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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Glenn Ford, Boots Rock and the mystery of the Footholds: A tantalizing foray into movie history on the Lower Iverson

Boots Rock (2015)

I recently began looking into a series of carved indentations that can be found today in rocks on the former Lower Iverson Movie Ranch. Their origins remain largely shrouded in mystery, but most or all of them appear to date back at least as far as the 1930s, and they could easily go back to the silent era. While their original purpose is unknown, at least some of them appear to be footholds, and I have been using that term to refer to them.

The picturesque Boots Rock is home to several of the indentations, one of which can be seen in this recent photo. It would be easy to miss at first — and in fact, it has apparently been overlooked by researchers, including myself, for years. But once you see it, you "can't not" see it.

Named after the 1941 Errol Flynn movie "They Died With Their Boots On," Boots Rock is part of the Low Wall area of the North Cluster, a short walk north from the main rock features of Garden of the Gods. Located just off Redmesa Road in Chatsworth, Calif., the area has been preserved as parkland and is open to the public.

Here's a better look at the foothold. At this distance it's easy to see that the square hole in the rock is manmade. The hole was presumably carved as part of a movie shoot, although I have yet to determine which movie it was for. I do know that the foothold does not appear to have been used in "They Died With Their Boots On."

"They Died With Their Boots On" (1941) — Boots Rock

However, the foothold can be seen, very briefly, in "They Died With Their Boots On," as I will point out below. First I wanted to show you this "classic view" of Boots Rock — a shot of two Native American riders on top of the rock. The scene takes place as part of the drama leading up to the Battle of Little Bighorn.

The foothold is not seen in this shot. In fact, it's hard to spot it in the movie at all — but it can be found. Incidentally, getting the riders into position for this shot would have been a logistical challenge, requiring that they ride to the top of Boots Rock using a ramp hidden behind the rock.

In this shot a moment earlier in "They Died With Their Boots On," the first rider is probably on the hidden ramp. But let me call your attention to the right edge of the frame, where a portion of the foothold is visible. I want to reiterate that the hole does not appear to have been created for this movie, nor was it used as a foothold in the movie.

"They Died With Their Boots On" is the only production in which I've spotted this particular foothold. It's an important sighting because it proves that the hole was already in place at least as early as 1941. Still, its origin — how far back it goes and which movie was responsible for its creation — remains a mystery.

Fade shot from "They Died With Their Boots On": The foothold appears in its entirety

The hole is visible in its entirety only during a double exposure, while the shot is fading from an image of a map to the sequence in which the two Native American riders ascend Boots Rock.

A closeup of the hole from a recent visit to the site reveals vertical scoring at the back of the carving, with the striations presumably being artifacts of the process used to carve the hole. The soft sandstone would not have put up much resistance.

Footholds in the Low Wall area (Nyoka Cliff in the distance)

The square indentation on Boots Rock is one of multiple holes in that immediate area — a rocky section of the North Cluster overlooking the Iverson Gorge. I've found at least 12 footholds in the area so far, and there are probably more. In my research I've been referring to the area simply as "Footholds."

For identification purposes, I'm calling the first foothold discussed — the square notch in Boots Rock — "Foothold A" and have extended my alphabetical system to designate the other footholds in the area as well. Foothold B is located just north of Boots Rock and Foothold A.

Foothold B

A view of Foothold B later in the day is less striking, due to the absence of shadows. But this view gives us a better idea of what the feature actually looks like.

Foothold B, in the center of the frame

Here's a more distant view of Foothold B showing some of its setting to the north. It's a challenge to pick out the foothold from this distance, but it's almost directly in the center of the frame.

This version of the shot points out the location of Foothold B.

Foothold B: closeup

A closeup of Foothold B again displays vertical scoring at the back of the carved area, similar to what we saw in Foothold A. Here we can also see what appears to be a textured area at the base of the foothold.

These characteristics are common among the footholds, and serve as evidence, if we needed it, that the features are manmade. The texturing of the base might have been done intentionally to create traction for the actor who was given the assignment of standing in the foothold.

As it turns out, Foothold B is part of a set of three or four footholds, although the others are much less well-defined than the main notch. It is difficult to capture these features in a photo, particularly when, as in the case of B-1 and B-2, the indentations are relatively minor. Suffice to say this picture does not do them justice.

While it is not clear that all of the areas designated in these photos were created in connection with filming, my sense from seeing them in person is that at least Footholds B, B-1 and B-2 are all to some degree manmade. I'm much less certain about "B-3."

Foothold C

A short distance north of the Foothold B group, on the same rock, we find Foothold C — the textured area near the center of the frame in this recent shot.

In this shot both Foothold C and Foothold A are visible, along with Nyoka Cliff in the distance.

Here's a photo showing the position of Foothold C, near the northern end of the rock, in relation to its neighbors of the Foothold B group. It's hard to get a sense of the distance here, but Foothold C is located far enough from the others, in my opinion, to not be considered a part of the same set of footholds.

Foothold D Group — the view from the top of Boots Rock

Another group of footholds can be found on the western slope of Boots Rock — the "front" of the rock, if you will, which is also a part of the Low Wall formation. I've designated this the Foothold D Group.

Low Wall, as it appeared in 2009 — the Foothold D area

The Foothold D Group is located a short distance south of the area we've been focused on for Footholds A, B and C. The group consists of five or six footholds, which appear to be set up as a series of steps to enable someone to climb from the bottom of the rock to the top.

This shot identifies all of the footholds of the Foothold D Group — including one I'm not sure about at the bottom of the formation. Today that part of the rock is concealed behind vegetation and it's difficult even to see D-1. The possible "sixth foothold" at the bottom of the formation is not currently visible.

The Foothold D Group area in 2015

This is what the site looks like today. While the area in front of Low Wall was devoid of vegetation in 2009, making it easy to see even the lowest "rungs" of the Group D formation, that's no longer the case.

Today brush and dirt have taken up residence at the base of the wall, and it's difficult to see even D-1, much less the possible bottom rung of the formation. However, it's still possible to climb up the side of the rock using the "steps" of the Foothold D formation. I made the climb easily on my most recent visit, but without the footholds this climb would be all but impossible.

Here's a better look at D-1. Even though it lurks in the shadow of a shrub, it's possible to determine that the foothold is manmade.

From this angle the vertical scoring and textured bases are evident on D-2 and D-3.

If you spotted Foothold B in the background, you have a sharp eye.

"Go West, Young Lady" (1941) — Glenn Ford climbs Low Wall

In a scene from the Columbia musical-comedy "Go West, Young Lady," Glenn Ford's character, Tex Miller, scampers up the western slope of Low Wall in almost exactly the area where the Foothold D Group is found.

The key word there is "almost." Readers may be disappointed — I know I was — to learn that Ford does not use any of the known footholds to climb the wall.

"Footholds? I don't need no steenkon' footholds!"

Then again, some readers may be impressed by the ease with which the actor ascends the slope sans footholds. You can see Ford's ascent of the wall in a video clip I've included at the bottom of this post. The clip kicks off with Ford's climb up Low Wall, then goes on to feature about four minutes of top-notch Iverson footage.

One of the best things about this sequence, from a research standpoint, is that it does appear to include a glimpse of at least two of the known footholds — even as Glenn Ford bypasses them.

This shot identifies what I'm reasonably sure are Footholds D-2 and D-3, underscoring that Ford's character is not in the footholds as he climbs the wall. The shot does, however, provide evidence that the holes were already in place in 1941 — coincidentally, the same year Foothold A surfaces in "They Died With Their Boots On."

Glenn Ford on top of Low Wall in "Go West, Young Lady"

Admittedly, the evidence in "Go West, Young Lady" is less conclusive than the appearance of Foothold A in "Boots." But when it comes to digging archaeological finds out of old movies, I'll take what I can get.

A rock star is born: Glenn Ford Rock

While we're in the area, I think this distinctive formation has earned the right to be called Glenn Ford Rock. Early on in my research — before I knew any better — I referred to this rather smushed-looking feature as "Squashed Sea Cucumber." But I have to admit "Glenn Ford Rock" seems more appropriate — especially given that we should be commemorating the actor's impressive climb.

"Perils of Nyoka" (1942): Glenn Ford Rock

Glenn Ford Rock has made a number of other movie and TV appearances, including turning up in the Republic serial "Perils of Nyoka," one of the quintessential Iverson productions. To read about an early sighting of the rock, in "Thunder River Feud," please click here. That blog item also talks about the "mad genius" of old B-Western cinematographers, Robert Cline.

"The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (1935)

Here's an interesting shot of the Low Wall-Boots Rock-Glenn Ford Rock area from all the way back in the mid-1930s. The Paramount war movie "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" premiered Jan. 11, 1935, and would have been filmed in 1934. I'd love to say I can see the footholds in this shot, but I've scrutinized it in some detail and can only report a few "possibles."

The best possibility, I think, is that the area designated above contains Foothold C. I can verify that the markings found on the rock are in the right place, but they're not clear enough to determine whether they indicate a carved foothold.

The Foothold D Group, if it were in place yet, would be found in the area noted here. But once again, even though plenty of markings can be found on the rock in approximately the correct location, the shot is not clear enough to determine whether the footholds are present yet.

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" TV series (1960)

But once we know what to look for, the Footholds do occasionally pop up in various productions. The above shot, from a "Wyatt Earp" episode titled "The Scout," includes a nice view of the west face of Boots Rock — right where the Foothold D formation is located.

Much of the Foothold D configuration can be readily identified in the "Wyatt Earp" screen shot. The episode premiered March 1, 1960, during the ABC show's fifth season, and was probably shot in late 1959.

Echoing the shots higher up from "They Died With Their Boots On," another Native American rider strikes an iconic pose atop Boots Rock during the "Wyatt Earp" sequence — with the camera shooting toward the east this time.

Gateway to hidden Footholds E and F

Traveling east via the pass between Footholds A and B leads to the "back" section of Footholds, where a few more of the carved holes can be found. Why the Footholds area has so many of these carvings is unknown, but I suspect they must have filmed a heck of a scene here at one time — possibly in the silent era. 

Foothold E — a "double foothold"

Foothold E appears on the same rock as Footholds B and C, a short distance east of Foothold B.

Foothold E is a nice example of a "double foothold," with spaces for two feet placed close together. Here again, the textured area can be seen at the base of the foothold.

Foothold F

Foothold F may be another "double," although this one is more ambiguous than Foothold E. Foothold F is a strange one, because it's positioned close to the ground. It may be that the dirt has filled in during the 80 years or so since the foothold was created.

Closeup of Foothold F

A closeup of Foothold F again shows scoring from the carving process, both along the vertical portion and through the base area.

Foothold F in background, with Foothold C in foreground

This shot gives some idea of where Foothold F, which you may be able to spot near the top right corner, is situated in relation to Foothold C, at the center of the frame.

While Foothold C can be considered a part of the "front" group of features that includes Footholds A through D, Foothold F is relatively hidden, located in the "back" section of Footholds, to the east.

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

Some readers may recall that I blogged last year about the discovery of another set of footholds, found in a rock not far from the Boots Rock area that I've been calling Tom Mix Rock. The bootholes in Tom Mix Rock were carved in connection with a shoot for the 1935 Mascot serial "The Miracle Rider."

Tom Mix Rock today, with the bootholes still in place

The bootholes remain in place today on Tom Mix Rock, although they are not as well-defined as many of the carved notches in the Footholds area. Please click here to read my blog post from last year about the Tom Mix bootholes from "The Miracle Rider."

Here's that video clip I mentioned earlier, from "Go West, Young Lady." Watch for Glenn Ford scampering up the side of Low Wall in the first few seconds of the clip, and then standing in front of Glenn Ford Rock. Also, you may want to stay tuned for about four minutes of terrific Iverson Movie Ranch action ...


Anonymous said...

Consider the possibility that some of the square holes might have been for resting timber during shooting. Footholds tend to not have four sides, while keeping a timber in place is made easier by having four sides. Compare hole measurements against common lumber sizes.

Also, in another post you mentioned rules about carving rocks. If you've accumulated enough rules, considers posting them as a reference group.

Swami Nano said...

Good point. Foothold A, which differs in its design from the other footholds, definitely looks as though it could be a base for a 4x4 post. That suggestion raises a lot of other questions as to what kind of a structure might have been built on that spot — and of course, which movie it might appear in.

This theory might also help provide an explanation for "Foothold F," which seems too close to the ground to serve much purpose as a foothold.