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.

Monday, January 23, 2012

James Dean's connection to the Iverson Movie Ranch — and the tomb of Jesus

James Dean

This discovery took a fair amount of work and a lot of luck, but I was able to unearth the tantalizing fact that James Dean's first screen credit was in a production that brought him to Iverson. And if that weren't enough, the tomb of Jesus is depicted in the production — and it turns out it's at Iverson too!

The production was an hour TV drama called "Hill Number One." Don't expect to see any sharp, clear screen shots of Jimmy scrambling among the Iverson rocks with a six-shooter. This isn't that kind of discovery. But it's a story I think is pretty fascinating anyway, going back to the early days of television and the early days of Dean's career, which came together in 1951.

The occasion was an episode of a relatively unknown TV anthology series called "Family Theatre," which had a long run on TV in the 1950s. The series was a Christian-oriented production of the Family Rosary Crusade, under the stewardship of Father Patrick Peyton. (Peyton is often credited as the guy who came up with the slogan "The family that prays together stays together," and he delivers it at the end of the episode.) The "Family Theater" series started on radio in 1947 and apparently moved to TV in 1951 — with a minor spelling change, from "Theater" to "Theatre" — and then remained on the air through 1957. According to some accounts, the series produced something like 540 episodes — a total that would rank it among the most prolific TV shows in history.

The bulk of the material in these productions appears to have disappeared, or at least is out of circulation. But a select few episodes — notably the one with James Dean, Iverson and the tomb of Jesus — appear to have made it to DVD. Additionally, some of the radio episodes reportedly still get aired on the EWTN Radio Network. "Hill Number One," probably the most widely distributed of the vintage episodes, has a DVD cover, seen above, that depicts a scene shot at Iverson, with three crosses on a hill representing Calvary, or Golgotha. The key word there is "depicts," as this cover shot is not an actual shot of Iverson.

Here's the equivalent shot from the production itself, showing Calvary soon after the crucifixion. The shot first appears about 22 minutes into the hourlong episode, and this is the first Iverson I was able to identify in the show. The actual hill is a relatively nondescript one at Iverson, just east of Nyoka Cliff. I've begun calling it Mount Calvary in honor of this show.

It gets more interesting when the camera pans right, revealing a familiar rock I call Jaunty Sailor, which I've blogged about before in an entry you can find here. Jaunty Sailor is the large vertical rock just right of center, and while it's a little hard to make out here (you can click on the photo to enlarge it), some movie construction has been attached to its right side — its eastern side at the location. It turns out this is the tomb where the body of Jesus was placed after he was removed from the cross. (In the show, not in real life ... just in case that needs to be said.)

The tomb of Jesus, in "Hill Number One"

Here's a closer look at the tomb of Jesus, as it was constructed for the production, complete with the large round stone meant to ensure that the body stayed put. You can see a little bit of Jaunty Sailor to the left, jutting out next to the tomb entrance.

James Dean as John the Apostle in "Hill Number One"

James Dean plays John the Apostle — a role that has sometimes been reported in error as John the Baptist. It's a small role, but Dean is easy to spot even in a cast that includes a surprising number of familiar names — Roddy McDowall, William Shallert, Michael Ansara and others. Dean's role has sometimes been described as non-speaking, but that's another erroneous report. He has a number of lines, including a brief speech at a meeting of the disciples, seen in the above shot. It's not much, but it's the start of what turned out to be his lasting screen legacy.

The production gives us a good look at a young James Dean — about four years before his breakout and only 19 or 20 years old. (Even though he would play a high school student a few years later in the 1955 movie "Rebel Without a Cause," Dean was already 24 years old when that movie was being made.)

Here's the first appearance of James Dean at Iverson, second from the right, with Ruth Hussey as Mary, Regis Toomey as Nicodemus, next to Dean, and Nelson Leigh as Joseph of Arimathea on the left. The scene takes place at the tomb of Jesus, located a short distance east of Nyoka Cliff.

Another shot of James Dean at work at Iverson. That's Dean as John the Apostle on the right, with Charles Meredith as Peter on the left. The disciples have just received word of the Resurrection, and John is examining the stone that was supposed to keep the body of Christ in the tomb.

Peter and John look over the empty veil that was previously wrapped around Jesus' head — prompting John to grasp what has happened and go forth to spread the word, announcing: "He has risen as he promised."


Family Theater Productions still exists, and apparently still has some of the vintage productions for sale on its website (familytheater.org). I couldn't find "Hill Number One" on the site, but it's available on Amazon and other sites. (You can find it by clicking on the ad below.)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What was the director of "Casablanca" doing at the Iverson Movie Ranch?

Michael Curtiz

One of the most acclaimed directors of Hollywood's Golden Age — and the director of the movie that many film lovers call the best of all time — Michael Curtiz had a history at Iverson. While he didn't shoot "Casablanca" at the ranch, he visited Chatsworth on a number of occasions to add Iverson's dramatic backdrops to his movies.

"Noah's Ark," 1928

Curtiz directed for years in his native Hungary in the silent era before relocating to the U.S. in 1926. One of his first Hollywood projects, the silent biblical epic "Noah's Ark," produced the iconic special-effects shot seen above, in which the massive Ark is "beached" on the familiar rocks of Iverson's Garden of the Gods — notably Tower Rock and Sphinx, sometimes called Indian Head and Eagle Beak. Curtiz collaborated with legendary studio mogul Darryl F. Zanuck on the movie, which starred a lineup of silent era A-listers including Dolores Costello, George O'Brien, Noah Beery and Myrna Loy.

Here's a contemporary shot of the same rocks, with the view from this angle now largely blocked by trees. That's Tower Rock on the left (also known as Indian Head) and Sphinx on the right (also known as Eagle Beak).

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca"

Curtiz went on to direct a string of cinema classics in the 1930s and early 1940s, being nominated for an Academy Award for "Captain Blood" (1935) — a write-in nomination, leading to a second-place finish in the voting for the Oscar — receiving two nominations for best director in one year for the 1938 movies "Four Daughters" and "Angels With Dirty Faces" and chalking up still another nomination for best director for "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942) before winning the Academy Award for his masterpiece, "Casablanca" (1942).

Joan Crawford in "Mildred Pierce"

Notoriously caustic toward actors, Curtiz nonetheless worked with the best in the business. Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, John Garfield, Ann Blyth, William Powell, Paul Muni, Eve Arden and Claude Rains all received Oscar nominations for their work in Michael Curtiz movies, while James Cagney ("Yankee Doodle Dandy," 1942) and Joan Crawford ("Mildred Pierce," 1945) picked up statuettes. The list of Hollywood legends he directed is too long to do it justice, but it also includes Bette Davis, Al Jolson, Elizabeth Taylor, Edward G. Robinson, Sophia Loren, Bing Crosby, Alan Ladd, Patricia Neal and Robert Taylor, among many others.

Curtiz even worked with the King, directing Elvis in "King Creole" in 1958. This one wasn't shot at Iverson, but Elvis did shoot one movie there — "Harum Scarum" in 1965.

For the 1936 war movie "Charge of the Light Brigade" Curtiz staged battle scenes in Iverson's Upper Gorge. In the above screen shot from the movie, warriors are gathered atop The Wall, and in particular Potato Rock, the boulder at the right. These rocks no longer exist, having been destroyed to make way for condos.

Another group of combatants in "Charge of the Light Brigade" is set up nearby, with the group at the top of the shot seated on Three Ages Rock. This rock has survived condo development and can still be seen today — although the section in the foreground, where the shooter is carefully aiming his rifle, has been blown away.

"Charge of the Light Brigade" was one in a series of Michael Curtiz movies that paired Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn. Others included "Captain Blood" (1935), "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938), "Essex and Elizabeth" (1939) and "Dodge City" (1939).

Curtiz knocked out a few Westerns toward the end of his career, including "The Proud Rebel" in 1958, with de Havilland again and Alan Ladd, and "The Hangman" in 1959, featuring a cast of now familiar TV names such as Tina Louise ("Gilligan's Island"), Fess Parker ("Davy Crockett") and Jack Lord ("Hawaii Five-0"). His final film was another Western — "The Comancheros" (1961), starring John Wayne. Six months after its release, on April 10, 1962, Michael Curtiz died of cancer in Hollywood at age 75.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How the Iverson Movie Ranch found its way into a 1998 music video by Neil Finn

This 1998 video for the song "She Will Have Her Way," by New Zealand rocker Neil Finn, is a parody of the old "rampaging enormous women" movies, including the 1959 Lou Costello comedy/sci-fi movie "The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock," much of which was shot at Iverson.

"Candy Rock" was itself a parody of the much more famous sci-fi movie "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman," which came out the previous year. "50 Foot Woman" was not shot at Iverson.

Neil Finn and his 30- to 50-foot girlfriend, in the music video "She Will Have Her Way"

Neil Finn is known for fronting the bands Split Enz and Crowded House, along with his solo career. This solo video includes footage from both "30 Foot Bride" and "50 Foot Woman," cleverly blending original clips from both films with new footage featuring Finn and his own 30-foot (or 50-foot) girlfriend.

Best of all, from the standpoint of an Iverson Movie Ranch aficionado, the video creates "new" footage shot at Iverson by superimposing Finn and his video girlfriend over scenes originally shot at Iverson in the 1950s. The barn seen here no longer exists — it has been borrowed from "30 Foot Bride," with Finn's modern-day video vixen seen running in front of it using composite imaging.

Here's a shot I really like from the video, which is lifted straight from the movie. It shows a truck hauling the wrapped-up "30 Foot Bride" past a distinctive formation I call Rock Island, which was located in the Iverson Gorge and had high-profile appearances in John Wayne's "Fighting Seabees" (1944) and many other productions. The shot is flipped horizontally, for whatever reasons. (For more about flipping shots, click here.)

This is how the above shot "should" look — and how it would have looked if it hadn't been flipped in production. It was flipped for both the movie, "30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock," and the music video, Neil Finn's "She Will Have Her Way." The big cluster of boulders seen in the shot, Rock Island, effectively no longer exists, having been mostly buried during grading for condominium development. In other words, it's probably still intact, just underground. Parts of it — maybe the top one-third — remain above ground but are barely visible and hard to get to.

The barn featured in "30 Foot Bride" and in the video is the Fury Barn, which was part of a ranch set built for the TV show "Fury" that got a lot of use in movies and TV shows in the late '50s and throughout the '60s. The barn and the rest of the set are believed to have burned down in the big 1970 Newhall/Malibu fire.

An intimate moment featuring Neil and his big girlfriend creates a reasonable facsimile of the interior of the Fury Barn for the video. I don't know how they got the shot, but I presume it's either a studio set or else filmed in some real barn that's still around today.

As a footnote to the "30 Foot Bride"/"50 Foot Woman" story, a 1993 HBO TV movie remake of "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman," with essentially the same title ("Ft." replaces "Foot"), featuring Daryl Hannah in the title role, is widely thought to include footage shot at one of the estates on the former Upper Iverson, long after the days when the place was a working movie ranch. However, I did a little homework and was able to track down the estate used in the movie, and while it was close to Iverson — just a few doors away — technically it was on property that was once part of the neighboring Brandeis Ranch, and not Iverson.

"War of the Colossal Beast" composite shot, filmed partly at Iverson

It's also worth noting the "rampaging enormous men" movies. Probably the best-known entry in this subgenre is "The Amazing Colossal Man" (1957), which pretty much started the whole oversized people phenomenon of the Cold War era. "Colossal Man" was not shot at Iverson — the location work was almost entirely done in Arizona and Nevada, including some iconic shots you may recall of the big guy taking out his hostility on some large neon figures on the Vegas Strip. But "Colossal Man" had a lesser-known sequel, "War of the Colossal Beast" (1958), that not only is a terrific Iverson movie but also is part of an extremely select group of movies to set foot on the iconic Chatsworth rock formation Stoney Point.

Stoney Point in Chatsworth, as seen in "War of the Colossal Beast"

Stoney Point often appears in the background in movies shot at Iverson, but "War of the Colossal Beast" includes footage actually shot at the site.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Oscar Wilde visits the Iverson Movie Ranch and Gorge Arch

John O'Malley as Oscar Wilde in "Have Gun Will Travel"

Let's get this much settled right up front: It was a TV version of Oscar Wilde, not the real-life Irish-born playwright and poet. The real Oscar Wilde, who wrote "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "The Picture of Dorian Gray," was a sensation in London in the late 19th century before dying in 1900 — a little too early to make his way into TV or movie productions. But he toured the U.S. in the 1880s, visiting the American West when there still was such a thing, and found his way into a few tidbits of Western lore — drinking whisky with miners in Leadville, Colo., and so forth. Years later, during Hollywood's long love affair with the Wild West, a favorite plot device was to snatch famous visitors to the West from real life and put them in either an exaggerated or completely made-up storyline. Oscar Wilde's turn came around in 1958, and as luck would have it, he had his curtain call at Iverson.

Richard Shannon as Boss Rook, with John O'Malley sitting on the Gorge Arch

The character Oscar Wilde, played by Australian actor John O'Malley, had a central role in an episode of "Have Gun Will Travel" called "The Ballad of Oscar Wilde," which premiered Dec. 6, 1958. The story had Wilde kidnapped by a bad guy named Boss Rook, played by Richard Shannon, who held Wilde hostage in the Iverson Gorge.

While awaiting his fate, Wilde cooled his heels on a small boulder that was part of one of the Iverson Movie Ranch's legendary rock structures — the Gorge Arch, legendary in large part because it no longer exists, having been replaced by condos. The arch, which consisted mainly of three large boulders, was big enough to ride a horse through, and for a while in the late 1930s and early 1940s it stood next to the Gorge Cabin. In the setting above, the cabin would have been to the right, out of the shot (but it was no longer in place at the time this show was shot). The two big rocks in the background had a corral and shed in front of them for much of the period that the cabin was in place. The cabin, corral and shed, along with a fake mine entrance that was often seen in the area, were all long gone by the time "Have Gun Will Travel" showed up to tape this episode.


Inevitably, it's the series' hero, Paladin, played by Richard Boone, who rides to Wilde's rescue. At first Paladin, on the right, tries to arrange a prisoner swap, but predictably, he ends up having to shoot it out with Boss Rook.

Rook initially takes cover inside Gorge Arch — giving viewers a rare look at the inside of the arch.

Paladin makes his move, climbing on top of the smaller boulder on the left side of the arch to get the drop on Rook.

Rook slips around to the right side of Gorge Arch, providing an extremely rare detailed view of the huge boulder that makes up that side of the rock structure.

Wilde, at the left, creates a diversion, enabling Paladin to swoop in for the capture. I'm including this shot mainly because it shows the scale, with Paladin perched on the smaller of the Gorge Arch's two "base" rocks.

With the situation finally under control, Wilde and Paladin find time to exchange a few pithy quips for comic relief. Some things never change.


The real Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Platypus Shack" and "Platypus Farm" — an oddity of the old Upper Iverson

This is a screen shot from the 1949 Paramount Western "El Paso," starring John Payne, Sterling Hayden, Gail Russell and Gabby Hayes, directed by Lewis R. Foster with cinematography by frequent Iverson shooter Ellis W. Carter. It shows a farm set I call "Platypus Farm," after the rock near the left of the shot, Platypus. (I call the rock in the center of the shot "Fish Head.") The farm set was probably built specifically for "El Paso," as the full set has not been spotted anywhere else. It has been suggested that the main house, on the right, may have been a false front or a mobile structure. Either way, by the end of the movie, it's gone.


The main building may have been destroyed in the production, as the house burns to the ground later in the movie. The above shot has the survivors burying two poor souls killed in an attack on the farm, and the charred remains of the house can be seen in the background, behind the rider on the right. It seems unlikely that they would have gone to the lengths of actually destroying a building to get the shot, but who knows? This shot seems to support the theory that the house was just a front and was perhaps designed to ultimately be destroyed on camera. Either way, at least part of the set — the shack, partially visible at the left of both of the above shots — survived and went on to appear in a number of productions, including episodes of the "Lone Ranger" TV show.


Here's "Platypus Shack" again, along with the rock Platypus, in the "Lone Ranger" episode "Barnaby Boggs, Esquire," which premiered Feb. 2, 1950, during the TV show's first season. The shot ran properly oriented in this episode, but in a different episode, the exact same footage was used — but flipped horizontally, as seen below:

This is how the shot ran in the "Man of the House" episode, which aired one week earlier, on Jan. 26, 1950. It may seem like shoddy production to run back-to-back episodes containing such an obvious shortcut — presumably just a way to save money by using the same footage twice. But that sort of thing was common in B-Westerns and carried over into early TV, where the producers were convinced, and probably rightly so, that no one was looking at this stuff very closely. Thankfully, we have DVDs and other digital media now and can really tear it down. (Click here for some additional posts about flipping shots.)


One more "Lone Ranger" shot, back to the "Barnaby Boggs, Esquire" episode, where Platypus Shack ran in its correct orientation. This shot offers a better look at the shack, with the Lone Ranger, played by Clayton Moore, circling around back. The shack stood from about 1949-1952 and appeared in a number of movies, including the Whip Wilson B-Westerns "Gunslingers" and "Silver Raiders" for Monogram (both 1950) and the Rocky Lane B-Western "Marshal of Cedar Rock" for Republic (released in early 1953 but filmed in 1952).

"Gun Belt" (1953) — "fancy" version of Platypus Shack

A fancier version of the shack, located a bit closer to the rock Platypus, can be seen in the 1953 movie "Gun Belt," which is discussed in a blog post here.


Here's another look at Platypus — the rock, minus the shack — in the slightly upscale Columbia B-Western "The Gun That Won the West" (1955).

And here's a real Platypus. Maybe you can see the resemblance in the bill, which gives the rock its name. I'll take the blame for it.

The 1957 George Montgomery Western "Gun Duel in Durango" provided this unusual shot of Fish Head, Platypus' neighbor to the east, with a couple of sentries on it — including one sitting on the rock's fish lips. As a footnote about Platypus and Fish Head, I believe both of these distinctive and heavily filmed rocks have survived, although I've never seen them in person. If they do still exist, they're "living" in someone's back yard on the former Upper Iverson Movie Ranch.