, and the prices are generally pretty good.

Here are a few select Iverson movies you can find there — and these are all movies I can wholeheartedly recommend as including great Iverson material. These four also happen to be good movies in their own right:


Stagecoach (1939), starring John Wayne, directed by John Ford. The great American Western. Can't go wrong with the Criterion version. You'll love the way Ford splices together distant locations, including interweaving Utah's Monument Valley, Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., and Beale's Cut in Newhall, Calif. I did a detailed post examining the Iverson locations in Stagecoach, which you can see here.

Wee Willie Winkie (1937), starring Shirley Temple and Victor McLaglen. Often cited as the largest production ever filmed at the Iverson Movie Ranch. Director John Ford (there's that name again) had a number of sets built at Iverson for this movie. For anyone who's interested in the history of the movie structures at Iverson, including where the buildings were situated in relation to the rocks, Wee Willie Winkie is a vital reference point.

Along Came Jones (1945), starring and produced by Gary Cooper (his only producing credit). Cooper built Iverson's Western town for this movie, and it went on to be featured in countless film and TV productions. The town, sometimes called El Paso Street (although I usually call it Iverson Village), is showcased prominently here.


Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. The movie mixes Iverson and Lone Pine, and while it doesn't have as much Iverson as I would prefer, it does have a few "money shots," and it's focused on the Iverson Gorge, one of the movie ranch's most intriguing areas. Here you will find a blend of surviving rocks and rocks that have been destroyed — The Wall (gone), Potato Rock (gone), Crown Rock (half gone, half still in place), Devil's Doorway (still in place), the D-Train (partially destroyed), Overhang Rock (gone) and others.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Classic Rock, as seen in "The Lone Ranger": Moschops — a prehistoric "pre-mammal," a beloved childhood toy ... and a noteworthy movie rock


Here's a rock that doesn't tend to come up very often. This sighting is one of only a handful of times I've spotted it in a movie or TV show. I call it Moschops, after a prehistoric animal with a similar stance. In the photo above, Moschops is the distinctive rock at top-center — from this angle it has sort of a porpoise-head shape. This screen shot is from an episode of the "Lone Ranger" TV show called "Troubled Waters," which premiered March 9, 1950, during the show's first season.

This is what Moschops, the rock, looks like today. It can be seen along the ridge in the South Rim area of the Upper Iverson. It's kind of hard to recognize, but if you look at the "negative space" — the shape of the sky backdrop between Moschops and the rock to the right of it — you should be able to spot the similarities in the outline. As usual, the angle isn't exactly the same.

Here's what the original Moschops supposedly looked like. Maybe some of you had toy versions of it as a kid, with your prehistoric critters. I had a couple of them, which came in bags of "prehistoric mammals," even though it's listed as a "mammal-like reptile."

Here's what the toy version of Moschops looks like.

This post is part of a series on "Classic Rocks" — sandstone giants located on the former Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., that became a part of not only America's physical landscape but also its cultural heritage, through featured roles in old movies, cliffhanger serials and early TV shows. Other entries in the series can be seen by clicking here.

Below is a link to a nice DVD set of the TV show "The Lone Ranger" on Amazon.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A short video shot in what is now the mobile home park

Here's a brief clip (silent) from "Buried Treasure," an episode of the TV series "The Lone Ranger" that aired during the show's first season, premiering on March 2, 1950 — presented here in glorious "shot right off the TV screen" crap quality, just to make it that much more fun. (That's not really the reason — the reason is when I first put this up I didn't know a better way.)

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You should be able to click on the icon in the bottom right corner to make the picture bigger. Unfortunately, there's no icon to click on to make it any clearer — ooh, is it bad! I do think it's fun, anyway, to see this many of the key rocks and other features of any one area in a single pan shot. This clip goes by pretty fast, but it includes the following landmark rocks and other features of what is now the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village — often referred to "scientifically" among us film historians as the trailer park — on the former Iverson Movie Ranch, located at Topanga Canyon Boulevard and the 118 Freeway in Chatsworth, Calif. The action moves more or less from south to north, revealing these rocks and other features:

Saucer
the Sprite (aka Bugeye Sprite)
Leaning Tower
Bugeye and Trapezoid
Diagonal Crack
Smooth Hill
Center Rock

Here are a few stills from the episode, to give a better idea of what the various features look like ...

Bugeye and Trapezoid, along with the Leaning Tower. That's Bugeye (not to be confused with Bugeye Sprite) directly above the rider, Trapezoid to its right and Leaning Tower farther to the right, all along the top of the rock formations.

Saucer (not from the pan shot, but from later in the episode); that's Mushroom Rock at the right.

Smooth Hill — not much to look at, but it has been a key marker, especially delineating the north end of Iverson Village. A bit of trivia about this shot is that Iverson Village, or El Paso Street, was in place at the time but does not appear in the shot, which means the producers took care to shoot in the empty space just north of the village, between the village and Smooth Hill. This is one of the better indications I've seen of the distance between the village and the hill. I continue to try to place exactly where Iverson Village was located, but it's difficult because the terrain has changed considerably, especially with the completion in 1968 of the 118 freeway. Smooth Hill itself appears to have been a casualty of the freeway construction and other development in the area. (Update: Placing Iverson Village got a lot easier thanks to Western movie location researcher Jerry England, who helped me track down an aerial photo from 1952, when the village was still in place. The town was about where I thought it was, but instead of being oriented north to south it was positioned at an angle, northeast to southwest. Click here for more about that 1952 aerial photo.)

The Sprite, near the center of the photo, directly above the horse's rear end. That's the Leaning Tower on the left and Saucer at the far right. Not a very clear shot of any of them, but it shows how they're positioned.

Here's a better shot of the Sprite, from a later color episode of "The Lone Ranger." The rock is named after the old Austin-Healey sports car known as the Bugeye Sprite. The TV show shot in color for its fifth and final season, which aired from 1956-1957. This episode, "The Letter Bride," premiered Nov. 15, 1956.

1960 Austin-Healey Sprite, aka "Bugeye Sprite"

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Welcome to the obsession:
The Iverson Movie Ranch

I discovered it in summer 2008 and have been hooked on it ever since — the rugged landscape in Chatsworth, Calif., that marks the site of the former Iverson Movie Ranch. Known as the most widely filmed outdoor location in the world, this remote corner of the San Fernando Valley on the outskirts of Los Angeles was an important hub of the movie business from the 1930s through the 1950s, with its striking sandstone rock formations among its biggest draws.



An ideal setting for Westerns, the 500-acre Iverson Movie Ranch also found its calling in science-fiction movies, war epics and tales of distant lands such as Africa and Arabia. It is the site where Republic Pictures made virtually all of its serials and B-Westerns, and where countless outdoor action sequences were filmed by crews from Columbia, Universal, Paramount, Fox, RKO, Monogram and just about every major production company of Hollywood's Golden Age. An estimated 2,000 films, dating back to the silent era, along with thousands of television episodes were shot at Iverson.


While B-movies and early TV shows provided much of Iverson's business, the sprawling ranch also took a bow in major features such as John Ford's epic Western "Stagecoach" (1939) and his classic Depression saga "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940). Gary Cooper was a frequent visitor to Iverson and built a Western village on the site for his only feature as a producer, the 1945 RKO Western "Along Came Jones," co-starring Loretta Young. Cooper's "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (1935) was among the major war movies shot at Iverson, along with John Wayne's "The Fighting Seabees" (1944) and Errol Flynn's "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1936).


All the cowboy movie heroes worked at Iverson — Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Audie Murphy, Randolph Scott, Tom Mix, William S. Hart and the rest. So did major movie stars from Barbara Stanwyck to James Cagney to Judy Garland to Henry Fonda to Shirley Temple. Bob Hope, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges were among the comedy stars to film at Iverson. Pioneering stuntman Yakima Canutt perfected his trademark stagecoach stunts on the Upper Iverson's well-traveled chase roads, while superheroes from Superman to Batman donned their capes at the ranch. Early TV Westerns such as "The Lone Ranger" and "The Cisco Kid" shot regularly at Iverson, paving the way for the next generation of bigger, better TV productions to bring their cameras to the ranch for classic series such as "Bonanza," "Gunsmoke," "The Virginian" and "The Big Valley."


Iverson's charismatic rock "characters" — Lone Ranger Rock, Batman Rock, Indian Head and Eagle Beak, Nyoka Cliff and hundreds of others — coexist today with the condominiums, trailers, mansions and apartments that took over the land as the heyday of Westerns, serials and B-movies faded into history. While a number of Iverson's distinctive and widely filmed movie rocks have been bulldozed or blown up to pave the way for progress, most have survived — even if in many cases they now lie forgotten in back yards, hidden behind locked gates or buried under a half-century of natural overgrowth. Meanwhile, some Iverson landmarks remain at risk of being demolished for future development, opening the door for debate as to whether these silent stars are cultural icons that deserve to be protected.


On the screen or in person, Iverson's unique giant boulders have so much personality that they seem to be living creatures. The charismatic stone figures that populate this intriguing corner of the world have become almost like family to me. I'm learning more about Iverson all the time, but it is a rich and complicated place, and one reason I love it is I know it holds mysteries I will never solve.