Here's what the Iverson Movie Ranch obsession is all about ...

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Is Bald Knob real or fake? Some solid evidence surfaces

"The Grapes of Wrath" (1940)

Bald Knob has a long and illustrious film history, including a brief appearance in one of the most prestigious movies filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch, John Ford's Dust Bowl classic "The Grapes of Wrath."

In this scene the migrant family the Joads, their overburdened truck on its last legs, struggle to reach California's mythic farmland, where the promise of jobs in the fields awaits. Bald Knob lurks in the shadowy background at left, playing the role it was born to play: a part of the rugged California landscape.

Russell Simpson, as Pa Joad, appears to be pointing at Nyoka Cliff, but in the movie he's pointing to the farm country that lies ahead.

And here's that lush California farmland, as it appears about midway through "The Grapes of Wrath." Looking out over a portion of the western San Fernando Valley, seen from an overlook above the Iverson Gorge, family members can't contain their excitement as they realize their long, difficult journey from Oklahoma is finally over.

"Harum Scarum" (1965)

A quarter-century after "The Grapes of Wrath," Bald Knob makes an appearance in the Elvis Presley movie "Harum Scarum" in 1965, as seen at the top-center of the frame in the above screen shot.

Here's the same shot with Bald Knob spotlighted.

"Have Gun — Will Travel" (1959): "Heritage of Anger"

With the rock's mighty overhang appearing to defy gravity, the question has to be asked: Is this thing for real? Or might Bald Knob in fact be some kind of manmade contraption? Following my recent blog post on Bald Knob, I did some digging in search of an answer to that question, and I found something interesting.

"The Virginian" (1963): "Run Quiet"

The above shot from season two of the Western TV series "The Virginian" tells a part of the story, as a bolt can be seen pretty clearly at top left. I doubt the show's producers realized that the shot revealed a bolt in the rock, but I'm glad it slipped through because it provides a major clue to the nature of Bald Knob.

The bolt, spotlighted here in the shot from "The Virginian," appears to be keeping the top portion of the rock from toppling over. In my mind the presence of a bolt is consistent with the theory that the rock is real — while also indicating that Bald Knob needed some help along the way to remain structurally sound. But I can see how it might be interpreted differently, as the bolt provides clear evidence of human intervention — and therefore might support the conclusion that Bald Knob is a fake rock.

In another shot from the same sequence we get a closer look at Bald Knob. I'm always looking for cement work in these kinds of close-ups, and I do see one area here that makes me wonder. It's toward the right, behind the actor's back.

This shot exposes a second area that could be cement, as highlighted in the next photo. For the record, "The Virginian" aired for nine seasons on NBC, from 1962-1971, with the episode featured here, "Run Quiet," premiering Nov. 13, 1963.

This shot pinpoints two sections of Bald Knob that look suspiciously like cement — and they're right where they would need to be to support the weight of the overhanging portion of the rock.

As for the bolt, now that we know about its existence, we can begin to spot it in other productions, as noted below.
"Have Gun — Will Travel" (1960): "The Fatalist"

Bald Knob is seen from an unusual angle in this shot from the first episode of season four of "Have Gun — Will Travel," titled "The Fatalist." The episode premiered Sept. 10, 1960. The bolt is visible in the photo, although it's little more than a tiny dot.

This is the same shot from "The Fatalist," with the bolt pointed out. If nothing else, the presence of the bolt, combined with sightings of the rock in productions going back at least as far as 1935, makes a case that the rock was in fact made of rock. It's unlikely that a fake composition such as movie rock foam would have survived that long — and it wouldn't have needed this kind of structural reinforcement.

"Have Gun — Will Travel" (1959): "Heritage of Anger"

Taking another look at the "Have Gun — Will Travel" episode "Heritage of Anger," one would never have spotted the bolt in this shot without already knowing it was there. But sure enough, it is right where it's supposed to be.

It's barely visible, but the bolt is doing its job.

"Have Gun — Will Travel" (1959)

Now I'm seeing the bolt all over the place. I posted the above photo in my previous post about Bald Knob, but didn't realize at the time that I should be looking for a bolt. It's another shot from "Heritage of Anger."

In this version of the shot, some of the possible cement work is also noted.

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (1958): "The Gatling Gun"

How about shots from "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp," where the imaginary "Battle of Bald Knob" took place in the episode "The Gatling Gun"?

Yep, the bolt shows up there too. Here's the same shot from "The Gatling Gun" with the bolt pointed out.

Here again, the possible cement work can also be seen.

"Miracle Rider" (1935)

Bald Knob can be spotted in a number of movies from the 1930s, with the oldest I've found so far being the Tom Mix serial "Miracle Rider," from 1935. Nothing I've seen from this period is clear enough to tell whether either the bolt or the cement work was in place yet.

"Miracle Rider"— Freddie Frog (in foreground)

The serial's 1935 release also marks the period when the first evidence surfaces that the Iverson family was creating "customized" rock formations by cementing rocks together — another example from 1935 being Freddie Frog, also found in "Miracle Rider." If Bald Knob was a manmade stacked rock, then it was in all likelihood the largest of the ranch's stacking projects, and likely either the first or second stack erected at Iverson with human intervention.

So what's the bottom line on Bald Knob? I suppose technically the jury is still out, even though we now have some solid evidence that the rock formation may have been a human creation — with one large rock being hoisted into place (an impressive achievement all its own, given the terrain, the early date, the large scale of the rock and the still relatively small scale of the movie ranch operation at that time) and then bolted down, with cement supports securing its position. It doesn't look like something that would happen on its own. On the weight of evidence, I've warmed up to the idea that Bald Knob was fake — but I still don't think we have proof. If anyone out there can shed light, please comment or contact me by email and I'll let my readers know.

Below I've rounded up some links to Amazon in case you're interested in shopping for the movies and TV shows mentioned in this blog post ...


Mark said...

That would be a long bolt! I can't see how it could be used in any other way other than to provide some kind of support to keep it from toppling off the base rock. I agree that it looks suspicous!

Swami Nano said...

The more I see of that rock, the harder it is to believe that the top piece just got up there on its own.

I suppose whoever put the rock on top is the same person who did the cement work and the bolt.

I keep trying to get inside the head of someone who's out driving around in the early 1930s looking for rocks to drill bolt holes into to see whether they can stack them up. It's a huge rock for that kind of experiment. But it apparently worked.

Thanks, Mark.


Ken Freeze said...

Two thoughts.
One - It would be interesting if you could find a photo of the rock with the top missing. Probably pre-1930.
Two - It is also possible that is was a natural formation, however, because of erosion, was about to topple and supports were added to keep it from tumbling.