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.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Forsythe Oak: Historic movie tree discovered in a back yard in Chatsworth, Calif.

John Forsythe in "Zane Grey Theatre" (1957)

The giant sandstone boulders get most of the attention at the Iverson Movie Ranch — something that was true in the filming days and remains true in modern times, as researchers comb the history of the ranch. That fact has helped keep the study of the former filming location's many distinctive oak trees largely on a back burner. But with the identification earlier this year of Bear Tree on the Upper Iverson, things are beginning to pick up. And in a new development, I am pleased to report that a second group of important movie trees has been discovered.

What does any of this have to do with these photos of actor John Forsythe? Plenty. The veteran actor, known for his TV roles as playboy and reluctant dad Bentley Gregg on "Bachelor Father," as "Dynasty" patriarch Blake Carrington and as the unseen — and uncredited — Charlie on "Charlie's Angels," also made a memorable appearance in a Western TV series shot on the Iverson Movie Ranch, and one of the old oak trees featured in the production, now known as the Forsythe Oak, commemorates that appearance.

John Forsythe, left, in the Midway Oaks

All of the photos seen above are from "Decision at Wilson's Creek," an episode of the Western anthology series "Zane Grey Theatre." The episode premiered May 17, 1957, on CBS, with much of its outdoor footage shot on the Upper Iverson. A number of key scenes took place in a group of trees located near Iverson's Midway House, which I call the Midway Oaks. In the scene above, shot in the Midway Oaks, one of the grove's surviving trees can be seen directly over Forsythe's shoulder.

For research purposes, I call this particular oak "Tree G." The alphabetical sequence follows previous research into a different group of oak trees, located a short distance southwest of the Midway Oaks, in the Oak Flats area of the Upper Iverson. That earlier research, which you can read about by clicking here, resulted in identifying Bear Tree, as seen in Disney's "The Adventures of Spin and Marty." In the course of that research, a set of trees in the Oak Flats area became identified as Trees A through D.

Four main Midway Oaks have been identified, and these are being catalogued as Trees E through H. Another of these oak trees, Tree H, is seen above in the "Zane Grey Theatre" episode, filling much of the right portion of the frame. This large, decidedly bent oak tree is perhaps the most significant of the group, and is now being called the Forsythe Oak.

Here's the same screen shot with Tree H, the Forsythe Oak, identified.

The Forsythe Oak and other surviving Midway Oaks, as they stand today

The Forsythe Oak and a number of the other Midway Oaks survived the development of the former Upper Iverson and now reside in the back yard of an estate that has been built on the site, in Chatsworth, Calif. The Forsythe Oak can be seen in the above shot taken recently by film historian and field operative Cliff Roberts. The Forsythe Oak appears near the bottom center of the photo, with much of the tree leaning sharply to the left.

Here's the same recent shot with the Forsythe Oak highlighted. The photo is taken from roughly the opposite angle from the shot used in the "Zane Grey" episode, as it's impossible to get the same angle today because the tree is on private property.

Here's another look at the Forsythe Oak as seen in the "Zane Grey" episode from 1957. The Forsythe Oak, or Tree H, is the sprawling, multi-trunked tree occupying much of the right portion of the frame.

This is the same shot from "Zane Grey Theatre" with the Forsythe Oak identified.

Here's a closer look at the Forsythe Oak in its contemporary setting. Its characteristic lean — to the left in these recent shots, but to the right in the "Zane Gray" screen captures — is even more pronounced now than it was in 1957.

A number of the Forsythe Oak's wilder limbs have been cut off, as this closeup reveals. Again, the contemporary views and the "Zane Grey" views of the tree are from approximately opposite angles.

Tree G, highlighted in one of the screen shots above from the "Zane Grey" episode (see the fourth photo from the top in this blog entry), appears to have survived as well. I believe that the tree highlighted here — in the background and largely hidden behind another tree — is Tree G. In this photo, Tree G is lighter in color, as it is more in the sun, while the tree in front of it is in the shade and is darker.

Here's another look at the tree I believe is Tree G.

Aerial photo from 1959 showing the Midway area on the Upper Iverson

The above aerial photograph from 1959 shows the main features of the Midway area at that time, which consisted of Midway House, the Midway Rocks and the Midway Oaks. The white rectangles that appear in various places are believed to be movie trucks.

Here's another version of the 1959 aerial photo with the movie trucks pointed out.

A closer look at the Midway Oaks area in 1959 highlights a crossroads at the Midway Oaks, with the two intersecting roads labeled Road A, an east-west road, and Road B, running north and south. Both of these roads are used in the "Zane Grey" episode, with John Forsythe walking along each road at different times.

Another version of the 1959 aerial photo zoomed in on the Midway Oaks identifies the four key trees seen in the "Zane Grey" episode. Trees E and F no longer exist, but Trees G and H appear to have survived.

Here's a 2014 Google aerial view of the Midway area, with the Midway Rocks and surviving Midway Oaks identified, along with the approximate location where Midway House once stood.

Another version of the 2014 aerial shows the surviving trees — Trees G and H — along with the area where the missing trees — Trees E and F — previously stood. This photo pinpoints the current location of the Forsythe Oak.

"Decision at Wilson's Creek" ("Zane Grey Theatre," 1957)

Trees E and F — the two main Midway Oaks that did not survive — make appearances in the "Zane Grey" episode, where John Forsythe walks along the east-west road below them — Road A. In the above shot, Forsythe has begun walking east along Road A. Tree E stands at the intersection of Roads A and B, and a portion of Road B can be seen behind it.

As Forsythe continues to walk east along Road A, he comes upon Tree F. Helping to pinpoint his location is Fish Head, a familiar Upper Iverson rock, visible in the background.

This is the same screen shot with Fish Head and Tree F identified.

As Forsythe passes Tree F, Midway House becomes visible in the background. You can read more about Midway House in this previous blog entry.

I realize this post may be hard to follow, as it is one of the most technical I've done. But I wanted to bring in another photo from "Decision at Wilson's Creek," which I think helps tie together a few of the shots. In this shot the horizontal road about halfway up in the frame is the east-west road, "Road A," and we see a small section of "Road B," the north-south road, in the foreground in the bottom left corner. In the top left corner is Tree E, located near the intersection of the two roads. The intersection itself is just outside the frame, to the left. We also get a glimpse of Midway House in the background.

This version of the shot has the key features marked. In general the sequence has John Forsythe walking along either Road A or Road B, but here we can begin to get a sense of how the roads, and the trees, fit together.

More of the Midway Oak Grove as it stands in 2014

Cliff's recent foray into the Midway Oaks reveals that the grove as it stands today is far more extensive than just the few trees seen in the "Zane Grey" episode. We have been unable thus far to match up any of the oak trees seen in the above contemporary shot, but many of the trees appear large enough — and therefore old enough — that they would have been in place during the filming era. On the other hand, some of the younger trees may have been planted in the decades since filming wound down on the Upper Iverson.

The Forsythe Oak, left, and other Midway Oaks as they appear today

Another recent shot of the Midway Oaks includes the Forsythe Oak, at the far left of the photo. In this shot it's hard to be sure whether some of the other trees are among those seen in "Zane Grey." The biggest problem is limited access, which prevents researchers from viewing the trees from the same angles used in the TV show. Additionally, the trees have grown and changed shape in the 57 years or so since the production was filmed.

In this version of the photo the Forsythe Oak is identified. The other trees in the shot have not yet been matched up with any productions, but I believe Tree G, which is seen in some of the "Zane Grey" shots above, may be hidden behind the Forsythe Oak in this shot.

The links below will take you to DVD versions of "Zane Grey Theatre" for sale on Amazon. The link on the left is for the complete first season, which should include the episode "Decision at Wilson's Creek," featured in this post.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

That is a great blog on the tree's remaining in the Midway Oaks. I think we will find more things filmed in the Oaks to come. Glad i could help and as always let me know what else i might be able to help out on.
Cliff

Anonymous said...

I think someone needs to pay your for this. You have done so much to bring Iverson into the present. I remember most of the shows and movies. It is fun to see how nature, ever silent, played such a profound role. Thanks for giving nature a voice.

Swami Nano said...

Thanks for your comments, and thanks, Cliff, for your ongoing role in the research. I hope you're right that the Midway Oaks will turn up again in the old productions. I'm on the lookout for them.

It's surprising how rarely we find scenes like this one with John Forsythe in "Zane Grey Theatre" and the Bear Tree sequence we focused on earlier this year from "Adventures of Spin and Marty," where the trees play a significant role and can be seen clearly. Usually they're just zipping by in the background as the stagecoach rolls past.

The good news is that since we identified Bear Tree, I've been seeing it repeatedly in productions — albeit usually just in the background. Unlike the Forsythe Oak, Bear Tree was right next to a chase road, so it did get some screen time. I plan to do an update on it once I gather up enough material.

I guess I'll keep my day job for now, but I second the thought about anyone who might want to pay me for doing this ...

-SN