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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Saturday, April 20, 2013

A few "Tarzan" scenes filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif.

The many Tarzan movies filmed over the decades, including the wildly popular Johnny Weissmuller movies of the 1930s and 1940s, have an intermittent track record at Iverson. The widely filmed movie ranch, better known for its stagecoach holdups, Western shootouts and rocky landscape, wasn't exactly a jungle location. But Iverson did make significant appearances in a number of Tarzan movies. Here's a look at a few key scenes.

Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan 
at Iverson in "Tarzan the Ape Man," 1932

The movie considered by many fans to be the start of the Tarzan franchise is MGM's "Tarzan the Ape Man," released in 1932 — Weissmuller's first appearance as the Lord of the Jungle. A number of Tarzan movies predated this one, going back to 1918 and silent movie star Elmo Lincoln. But MGM and Weissmuller — along with Maureen O'Sullivan, who fueled Tarzan's jungle passions as Jane — turned Tarzan into a cultural phenomenon.

This is the same rock — known as Three Ages Rock — where Tarzan and Jane stood during the iconic "wave goodbye" scene at the end of "Tarzan the Ape Man." The rock can still easily be seen today, from Redmesa Road, just below the Cal West Townhomes development. You may be able to match up the vertical crack and the smaller rock below Three Ages Rock in the above two shots. (You can enlarge any of these photos by clicking on them.)

The setup for the "wave goodbye" shot provided a couple of nice touches, including unloading an elephant in Iverson Gorge for the above sequence. The large rock feature at the right, known as The Wall, no longer exists, having been torn down to build condos. The overhanging rock just above and to the right of the heads of the riders is Potato Rock, which was also a casualty of that development. What's still around are the Elders, at the center of the shot (directly to the left of the riders' heads), and Elders Peak, top center. These features, seen in the backgrounds of many Iverson movies, are above Chatsworth Park, "across the street" from Iverson — south of Santa Susana Pass Road.

Here's a look at Elders Peak and the Elders in modern times. This shot is from 2008, just after the Porter Ranch Fire, which accounts for the area's barren appearance.

Cheeta made his way to Iverson along with the rest of the "Tarzan the Ape Man" cast and crew, and was filmed racing past Nyoka Cliff to join the "wave goodbye" sequence.

Here's a shot of that same section of Nyoka Cliff as seen on a recent visit to the site, which can be matched up with the details of the Cheeta shot above even though the two shots are from slightly different angles. The tall triangular shape near the center of both shots — a "witch's hat" shape — and the dark "hole in the rock" toward the right are among the better markers.

This is what Nyoka Cliff looks like today — pulling back from the above closeup. The massive cliff is one of the most prominent rock features at Iverson, and is easily seen from Redmesa Road. The "witch's hat" shape is still visible here, in shadow, a little right of center.

The elephant heads down the Gorge after dropping off Jane — who has decided to remain in the jungle with Tarzan in "Tarzan the Ape Man."

The steps visible toward the left of this shot are somewhat famous among film location researchers. The weight of opinion is that they were put in place specifically for "Tarzan the Ape Man," to enable Tarzan, Jane and Cheeta to easily scamper up to the top of Three Ages Rock.

Cheeta arrives at the top of the stairs, which are concealed by a shadow. Oops: It appears that someone has installed a couple of "African-looking" dry palm trees between the previous shot and this one without bothering to reconcile the set arrangement with the shots of Tarzan and Jane, sans palms, ascending the steps.

"Rough Riders' Round-Up" (1939)

The "Tarzan the Ape Man" steps surface in other productions from time to time, including the above shot from the 1939 Republic B-Western "Rough Riders' Round-Up." In this screen shot Three Ages Rock is the large horizontal boulder directly above the top of the steps. The rock immediately to the right of the rider is a fascinating character I've blogged about before, which I call the D-Train.

"The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1936)

Those same rocks also appear in the 1936 movie "The Charge of the Light Brigade," but as you can see in the top right corner of the above shot: no steps. It looks to me as though someone went to the trouble to smooth over that stairway, probably with cement. The shot of the steps above this one that appeared in "Rough Riders' Round-Up" in 1939 could be explained by the use of recycled older footage, but that's just a guess. Another theory would be that someone fashioned a "disguise" for the steps, so they could be covered up or exposed as needed. It sounds like a stretch, but it was not unheard of at Iverson back then to complement the rocks with what might be called "prosthetics."

Tarzan helps Jane climb to the top of Three Ages Rock. You may notice that her outfit got shorter in the time it took her to climb the stairs — an illusion created by a torn dress after it was damaged during her jungle adventures. Jane had yet to shed her "city dress" and move into her far more revealing loincloth, but the producers may have made the choice to show more skin here to illustrate Jane's loss of inhibition as she transitioned from city girl to jungle dweller — and of course, to raise the level of interest in future movies.

The jilted suitor, Harry Holt — whom Jane dumped for Tarzan — rides off on his elephant down Iverson Gorge, with the Garden of the Gods in the background in the top-left corner. You may have to squint to see Harry, played by Neil Hamilton, and his elephant near the bottom center of the shot.

Tarzan, Jane and Cheeta — one big happy family, atop Three Ages Rock. The producers of "Tarzan the Ape Man" were blessed with a dramatic Chatsworth sky on the day of this shoot, and were apparently content to overlook the fact that it didn't match the sky as it appeared in other shots during the sequence.

Lex Barker as Tarzan on the Upper Iverson
in a scene from "Tarzan and the Slave Girl," 1950

Later versions of "Tarzan," including some of the RKO releases in the 1950s in which the ape man was played by Lex Barker ("Tarzan and the Slave Girl," 1950; "Tarzan's Savage Fury," 1952) or Gordon Scott ("Tarzan's Hidden Jungle," 1955; "Tarzan and the Trappers," 1958), featured a number of Iverson scenes, such as this one filmed on the Upper Iverson.

Here's what that same easily recognized rock, which I call Notch Rock, looks like today. It's a frequent landmark in old movies and early TV shows.

This is the same view from farther back. The whole formation has been called Easter Island or the Totem Pole Rocks.

Lex Barker gives the producers a little extra — and risks his neck in the process — by venturing over the edge of Notch Rock. He wouldn't have got much farther than this, but even this much proves he didn't just play a he-man in the movies — he really was one.

In another scene from "Tarzan and the Slave Girl," Lex Barker leads an expedition across the rocky bed of Fern Ann Creek on the Upper Iverson. This sequence is a personal favorite of mine, not because the scene itself is anything special but because the creekbed was rarely filmed, and it took some doing to identify the location. Fern Ann Creek, sometimes called Iverson Creek, still flows (trickles, really) through Chatsworth today and eventually feeds into the "wash" — the concrete drainage system that runs through the San Fernando Valley and is part of what's loosely called the "L.A. River." You can find another shot of Fern Ann's rocky creekbed in this post about a "Bonanza" shoot.

"Tarzan's Savage Fury" (1952)

One of the most ambitious Iverson shoots in the Tarzan movies was for the 1952 release "Tarzan's Savage Fury," again starring Lex Barker. An African village consisting of about 10 huts and other structures appears in the movie, just north of Garden of the Gods. I've always figured it's probably a composite shot, with a portion of the village not really at Iverson. But at least part of it is real, including three or four huts seen in the photo below. In the above shot, all of the rocks are recognizable and familiar, and the flat area in the foreground that contains most of the village is known to be a flat area in reality, which is now full of condos. The rocks at the right, behind the large building in the center, are now a part of Garden of the Gods Park, although the smaller clump of rocks at the far right, directly behind the second hut from the right, was destroyed.

In this shot from inside the village, the Phantom, one of the main rock features of Garden of the Gods, can be seen in the top left corner. This shot establishes that at least a portion of the village was in fact built at Iverson.

Here's a contemporary view of the Phantom.

 Tarzan and Jane — Maureen O'Sullivan 
and Johnny Weissmuller

The producers' battles with the censors over Jane's skimpy loincloths are the stuff of Hollywood legend. But there's no denying the chemistry between Weissmuller's Tarzan and O'Sullivan's Jane, a pairing that lasted throughout the 1930s and into the early 1940s and was on display in six Tarzan movies.


Anonymous said...

Weismuller could be heard throughout Woodland Hills in the late 1970's as his Tarzan yells would emanate from the Motion Picture and Country Hospital late at night.

Electric Dylan Lad said...

Must be a little like living near where someone's tropical bird escaped and you have to live with loud, shrill jungle sounds every morning.

Sadly, the first thing I thought of was: How do you spell "AAaaah-aah-ah-AAAAAAAAHHHHH!"