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.
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• 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.
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• 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.
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Monday, November 7, 2011

Cinematographer Harry Stradling Jr.: Boy, did he know how to shoot the Iverson Movie Ranch

Oscar-nominated cinematographer Harry Stradling Jr. is well-known for his work as director of photography on a string of successful movies from the late 1960s through the 1980s — "Little Big Man," "The Way We Were," "Rooster Cogburn," "Midway," "With Six You Get Eggroll," "Carny" ... the list goes on. What's less well-known, but also deserving of recognition, is his work at the Iverson Movie Ranch, which was in some cases pioneering and in other cases just plain unequaled.

"The Way We Were" (1973)

Stradling, who earned back-to-back Oscar nominations for best cinematography in 1973 (for the movie "1776") and 1974 (for "The Way We Were"), is the son of another acclaimed cinematographer, Harry Stradling Sr., who piled up an imposing 14 Oscar nominations during his long career and took home trophies for "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945) and "My Fair Lady" (1964).
The family's lineage also includes silent film-era cinematographer Walter Stradling, Harry Stradling Jr.'s great-uncle, an industry pioneer whose work goes all the way back to the 1914 drama "Captain Alvarez" and includes a number of Mary Pickford films — "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" (1917), "The Little Princess" (1917), "Stella Maris" (1918) and others.

On the set of "Gypsy" (1962): former first lady Mamie Eisenhower, 
left, camera operator Harry Stradling Jr., actress Rosalind Russell 
and, bottom right, DP Harry Stradling Sr.

Like most DPs, Harry Stradling Jr. spent much of his early career as a camera assistant and camera operator, often uncredited, starting with "Gaslight" in 1944. He worked alongside his dad on some of the elder Stradling's high-profile projects in the late 1950s and early 1960s — "Guys and Dolls" (1955), "The Pajama Game" (1957), "A Summer Place" (1959), "Gypsy" (1962). Beginning in the mid-1960s he spread his wings as a DP in his own right, with the 1967 movie "Welcome to Hard Times" his first feature film as cinematographer. (IMDb lists the 1965 movie "Synanon" as his first, but Harry confirms that's an erroneous listing, as "Synanon" was shot by his dad.)

Stradling Jr. came into his own — and stepped up to the plate at Iverson in a big way — during the middle years of the long-running TV Western "Gunsmoke." Between 1964 and 1967 he shot 87 episodes of the show — a drop in the bucket for a series that was on television for 20 seasons and churned out a record 635 episodes, but a significant contribution to the evolution of the TV Western and, in particular, an important part of the later history of the Iverson Movie Ranch.

Stradling's "Gunsmoke" work brought him to Iverson on only a few occasions, but he made the most of them. Above and below are a few shots from the episode "Outlaw's Woman," which first aired on Dec. 11, 1965. These shots were taken from high up in the boulders atop Garden of the Gods, which had to be a logistical challenge, to say the least. This first shot in the sequence shows two bushwhackers looking down on the iconic giants known as Eagle Beak, or Sphinx, on the left, and Indian Head, or Tower Rock, on the right. The fact that we're looking down on them says something about how high up we are. Eagle Beak and Indian Head are two of the most imposing, and most famous, rocks at Iverson. They're usually seen from the opposite angle — from below and from the other side — towering over the action, as in their trademark appearance in John Ford's "Stagecoach," shown in another post.

The views from this unusual angle are pretty spectacular, and Stradling would have had to orchestrate a lot of equipment and crew members to get these shots. Among the problems: the height and inaccessability (I doubt he could have used a crane up there); the awkward, heavy, delicate and expensive camera gear; the wind (it's just about always windy up there); and the uneven surface of the rocks. Just getting the camera in place — and keeping it from going down in a mighty crash — would have taken significant planning. The above shot looks down on the Iverson Gorge, including Nyoka Cliff just above the hat of the guy on the right. Nyoka Cliff usually looms above everything else, so seeing how far below us it is gives another indication of the height. A number of other familiar Iverson rocks also appear in the shot, including Lone Ranger Rock near the top left corner.

Another shot taken high up in the rarefied air atop Garden of the Gods — this one appears to be shot from even higher than the previous shot. We're again looking down on Sphinx/Eagle Beak (top left corner) and Tower Rock/Indian Head (top center). Stradling was shooting, in effect, from the Lower Iverson's highest point — it's the only time in my hundreds of scans of Iverson productions that I've seen any DP attempt this.

One more shot from the same "Gunsmoke" episode — this one isn't taken up in the heights but it's a personal favorite. Marshal Matt Dillon has just shot a bad guy, who earns his money by collapsing on one of the rocks in Garden of the Gods.

Stradling moved on from "Gunsmoke" in 1967 to take a position as the DP for a new TV Western, "Cimarron Strip," which starred Stuart Whitman. The series lasted just one season (1967-68), but it accounted for a few good moments at Iverson. Stradling shot 21 of the show's 23 episodes.

Only a couple of episodes of "Cimarron Strip" were shot at Iverson. The best examples are found in the episode "Fool's Gold," as seen above. The episode premiered Jan. 11, 1968, and was probably shot during the few months before that airdate. It includes the relatively rare phenomenon of water features on the Upper Iverson — an indication that it would have probably been taped during the rainy season. By the way, that's Slim Pickens at the gate.

In general, water features at Iverson are rarely shot, maybe because it's hard to plan for them to be there. The place tends to be bone dry, to the point where film crews have to bring in their own water source when they do need to make a splash. My sense is that natural ponds such as this one get used in productions only when a production crew comes along that's able to think on its feet. Someone had to adapt quickly to take advantage of something as unexpected as a waterhole on the Upper Iverson, and Stradling got the shot — reflection and all.

The building in these shots, known as the Fury Cabin, is also relatively rare, and I've never seen it featured to the extent it is in this "Cimarron Strip" episode. It's generally just a shed on the outskirts of the Fury Set — a set consisting mainly of a large barn and small ranch house, built for the TV show "Fury." In its "Cimarron Strip" appearance the cabin serves as the home of Malachi Grimes, Slim Pickens' character.

Here's another angle on the Fury Set, including the barn, as seen in the same "Fool's Gold" episode of "Cimarron Strip." The set was situated on the Upper Iverson's North Rim. That's the back of Malachi's place — the Fury Cabin — in the foreground.

One more shot from the terrific "Fool's Gold" episode of "Cimarron Strip": This one shows a rock that's a personal favorite of mine, which I call World of Outlaws. It's the round rock with the massive "wing" atop it, seen near the center of the shot, above the horse with two riders on it. Sadly, World of Outlaws no longer exists — a casualty of the development of the Upper Iverson.

Here's the same screen shot from "Cimarron Strip" with World of Outlaws pinpointed.

Not long after "Cimarron Strip" shut down, Harry Stradling Jr. returned to Iverson to shoot a key scene for the 1969 feature film "Support Your Local Sheriff." The comedic Western can be thought of as Iverson's farewell to the 1960s and the coda to the era of Iverson as a working movie ranch.

James Garner and Jack Elam
in "Support Your Local Sheriff" (1969)

This was after the 118 Freeway was in place, rendering the Lower Iverson unusable, and by this time the Iverson as a whole had ceased being a full-time filming location. But Stradling shot the title sequence and a few other minor shots for "Support Your Local Sheriff" on the Upper Iverson, giving us what amounts to one last look at the place.

Platypus, as it appeared in "Support Your Local Sheriff": horizontally flipped

The title sequence features a fast-paced land rush, with a number of Iverson landmarks popping up. Above is a charismatic movie rock found on the Upper Iverson's North Rim, which I call Platypus. The shot is flipped horizontally — sort of a mirror image of the real world — and you can see my "corrected" version of the shot below. I also want to note that this isn't the angle from which the rock resembles a platypus, but you can click here to see that angle — and decide for yourself whether the rock deserves to be called Platypus.

Platypus: Properly oriented (not as it appeared in the movie)

This is how the rock looks in the real world — or at least how it looked in 1969. However, this is NOT how it appeared in the movie, as the producers wanted to keep the action moving in one direction. Hollywood has a long tradition of flipping shots horizontally, and in fact this same rock has been flipped before. Click here to read about how Platypus was flipped back and forth in the TV series "The Lone Ranger."

Here's a nice wide shot from the opening land rush sequence, showing Oat Mountain in the distance and again featuring Platypus, in the background at left, along with a neighboring rock, Fish Head. You'll probably have to click on the photo to enlarge it for a better look. Today Platypus and Fish Head stand as symbols of the frustration that is an inescapable part of Iverson research. I believe one or both of these intriguing rocks have survived, but I've never seen them in person as they are concealed on private property — hidden under a tree in the backyard of one of the estates that now occupy most of the Upper Iverson. I often wonder whether the owner of the property has any idea about the sandstone treasure he has in his yard.

Harry Stradling Jr. worked in an era that was already well past the heyday of the Iverson Movie Ranch, and things had evolved since the age of the B-Westerns of the '30s and '40s and the early TV Westerns of the '50s. For one thing, Harry notes that the directors called all the shots, which, even in an industry where the director has always been king, stands in contrast to the relative autonomy enjoyed by DPs on some of those earlier productions. When cost-conscious operations such as Republic and PRC showed up at Iverson, with their much smaller crews, we're pretty sure the decision-making responsibility trickled all the way down to the man behind the camera — leaving room for legendary Iverson DPs such as Ernest Miller and John MacBurnie to work things out for themselves. We're curious what Harry would have done with the place had he come along a couple of decades earlier and really had carte blanche. But we're grateful that he got a shot at it when he did.

Thanks for the Iverson memories, Harry!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info on Stradling, especially his work on Cimarron Strip — a show I'm dying to see again.

Keep up the good work!