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.
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• 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).
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Friday, January 23, 2015

The Iverson Movie Ranch Western street, one building at a time ... Part I: Casa Grande

"El Paso" (1949): Casa Grande, at the north end of Iverson's Western street

Casa Grande was an easy choice to lead off this series on the Iverson Movie Ranch Western street, because it's one of the most interesting and complex buildings in the town set. It wasn't part of the original set when the town was built in 1945, but was added a few years later and quickly became one of the iconic features of the set, occupying a high-profile position at the north end of the street.

"The Lone Ranger" (1949) — an early TV appearance by Casa Grande

This is probably the first appearance by Casa Grande on television, in an episode of the TV show "The Lone Ranger" called "The Renegades," which premiered Nov. 3, 1949. The building looks quite different here from its appearance around the same time in "El Paso," with wider pillars and a smaller roof over the porch area in "The Lone Ranger," along with a different configuration for the second story. But it's the same building in both photos.

In the "Lone Ranger" episode, Casa Grande serves as the base of operations for Father Batista, played by Wheaton Chambers. In this shot from "The Renegades" the Lone Ranger, played by Clayton Moore, confers with Father Batista in front of Casa Grande.

Another screen shot from "The Renegades" showcases one of the more "adobe-looking" corners of Casa Grande. Appearing alongside Father Batista is B-Western veteran Kenneth MacDonald, at right, playing Inspector Williams.

Kenneth MacDonald, left, vs. the Three Stooges

Among MacDonald's more than 400 credits in film and television, he had a recurring role as a sheriff on "The Range Rider" in the early 1950s and took his share of pies to the face as a frequent foil for the Three Stooges in their Columbia shorts of the 1940s.

"Calamity Jane and Sam Bass" (1949): looking north toward Casa Grande

The earliest productions I've been able to find that include Casa Grande are all from 1949, with the building surfacing both in films and on TV that year. The above shot of Iverson Village comes from the 1949 release "Calamity Jane and Sam Bass," starring Yvonne De Carlo as Calamity and Howard Duff as Sam.

The shot looks north along Iverson's Western street, with Casa Grande spread out across the end of the street. 1949 marks the beginning of what might be considered the peak period for Iverson Village, which had recently undergone extensive remodeling on the east side of the street, shown here.

Yvonne De Carlo as Calamity in "Calamity Jane and Sam Bass"

De Carlo is seen in front of Casa Grande in the above screen shot from "Calamity Jane and Sam Bass." The building appears in the movie as the Exchange Hotel.

Yvonne De Carlo as Lily Munster

You may remember Yvonne De Carlo as Lily on "The Munsters."

"El Paso" (1949): Iverson Village, aka El Paso Street

Paramount's "El Paso" and Universal's "Calamity Jane and Sam Bass" came out just one month apart, with "Calamity" making it to theaters first. Following the release of "Calamity" on the Fourth of July, 1949, Paramount rolled out "El Paso" on Aug. 5. Both movies were filmed in Cinecolor, and both prominently featured Casa Grande and the Iverson town set.

"El Paso": the Iverson Western street as the town of El Paso, Texas

While the backstory on the construction of Casa Grande is not clear, it's a good bet that the structure was built by Paramount for its John Payne-Sterling Hayden Western "El Paso." It comes down to either "El Paso" or "Calamity Jane and Sam Bass," and my money's on the Paramount production, which not only would have had the bigger budget of the two films, but also showcases Casa Grande far more extensively.

"Sky King" TV series (footage from 1955): aerial view of Iverson Village

Some readers may be disappointed to learn that Casa Grande was in reality a false front, as were other parts of the town set. The above aerial view, which comes from remarkable footage shot for the TV show "Sky King" that aired in a number of episodes of the series, exposes Casa Grande from the back, toward the right of the shot.

This annotated version of the "Sky King" shot points out how Casa Grande is oriented at the northern end of Iverson Village. The street does not line up perfectly north and south, but "leans" a bit, running southwest to northeast. The aerial shot oversees the layout from the east, and reveals that even though Casa Grande may look impressive from the front, there's not much behind it.

Another annotated version of the "Sky King" shot identifies key features of the Western street, along with buildings that were located west of the town set that were left over from the 1937 Shirley Temple movie "Wee Willie Winkie." These sets from "Wee Willie Winkie" were rarely filmed in later years, but were used as a fort for a while in the late 1930s and early 1940s. You can read more about this spectacular fort set by clicking here.

"Calamity Jane and the Texan" (1950)

A little more than a year after Universal's release of "Calamity Jane and Sam Bass" came the Columbia feature "Calamity Jane and the Texan," which again featured Casa Grande. As it did in "El Paso," Casa Grande again plays a cantina — the Prairie Queen this time, run by Calamity.

If the second story looks familiar, it's the same piece used in "The Lone Ranger," seen in a photo near the top of this post. This "bolt-on" second story wound up being redesigned a few times over the years. This version apparently went on after the fancier "El Paso" setup was ditched, and this one didn't remain in use for long.

Almost as soon as it was built, Casa Grande began playing a role as part of what might best be described as a small adobe village at the north end of the town set. In another shot from "Calamity Jane and the Texan," we get a good look at an adobe wall that has been built adjacent to the main structure.

This wider shot from "Calamity Jane and the Texan" shows the bulk of Casa Grande, in the center and right portion of the shot, along with part of the adobe wall, above the horses on the left. Smooth Hill looms in the background.

Here's another angle on Casa Grande from "Calamity Jane and the Texan," with this shot revealing some of the rough texture of the bricks that decorate the building's exterior. In this shot we can also see that the adobe wall at the left juts out from the main structure at an angle.

"Calamity Jane and the Texan" — Evelyn Ankers as Calamity

Originally released under the title "The Texan Meets Calamity Jane," the Columbia picture featured Evelyn Ankers in the role of Calamity. Here Ankers stands at the top of the stairs outside the saloon, near the south end of town.

Ankers continued a tradition of glamorized Hollywood versions of Calamity Jane. In this shot taken on the Upper Iverson, Calamity mourns the death of Wild Bill Hickok, and we see a little bit of veteran character actor Lee "Lasses" White as her friend Colorado Charlie. The scene takes place at the grave of Wild Bill, which I've blogged about before. Please click here for pictures and details about Wild Bill Hickok's gravesite at Iverson.

Martha Jane Cannary — the real Calamity Jane

The real Calamity Jane — born Martha Jane Cannary or Canary — may not have looked quite the part of a movie star, but she was a true frontierswoman and a formidable presence in her own right.

"Gold Raiders" (1951)

In the Three Stooges movie "Gold Raiders," Casa Grande resurfaces as "Acme House," and at this point the building has yet another configuration for its second story. This version of the second story is a hybrid — half adobe and half wooden building.

"Flaming Feather" (1952)

Filmed around the same time as "Gold Raiders" but released the following year, the color production "Flaming Feather" from Paramount uses much of the same signage seen in the Stooges movie and offers a better look at the "split personality" of Casa Grande's new second story — adobe on the left, wood on the right. This configuration, minus the Acme House sign, remained in use for much of the rest of the building's lifespan.

"Wagon Team" (1952)

In the Gene Autry movie "Wagon Team," released the same year as "Flaming Feather," the building's adobe qualities are brought to the forefront. The second story was still in place, but this sequence shoots around it, focusing on the single-story left half of the building along with the familiar low adobe wall to its left. It's clear in this shot that the adobe wall, which occupies the left portion of the frame, is supposed to look like a building.

"Annie Oakley" TV series (1954): A small adobe village at the north end of the street

This shot from an episode of the TV series "Annie Oakley" titled "Justice Guns" shows off the adobe characteristics of that whole north end of the Western street — even without the adobe wall next to Casa Grande being visible in this photo. The "Annie Oakley" episode premiered April 17, 1954.

The main buildings making up the "adobe village" part of Iverson's Western street

Combining with Casa Grande to create the adobe village were a couple of small adobes that had been in place for years on the western side of the street. Here's the "Annie Oakley" shot again with those buildings, the North Adobe and the South Adobe, identified. I will go into detail about these structures in upcoming entries in this series.

Iverson Village before Casa Grande ... 


"Cheyenne Takes Over" (1947)

This is what the north end of town looked like back in 1947, in the Lash LaRue movie "Cheyenne Takes Over," a couple of years before Casa Grande was built. The north end of town was wide open, with Center Rock visible in the background.

This version of the shot points out Center Rock, along with Oat Mountain in the distance. Once Casa Grande was in place, Center Rock could no longer be readily seen from the town. Also noted here is Pond Rock, which remained a feature of the town set throughout the set's existence. Pond Rock was typically hidden in the background behind the General Store, which is partially visible here.

"Check Your Guns" (1948): The north end of town

A year or so later, the Eddie Dean movie "Check Your Guns" again featured Iverson Village. This was soon before Casa Grande was built, and the north end of town remained vacant, with a virtually unblocked view of Smooth Hill. 

"The Iverson Movie Ranch Western street, one building at a time" is a series of posts on the movie and TV history of each of the major structures making up Iverson's town set, which stood from 1945 to 1957 and appeared in hundreds of productions.

To see all of the posts in the series on the Iverson Western street, please click on the following links:

Part I: Casa Grande
Part II: The Livery Stable
Part III: The Saloon
Part IV: The Hotel
Part V: The General Store 
Part VI: The Barn
Part VII: The Sheriff's Office
Part VIII: The North and South Adobes
Part IX: The Lost Dutchman
Part X: The original north end of town
Part XI: The North and South Towers
Part XII: The Harness Maker
Part XIII: Rainbow Mine Co. 
Part XIV: The Church/Schoolhouse  
Part XV: The Corral Rocks Shack
Part XVI: The decline and fall of the Western street

For additional material on the Iverson Western street, you can click here to see a previous entry on the north end of town, or here for a post examining the south end of town.

1 comment:

Cliff said...

Great post, lots of good information on a bygone era. Looking forward to much more to come.