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.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Sentries — Guardians of the Gods


"You Can't Fight City Hall," an episode of "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp"

Much of the action in the "Wyatt Earp" episode "You Can't Fight City Hall," which premiered Oct. 20, 1959, takes place on and around the trail leading up into the Garden of the Gods. The shot seen above includes a portion of the trail, in the foreground, along with a number of significant rocks, which I'll highlight below.

This is the same shot from the "Wyatt Earp" episode, with some of the rock features noted.

If you're an Iverson aficionado, you may have already spotted Tower Rock, sometimes called Indian Head, as one of the Three Kings — the one on the right in these shots. The King on the left also has its own identity, as the Pharaoh. I'll discuss the Pharaoh more in an upcoming post.

Virtually all of the rocks seen above, along with the Garden of the Gods Trail itself, remain in place today, thanks to the preservation efforts of a number of organizations that worked together to get Garden of the Gods preserved as a park. The plaque seen above was placed on Hawk Rock just in the past few years to commemorate the filming location, and can be seen as you hike up toward Garden of the Gods.

Garden of the Gods Trail as it appears in recent years, 
including Hawk Rock and the Sentries

The above shot was taken on one of my first visits to the Iverson Movie Ranch, back in 2008, and shows the same trail rising up into Garden of the Gods that's seen in the Wyatt Earp episode. At the left is Hawk Rock, with this shot taken before the plaque was in place. Also in the shot are the Sentries, which keep a vigil on both sides of the trail. I'll highlight them in the next shot.

This shot should help you pinpoint the Sentries, and match them up with their appearance above in the "Wyatt Earp" episode. Hawk Rock was featured regularly in the old movies and early TV shows filmed at Iverson, but the Sentries hardly got any screen time. Even so, they stand tall as guardians of the trail in modern times, and everyone who hikes up into Garden of the Gods from that direction passes between them. I presume the main reason the Sentries and the trail area didn't get filmed much was logistical: The trail is on an incline and doesn't provide a lot of room for movie equipment.

Here's a more recent shot of Hawk Rock showing where the plaque can be found. It's just inside the gate to Garden of the Gods, off Redmesa Road.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Model behavior by special-effects champs the Lydecker brothers, Republic Pictures' secret weapon in the B-movie wars

Theodore Lydecker, left, and brother Howard Lydecker

Brothers Howard Lydecker and Theodore Lydecker were old-school special-effects wizards who worked together at Republic Pictures for the studio's entire run, from the mid-1930s well into the 1950s, using low-tech artistry to elevate Republic's serials and B-movies beyond what the studio's Poverty Row rivals were capable of pulling off.

"Commando Cody" (1953): A Lydecker brothers mini-space ship "lands" on the Upper Iverson

They were masters of the miniature model, whether it was space ships, buildings, trains, automobiles, stagecoaches — many a car or covered wagon went over a cliff under their watchful eyes. The above example of a Lydecker miniature comes from the Republic serial "Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe," and shows a model space ship "landing" in a setting composed of some actual Upper Iverson footage in the background along with a miniature fence and fake rocks in the foreground.

Lydecker brothers model of the Grove Relay Station, from "Zorro's Black Whip"

On a number of occasions the Lydeckers replicated actual structures at the Iverson Movie Ranch — only to see their creation ultimately destroyed by fire, crushed by avalanche or otherwise mutilated. It was all good fun, and now, through the magic of screen shots and our own low-tech special effects — especially slow-motion and pause — we're able to appreciate their craftsmanship on a whole other level.

The actual Grove Relay Station on the Iverson Movie Ranch, also from "Zorro's Black Whip"

The Lydeckers' work in the 1944 serial "Zorro's Black Whip," where the brothers created a realistic replica of Iverson's Grove Relay Station and then crushed it in an avalanche set off by the bad guys, is a good example of their connection to the Iverson Movie Ranch. It's pretty hard to tell the real relay station from the model, but the best clue comes when the place starts being destroyed by the avalanche — at that point, you know it's the model.

Down comes the mountain ...and the model begins to collapse.

The Lydeckers pretty much trashed the place.

Here's a video clip of the sequence ...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A film pioneer dies — was he the last of the singing cowboys?

Herb Jeffries

I am sorry to report the death of a man who was one of precious few remaining icons from the era of the singing cowboy: Herb Jeffries, who was known as Hollywood's first black singing cowboy — and who may well have been the last singing cowboy. Jeffries died of heart failure Sunday, May 25, 2014, at 100 years of age at West Hills Hospital in the San Fernando Valley.


It has been reported that Jeffries — who spelled his last name that way even though it often appears as "Jeffrey" or "Jeffreys" on posters and in film credits — sometimes worked at the Iverson Movie Ranch, and I've heard anecdotes about the actor appearing on this rock or that rock during filming of a particular scene. But I do not have personal knowledge of any of Jeffries' productions being shot at Iverson, and I have yet to find actual footage of Jeffries on location at the movie ranch. Still, I have not given up — and I'll report it here if something turns up.

Herb Jeffries on the cover of Jet Magazine in 1952

Jeffries has been called the towering figure in the integration of pop culture in the 20th century, and has been widely credited for making a conscious decision to become the first black singing cowboy rather than pass as white — something his mixed ethnic background and light skin would have enabled him to do. His widow, Savannah Jeffries, is quoted as saying earlier this week: "Herb's motto was there's only one race — the human race."

Herb Jeffries, left, with Duke Ellington (partially visible over 
Jeffries' shoulder) and bassist Jimmy Blanton in 1941

Jeffries was a singer in the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the early 1940s, scoring a big hit in 1941 with "Flamingo," which became his signature song.

Jeffries starred in a series of all-black B-Westerns in the 1930s, earning the nickname "The Bronze Buckaroo" after his lead role in the 1939 Western of that title, directed by Richard Kahn and released by Hollywood Productions. He usually appeared as cowboy hero Bob Blake, and rode a horse named Stardusk — with his Westerns also often featuring the vocal group the Four Tones.

He appeared as a singing cowboy in the 1938 featurette "Rhythm Rodeo," even though his name didn't make it onto the movie's poster. The poster includes racial references that many of us may find offensive today, but I believe it's important to portray history as accurately as possible, so I've included it above.



Herb Jeffries sings "Flamingo" with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1941 

Jeffries participated in at least one gathering at the Iverson Movie Ranch, well after the site's filming era, in 1999, when he took part in a fund raiser held at Iverson for fellow singing cowboy Eddie Dean, who was in failing health at the time and died about a month later.

"Last Stagecoach West" (1957)

In effect, Jeffries died in the background of the singing cowboy genre's most important outdoor filming location, the Iverson Movie Ranch, as portions of what is now West Hills can be seen in the distance in movie scenes shot in Iverson's Upper Gorge — including the above example from the Jim Davis B-Western "Last Stagecoach West." (Jeffries did not appear in the movie, having wrapped up his career in Westerns by the end of the 1930s.)


The links below will take you to Amazon.com listings for a number of Herb Jeffries' films and recordings:

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bigfoot Subdues Dracula: Pure whimsy ... or so I thought

"Thunder River Feud" (1942)

The image above, from Monogram's weirdly filmed, and not particularly well-preserved, Range Busters B-Western "Thunder River Feud," has haunted me since I first saw the movie back in 2008. It was one of the first movies in which I found features filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch, as my fascination with the filming location was just beginning to blossom.

In part because of the poor quality of my version of the movie, in part due to my inherently whimsical nature — and, I still want to believe, in part because of some degree of perverse intent on the part of the filmmakers — I found something in the shot that I couldn't help thinking looked like a large Bigfoot lying on top of something I thought bore some resemblance to Dracula. I began referring to the image as "Bigfoot Subdues Dracula."

In case there's any doubt as to what I thought I was seeing here — and why wouldn't there be — I've labeled the two "protagonists" of the formation in the shot above. The screen shot became, initially, a focus of failed attempts to figure out just what I was seeing, and subsequently, a symbol for the unfindable oddities that lurk in the backgrounds in any number of old movies. I came to accept long ago that Bigfoot Subdues Dracula would never be seen again, and it became a running joke both when sifting through old movies and on expeditions to Iverson, as I would remark about any remotely similar rock feature: "Look, there's Bigfoot Subdues Dracula ... ha ha!"

"Last of the Bad Men" (1957) (false lead)

It became apparent long ago that Bigfoot Subdues Dracula was unlikely to ever turn up in the real world, but I would occasionally see something in the movies that caused me to consider whether, by some miracle, I might be seeing the formation again. I went through a series of false leads, including the above shot from the Allied Artists Western "Last of the Bad Men," in which a potential Bigfoot, positioned with a similar "attitude" to the original, lurks meaningfully in the background. The sequence is shot at Iverson, as are the bulk of the movie's outdoor sequences. But as it turns out, it's not Bigfoot.

"The Great Alaskan Mystery" (1944) (again, NOT Bigfoot Subdues Dracula)

Another false lead, shown above, surfaced in the 1944 Universal serial "The Great Alaskan Mystery," starring Milburn Stone — who later became a TV icon playing Doc for 20 years on "Gunsmoke," and winning an Emmy in the process.

"Fighting Bill Fargo" (1942)

A clue surfaced a couple of years ago when I spotted the above formation in the Johnny Mack Brown B-Western "Fighting Bill Fargo." But by this time I was resigned to thinking of Bigfoot Subdues Dracula as nothing more than a trick of light — and an illusion that would never evolve into a "real" filming location sighting. As a result, I didn't give this sighting as much thought at the time as it may have deserved.

"Treasure of Ruby Hills" (1955)

Finally, it happened: The actual Bigfoot Subdues Dracula, no mistaking it this time, surfaced just within the past couple of weeks — six years after the original sighting in "Thunder River Feud," and looking remarkably similar to what I thought all this time was just an illusion. The formation turned up in this shot from the Allied Artists B-Western "Treasure of Ruby Hills," and while "Bigfoot" doesn't look nearly as "Bigfoot-y" here as it did in the original, far more grainy, "Thunder River Feud" shot, to my eye "Dracula" appears, if anything, even more Dracula-esque here than in the original.

The components of Bigfoot Subdues Dracula are highlighted in this version of the "Treasure of Ruby Hills" shot. And in another piece of big news to come out of this sighting, the approximate location for the rock feature is now known: Smooth Hill is recognizable in the background — it's the view of the hill from the northwest, from the general vicinity of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set.

"Two Guns and a Badge" (1954)

The above shot from Allied Artists' Wayne Morris B-Western "Two Guns and a Badge" is extremely low-res, but I'm including it because it provides a similar view of Smooth Hill to the shot above from "Treasure of Ruby Hills" — and also contains the main house from the Middle Iverson Ranch Set. My guess is that Bigfoot Subdues Dracula is concealed behind the house in this shot.

Here's a comparison of the two above shots, highlighting a large split rock that helps establish that it's the same hill in both shots.

"Bells of Rosarita" (1945)

Smooth Hill, on the left, looms again behind the Middle Iverson Ranch Set in this scene from the Roy Rogers movie "Bells of Rosarita," in which Gabby Hayes is famously trapped in the trunk of an out-of-control old coupe. The hill appears much less smooth here than it does in "Treasure of Ruby Hills," illustrating the point that rocks, hills and other features can take on a vastly different appearance when the camera position shifts slightly. Smooth Hill was usually filmed from a different direction entirely — from the south, including frequent appearances in the background of shots of Iverson Village, as seen below.

"Son of Paleface" (1952) — Smooth Hill from the other side

Smooth Hill, seen from its other side — generally its southern face — is widely recognized as the hill in the background of shots of Iverson Village looking toward the north, including the example above from Bob Hope's Western comedy "Son of Paleface." Iverson Village, also known as El Paso Street, appears in the movie a ghost town — in other words, tumbleweeds were brought in and a few windows were boarded up. The bodies lying around are a separate issue.

"Rocky Mountain Rangers" (1940)

Here's a nice view of Smooth Hill's southern side — looking characteristically smooth — from before Iverson Village was built, when Sheep Flats, the area seen in the foreground, was more wide-open. The shot comes from Republic's Three Mesquiteers B-Western "Rocky Mountain Rangers," which I have in my pantheon of the greatest Iverson productions. The Western town set was built about five years later, in 1945, but would have been off to the left, out of the frame from this particular angle.

Here's the same shot from "Rocky Mountain Rangers" with some of the features highlighted. For a change the background is clear enough to spot a number of the telephone poles that were beginning to proliferate in the area by 1940. In some productions, such as those set in the earlier stages of the American West, the poles would have been an anachronism. But filmmakers typically shot without much apparent concern for them, and most of the time the backgrounds were so fuzzy it didn't matter.

Smooth Hill was later leveled, and this townhouse/apartment structure was built on top of it. Also seen here is the 118 Freeway, which was built in the mid-1960s, effectively bringing a halt to filming on the Lower Iverson. In the foreground is the Topanga onramp heading east.

"Cheyenne Takes Over" (1947)

Back on the northern side of Smooth Hill, the story of Bigfoot Subdues Dracula continues to unfold. It turns out the rock was there all along in shots of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set, but it would have been pretty hard to find without knowing what we now know. You may or may not be able to pick it out in the above shot from the Lash LaRue movie "Cheyenne Takes Over," from PRC.

Here's the same screen shot, with Bigfoot Subdues Dracula pointed out. It's way in the background and really small, but once you know what the feature looks like, you should be able to tell that this is it.

"Captain Video, Master of the Stratosphere" (1951)

A wider shot of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set again includes both Smooth Hill and Bigfoot Subdues Dracula, as noted below. The shot comes from Columbia's "Captain Video" serial, which starred Judd Holdren and Larry Stewart.

Here's the same shot, pointing out key elements — including the Chatsworth landmark Stoney Point in the distance. The shot also shows off the rarely seen back side of the Bunkhouse, part of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set.

"Treasure of Ruby Hills" (1955)

Back to "Treasure of Ruby Hills," and still another angle on Bigfoot Subdues Dracula. Not only does this shot display the impressive stretch of the full rock feature in all its glory, but it also includes the "Dracula" head popping out again, albeit slightly blurry.

"Treasure of Ruby Hills" also contains closeups of Bigfoot Subdues Dracula, such as this one showing mainly the "Bigfoot" portion. It's hard to tell from this angle (or any angle, really) how the "Dracula" image is formed. But presumably it's generated by the darker rocks near the bottom left corner.

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (1958)

The formation figures prominently in the background of this shot of Hugh O'Brian as Wyatt Earp in "The Bounty Killer," an episode of the "Wyatt Earp" TV show that first aired Sept. 30, 1958. "Dracula" can again be seen, but the figure transforms with each new angle. We may all be seeing something entirely different.

"The Roy Rogers Show" (1954)

This is what Bigfoot looks like from the other side — a lot like the first side. This shot comes from "Last of the Larrabee Kid," an episode of "The Roy Rogers Show" that premiered Oct. 17, 1954. In the background is the northeast face of the main house at Middle Iverson, which indicates we're looking more or less toward the west and viewing the southeastern face of the rock.

Recent shot of the Bigfoot area, now filled with condos

The story of Bigfoot Subdues Dracula does not have a happy ending. The rock formation was destroyed after the filming era wound down and that portion of the former Iverson Movie Ranch became a condo development. The photo above shows the spot where I believe Bigfoot once stood, looking toward the southeast.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Tornado's Cave and the "phantom limb"

"Perils of Nyoka" (1942) — Kay Aldridge as Nyoka, at the northern entrance to Tornado's Cave

The landmark Republic serial "Perils of Nyoka," starring Kay Aldridge as "Tarzan" author Edgar Rice Burroughs' heroine Nyoka the Jungle Girl, is featured regularly on this blog and you can read more about it by clicking here. But this time around let me call attention specifically to the cave seen in the above screen shot. This short passageway through the rocks below Nyoka Cliff is known to historians and film location buffs as Tornado's Cave.

This highlighted version of the "Perils of Nyoka" screen shot may help you see what's going on in the photo. The cave is small, as caves go, but still large enough for a German shepherd to wander around inside. And while getting in and out requires some care, it's even large enough — barely — to accommodate a person riding a horse.

Tornado's Cave as it appears today (southern entrance)

Seen above is the cave's southern entrance, which I wanted to be sure to include here because it is almost always overlooked. This is NOT the angle we usually see in the old movies and TV shows where the cave appears. I think this entrance, which is smaller than the northern entrance, was just too small to be of much use. Even so, you could get in there from this end if you were so inclined. The cave is easy to find at Iverson if you know where to look, and I'll point it out on a map later in the post.

"Cowboy Holiday" (1934)

The northern entrance is just large enough to fit a horse and rider, and usually you see Tornado's Cave from this side. I have to confess that until recently I had a slightly embarrassing personal misconception about this cave entrance that got in the way of my properly understanding what I was seeing in the movies. I thought the cave had a three-limbed tree in front of it. In the photo above, you might be able to see what gave me that impression, but I'll point it out in the next shot.

This is the same shot again with notations pinpointing the so-called "three-limbed tree" — a single trunk splitting off into what appears to be three limbs, which in reality is an illusion. In this shot from the Guinn "Big Boy" Williams B-Western "Cowboy Holiday," a rider emerges from Tornado's Cave, with the imaginary three-limbed tree seen to the right of the rider (our right, not his).

A more detailed breakdown of the three "limbs" indicates that two of them are real, while the third, the "phantom limb," is not. It turns out the "three-limbed tree" is an illusion created by a two-limbed tree set against some dark weathering on the large rock that forms much of Tornado's Cave.

"Terry and the Pirates" (1940)

This dark shot from the Columbia serial "Terry and the Pirates" is taken in front of Tornado's Cave and the "three-limbed tree." This footage from the serial is too dark to clarify things, and if anything the illusion of the phantom limb is even greater — or at least more ominous — when the shot is this dark.

Tornado's Cave in recent times — northern entrance

The dark weathering remains evident today, and can be seen in the above shot from a visit to Tornado's Cave in recent years. Here it's plain to see that there's no third limb.

The recent shot shows clearly that it's weathering on a rock and not a tree limb.

Zorro on Tornado, or Toronado

The name "Tornado's Cave" comes from the name of the horse ridden by Zorro in the old Disney TV series and in Zorro books and movies, widely known as Tornado, but originally called Toronado.

"Zorro Rides Again" (1937)

Appropriately, the cave does appear in some Zorro productions. I don't know the name of the horse in the shot above — somehow, it doesn't strike me as "Tornado-like" — but the shot comes from another Republic serial, "Zorro Rides Again," in which John Carroll stars as a descendant of the original Zorro. You really get a sense of the third limb here.

The cave is located on park property in the Iverson Gorge, near Lone Ranger Rock and Nyoka Cliff. The location is east of Redmesa Road, just north of Santa Susana Pass Road and just below the Cal West Townhomes. It's hard to pinpoint on an aerial map, but fairly easy to find once you get close.

Poison oak in Iverson's Upper Gorge, near Tornado's Cave

For anyone who's inclined to go check this place out in person, please keep in mind a couple of important warnings: One, the site is crawling with poison oak, so be aware of what you're getting into and try not to touch any plants — especially if they're red. But know that the green poison oak will get you too. Last time I was there the area right in front of Tornado's Cave was crawling with the stuff. And two, be wary of rattlesnakes. I spotted a baby one not far from Tornado's Cave on a recent visit — and I've heard the babies are even more poisonous than the adults.