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, March 22, 2011

Sorting out Iverson's many "Indian Heads"

At least four different rocks on the former Iverson Movie Ranch have been called "Indian Head" at various times, while a number of other rocks found at the site look so much like Indian heads that they seem to be begging for the name. Here's a rundown of some of Iverson's Indian heads:


Indian Head in Garden of the Gods (also known as Tower Rock)

Shown in a screen shot from the 1942 Republic serial "Perils of Nyoka," this is the most famous of Iverson's "Indian Heads," and it is this view, in my opinion, that presents the rock looking most like an Indian Head. It is one of the most widely filmed rocks at Iverson (and therefore one of the most widely filmed rocks in movie and TV history). It is typically paired with its larger neighbor, commonly called Eagle Beak but also known as Sphinx. The pair make a legendary appearance in John Ford's 1939 Western "Stagecoach," as seen here:


Indian Head and Eagle Beak appear in the background as the stagecoach arrives at Apache Wells. That's Indian Head (or Tower Rock) above and slightly to the left of the stage, and the larger Eagle Beak (or Sphinx) above and to the right of the stage. Click here for more about the locations in "Stagecoach."


Above is a recent shot showing what Indian Head and Eagle Beak look like today. They're located on what used to be the Lower Iverson, in a section called Garden of the Gods, which is known for its large, charismatic sandstone boulders — especially Eagle Beak and Indian Head. The area has been preserved as a park and is open to the public. It's on Redmesa Road just north of Santa Susana Pass Road in Chatsworth, Calif. However, the adjacent area went condo years ago, and the open space in front of the stage in the "Stagecoach" shot above is now filled with a tract of condominiums, as is the spot where the Apache Wells outpost once stood.

I learned recently that the Iverson family referred to the Indian Head rock seen in the above photos as "Tower Rock" during the filming era, and I've begun to adopt that name. "Tower Rock" has a number of advantages: Anything that comes from the Iverson family has more authenticity to it, and in this case it avoids using a name — Indian Head — that can cause confusion because it has been given to so many different rocks at Iverson. And there's another factor here: The name Indian Head, as given to the rock seen in all of the above photos, was apparently a mistake. Legend has it that both Indian Head and Eagle Beak acquired those names after being confused with two other rocks at Iverson known as Indian Head (see below) and Eagle Beak Rock.


Indian Head on the Upper Iverson (also known as Wrench Rock)

This gargoyle rock found on the former Upper Iverson Movie Ranch — shown here in the 1949 Roy Rogers movie "The Golden Stallion" — is a personal favorite. In the early days of my Iverson research I called it "Bobby," for reasons that would be too hard to explain although you can still find clues elsewhere in the blog. I eventually learned that "Bobby" was well established as an Iverson movie rock and already had a number of other names, including Indian Head, Upper Indian Head and Wrench Rock. These days I tend to use Wrench Rock even though it's probably the least glamorous of all the choices. It avoids confusion with all the other Indian Heads, and after all, I can see where the name comes from. But I do keep a place in my heart for "Bobby."

Incidentally, that's also Wrench Rock, or Indian Head ... OK, Bobby ... at the top of the page, seen from the other side, which is the more common movie view. That shot is from "Fury at Showdown" (1957).


Lone Ranger Rock — once known as Indian Head

The third in our list of Iverson's "Indian Head" rocks is one of the most familiar features on the ranch, but its original name has been largely forgotten. In fact, this rock is so universally recognized as Lone Ranger Rock that it is hard to believe it ever had a different name. But it makes sense: The Lone Ranger didn't ride up on Silver for his trademark opening to the TV show until 1949, well beyond the midway point of Iverson's filming heyday. I generally think of 1936-1959 as the peak years, with the 1950s consisting predominantly of TV production. The movie ranch, the Lower Iverson and Iverson Gorge, where Lone Ranger Rock is located (it's easy to find, just east of Redmesa Road), already had a lot of movie mileage under their belts by the time Lone Ranger Rock became Lone Ranger Rock. Before that, it was known as Indian Head. At least, that's what I was told by a reliable source.


Another familiar rock with an unfamiliar name: Sphinx, Eagle Beak ... and Indian Head? Yes!

Here's where things might get a little confusing, if it's not already too late. The rock known as Eagle Beak or Sphinx, seen above, which was often filmed in tandem with its taller partner Indian Head, or Tower Rock (which you can see a bit of on the left in the above shot, as well as in several of the shots higher up in this post), has itself been called Indian Head. The 1948 Monogram B-Western "Overland Trails," starring Johnny Mack Brown, which is the source of the screen shot above, is to blame. One of the key plot elements in the movie concerns trying to find a hidden mine. The mine is located near a waterhole, and there's an early clue about an Indian watching over it. Later we find out the miner has written in a letter to his wife, "There's a rock above the waterhole that looks just like an Indian head." Of course the miner is out of the picture by now — I don't remember specifically but I assume he gets killed — and the search is on to find that Indian head and thereby locate the mine. Fast-forward to later in the picture and about the time we're ready to give up, Johnny Mack Brown says to his partner, "Hey Dusty, look — look at that rock. Doesn't that look like an Indian head to you?" And Dusty says, "Well, it sure does!" And it turns out what they're looking at is the screen shot above — the rock we now know as Eagle Beak or Sphinx. With that kind of attention being paid to it in the movie — any actual discussion of the rocks in the movies is rare — it has to be taken seriously. So Sphinx, too, has a claim to the name "Indian Head." And, well, it does look like a head, after all.


Batman Rock

What about the rocks at Iverson that look even more like Indian heads than most of those seen above, but have never been called "Indian Head" (at least, as far as anyone knows)? Probably the prime example is Batman Rock, shown above in a scene from "Stagecoach." To my eye it looks as though it could have come right off the Buffalo Nickel. Its appearance in the movie is part of the "reveal" of the ruins of the Lee's Ferry station, which has been destroyed in an attack by ... who else, Indians. I suspect the irony wasn't lost on "Stagecoach" director John Ford, and that the placement of the ruins directly below the big chief (not yet known as Batman Rock) was no accident.


Batman Rock is named after its appearance in Columbia's "Batman" serials of the 1940s. I can't help wondering whether the filmmakers who shot it for Westerns back in The Day had their own names for it. At any rate, it's a spectacular rock, even today — after the vegetation has grown up around it and largely blocked the view of its face. These days it presides over a driveway into the condo area just north of Garden of the Gods, and despite everything it still projects strength and a certain quiet dignity.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wild Bill Hickok's gravesite


OK, it's only his MOVIE grave, but still, it's pretty cool. Here's the grave as seen in the 1950 movie "Calamity Jane and the Texan," with a couple of characters who figured into Wild Bill Hickok's real life — Calamity Jane, played by Evelyn Ankers, and Colorado Charlie Utter, played by Lee "Lasses" White — paying their respects.


Here's the gravesite today, on the former Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif. The exact location of the grave is overgrown with sagebrush, but the rocks in the background still look pretty much the same.


In the movie, which is also known by the title "The Texan Meets Calamity Jane," they spelled Hickok's name wrong on his tombstone, adding the extra "c" to come up with Hickock — presumably a common mistake. They did get other details right, including his death at the hands of Jack McCall in Deadwood, in the Black Hills, on Aug. 2, 1876.


Wild Bill, whose real name was James Butler Hickok, was 39 at the time of his death. History notes that Hickok was playing poker at Nuttal & Mann's Saloon in Deadwood when McCall shot him in the head. According to legend, Hickok was holding aces and eights, all black — a poker hand that since this infamous shooting has been known as the "dead man's hand."