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, September 30, 2010

The great Iverson cinematographers: Ernest Miller

born March 1885, Pasadena, Calif.
died April 1957, Los Angeles (age 72)

Possibly the most prolific Iverson cinematographer, Oscar-nominated Ernest Miller showed a love for the movie ranch’s dramatic rocks during a career that included productive stints at Mascot, Republic, PRC, Western Adventure and eventually Monogram and some of its smaller production house partners. During the short lifespan of Western Adventure from 1948-1952 he shot 11 of the company’s 12 movies — all of them at Iverson. At the same time he kept up a busy work schedule at Lippert Pictures, Monogram, Republic and others.

He hailed from Pasadena in the Los Angeles area, and got an early start in the movie business and at Iverson. He was in his mid-40s by the end of the silent film era and had already amassed a lengthy resume as a DP. He hit the ground running in the 1930s, working steadily at Mascot Pictures during the first half of the decade before joining Republic in 1935 as part of the newly formed company’s acquisition of Mascot. He would remain at Republic for the next ten years before jumping to PRC soon after World War II.

Early examples of Miller’s Iverson work include the Mascot serials Fighting With Kit Carson (1933), The Law of the Wild (1934, starring Rin Tin Tin) and Gene Autry’s breakthrough production The Phantom Empire (1935). While at Mascot, where dual DP credits were the norm, he shared cinematography duties on a long list of projects with either Jack Marta or William Nobles, both of whom would make the migration to Republic along with Miller and would continue to shoot extensively at Iverson. During his first year at Republic, he was often again paired with Marta. Presumably one of the two DPs handled the studio work while the other was sent on location — but which one did which? I would love to unlock that little secret, but my suspicion is that Miller, who was the veteran DP, got the more desirable studio assignments, while Marta — Miller's understudy, in a sense — had to suffer the hardships of Iverson.

Miller was not yet a B-Western specialist when he arrived at Republic, although he did work on projects starring Gene Autry a few times early on. It was Mascot stablemate William Nobles, who had been shooting B-Westerns steadily since the silent era, who immediately established himself as the new company’s go-to B-Western shooter, landing the bulk of the prestigious shoots with Autry and John Wayne in those first few years at Republic. Miller typically handled more indoor-oriented fare at that point, and only later established himself as a powerhouse in B-Westerns, in outdoor adventure shoots ... and at Iverson.

Bill Rock, partially visible at top left in this shot from the 1937 Three Mesquiteers movie "Come On, Cowboys," is a relatively common feature in productions shot at Iverson. Far less common is the rock at center-right, which looks like a grumpy candelabra that might be at home in Beauty and the Beast.

He had a breakthrough in 1937, shooting an Iverson rock spectacle in Come On, Cowboys, a Three Mesquiteers feature. The following year he shot Republic's Army Girl largely at Iverson, along with co-director of photography Harry J. Wild. The two men went on to share an Academy Award nomination for their work on the film.

That production was followed by a period in which Miller's workload at Republic steadily increased, and by the early 1940s he was working regularly with most of the company’s cowboy stars, including Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Sunset Carson (Bordertown Trail, 1944), Don “Red” Barry and Bob Steele. He also continued to shoot much of Republic’s long-running Three Mesquiteers series. His special flair for showcasing Iverson can be seen as well in a few Allan “Rocky” Lane features from the late 1940s — The Bold Frontiersman, released in 1948, being a prime example.

He moved in the mid-1940s to PRC — Producers Releasing Corp. — and most of his Iverson masterpieces can be found among his circa 1947-1951 work with first PRC and then PRC spinoff Western Adventure. Both companies specialized in cheap B-Westerns shot in about a week, and both took ample advantage of Miller’s eye for Iverson. During this period he filmed a steady string of Eddie Dean and Lash LaRue pictures — Dead Man’s Gold (Lash LaRue, Western Adventure, 1948), The Hawk of Powder River (Eddie Dean, PRC, 1948), Check Your Guns (Eddie Dean, PRC, 1948) and Outlaw Country (Lash LaRue, Western Adventure, 1949) being just a few of the many highlights.

Miller went on to work with tiny outfit Lippert Pictures for a couple of years, 1949-1950, shooting Don “Red” Barry Westerns — something he had also done earlier in his career at Republic — and filming a batch of Jimmy Ellison Westerns, which again involved plenty of work at Iverson. He ended up with other minor production houses in the early ‘50s, mainly companies with distribution and production partnerships with Monogram, such as Silvermine Productions, where among other things he shot the last of the Whip Wilson B-Westerns in 1951 and 1952, and Westwood Productions, where he was part of the last gasp of the B-Western as a viable theatrical format, shooting several Wild Bill Elliott features — again reunited with one of his occasional Republic subjects — in 1953 and 1954.

Ernest Miller eventually made a mark in the early television Westerns, notably shooting episodes of Hopalong Cassidy and Gunsmoke before calling it a career in 1956. He died the following year in Los Angeles at age 72.

Miller left his mark on Iverson, on B-Westerns and on film as a whole, leaving behind one of the longest filmographies we’ve seen for a cinematographer, with 338 movie and TV credits as DP. But beyond the numbers, his camera work, his eye for interesting angles and his intuitive sense of the drama inherent in the Iverson landscape have never been equaled.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Classic Rock: The Pirate Ship

This blog entry is part of a series on "Classic Rocks" — rocks located on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., that were featured in old movies, cliffhanger serials and early TV shows.

To me this large cluster of rocks looks like a pirate ship with sails a-billowed, or whatever the proper seafaring term would be. When I discovered it a few years ago in a corner of the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village on a visit to the site of the former Iverson Movie Ranch, I initially didn't recognize the formation from any movies or TV shows. But I had a feeling it would eventually turn up — and it did.

"The Lone Ranger" TV show: "Damsels in Distress" (1950)

Among other productions, it's in some episodes of the "Lone Ranger" TV show, including the "Damsels in Distress" episode as seen above. It's also in episodes of "The Roy Rogers Show," including "Ride of the Ranchers." And it's in a couple of major features: the 1937 Shirley Temple movie "Wee Willie Winkie" and Gary Cooper's 1945 Western "Along Came Jones." Then there's "Ghost-Town Gold," a 1936 Three Mesquiteers picture from Republic. And the list goes on.

From other angles, at least one of the rocks that make up the Pirate Ship is much more common. The rock to the left in the above photos is the western side of a rock that's better-known from its northern side: Split Rock, as seen below.

Split Rock

Split Rock now sits in the swimming pool area of the mobile home park, along with the Cave Rocks (Hook Rock and Big B) and a few others. The riders in the above movie still would be roughly on the deck of the pool if they rested in the same spot today. All of these rocks fall more or less in a straight line running north and south, with the billowed sail of the Pirate Ship representing the southern tip. These rocks can sometimes be seen in the background of shots of Iverson's Western town — usually called El Paso Street or Iverson Village — which was to the west of them (to the left in the top two photos). It's hard to get around to the east side of the Pirate Ship these days, due to signs warning about fierce attack dogs.

Whatever its past glory may have been, these days the Pirate Ship is drydocked up in its obscure corner of the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village, keeping as low a profile as it's possible for something that big and grand to keep. But it's part of what was once a heavily filmed section of the Iverson Movie Ranch.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Have you seen this rock?

This shot from "The Perils of Nyoka," filmed by master Iverson cinematographer Reggie Lanning, shows a rock I call Kinda Like Doglips because it is reminiscent of, well, Doglips — a familiar rock on the Lower Iverson, near Lone Ranger Rock. I initially tried pretty hard to convince myself that this is Doglips, but I finally had to accept that it's just not. They're two different rocks with some similar characteristics.

I never found Kinda Like Doglips, and initially I didn't know whether it was at Iverson or somewhere else. Eventually I narrowed it down, determining that it would have in fact been at Iverson, in what is generally known as the Silverland area (not to be confused with Silvertown, which was the name of the Western town at Corriganville). Sadly, Kinda Like Doglips doesn't exist anymore. It was apparently destroyed years ago to make room for a concrete basin that still remains on the site, which was apparently a failed attempt to build some kind of sewage system.

The concrete basin, and the former site of Silverland, can be found adjacent to the southwest corner of the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village. The place is fenced off and can't easily be legally accessed, besides which not much remains in that area of the landmarks from the filming days. It was a beautiful section of Iverson, though, in the filming era, and it showed up quite a bit in the movies. The above bird's-eye view shows the concrete basin in the bottom right corner, with some of the mobile home village's famous movie rocks also visible. The ones surrounding the swimming pool in particular were widely filmed.

Here's a shot of Doglips in recent times. Not the best photo, but maybe you get the idea. Again, these are not the same rock.

 Here's a better look at Doglips as it appears today.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Classic Rock: Hawk Rock

This blog entry is part of a series on "Classic Rocks" — rocks located on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., that were featured in old movies, cliffhanger serials and early TV shows.

Hawk Rock, in modern times, as seen from Garden of the Gods

Hawk Rock, named for its appearance in "The Hawk of Powder River" (1948), is a cool rock, and another one that displays a range of personalities when seen from various angles. It's one of the easiest Iverson Movie Ranch rocks to find, located right beside Redmesa Road just north of Santa Susana Pass Road. Above is the "fierce side" of Hawk Rock, as seen from inside Garden of the Gods.

Hawk Rock, in modern times, as seen from Redmesa Road

Here's a look at Hawk Rock from the opposite side, as it appears from Redmesa Road. This is the more common view, and the first side most people would see of the rock on a visit to Iverson. When I first spotted it there I thought it looked goofy, and I initially called it Goofyhead. I later learned it already had a name, Hawk Rock, which now seems more fitting.

"Stagecoach" (1939)

Sadly, this is the aspect of Hawk Rock that was captured in one of its most high-profile film appearances — little more than an anonymous pillar. It's the tower sticking up at the top of the shot, near the center, just to the left of the rider holding up a rifle. When I first spotted this image in the John Ford classic "Stagecoach," something about that tower resonated. It occurred to me that it might be Hawk Rock (I was still calling it Goofyhead then) because I had seen the rock from more or less that angle while walking on the sidewalk along Redmesa Road. I tried to duplicate the angle in a photo but initially was unable to convince myself the "Stagecoach" shot was Hawk Rock.

This is the "Stagecoach" shot again, with Hawk Rock pointed out.

"King of the Cowboys" (1943)

Things came together when I found this similar image, taken essentially from the same "Stagecoach" angle, in the Roy Rogers B-Western "King of the Cowboys." The Republic production, directed by Iverson regular Joseph Kane and filmed by one of the great Iverson cinematographers, Reggie Lanning, contains only a tiny bit of Iverson footage. But this was an important clip, as it provided a better look at the surrounding rocks.

Hawk Rock in modern times, from the "King of the Cowboys" angle

Here's my attempt to shoot Hawk Rock in recent times from the approximate angle used in "King of the Cowboys" and "Stagecoach." On close examination the rocks to the left of Hawk Rock match those in the two movies, which erased any remaining doubts.

The list below provides a sampling of the productions in which Hawk Rock appears:

"The Gambling Terror" (1937)
"Stagecoach" (1939)
"Zorro's Fighting Legion" (1939)
"Southward Ho" (1939)
"King of the Cowboys" (1943)
"Raiders of Ghost City" (1944)
"The Hawk of Powder River" (1948)
"The Lone Ranger" (TV series, 1949-1957)
"The Roy Rogers Show" (TV series, 1951-1957)