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.
• Your feedback is appreciated — please leave comments on any of the posts.
• 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.
• To join the MAILING LIST, send me an email at iversonmovieranch@gmail.com and let me know you'd like to sign up.
• 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.
• Readers can email the webmaster at iversonmovieranch@gmail.com.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Off the Beaten Path: A visit to Pioneertown turns up a clump of famous movie rocks


Pioneertown, Calif.

The Western town at Pioneertown, Calif., built around 1946, is one of only a handful of old Western movie town sets still standing. But in my eyes the most impressive historical artifacts in the Pioneertown area are the magnificent rock formations surrounding the town.


"Silver Canyon" (1951) — rock clump near Pioneertown

Just back from my first visit to Pioneertown, I checked my archives and found this beauty — a screen shot from the Gene Autry B-Western "Silver Canyon." Autry was a key player in the early movie and TV history of the Pioneertown area.

This is a shot of the same rock clump taken during a road trip over the weekend. This spectacular group of rocks and countless similar rock features are spread all around the area, mile after mile — a lot of needles in that haystack and a small miracle to match one up. We happened upon this bad boy after a random right turn on a barely noticeable dirt road. In other instances spectacular rock features can be found right on the highway.

Here's another beauty in the Pioneertown area — this one is next to the highway, probably less than two miles north of the Western town. Have you seen this group of rocks in an old movie or TV show? I haven't spotted it yet, but I have a feeling it will turn up. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, please leave a comment if you've seen this one or any other noteworthy formations.


Off the Beaten Path is a series of posts that are not specifically focused on the Iverson Movie Ranch. Typically they spotlight another filming location in Southern California. You can go directly to the Off the Beaten Path posts by looking up the term in the long index of labels at the right of the page, or by clicking here (recommended!).

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Remarkable shots of a partially dismantled — and flooded — Iverson Western street in 1956, as seen in the TV show "Whirlybirds"

The late-1950s show "Whirlybirds" has been a personal favorite since I watched it on TV as a kid. In those days, the idea of flying around in a helicopter having adventures was a pretty big deal.

"Whirlybirds" episode "Ghost Town Flight" (first aired Feb. 15, 1957)

Now that I'm grown up, I love "Whirlybirds" for different reasons — namely its great location shots of the Iverson Movie Ranch. One of the best examples is the episode "Ghost Town Flight," shot in late 1956. Even in somewhat diminished picture quality, the episode provides clues to the final days of Iverson's Western street.

The Iverson Movie Ranch Western street, flooded and in decline, in 1956

The Western street — or what was left of it in late 1956 — is seen in a partial state of teardown in the episode. The prominent building on the left, with the steep sloped roof, is the Hotel, which apparently outlasted some of the other buildings in town, albeit in deteriorated condition.

"Calamity Jane and the Texan" (1950)

This is what the town looked like in better days. Built by Gary Cooper for the 1945 movie "Along Came Jones," the town became known alternately as El Paso Street (for its appearance in the 1949 movie "El Paso"), Iverson Village or simply Iverson's Western street. Take a look at the row of buildings along the right side and compare them with the photo below, from "Whirlybirds," shot about six years later.

"Ghost Town Flight" ("Whirlybirds")

The town flooded regularly during the 12 years or so that it stood, but the flooding was only caught on film a few times. This shot — probably taken from a helicopter — focuses on the buildings along the east side of the street, where the decay is evident on roofs and other features. The building at the right, with its four vertical windows, is among the most instantly recognizable structures in town.

Here's a slightly closer view of the same general area from the "Whirlybirds" sequence. This shot provides an even better look at the deterioration of some of the roofs and exterior walls.

At the top of the frame is the General Store, which was located near the north end of the street. After appearing as a general store in "Along Came Jones" in 1945, the building had many incarnations over the years, often being converted into a stagecoach stop. At the right of the frame we see what was once the Sheriff's Office — which is now crumbling to the point where it's little more than a pile of lumber.

"Calamity Jane and the Texan"

Here's another look at the General Store in better days, when it appeared as the stage depot in 1950 in "Calamity Jane and the Texan." The building at the right of this shot is the same Sheriff's Office building that looks like a "crumbling pile of lumber" in the shot above this one.

"The Roy Rogers Show": "Ghost Town Gold" (first aired May 25, 1952)

Another example of the flooded town surfaced in "The Roy Rogers Show," in an episode that would have been filmed during the winter of 1951/52. That's Roy Rogers sidekick Pat Brady driving his beloved Jeep, "Nellybelle," through the flood, with the show's co-starring German shepherd, Bullet, in the passenger seat. (You'll have to take my word for it, as it's impossible to make them out in the fuzzy screen shot.)

"Ghost Town Gold" ("The Roy Rogers Show")

Flooded or not, the Iverson Western street often played a ghost town, especially in its waning years. The town was relatively modest as Western town sets go, and this shot appears to show that deterioration was already evident in early 1952. But the town could be spruced up or dressed down depending on the needs of the production.

One more shot of Pat Brady and "Nellybelle" on their joy ride through the flooded street. The story that I've heard about this episode is that the crew showed up for what was supposed to be a regular shoot in the town, and when they found it flooded they wrote the flooding into the script. True or not, I like the story.

You can find other posts about the Iverson Western street by clicking here or looking up "Iverson Village" in the long index found at the right of this page.



This eight-episode "Whirlybirds" DVD being sold by Amazon.com is one of precious few "Whirlybirds" sets commercially available — possibly the only one. Luckily, the set includes the remarkable episode "Ghost Town Flight," featured in this post.
Click on the icon above to check it out on Amazon.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A treasure trove of Iverson Movie Ranch and Brandeis Movie Ranch video clips

Iverson Movie Ranch researcher and Western movie expert Jerry England has been loading up his YouTube channel with great clips of old movies that showcase Iverson. It's worth keeping an eye on his channel, and if you're as into it as I am, you'll want to subscribe. Here's a sample of the work Jerry has been doing.

The clip below comes from the 1942 Republic serial "Perils of Nyoka," which is in my pantheon of the all-time greatest Iverson productions. See for yourself ...


The "Perils of Nyoka" sequence was shot on the old Upper Iverson and features the swinging bridge, whose location was pinpointed just a few years ago. The bridge was set up above the creek near Turtle Rock — one of the most prominent landmarks on the Upper Iverson's widely filmed South Rim. Turtle Rock can be seen a number of times in the clip, including around the 12-second mark. The rock was a short distance to the south of the bridge and can still be readily spotted today — if you're lucky enough to gain access to what is now a pretty exclusive gated residential area.


Moving to the Lower Iverson, this second "Nyoka" clip includes another of the movie ranch's most prominent features — Nyoka Cliff, named after this serial. This scene didn't originate the term "cliffhanger," which goes back in the movies at least as far as the silent classic "The Perils of Pauline" in 1914 — and even farther, to the newspaper serials of the 19th century and Thomas Hardy's "A Pair of Blue Eyes." But "Perils of Nyoka," one of the most successful film serials of its day, went a long way toward perpetuating, in a literal sense, the idea of the cliffhanger.

Here's a bit of the 1923 Buster Keaton silent film "Three Ages," where the Iverson Gorge and Garden of the Gods serve as an appropriately rocky background for caveman shenanigans:



Jerry has also been researching the Brandeis Movie Ranch, which was also located in Chatsworth, Calif., immediately to the west of the former Upper Iverson. Because the two movie ranches were adjacent, there's a fair amount of overlap when researching one or the other.

Here are a couple of clips showcasing Brandeis ...


This one is from "Outlaws' Paradise," a low-budget 1939 Western starring Tim McCoy.


Here's another Brandeis clip, from "Roamin' Wild," a 1936 Tom Tyler B-Western from Reliable Pictures Corp. This one features Hickeyville, the Brandeis Western town, which is seen in only a few movies. Brandeis wasn't in operation nearly as long as its neighbor to the east, the Iverson Movie Ranch.

You may also want to check out Jerry's blog, which includes a wealth of material about Iverson.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Look who dropped in on the Iverson Ranch: It's a bird, it's a plane, it's ... George Reeves in the 1950s TV series "Adventures of Superman"

The iconic 1950s TV series "Adventures of Superman" is widely thought to be shot in part at the Iverson Movie Ranch, but until recently a confirmed sighting had eluded me. Then Superman aficionado Dave Spiceland tipped me off that the episode "Panic in the Sky," which first aired Dec. 5, 1953, as part of the show's second season, contains some stuff that looks a lot like Iverson. Sure enough, it turns out the episode has a couple of scenes shot on the old Upper Iverson.

I understand the episode is a fan favorite, with an unusual storyline that has the entire planet in peril and sends Superman into space — twice. When an asteroid threatens to destroy Earth, Superman flies up there to face it head-on and initially manages to divert the thing and send it into orbit. But the effort leaves him in bad shape, suffering from a concussion and amnesia. (What's worse, he later has to go back up and tussle with the big brute again.) In the above shot, a woozy Superman has just landed back on Earth, too disoriented to know where he is. But we know he's on the South Rim of the old Upper Iverson, as the next few shots will reveal.

Once Superman stands up we see a familiar rock behind him. I call this one Notch Rock — part of a distinctive set of rock towers that have been called Easter Island or the Totem Rocks.

Here's a shot of the Totem Rocks/Easter Island in modern times, with Notch Rock hard to miss near the center of the shot.

Superman manages to get changed into his Clark Kent outfit — where he stashed the gear while he was off wrangling the asteroid seems like a plot hole, but no need to nitpick. That's the legendary Wrench Rock filling up much of the right half of the shot. (Update: It's not a plot hole after all. Thanks to "Superman" fan Steve Brant, who explained how it works. See comments.)

This is what the rest of Wrench Rock — aka Indian Head, aka Upper Indian Head, aka Bobby — looks like these days. Another shot of it, from the other side, appears at the top of this blog.

Another glimpse of Wrench Rock, on the left, with an askew George Reeves as Clark Kent.

A woman in an old jalopy turns up just in time to rescue Clark and give him a lift to town. That's part of a rock feature I call the Tomb on the left and a portion of the Slates on the right.

In the background is the Cliff, also known as the T-Cliff. The whole Iverson sequence is shot in one small area.

Off they go. I believe the actress is Jane Frazee.

The final Iverson shot in the sequence includes Gold Raiders Rock, top right. The small rock was cemented onto the top of the larger rock around 1950, and it remains in place today.

Gold Raiders Rock today, from the other side.

I'm still a novice with "Adventures of Superman," but I've heard season two is the best for Iverson content. The above Amazon links represent the full six-season run of the show, including one set that's just season two — it's the second of the four links above.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Robert Mitchum brings film noir to the Garden of the Gods

It was relatively rare for film noir to be shot at the Iverson Movie Ranch, where the staples were B-Westerns in particular, along with war movies, desert adventures and some sci-fi. But the movie ranch did see action in a few film noirs, including the acclaimed 1949 Robert Mitchum movie "The Big Steal."

"The Big Steal" (1949) — Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum on the Iverson Movie Ranch

Garden of the Gods stands in for the hills of Mexico in one scene late in the movie, with a key shootout taking place that puts Mitchum and his leading lady Jane Greer in peril.

The scene plays out mainly in the central Garden of the Gods area, near the camera mount and Overlook Point. The rocks that show up during the shootout are basically all still in place, in a section of the former Iverson Movie Ranch that has been preserved as a park.

A romp through Garden of the Gods often turns up that big rock with the horizontal crack, which tends to be a helpful identifier. I call it Moray Eel.

Not that it's easy to miss, but just to avoid confusion, Moray Eel is identified here.

Here's another look at Moray Eel and that same area from a recent visit to the site. This area was used a lot in the movies.

A colorized version of "The Big Steal" has also made the rounds. This is what Moray Eel and its surroundings look like in that version.

One of the hallmarks of film noir is the great-looking old cars, and "The Big Steal" is no exception. Here they drove the old convertible right up into the middle of Garden of the Gods, where it became part of the shootout.

Colorizing tends to miss the point of film noir, but that convertible does look good in baby blue.

Another angle on the Garden of the Gods shootout in "The Big Steal."

More Mitchum — putting up a fight in Garden of the Gods.

With Sphinx in the background, one of the bad guys gets the drop on Mitchum.

And it's all over — the whole Iverson scene lasts only about five minutes.

The legacy of "The Big Steal's" location shoot at the Iverson Movie Ranch includes a rock in Garden of the Gods that some people call Mitchum Rock. I started calling it that for the purposes of my research, and it seems to have caught on.


Here are a couple of options if you feel like picking up a copy of "The Big Steal" — try the above links, although at this point I seem to only be able to find it in relatively pricey DVD sets.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

John Ford gets a postage stamp

John Ford's appreciation for the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., as a filming location never got as much publicity as his love for Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border — where he created a series of film images that became emblematic of the American West. But he was a regular at Iverson, directing some of the most important productions shot at the ranch and skillfully interweaving Iverson's rocky terrain with images filmed elsewhere to create a richer and more complex library of Western imagery. I have always considered him an important member of the Iverson "family," and I wanted to celebrate the release of Ford's new U.S. postage stamp.

Here it is — the new John Ford "forever" first-class stamp, depicting a scene inspired by "The Searchers" along with a rendition of the director. The movie scene appears to be based on the film's opening sequence, with Monument Valley in the background and a figure presumably inspired by John Wayne in the foreground. Wayne, by the way, was another Hollywood legend who worked at Iverson a time or two.

The Ford stamp is part of a set of four new stamps honoring American directors, including Frank Capra, Billy Wilder and John Huston. The set is officially designated the Great Film Directors (Forever) stamps by the U.S. Postal Service, and you can buy them now from usps.com.

The John Ford stamp continues a tradition of U.S. postage stamps celebrating the American West, including the above Sitting Bull stamp. Blogger Bennett Owen, inspired by the announcement last year of the Ford stamp, put up a nice post rounding up some of the most compelling Western-themed stamps over the years, which you can read by clicking here. I'll go ahead and post a few more of the images below, because they're mighty cool. Here you go ...





While Ford didn't shoot "The Searchers" at Iverson, his Iverson filmography includes some terrific movies. Among them:

"Stagecoach" (1939), often called the quintessential American Western. I did an extensive blog post on "Stagecoach" some time ago, found here, which breaks down the Iverson filming locations seen in the movie. You can find more about "Stagecoach" in various places throughout the blog by clicking "Stagecoach" in the long alphabetical index on the right side of the page, or by clicking here. One note about "Stagecoach" that I didn't mention last time is that the first appearance of John Wayne in the movie — an introduction that has been cited as one of the best ever for a screen actor — was created using a composite of Monument Valley footage and Iverson Movie Ranch footage. The stagecoach is seen traveling through scenery that is mostly Monument Valley with a little Iverson in the mix, but when the camera settles in on Wayne during his first encounter with the stage, the rocks seen behind him are at Iverson.

This screen grab from the John Wayne entrance sequence in "Stagecoach" is from a colorized version of the movie, although the movie itself was shot in black and white.

Another frame from the same sequence, but in the original black and white. The rocks behind Wayne were found in the Upper Gorge on the Iverson Movie Ranch, and for the most part were destroyed in the late 1980s to make way for condos.

"Wee Willie Winkie" (1937) — This Shirley Temple war movie (anti-war, really) about the British colonization of India was an important project in its day, and John Ford shot it largely at Iverson. The production included the building of elaborate sets at the movie ranch, and some of that construction became the foundation for other sets that remained in use throughout much of the filming era at Iverson.

Victor McLaglen and Shirley Temple at work on the Lower Iverson in John Ford's "Wee Willie Winkie." The movie comes up regularly on this blog, and you can read more about it by clicking here (or by looking up "Wee Willie Winkie" in the alphabetical index at the right side of the page).

Here's a promo still from "Wee Willie Winkie" that provides a good look at part of the elaborate "India fort" set built for the movie on Sheep Flats, on the Lower Iverson. The picture is courtesy of movie location expert Jerry England and his great blog, "A Drifting Cowboy," which you can read by clicking here.

"The Grapes of Wrath" (1940) — John Ford's definitive movie on the westward migration during the Dust Bowl is one of my favorite movies of the 1940s.

The movie only contains a little bit of Iverson — mainly the above shot, which looks out on the San Fernando Valley from Iverson. At that time the Valley was still mostly farms, and the shot depicted the migrant family's first look at California's rich farmland — farmland that held the prospect of jobs in the field. Click here for more about this shot and about "The Grapes of Wrath."



The above links can be used to shop for John Ford's Iverson movies on Amazon.