Burt Reynolds on the Iverson Movie Ranch, 1962
I was surprised recently to spot promotional photos of film icon Burt Reynolds that were taken at the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif. At the time I ran across these, I hadn't heard about Reynolds doing any work on the famous location ranch — although I have since spotted him in at least one earlier production filmed on the Lower Iverson, which will be the subject of an upcoming post.
Burt Reynolds, photo shoot for "Gunsmoke," 1962
The photo shoot was done in connection with the long-running TV Western "Gunsmoke." The above two shots are the only ones I've been able to find in color, and these appear to be the main ones released from the shoot. But a few black-and-white shots are also in circulation, and I've included some of those below. The shoot took place on the Upper Iverson at the Fury Set, a ranch set that was built around 1955 for the TV show "Fury." The set included the barn and house seen in the above shots, along with a corral and a small cabin.
One quirk I noticed about the "Gunsmoke" photo shoot is that one of the two photos above is horizontally flipped — in effect creating a mirror image of the actual shot. One of the easiest ways to tell something's wrong is by comparing Burt's hair in the two photos above. Other clues include the wristband, which appears to switch arms, and the orientation of the gun in the two shots. It took a little detective work to figure out which photo is properly oriented and which is flipped, but after studying the backgrounds I was able to determine that the barn shot is the one that's reversed. As a bonus, it also dawned on me in the process that the barn shot was taken looking south, showcasing the rarely seen north end of the barn. (It looks about the same as the much more commonly seen south end.)
The barn shot should really look like this:
Burt Reynolds promo shot, with correct orientation
In the background is Cactus Hill — the hill that divided Upper Iverson and Lower Iverson, which is still in place, just north of the 118 Freeway, and now has a couple of water tanks sitting on top of it.
Billy the Kid — circa 1879: left-handed or right-handed?
One tidbit I took away from this research is that Burt must be left-handed, at least when it comes to shooting a gun — or else he decided to play the character left-handed for some reason. I haven't been able to verify whether Reynolds is in fact left-handed or not, but it's an issue of some importance when it comes to the Wild West. As an example, the "handedness" of Billy the Kid was debated for almost 100 years, in part because of the above photo.
Billy the Kid — properly oriented
Billy the Kid — born William Henry McCarty Jr. — was eventually determined to be right-handed, and the original ferrotype photo, thought for more than a century to be the only surviving image of the outlaw, was determined to be a mirror image. In its proper orientation, shown above, Billy holds a Winchester carbine in his left hand, but his six-shooter is strapped to his right side. So even though Billy the Kid and Burt Reynolds don't share the trait of being left-handed, they do share the experience of having a "promotional" photo flipped horizontally.
Paul Newman as Billy the Kid in "The Left Handed Gun" (1958)
The legend of Billy the Kid as a left-handed gunslinger was so entrenched in modern culture that his story was told in a 1958 feature film titled "The Left Handed Gun," with Paul Newman portraying Billy in all his mythical left-handed glory.
Burt Reynolds on the Fury Set at Iverson
Burt Reynolds' time on "Gunsmoke" is a relatively overlooked chapter of his career, but he had a pretty good run on the show playing Quint, a half-Comanche blacksmith, from 1962-1965. Reynolds played the character in about 50 episodes, and the exposure helped jump-start his career. He had been kicking around TV, mostly in one-off roles, since about 1959, but his movie career had yet to take off. Right after "Gunsmoke," Reynolds landed the lead role in the spaghetti Western "Navajo Joe" (1966), and his film career was off and running. A few years later — in 1972 — he became a huge star thanks to "Deliverance."
The above shot shows the more commonly seen south end of the Fury Barn, along with part of the Fury Corral.
The "Gunsmoke" gang — including Burt Reynolds as Quint
Oddly enough, despite the decision to do the promo shoot at Iverson, "Gunsmoke" did not shoot at the ranch during the seasons Reynolds was on the show. The series taped quite a few episodes there during other seasons — maybe as many as 50 episodes in all. You can click here to see some other blog entries about "Gunsmoke" shoots at Iverson. The show aired from 1955 to 1975, setting various TV longevity records and amassing a whopping 635 total episodes — and included during that run were some memorable Iverson shoots.
Here is a clip of Burt Reynolds in his full fury on "Gunsmoke" — taken from the episode "The Bad One," which originally aired Jan. 26, 1963. The clip is shot in the studio and has nothing to do with Iverson, but it's good fun — even if most or all of the actual fighting was done by Burt's perennial wingman, Hal Needham.
For additional views of the Fury Barn, please click here to see a previous blog entry featuring the barn. The following links should point you to the Burt Reynolds seasons of "Gunsmoke" on Amazon, in case you're interested in owning them on DVD or Blu-ray: