Prominent Rock, aka Medicine Rock, at top right, in "The Gene Autry Show"
Over the course of its 86 episodes spanning 1950-1955, the early TV Western "The Gene Autry Show" filmed about one episode in five on the Iverson Movie Ranch. At the end of the run the series was filming in color, leaving us with a few relatively rare color views of some of the ranch's rock features.
"Stage to San Dimas" ("Gene Autry" episode, premiered Oct. 8, 1955)
George J. Lewis appeared in more than 400 features, shorts and TV episodes, from the silent era well into the 1960s, including more than 10 episodes of Gene's TV show. He was a regular in Republic serials, including a starring role opposite Linda Stirling in the 1944 Iverson Movie Ranch showpiece "Zorro's Black Whip." He also appeared as Don Alejandro de la Vega in Disney's "Zorro" TV series.
Pioneertown's "Mane Street"
One place he filmed a number of episodes — and it was film in those days — was around Pioneertown, near Palm Springs, Calif. In fact, Gene was one of the key players in setting up a movie town at Pioneertown — a town that still exists, although it's important to keep expectations low if you plan a trip there.
One of the many distinctive rock clumps near Pioneertown
The rocks around Pioneertown have a certain look to them — I call it "desert scrabble." It's similar enough to the look of the distinctive rock formations of the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, Calif., that many filmmakers — including Autry — would blend the two locations into a single scene.
The Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, Calif.
The "desert scrabble" look of Lone Pine's Alabama Hills, however, is nicely augmented by the often snow-covered peaks of the Eastern Sierra — including Lone Pine Peak, seen here in the background just left of center.
Smiling Lion (at right), a happy rock formation on the Upper Iverson ("The Gene Autry Show")
I want to get back to the Iverson Ranch and show a couple more color shots from "Autry." I've had a hard time finding good prints of the series, so I hope readers will forgive the lower quality of some of these screen shots.
Upper Iverson Movie Ranch in modern times — Smiling Lion, bottom left
Smiling Lion can still be found on the former Upper Iverson, but because of the terrain and the homes that have been built in the area, it's hard to duplicate the angle seen in the "Autry" episode. Above is a recent shot of Smiling Lion from about as close as I could get to the same angle.
Another screen shot from the "Stage to San Dimas" episode shows a cliff area along the South Rim. I call this the T-Cliff because of the distinguishing capital "T" that seems to be carved into it (along with sort of a cross to its right, creating a square or a tic-tac-toe board).