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.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Before he showed up at Iverson in "Stagecoach," John Wayne wooed Louise Brooks at the movie ranch in "Overland Stage Raiders"

John Wayne courts Louise Brooks on the Upper Iverson in "Overland Stage Raiders" (1938)

It's a little surprising that John Wayne, probably the biggest Western movie star of them all, only rarely worked on the Iverson Movie Ranch, the most heavily filmed Western movie shooting location by a long stretch. I know of only two Westerns in which the Duke put in time at Iverson: his breakthrough role in John Ford's 1939 masterpiece "Stagecoach," and a much lower-profile appearance the previous year in "Overland Stage Raiders." He also made a high-profile war movie, "The Fighting Seabees," at Iverson in 1944.

"Overland Stage Raiders" was made before Wayne became a big star, when he was still paying his dues playing Stony Brooke in Republic's low-budget Three Mesquiteers series. Wayne did get top billing over fellow Mesquiteers Ray "Crash" Corrigan and Max "Alibi" Terhune, but not by much.

Four of the key players in "Overland Stage Raiders" appear in a publicity shot for the movie. In the back row, from left, are John Wayne, Louise Brooks and Ray Corrigan, with Max Terhune in front. Wayne appeared in a total of eight of Republic's Three Mesquiteers features in the span of a little more than a year, from 1938-1939.

John Wayne leads the charge across the Upper Iverson in a blurry screen shot from "Overland Stage Raiders."

Here Wayne and his fellow Mesquiteers work the Gorge on the Lower Iverson.

A still shot offers a better look at Ray Corrigan, left, and John Wayne at work on the Lower Iverson in "Overland Stage Raiders" in 1938. Corrigan was already setting up his own movie location ranch at the time, having bought property in Simi Valley in 1937 and beginning construction on what would become Corriganville — one of the few location ranches to rival the success of Iverson during the heyday of the B-Western.

Wayne and Brooks continued to connect at the wrap party for "Overland Stage Raiders." 

A later poster for the movie gives greater heft to its star, John Wayne, after his career began to take off.

"Santa Fe Stampede" (1938) — Upper Iverson in the background, via rear projection

John Wayne does appear in a couple of other Three Mesquiteers movies that contain some Iverson footage, but as far as I can tell neither of these would have required the Duke to show up at Iverson. The "Santa Fe Stampede" shot above features the Upper Iverson in the background, but the lighting makes it pretty obvious the shot is done in the studio using rear projection. That's silent movie great William Farnum on the left, in one of his later roles, with child actress Genee Hall at center, jammed between the once and future legends.

"Santa Fe Stampede" — The Duke, center, on Brandeis Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., interacting with young Genee Hall. The other Mesquiteers are again Max Terhune, left, and Ray "Crash" Corrigan.

The Duke did make his way to Chatsworth during filming for "Santa Fe Stampede" — and in fact, probably had to drive across the Iverson Ranch to get to work. That's because some of the location filming on the movie was done at Brandeis Ranch, Iverson's immediate neighbor to the west — and the entrance road to Brandeis ran through Iverson.

"Santa Fe Stampede": Brandeis Movie Ranch, with portions of the Upper Iverson in the background

With Brandeis and Iverson adjacent to each other, the two filming locations frequently appeared in the backgrounds of each other's movies, as in the example above. This scene prominently features a rock I call the Brandeis Toad, nearest the center of the frame. A little bit of the Upper Iverson is visible in the background, along with some familiar features to the east of Iverson.

Here's the same shot with some key features spotlighted. Cactus Hill and the rocks just below it are on Iverson property, while Two-Humper and Notch Hill are located east of Iverson and show up regularly in the backgrounds of productions filmed on the ranch. Brandeis, which was also known during the late 1930s as the Lazy A Ranch, operated as a filming site for only a short time, with the bulk of the production taking place from 1935 to 1942.

Corriganville, in a scene from "Santa Fe Stampede"

Additional location work for "Santa Fe Stampede" took place a few miles to the west at Corriganville in Simi Valley, where Ray Corrigan's location ranch was now up and running. The large rock face in the background at right later became known as Fort Apache Rock, as it appeared regularly in scenes with Corriganville's widely used Fort Apache set.

Both Fort Apache Rock and the much smaller, but equally distinctive, beetle-shaped rock toward the left, which I've nicknamed "the Scarab," became familiar sights in the movies as Corriganville developed into a busy filming location during the 1940s and 1950s. The Scarab can still be found at the site, but Fort Apache Rock was partially destroyed in the 1960s to make way for the 118 Freeway — the same freeway that dealt a severe blow to filming at Iverson, several miles to the east.

The only other Western on my list of John Wayne's Iverson productions is another Three Mesquiteers feature from Republic, "Three Texas Steers," released in1939. The Iverson material in this one is minimal, consisting of barely visible archival footage, again inserted through rear projection. In all, Republic cranked out 51 installments of its Three Mesquiteers franchise, spanning 1936-1943, with John Wayne featured in eight of those efforts.


Below I've included a few links to Amazon offerings of the movies discussed in this entry, including DVD and Blu-ray, along with a streaming version of "Santa Fe Stampede."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Someone carved footholes in a rock for cowboy hero Tom Mix back in 1935 — and they're still there today!

Tom Mix was Hollywood's biggest cowboy star of the silent era, appearing in close to 300 movies going back to 1909. He helped define the Western movie genre, rivaled contemporaries such as Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford at the box office, and became known as the "Idol of Every Boy in the World."

Mix rode the Iverson Movie Ranch for his final full-length production, the 1935 Mascot serial "The Miracle Rider" — one of only a handful of talkies he made during his career. Running more than five hours long, the Western adventure, laced with minor sci-fi elements, was the only 15-chapter serial among the many cliffhangers produced by Mascot Pictures. The bulk of the production's outdoor sequences were filmed on the Iverson Ranch.

Tom Mix left his bootprints at Iverson with this production in a very real sense. The above lobby card for "The Miracle Rider" features a rock at the right that was used in a stunt sequence in which Mix climbed down from the top of the rock before supposedly jumping off of it onto a horse. The actual jump was done using a different rock, but the most interesting part of the sequence is where Mix climbs down from the top of the rock.

This version of the lobby card highlights the rock I'm talking about. The rock didn't previously have a name, although it has been featured in movies going back to the silent era — including a prominent role 12 years before "The Miracle Rider," in Buster Keaton's 1923 silent comedy short "The Balloonatic." But with Tom Mix literally leaving his footprints on the rock, I think it just about has to be called Tom Mix Rock.

"The Miracle Rider" (1935) — Tom Mix on Tom Mix Rock

"The Miracle Rider" was a landmark production for the Iverson Movie Ranch — one of the first big sound Westerns to shoot on the location ranch. In the above shot of Tom Mix on top of what I'm now calling Tom Mix Rock, a reader of this blog, Scotty, noticed while he was watching the serial that someone had carved two bootholes into the rock to help Mix with his descent. The sequence takes place in Chapter 3 of the serial.

The bootholes are clearly visible in the movie, as indicated here. Presumably a producer or someone else behind the cameras had a crew member go ahead and carve the holes into the rock — or at least widen existing indentations to make them big enough to accommodate the star's feet.

Here Mix, who plays a character named Tom Morgan, gets in position to climb down from the rock.

As he begins his descent, Mix puts his right boot directly in the carved boothole.

Notice how carefully Tom Mix is studying where to place his foot.

Now the actor has both feet planted squarely in the bootholes.

Here's a shot of that same rock as it appears today, taken on a visit to the site in late 2014. The bootholes are still visible — I've highlighted them in the shot below.

This is the same shot from that 2014 visit to the site, with the bootholes noted. The "A" and "B" labels correspond with the holes as labeled higher up in this post in a screen shot from the movie.

Boothole A, in closeup

Here's a closeup of Boothole A. Considerable weathering has occurred in the almost 80 years since the holes were set up for the "Miracle Rider" shoot, and the holes now blend in more with the rock's natural contours than they did in the movie. But thanks to the evidence we have in the serial itself, I think it's still possible to determine that these are not entirely naturally occurring holes.

Closeup of Boothole B

Here's a closer look at Boothole B. I think this boothole, more than Boothole A, retains the appearance of something that was manmade.

In this recent shot a film researcher demonstrates the use of the bootholes with a position similar to the one taken by Tom Mix in "The Miracle Rider.

Here's the shot of Tom Mix again, in a similar pose to that of the researcher in the recent photo above.

Garden of the Gods today — bird's-eye view

Tom Mix Rock can easily be found today in a section of the former Iverson Movie Ranch that has been preserved for public use as Garden of the Gods Park. The above bird's-eye view of Garden of the Gods pinpoints the location of Tom Mix Rock. If you can find your way to Redmesa Road in Chatsworth, Calif., just north of Santa Susana Pass Road, you'll find the park entrance on the west side of Redmesa. Just up the trail you can go straight to Tom Mix Rock. (I suggest clicking on the photo to see it in greater detail.)

Tom Mix Rock today

This is the view of Tom Mix Rock as you approach it from the top of Garden of the Gods Trail. The white chalk that can be seen on the rock in some of these shots was left by rock climbers — even though the rock is not particularly tall, its shape makes it useful for practicing certain climbing skills.

The area of interest for purposes of tracking the Tom Mix sequence in "The Miracle Rider" is marked in this version of the shot. The best way to view this area is by going around the left side of the rock.

Here's the view of Tom Mix Rock from the left side, which is the southern end of the rock.

The bootholes can be found near the southern end of Tom Mix rock, in the area indicated above. I've swapped out some of the recent photos and added a few new ones since I first posted this blog entry because I have been able to better nail down the position of the bootholes as they appear today.

The scene in "The Miracle Rider" transitions from here, with Tom Mix about to jump off Tom Mix Rock ...

... to here, with a stuntman standing in for Tom Mix, taking a leap from a different rock, onto a horse that does not appear to be Tom's horse Tony Jr., which Mix rode in the serial. I'm assuming it's a stuntman, even though Mix was known to do a lot of his own stunts. Mix was 55 years old by the time "The Miracle Rider" was filmed — certainly not ancient, but maybe a bit too old to be jumping off rocks.

This is that same shot with a number of the main elements identified. I would guess that a big reason they opted to shoot the jump in this particular spot was so they could get a shot of the Sphinx in the background.

"Bonanza" episode "Escape to Ponderosa" (1960)

The rock from which the jump takes place no longer exists, but it is known from appearances in other productions, including the above scene from an episode of the long-running TV Western "Bonanza."

Here's the same "Bonanza" shot with a note about the jump rock.

"Army Girl" (1938)

Another shot of the jump rock, this time from the Republic movie "Army Girl," comes a little closer to duplicating the angle used in "The Miracle Rider."

Here's the same shot with two of the key rocks highlighted.

Tom Mix

My hunch is that the rules about carving holes in rocks at Iverson weren't particularly clear yet at the time Tom Mix rode the ranch in "The Miracle Rider," as it was still relatively early in the evolution of the movie ranch. Then again, maybe the Iversons gave their blessing for the carving work — they were known to do plenty of their own modifications on the rocks over the years. At any rate, I believe such things came to be frowned upon in the decades that followed, as the movie ranch became busier and its operation more professional. But Tom and "The Miracle Rider" left behind a nice movie relic for us to ponder all these decades later.


I'd like to thank Scotty for pointing out the bootholes in "The Miracle Rider" and enabling us all to share in a really cool bit of movie history.

Friday, October 24, 2014

It's Now or Never: Time to find out whether Elvis Presley ever worked the Iverson Movie Ranch

The King of Rock 'n' Roll — in costume for "Harum Scarum" (1965)

I've been trying for some time now to nail down a definitive answer to the question of whether Elvis Presley ever appeared in movie footage shot at the Iverson Movie Ranch. That answer was surprisingly elusive, but I believe I finally have it — and the answer is ... Yes!

It happened in the 1965 MGM musical "Harum Scarum." It's widely known that a number of the outdoor scenes for the movie were shot at Iverson, but I had to put together a few separate pieces of evidence to determine whether Elvis himself took part in filming at the movie ranch. Finally, I can confirm that Elvis not only showed up at Iverson, but also ran around among its famous rocks.

"Harum Scarum" — Is that Elvis running around in the North Cluster?

This shot features Elvis' character, at the center of the frame, running near an Iverson rock that can be recognized from its appearances in other movies, as noted below. The shot does not provide a clear look at Elvis, but it's about as good as it gets as far as actually seeing the King at Iverson in the movie. (You may want to click on the photo to see a larger version.)

The rock seen just to the right of Elvis in the shot is one that appears frequently in old Westerns, which I call E.T. I've been aware of this shot for a few years, but I didn't consider it proof that Elvis was at Iverson because it could be that a stand-in was used in the shot. In those days big stars were routinely spared from having to do actual location work for long shots, especially in a harsh locale such as the Iverson Ranch. Until recently I remained skeptical about the actual presence of Elvis — Then I saw the promo still.

Promo still for "Harum Scarum" (1965) — shot on the Lower Iverson 

The promotional still, from the collection of film historian Jerry England, makes it clear that Elvis was indeed at Iverson. Whether the action here was a special setup for the photo or was a part of the actual filming doesn't matter. Clearly, the actors are all in costume for the movie, positioned in their same spots from the movie, and they're running through the same sequence that appears in the movie. Add it all up, and it means that's indeed Elvis in the scene in the movie.

The action in both the promo still and the movie scene takes place in a section of the former location ranch just north of Garden of the Gods known as the North Cluster. In this version of the shot I've identified the rock I call E.T.

"Come On, Cowboys" (1937)

This shot from the Three Mesquiteers movie "Come On, Cowboys" might help explain the origin of the name "E.T." The rock appears from a different angle here than in the Elvis movie, but is once again at the right of the frame.

This shot pinpoints E.T., as I want to make sure readers are certain which rock I'm talking about.

"E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" (1982)

I find the shape of the rock to be strongly reminiscent of the title character in the Steven Spielberg movie. This shot also features a young Drew Barrymore.

"Stagecoach" (1939) — the stage arrives at Apache Wells

E.T. — the rock — appears in a minor role during an iconic sequence in one of the most high-profile movies filmed at Iverson, John Ford's Great American Western, "Stagecoach." The sequence in which the stagecoach arrives at the Apache Wells outpost, with the Garden of the Gods rock behemoths in the background, also includes the much smaller E.T. — although it would be easy to miss.

This version of the "Stagecoach" shot points out E.T. As I mentioned, it would be easy to miss the rock in this shot if you didn't know exactly where to look.

Here's a more widely recognized shot from the sequence, in which the giant Garden of the Gods towers are prominently featured in the background. From this angle, E.T. is blocked out by the wall and cannot be seen.

The best shot of E.T. in "Stagecoach" is probably this one, which appears as the stage pulls out of Apache Wells.

Pointing out E.T. one final time. In these shots we can begin to see that the rock was sort of out by itself, in a flat area where it was distanced from the other rocks. Its solitude and distance ultimately proved fatal, as E.T. was removed when the flat area was prepped for condo development in the 1980s.

"Harum Scarum": Is that Elvis, or a stand-in?

Getting back to "Harum Scarum," I wanted to point out a couple of other shots. The above scene is filmed at Iverson, with Cactus Hill in the background. But as with some of the other shots, it's unclear whether it's Elvis in the scene. His character is riding the second horse in the group, but here again, it could be a stand-in — and in this sequence, where only distant shots are included, my hunch is that this is not Elvis.

The situation is similar with this sequence of shots taken in the Iverson Gorge. Elvis is again supposedly a part of the group of riders, but it's impossible to be sure in the long shots. This shot includes the rock feature Bald Knob, directly above the riders. I talked about this shoot in a post about Bald Knob a couple of months back, which you can see by clicking here.


Below are some links to DVD versions of "Harum Scarum" and "Stagecoach," along with a link to a streaming version of "Come On, Cowboys," for those who are interested in seeing more of the Iverson Movie Ranch in these movies — or maybe just seeing the movies themselves.