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.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Iverson after the brutal Southern California wildfires of fall 1970: A record found in an obscure TV show

An episode of the short-lived early 1970s Glenn Ford TV show "Cade's County" contains some unusual Iverson Movie Ranch footage — unusual in part because it was late in the life cycle of the movie ranch, where production wound down for the most part by the end of the 1960s, and also unusual because the "Cade's County" footage captures some of the effects of the devastating fall 1970 Southern California wildfires.

The episode, "The Mustangers," which aired Nov. 14, 1971, would have been shot during summer 1971. The Upper Iverson landscape shown in the episode is a combination of dried grass and the still-black charred trunks of trees and bushes that survived the fire. This footage captures a moment in the regeneration process of the native foliage: The grass had grown back during the winter and spring following the fire, and then had subsequently dried out as another hot Chatsworth summer set in.

The wildfires that raged for 13 days that fall — from Sept. 22-Oct. 4, 1970 — became a notorious chapter in California's history of natural disasters, leaving 16 people dead, destroying 722 homes and burning 576,508 acres, according to various media accounts. In all, a reported 773 wildfires were documented throughout the state around that time. The one that swept through Iverson, sometimes called the Newhall-Malibu Fire or the Chatsworth-Malibu Fire, was huge, and besides burning down virtually all of the remaining manmade sets at Iverson, it has been said that the same fire burned down almost all that was left of Corriganville, several miles to the west in Simi Valley.

Laguna Fire, 1970

The most famous of the fall 1970 wildfires became known as the Laguna Fire, although while it was raging it was also called either the Kitchen Creek Fire or the Boulder Oaks Fire. The above map shows the area it destroyed, mainly in eastern San Diego County. Said to be either the second largest or third largest fire in California history at the time, depending on which report you read, the Laguna Fire broke out on Sept. 26, 1970, as a result of downed power lines caused by Santa Ana winds, and went on to burn 175,425 acres, killing eight civilians and destroying 382 homes.

Topo map: Clampitt Fire, 1970

The Newhall-Malibu Fires of 1970 break down in various ways according to various reports, but documentation exists for something called the Clampitt Fire, as seen in the topo map above. The Clampitt Fire is said to have destroyed between 105,000 and 115,000 acres and is blamed for the loss of four lives and 86 structures. The map isn't as dramatic or as easy to follow as the map of the Laguna Fire, but a close look at it reveals that the Clampitt Fire would have cut a swath through a number of well-known movie sites. Besides hitting parts of the Lower Iverson, in the top right corner of the map, the fire would have swept through historic filming locations including Spahn Ranch, just south of Iverson; Bell Ranch, in the area designated "Box Canyon" on the map; Burro Flats, near where "Rocketdyne" is indicated; and Ahmanson Ranch, which is pinpointed on the map. It looks to me as though this particular branch of the fires missed both Corriganville and the Upper Iverson, although those areas were hit by other destructive fires around the same time.

This photo dated Sept. 25, 1970, from what was being called the Chatsworth-Malibu Fire, ran on the front page of the L.A. Times with a caption reading: "Randy Pearson, 18, kneels in front of his Chatsworth home as the roof goes up in flames."

Back to Iverson the following summer, and the shoot for "Cade's County." George Maharis, above, guest-starred in "The Mustangers" as a motorcycle-riding, fringe-leather-wearing, gun-totin' bad guy. This shot shows Maharis on the Upper Iverson, with Prominent Rock, also known as Medicine Rock, in the background. Notice the thick coating of dry grass on the ground, along with some oak trees that appear to have been missed by the fires.

Here's Maharis on his ride, which he uses on the show to illegally round up wild horses. Turtle Rock, a familiar feature from countless chase sequences in the B-Western era, looms in the top right corner, and a little more of the charred remains of foliage is visible in the background.

This shot from "The Mustangers" shows a familiar Upper Iverson rock formation I call the Three Stooges, which I've blogged about before. To my eye the terrain, as it appeared in the summer of 1971, looks even more dusty and sparse than usual.

Some things never change — the producers couldn't resist working Wrench Rock into the episode. That's the widely filmed Wrench Rock — also known as Indian Head, Upper Indian Head, Bobby and various other names — directly above the heads of the young couple.

Wrench Rock was used as a prop for an impromptu photo shoot in the episode, with the young man taking pictures of his girlfriend in front of the charismatic rock feature. The Rocky Peak area of the Santa Susana Mountains to the west can be seen in the background.

The young lady mugs for the camera below Wrench Rock.

Wrench Rock also got its own closeup, seen in this screen shot. The rock can still be found today on the former Upper Iverson Movie Ranch.

A number of "wild" mustangs were turned loose on the Upper Iverson during the shoot for "Cade's County" — probably one of the last times that happened at Iverson. Here again, the landscape looks even more desolate than it usually does.

Glenn Ford, the star of the series, made it out to Iverson for the shoot, and is seen here riding on the Upper Iverson's South Rim. He usually drove a Jeep on the show, which was essentially a contemporary Western focused on Ford as a small-town sheriff. The show's run on CBS lasted only one season — from September 1971 to April 1972 — with a total of 24 episodes airing.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Rhonda Fleming — and why there's a Rhonda Fleming Rock in Chatsworth, Calif.

Screen icon Rhonda Fleming appeared in a number of movies shot on the Iverson Movie Ranch, including the 1959 Bob Hope Western comedy "Alias Jesse James." But her most memorable Iverson movie may have been the 1955 Ronald Reagan-John Payne Western "Tennessee's Partner" — which included a defining moment involving the actress and a particular rock.

Rhonda Fleming, and Rhonda Fleming Rock, in "Tennessee's Partner" (1955)

In the movie, Fleming is seen riding in a rarely filmed area just west of Garden of the Gods, and at one point, as seen in the above screen shot, she hides behind a monolithic rock that, now, more than a half-century later, film historians call Rhonda Fleming Rock. To date, "Tennessee's Partner" is the only movie where I've seen this rock.

Here's a short video clip of Fleming's moment in "Tennessee's Partner," featuring  the monolith that now bears her name:



So why is it that the rock almost never appeared on film? It might have had to do with the rock's appearance, being perhaps a bit too, well, upright for some tastes. But I think the main reason probably was because it was out of the way and hard to get to — especially when hauling a bunch of cumbersome movie equipment. The hillside on which Rhonda Fleming Rock is located is just that — a hillside — and filming there would have been tricky.

Rhonda Fleming Rock in 2008, after the Sesnon Fire

Rhonda Fleming Rock remains in place today, and is not hard to find — especially if you know where to look for it. (Check out the bird's-eye view near the bottom of this post.) In general, it's just west of the big sandstone monsters that define Garden of the Gods. Climb down from Garden of the Gods heading west, walk around a little and you'll probably stumble onto it. It's a bit "tucked in" among foliage and other rocks, so it doesn't exactly jump out and say "Here I am!" But it's there and you should be able to find it.

Rhonda Fleming Rock in 2011

Above is another recent view of the rock, along with some of its much larger neighbors along the western edge of Iverson's Garden of the Gods.

Another view of Rhonda Fleming Rock in 2011

Today the rock, visible at the bottom center of the above shot, is part of a landscape that includes condos and, above them, a sprawling church complex. Rocky Peak can be seen in the distance, to the west.

Garden of the Gods, Chatsworth, Calif.

Here's a Bing bird's-eye view of Garden of the Gods that includes Rhonda Fleming Rock, a little to the left of the center of the photo. This is the view looking toward the east. You may want to click on the photo for a larger version. But unless you're in the mood for a "Where's Waldo"-type hunt, you can take a look at the next photo, where I've pinpointed Rhonda Fleming Rock.

This is the same view of Garden of the Gods from Bing, with notes added that should help you find the rock. First you have to get to Chatsworth, Calif., and if you make it that far, find Topanga Canyon Boulevard, and just south of the 118 Freeway, head west on Santa Susana Pass Road, then turn right on Redmesa Road and park just before the condos. You should see the trail into Garden of the Gods, behind the iron gate on the west side of Redmesa. Have fun!

I've blogged before about "Tennessee's Partner," which includes a memorable Ronald Reagan death scene shot in central Garden of the Gods — just around the corner from Rhonda Fleming Rock. Click here to read my blog entry all about the location where Reagan was gunned down.

Below you'll find links to a few different versions of "Tennessee's Partner" on DVD, for sale on Amazon.com. If you can snag the DVD that has both "Tennessee's Partner" and "Cattle Queen of Montana," starring Barbara Stanwyck, that one's an especially good deal for Iverson Movie Ranch aficionados, as both movies were filmed on the ranch.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper rendezvous at the border between France and Spain — really the Iverson Movie Ranch's Garden of the Gods

I found a terrific sequence filmed at the Iverson Movie Ranch in the 1936 Paramount movie "Desire," starring Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich — with both of the film's big stars putting in some time on location in Iverson's Garden of the Gods for the sequence.

Dietrich watches as Cooper tries to figure out what's wrong with her car in a scene that takes place at the border crossing from France into Spain. In reality it was shot in the Garden of the Gods on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif. Notice the sharp, pointed rock in the top right corner, which is a widely filmed movie rock.

The same pointed rock appears at the far left in this shot taken on a recent visit to Iverson. You can also see Rocky Peak in the background, in the hills directly to the west of Iverson.

The pointed rock is at the left again in this shot from the 1937 Columbia B-Western "Ranger Courage." You may recognize the rock at the right, as it also appears in the recent shot above.

Here's one more look at the pointed rock, in the 1938 RKO B-Western "The Renegade Ranger," starring George O'Brien. This time the pointed rock fills up the middle of the frame.

A promotional still of Dietrich in the car was part of the Iverson shoot, with minor Garden of the Gods rocks visible in the background. The car was a fairly spectacular ride back in its day (and still is) — a 1935 Auburn 851 Supercharged Boattail Speedster.

Here's a shot of the Auburn 851 in action, cruising past Iverson rocks as it nears the border crossing. It's kind of obviously not Dietrich at the wheel in this shot, but I'm not going to quibble about that with all the great shots coming up.

This is what the same car looked like when it was put up for auction in 2010. This was the exact car used in the movie, and it had been specially fitted with a rear-mounted spare for the movie. The spare was removed before the sale to restore the car to its original state, but was included as part of the sale.

Here's another shot of the car as it appeared when it was being auctioned. I'm told it went for $377,000.

The focal point of the scene in "Desire" is the border crossing between France and Spain, a source of tension because Dietrich's character is carrying stolen pearls. Here Dietrich's car approaches the crossing, where the filmmakers apparently built a set in the Garden of the Gods to serve as the border guards' headquarters.

Dietrich's car arrives at the border, with a familiar Iverson movie rock visible in the distance, at top center.

That same movie rock as it appears today, toward the top left of this shot. The rock is a prominent feature of the Iverson Gorge and a part of the Hole in the Wall group. I have referred to it in the past as GTR, and noted that from its back side it adopts the persona of a Jaunty Sailor. I hope you can match up the profiles of the rock in the above two photos.

Another view of the border crossing. Now Cooper is behind Dietrich in his Pontiac, about to get dragged into her situation. This shot offers a better view of part of the border crossing set, along with an improved view of some of the rocks.

This shot of Dietrich has the look of a studio shot or backlot, and we might think that's what it was if we hadn't already got a look at the border crossing set. She was on location at Iverson, and at this point was setting her sights on Cooper.

Dietrich and Cooper connect, with Garden of the Gods and part of the set in the background. Technically, I've never heard that this set was built specifically for this movie, but everything adds up: Paramount had the budget for that sort of thing, and this was a heavily filmed area and a busy time for Iverson. If these buildings had been built for any other reason, or had remained standing for any length of time, they would have turned up in other productions.

Another shot from the sequence, featuring Cooper's Pontiac, is also filmed in Garden of the Gods. Notice the rock and tree in the background.

"Cowboy Holiday" (1934)

The same rock and tree also surface in the 1934 Guinn "Big Boy" Williams B-Western "Cowboy Holiday," as seen above.

By the end of the scene in "Desire," Cooper is clearly smitten with Dietrich — and appears to have no idea what kind of trouble he's in.

"Desire" seems to be a hard movie to find. I wanted to include a link here for a DVD or Blu-ray on Amazon.com, but I could only find non-USA DVD formats and clunky old VHS — so you're on your own. Good luck!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Jesus met the woman at the well — so who was that woman he met in the trailer park?

Jesus, played by Nelson Leigh, at "Jacob's Well" in 1952

The Bible story about Jesus' encounter with a Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well was brought to life in the early 1950s in a film series by a Christian-oriented production company called Family Films. The "Jesus met the woman at the well" story was filmed in what is now the swimming pool area of the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village in Chatsworth, Calif. At the time the location was part of the Iverson Movie Ranch.

The scene is included in a 12-episode series of Bible stories that first came out in 1952 and has been repackaged numerous times, marketed in a variety of formats and given several different titles. The most common version these days appears on a DVD set under the title "The Living Bible." Another widely used title for the series — probably closer to the original title — is "Jesus, the Christ." The production has also circulated as "The Life of Christ," among other titles. The individual chapters also have multiple titles and appear to have been edited to various chapter lengths over the years.

Jesus meets the woman at the well. Notice the rock in the top right corner.

Adding to the confusion, a "rival" Christian-oriented film company of the 1950s, Cathedral Films, produced its own similar series of Bible stories, with similar titles. So, for example, "The Living Christ Series," from Cathedral Films, is a completely different production from "The Life of Christ," which is made by Family Films and is an alternate title for "The Living Bible." As I said, it's confusing — and as a result a considerable amount of misinformation circulates about these productions, especially online.

Here's a closer look at that same rock. Notice the indentation above Jesus' head, along with the two horizontal indentations above the pottery.

This is that same rock as it appears in the 1943 Republic serial "Secret Service in Darkest Africa." The shot is from a much different angle, but you'll notice the same two horizontal indentations in the rock — along its left edge in the above shot. For research purposes, I call this rock Walnut. Unfortunately, it no longer exists. Click here for more about Walnut.

That's the same rock, Walnut, from the other side, at top center, in another shot from "Secret Service in Darkest Africa." That mess of rocks to the left is the back side of Tilted Cube, which is still around today. I've talked about Tilted Cube in detail in a previous post, which you can read by clicking here.

Another shot of the back side of Walnut from 1943. Notice the indentation to the right of the fighter. This indentation matches the one above the head of Jesus in one of the shots above from the 1952 Bible movie.

 
Here's a detail shot of the indentation above the head of Jesus in "The Living Bible." It matches the indentation seen in the black-and-white shot above from "Secret Service in Darkest Africa."

In another shot from the 1943 serial "Secret Service in Darkest Africa," you can see the back side of Walnut again, Tilted Cube to its left ... and another rock at far left. This rock is also in the Jesus movie, as seen in the shot below.

This shot from "The Living Bible" (1952) shows Jesus and his followers walking near that same rock seen in the top left corner in the "Secret Service in Darkest Africa" screen shot. Here it's seen at the right. This shot reveals many of this rock's indentations, which at times resemble those on Walnut.

This is what that same rock looks like today in the swimming pool area of the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village. You can see some of those same indentations above the patio table. My research term for this rock is Other Rock.

The rock in the movie — Other Rock — is the one at the far right in this recent shot. A couple of other widely filmed movie rocks also share the space by the pool.

Here's another look at the Jacob's Well set in the movie. You can again see the indentation above Jesus. Again, this is the indentation in Walnut, which no longer exists, and not the similar indentation seen above the patio table, which is in Other Rock.

Walnut again, with the indentation visible above and to the left of the group. Like Walnut, the smoother rock to the right is no longer in place.

Here's another contemporary view of the pool area, including Other Rock at the right, with Cactus Hill in the background. You can see Twin Peaks to the left of the water tanks.

Those same rocks are seen here in the 1941 serial "Adventures of Captain Marvel." The rocks that fill up much of the left half of the shot are part of a group commonly called the Cave Rocks, which often did include a cave, as seen here. 

One thing Jesus told the woman during their encounter, paraphrasing here, is that if she drinks the water from the well, she will be thirsty again soon, but if she drinks the Word of God she will never thirst again. By introducing the idea of a perpetual quenching of thirst, he hints at a perpetual supply of water, i.e., the swimming pool of later years. Believe what you will, but Jesus may have been onto something. Of course, in this case it's only a coincidence. Right?

Below is a link to the 5-DVD set "The Living Bible" on Amazon. The set contains quite a bit of Iverson material, including the "Jesus Met the Woman at the Well" story.