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, September 16, 2013

Lash LaRue gives David Letterman a bullwhip lesson — and more than you probably wanted to know about the Golden Boot Awards

Alfred Wilson "Lash" LaRue

Lash LaRue starred in a string of B-Westerns in the 1940s and early 1950s, most of them at ultra-low budget studio PRC and its equally low-budget spinoff Western Adventure. In the early days he typically played the Cheyenne Kid or Cheyenne Davis, before ascending to the movie rank of U.S. Marshal Cheyenne Davis. After bailing out on PRC along with producer/director Ron Ormond, legendary B-Western director Ray Taylor and Cinematographer of the Gods Ernest Miller, who combined their talents and hung out their own shingle as Western Adventure Productions, LaRue got to appear for much of the rest of his career as a version of himself, in the person of U.S. Marshal Lash LaRue.

Lash LaRue with his trademark bullwhip

While he had no whip skills to speak of at the time he launched his acting career, LaRue learned fast — and it became his trademark, with Lash earning the nickname King of the Bullwhip. In the video at the bottom of this post, LaRue reveals to David Letterman that he lied about his ability with the bullwhip to land his first acting job. The above promotional still, courtesy of Western movie expert Jerry England, shows LaRue as an accomplished whipsman, plying his trade at the Iverson Movie Ranch, with Chatsworth's Stoney Point visible in the background. Hollywood legend has it that LaRue taught Harrison Ford how to use the bullwhip for the "Indiana Jones" movies.

Lash LaRue's Arch, as it appears today

LaRue  was a regular at the Iverson Movie Ranch in the peak filming era — and even ended up with an Iverson rock feature named after him: Lash LaRue's Arch. The formation can still be found today, near the swimming pool at the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village.

Here's Lash posing for a promo shot, circa 1950, in front of the Iverson arch that would eventually be named for him. The arch was big enough for a rider to take a horse through — barely. This is another photo from Jerry England's awe-inspiring collection.

These days the arch is fenced off, so there's not much chance of any spontaneous equestrian activity.

"King of the Bullwhip" (1950) was one of the more famous of LaRue's B-Westerns of the late 1940s and early 1950s, along with "Law of the Lash" (1947), "Ghost Town Renegades" (1947), "Stage to Mesa City" (1947), "The Hawk of Powder River" (1948), "Son of Billy the Kid" (1949), "The Vanishing Outpost" (1951) and "The Black Lash" (1952). All of these movies were shot at Iverson.

LaRue made his way to TV for a time in the 1950s, including getting his own show, "Lash of the West," a 15-minute clip show and gab session that never took off and no one seems to remember anymore. He also had recurring roles on "Judge Roy Bean" and "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp," along with one-off guest appearances on a few shows. In 1986 he got in on a TV remake of "Stagecoach" headlined by country legends the Highwaymen — Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Lash died in 1996 in Burbank, Calif., at age 74.

The world seems to be divided on whether his last name should be one word, LaRue, or two words, La Rue. Lash's movie credits have it both ways — and for that matter, credit him any number of different ways: Lash LaRue, Lash La Rue, Al La Rue, Alfred La Rue, Al "Lash" LaRue, etc. For what it's worth, IMDb is sticking with La Rue, while Wikipedia favors LaRue. I'm a recent convert to LaRue, which seems to be winning the "preponderance of Google hits" war.

Lash LaRue comic book

Lash's series of comic books back in The Day went with the one-word "LaRue," and even if it may be weird to use a comic book as the definitive source, it does seem likely that the comics would have got his name right. A couple of noteworthy tidbits about the above cover: Note that Lash autographed it using his real name, Alfred, but he tells Letterman in the video clip below that even his mom called him Lash. Also, note that the background appears to be the Iverson Movie Ranch, although I haven't been able to make a positive ID on it.

Here's a peek inside one of the comic books. You can click on the photo to enlarge it if you want to make it easier to read the page.


Lash LaRue was awarded the Golden Boot in 1983. In case you don't know what that is (I didn't either), it's an honor that was handed out by the Motion Picture & Television Fund for 25 years, and it was pretty prestigious. Other recipients that year — the awards' inaugural class — included Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Clayton Moore, Slim Pickens, Linda Stirling, Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef, Doug McClure, Lee Majors and LaRue's stablemate at PRC, Eddie Dean, with the "In Memoriam" award going to Will Rogers. B-Western regulars Bob Steele, Charles Starrett, Rex Allen, Sunset Carson and Monte Hale were also a part of that illustrious first group of "Bootees."

Pat Buttram

The Golden Boot Awards were the idea of Mr. Haney from "Green Acres" — veteran Gene Autry sidekick and B-Western regular Pat Buttram. They were meant to honor the people who kept the Western tradition alive in film and on TV, while also raising money for the Fund — a charitable organization that looks after veterans of the entertainment industry who wind up in tough health situations and low on money.

Rhonda Fleming

Golden Boot honorees over the years included all the heavyweights of the genre — John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Chuck Connors, Sam Peckinpah, Dale Robertson, Audie Murphy, Jimmy Stewart, James Arness, Tex Ritter, Rhonda Fleming, Glenn Ford, Johnny Cash, Robert Duvall, Burt Reynolds, Robert Mitchum ... the list goes on.

Eva Marie Saint in "On the Waterfront" (1954)

I suppose by 2007, the last year the Golden Boots were handed out, they were running out of Western stars to honor. The "heavyweights" who got in on that last batch of Boots included Caruth C. Byrd — a well-funded but relatively unknown actor and producer who apparently made up for his puny (and not particularly Western-oriented) filmography by being generous to the Motion Picture & Television Fund — Martin Kove — an actor known mainly for "Rambo," "Karate Kid" and "Cagney & Lacey" — "Lord of the Rings" actor Viggo Mortensen — who did make a Western called "Appaloosa" around that time — stuntman Walt LaRue — possibly the most legit recipient in the bunch, having done stunts on "Silverado," "Pale Rider" and even "Blazing Saddles" (I don't know whether he's related to Lash, but my guess is that he is, either by blood or by hero worship) — and that giant of the Westerns, Eva Marie Saint — a terrific actress known more for her Oscar-winning performance in "On the Waterfront" and her star turn in Hitchcock's spy masterpiece "North by Northwest," although she did appear in a 1977 TV remake of "How the West Was Won."

John Wayne is introduced in John Ford's epic Western "Stagecoach" 
in 1939 — with the Iverson Movie Ranch in the background

The organizers of the Golden Boots also took the opportunity in 2007 to bestow the Founder's Award on the late John Wayne, so the Boot went out with a bang.

The other kind of Golden Boot — with Bulgarian soccer star 
Dimitar Berbatov, a striker in Premier League

In recent years the term "Golden Boot" has come to be associated more with sports — specifically soccer, or what much of the rest of the world calls football. The Premier League's "Barclays Golden Boot" is one of a number of Golden Boots and Golden Shoes awarded annually in the sport.

But I digress (as usual) ... back to the reason we're here: Lash LaRue made an appearance on David Letterman's old NBC show way back in Dave's third season in late-night, on Feb. 16, 1984. Before bringing out the cowboy star, Dave ran a few brief clips of Lash's movies — marking what might be the only appearance by the Iverson Movie Ranch on "Letterman," as a number of quick Iverson shots flashed on the screen. Lash may have filmed a higher percentage of his movies at Iverson than just about any other cowboy star, although Starrett and a few others would also be in that conversation.

The clip montage includes Lash slugging a bald-headed guy (whose hat fell off), after which Lash eventually makes his way out to trade quips with Dave and torment the host with his whip technique. It's worth checking out.

Here's the video:


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Charles Starrett scrambles over movie rocks in 1939 — with Roy Rogers sidekick Pat Brady slappin' a fierce bass

The 1939 Columbia movie "Western Caravans" was filmed partially on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., with additional outdoor footage shot in the Western town on the Columbia backlot. The Charles Starrett B-Western also features a lot of rolling hills shots, which in that period usually means it was filmed in or around the foothills of Agoura, Calif., northwest of Los Angeles.

Charles Starrett in "Western Caravans," 1939

I haven't made a positive ID on the rocks in the above shot, but I'm pretty sure that's Cactus Hill in the background ... which would make it Iverson. If any readers recognize the rocks, please let me know. UPDATE: Never mind, I got this one — that's Water Wiggle directly behind Mr. Starrett, which puts Charlie somewhere between the North Cluster and Garden of the Gods — definitely on the Iverson Movie Ranch, and yes, that's Cactus Hill in the back. Click here to read more about Water Wiggle and its neighboring rocks in Iverson's North Cluster.

Another shot of Starrett from the same movie, this one is definitely Iverson — Elders Peak in the background nails it down, even if the foreground rocks have yet to be positively ID'd. It's another hard shot to be sure about. I've been tempted to say that's Crown Rock at the right, but I keep coming to my senses and realizing that it's probably some other rock that has a similar look. I'm still working on it, but again, if anyone can help, please speak up.

Pat Brady on bass, "Western Caravans," 1939

Pat Brady appears in an uncredited role as the bass player in the movie's cowboy band — which in real life was the Sons of the Pioneers.

Pat Brady 

Pat played bass in a ton of the old Charles Starrett B-Westerns from Columbia — typically uncredited — before building a name for himself as Roy Rogers' "comical sidekick," first in Roy's Republic B-Westerns and later on "The Roy Rogers Show."


William Herbert "Lum" York — Ride 'em, Drifting Cowboy!

Pat Brady was part of a long tradition of bass players providing the comic relief in old cowboy bands — a tradition that includes William Herbert "Lum" York of Hank Williams' Drifting Cowboys, among many illustrious others.

Much of "The Roy Rogers Show" was also taped on the Iverson Movie Ranch, including this shot from the episode "The Hijackers," originally aired Oct. 24, 1954. On the TV show, Pat had his own "comical sidekick" — his willful Jeep, Nellybelle. That's Pat walking behind the Jeep, Roy's German shepherd Bullet in the back of the Jeep, and Nellybelle with — as usual — her hood up. In the background is Flat Rock, which is still in place on the Lower Iverson.

Nellybelle — or a close approximation — even made it onto the cover of the Pat Brady Coloring Book in 1956. To my eye, the depiction of Nellybelle looks a little closer to real life than the drawing of Pat. Note that the setting appears to be a version of Monument Valley, on the Utah-Arizona border — which was generally too far from the studios' L.A. headquarters (in other words, too expensive) for the budget-conscious producers of the B-Westerns and early TV shows that showcased the talents of Pat, Roy, Starrett and the rest. That's one big reason Iverson got so much work: It was close, and it had great rocks. What more do you need?

Roy, Dale, Pat ... and Nellybelle

Click here to see additional shots of Pat Brady and Nellybelle in an earlier blog post about a flooded Iverson Village.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ma and Pa Kettle's Wild Ride: The rural American archetypes take a "shortcut" through the Iverson Movie Ranch — see the video below

The archetypal rural American characters Ma and Pa Kettle, played by Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride, were featured in a series of popular comedy movies released by Universal over a period of about 10 years starting in the late 1940s.

Pa Kettle behind the wheel, with Ma riding shotgun during rampage at Iverson

The fourth installment in the 10-movie series, "Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm," from 1951, included a wild jalopy ride that covered much of the Iverson Movie Ranch, along with a few other spots in Chatsworth, Calif. The sequence provides a high-speed scenic tour of Iverson, and ranks among the most memorable action sequences shot at the ranch.

Early in the sequence the Kettle clan arrives in the family convertible at the old Chatsworth Train Station, which was torn down around 1962. The station was next to the train tracks that roughly follow Canoga Avenue, between Devonshire and Lassen. (Please click on any of these photos to enlarge them.)

In this shot the car enters Sheep Flats on the Iverson property, with a nice view of Smooth Hill in the background — complete with the same telephone poles that occasionally snuck into the old Westerns as anachronisms. The Indian Hills Mobile Home Village now fills Sheep Flats, and Smooth Hill was leveled when the 118 Freeway came through in the late 1960s. The top half of Smooth Hill is now gone, replaced by a large apartment complex and some condos — as seen in the photo below.

This is all that's left of Smooth Hill today, dominated by the Summerset Village Apartments, with a few condos visible at the far left and the 118 Freeway slicing through the middle of the shot.

Another shot from the Sheep Flats sequence reveals that the filmmakers brought in a few cows — presumably to add to the rural feel of the movie. They would have had to pay a small daily fee per head of livestock to the Iverson family as part of the price of filming at the site.


Later in the sequence, Pa Kettle's "shortcut" takes the group through Iverson's Upper Gorge, roughly following the course the Lone Ranger rode on Silver in the opening to the TV show "The Lone Ranger." When the Lone Ranger got to about where the car is here, he turned right and rode up to Lone Ranger Rock — visible at the far left in the above shot. The Lone Ranger then famously reared up on Silver at the start of each episode, and could be heard shouting his trademark "Hi-yo, Silver!" Most of the rocks in the above shot, including Lone Ranger Rock, remain in place today and are in an area that has been preserved as a park.

This shot — a rare view of the Iverson Movie Ranch without any rocks — shows the Kettles powering through Iverson's eucalyptus grove.

In this scene the old jalopy is traveling along the stagecoach road at bottom right, with the large boulders making up Lower Nyoka Cliff in the bottom left corner and Stoney Point in the background, along with a portion of the road that would now be Topanga Canyon Boulevard. (Back then it was Santa Susana Pass Road.) For the record, the so-called stagecoach road, which ran below Nyoka Cliff, was never a real stagecoach route. But it was used so often as a stagecoach road in the old Westerns that it became known as the stagecoach road and that's what it's still called.

Here's a nice view of the corral area directly south of Iverson Village, complete with hay bales that were probably brought in special for the movie — in fact, I'm sure of it, because at one point Pa Kettle crashes into the hay bales. In the background are Hook Rock, just left of center, Lash LaRue's Arch, partially visible to the right of Hook Rock, and a number of other rocks that collectively are called the Cave Rocks — although from this angle I usually call them the Corral Rocks.

The Middle Iverson Ranch Set is prominently featured in the jalopy sequence, including the above shot of the bunkhouse. You'll know you're at Middle Iverson when the car rips through a bunch of laundry hanging on a line.

The Kettles speed through an area north of Garden of the Gods that I call the North Cluster. Today this area borders the Cal West Townhomes development, and some of these rocks have been destroyed while others survived. The large rock at the top-center of the photo — which I call Faux Hangdog 1 for research reasons that are too complicated (in other words, too embarrassing) to get into here — can still be found today. But it's a hard one to locate, as it is now concealed beneath a large tree. The rocks in the foreground have been removed, and condos now stand in that area.

The clip below contains the bulk of the jalopy ride, including most of the shots seen above. The clip includes much more Iverson material than I've been able to spotlight in photos. The clip consists mostly of Iverson footage, but does briefly show one building that was non-Iverson, along with a couple of additional train sequences that are shot nearby in Chatsworth but not at Iverson — including a nice shot of the train emerging from the tunnel above Chatsworth Park. The Smooth Hill/Sheep Flats sequence mentioned above appears a little bit earlier in the movie and is not included in the clip.

Here you go — hang on:






Monday, September 9, 2013

Burt Reynolds' 1962 photo shoot for "Gunsmoke" — shot on the Iverson Movie Ranch (Is Burt Reynolds left-handed?)

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.

Here's another shot from the same sequence — I tend to think of this one as an outtake. But the fact that it circulates in this orientation lends a little bit of support to what we already knew: that the barn shot near the top of this blog post is flipped. This shot also reveals more of Cactus Hill in the background, which was helpful in nailing down the location of the photo shoot.

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.

A comic book version also appeared. I found it interesting that the original photo was tilted slightly to create a better composition for the comic book cover.

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 above picture of a more stripped-down Burt — showing off his formidable biceps — was part of the same photo shoot as the other shots. To my eye the setting is still in the vicinity of the Fury Set, based once again on Cactus Hill in the background. Reynolds frequently appeared shirtless on "Gunsmoke," or at least with bare arms, and my guess is they had him gradually peel off his clothes as the shoot went on to get him closer to the "real" Quint.

In another promo shot showing off Reynolds' arms, we can see that he's still wearing the wristband, further evidence that it's all the same shoot. I wish I could tell you I know that rock — which can also be seen in the shot above this one. Most of the rocks in that area are still around, but it's really hard to get access to them now because they tend to be in people's back yards. I can say that this rock is consistent with some of the known features of the Fury Set area.

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: