The "Whirlybirds" episode "Ghost Town Flight," which first aired Feb. 15, 1957, and was probably shot in late 1956, offers a rare look at the Iverson Movie Ranch's Western street in a partial state of teardown. The picture quality, at least on the version of the show I have, isn't great, but the unusual views of the town provide clues to the town's final days.
Most of the town — or what was left of it in late 1956 — can be seen in the above shot. Built by Gary Cooper for the 1945 movie "Along Came Jones," the town became known alternately as El Paso Street (for its appearance in glorious Cinecolor in the 1949 movie "El Paso"), Iverson Village or simply Iverson's Western street. In the above shot, 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. Please click on this and any photos on my blog to get a larger view.
Here's what the town looked like in better days, as seen in the movie "Calamity Jane and the Texan," released in 1950. Take a look at the row of buildings along the right side and compare them with the photo below, from "Whirlybirds."
This screen shot is part of the same sequence seen at the top of this post, presumably shot from a helicopter. The sequence captures the Iverson Western street not only with its dismantling under way, but also with the town flooded — something that apparently happened regularly during the 12 years or so that the town stood, but was only caught on film a few times. This shot focuses on the buildings along the east side of the street, showing that the roofs and other features are in a state of decay. 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, still part of the "Whirlybirds" sequence. Even though these two shots are pretty similar, I posted them both because this one provides a better look at the deterioration of some of the roofs and outer walls, while the previous shot offers a better overview and really captures the flooding.
Still another shot from the "Whirlybirds" sequence, here the focus is on a building near the north end of the street, seen at the top of the frame. I call it the general store, as that's how it first appeared in "Along Came Jones" in 1945, but the building had many incarnations in a string of productions over the years, often appearing as a stagecoach stop. One thing I love in this shot is the building in front of it — at the right of the frame — which is crumbling to the point where it's little more than a pile of lumber.
Here's another look at the general store — again, in better days, from the 1950 movie "Calamity Jane and the Texan," where the building appeared as the stage depot. The building at the right of this shot is the same one that looks like a "crumbling pile of lumber" in the shot above this one.
One other example of a flooded version of the town being used in a production can be seen in this episode of "The Roy Rogers Show" called "Ghost Town Gold." The episode first aired May 25, 1952, so the shoot probably took place after a rain during the winter of 1951/52. That's series regular and Roy Rogers sidekick Pat Brady driving his beloved Jeep, "Nellybelle," through the flooded town, 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.)
Another shot from the "Roy Rogers" episode "Ghost Town Gold" shows the flooded town. Flooded or not, the Iverson Western street, which always was far less sparkling than rival Western towns found on many of the studio lots, was often presented as a ghost town, especially during its waning years. One reason I picked this shot is because it shows some of the deterioration of the town, which was already starting to fall apart in 1952. The rooftop of the building at the far right really shows it. The town still did get "spruced up" a few times in its remaining few years.
One more shot of Pat Brady and "Nellybelle" on their joy ride down the flooded street. One story I've always heard about this particular "Roy Rogers" episode was 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.