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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• 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.
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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).
• To go right to the great Iverson cinematographers, click here.
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Sunday, August 9, 2015

"Man-Woman-Marriage," starring Dorothy Phillips: Big doings on the Iverson Movie Ranch way back in 1920!

Dorothy Phillips

Dorothy Phillips was a star in the silent era, but one who, like so many actors and actresses who flourished on the silent screen, did not fare well in the transition to talkies.

Newspaper ad for "Man-Woman-Marriage" (St. Louis Argus, May 20, 1921)

One of her most important roles was the lead in the silent movie "Man-Woman-Marriage," filmed in 1920 and first released in the U.S. in 1921. Shot in part on the Iverson Movie Ranch, "Man-Woman-Marriage" was a big deal at the time, according to promotional material for the film.

EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam: The current home of "Man-Woman-Marriage"?

The movie illustrates some of the challenges inherent in documenting film production during the silent era. I've never seen "Man-Woman-Marriage," nor has anyone involved in location research. It isn't exactly considered "lost," but getting ahold of a copy would be tricky, to put it mildly. My research indicates that one copy of the movie is known to have survived and is a part of the extensive archive of the EYE Film Institute in the Netherlands.

Surviving and lost American silent feature films, by year (Library of Congress, 2013)

Many readers may already be aware that most of the movies produced during the silent era have been lost or destroyed. In a 2013 report by the Library of Congress, it was estimated that 75% of the silent feature films produced in the U.S. — depicted by the red bars in the above graph — have been lost.

"Man-Woman-Marriage" — Garden of the Gods, Iverson Movie Ranch
(image from "Quiet on the Set!" by Robert G. Sherman)

But still photos have been in circulation for years depicting a large-scale battle sequence filmed near Garden of the Gods for "Man-Woman-Marriage." With these photos to whet our appetites, Iverson researchers have long salivated over the prospect of one day getting a look at the actual movie. Knowing that a copy of it may have survived at least means there's hope — never mind the logistical challenges of extracting a copy from Amsterdam.

"Man-Woman-Marriage" — behind the scenes of the Garden of the Gods shoot

Among the most widely circulated photos from the "Man-Woman-Marriage" shoot are the two photos above, provided by the Iverson family years ago to Robert Sherman for his book "Quiet on the Set!" The remarkable behind-the-scenes shot above contains a number of interesting details, which I will point out below. I strongly recommend clicking on these photos to view them in a larger format.

At the heart of the behind-the-scenes shot is a view of Garden of the Gods, looking generally toward the south. The rocks closer to the front of the picture are located in the area I call the North Cluster. "Man-Woman-Marriage" was released in March 1921, and the shoot would have taken place in 1920.

A number of the familiar features of Garden of the Gods and the North Cluster are noted in this version of the shot. Today the flat area in the foreground is filled with condos, part of the Cal West Townhomes development.

This shot provides some idea of how the smaller rocks of the North Cluster are distinguished from the generally larger rock features of Garden of the Gods. Note that Window of the Gods (that's my name for it) is a part of the North Cluster. You can read a previous blog post about Window of the Gods by clicking here.

Also visible in the behind-the-scenes photo are a number of features specific to the shoot for "Man-Woman-Marriage," including the camera tower, a palace set with columns (seen more clearly in the first production shot, higher up in this post), a fake rock backdrop behind the palace, a number of vehicles and animals associated with the production, and a prop that appears to be a gong, positioned atop the Sphinx.

1921 Magazine ad for "Man-Woman-Marriage" from Photoplay

The shoot is misidentified in Sherman's book as being for a movie he calls "The Amazonians." No such movie exists, and an old ad for "Man-Woman-Marriage" leaves no doubt that the shoot depicted in the Sherman book is a part of filming for "Man-Woman-Marriage." I first became aware of this ad thanks to film historian Jerry England and his stunning collection of old promo stills, movie ads and other vital documents.

The photo making up the top half of the magazine ad again depicts the area just north of Garden of the Gods during the "Man-Woman-Marriage" shoot in 1920, with the palace, fake rock backdrop, gong and other pieces in place. A large cast of warriors is assembled in period costumes for the filming.

A feature of the set that comes into view in this shot is what appears to be a number of huts, resembling large bushes. These huts turn up again in shots taken from other angles, as you will see below.

Lobby card for "Man-Woman-Marriage": huge cast assembled for battle scene

A centerpiece of "Man-Woman-Marriage," according to the old promotional material, is a battle sequence featuring an army of female warriors — the same large-scale sequence filmed at Iverson.

The blurb from the above lobby card reveals how proud the studio, First National Pictures, was of its Iverson Movie Ranch battle sequence. References to "Amazons" in the promotional material begin to shed light on how the film's title might have become misconstrued in "Quiet on the Set!," where the movie was called "The Amazonians."

Lobby card for "Man-Woman-Marriage" (Jerry England collection)

A second lobby card for "Man-Woman-Marriage" again raves about the battle and touts its female-centric theme. The photos in the above two lobby cards show the same pillars from opposite directions, with the first looking toward the south and Garden of the Gods while this second lobby card turns the camera around and looks north toward Cactus Hill.

The second lobby card features its own blurb touting the battle sequence. In this case the number of cast members being claimed appears to have soared. Doing the math, the blurb promises something like 2,700 warriors. Even at 1,000, the figure was probably somewhat inflated.

The huts noted above appear again in one of the lobby cards. The incorrect attribution of this shoot to the non-existent movie "The Amazonians" in "Quiet on the Set!" and elsewhere is probably the result of author Bob Sherman's being given the erroneous information by the Iverson family. In many instances a movie's eventual title wasn't known when filming was under way.

It's also worth noting that Sherman published his book in 1984, well before the Internet and IMDb were up and running. It wasn't nearly as easy then as it is now to look up the correct titles of movies. The producers of "Man-Woman-Marriage" may have used "The Amazonians" as a working title, or referred to the big battle sequence as "the Amazonians scene."

An interesting detail in the behind-the-scenes shot in Sherman's book, if I'm reading the photo correctly, is what appears to be the same pillars seen in the two lobby cards. Here, however, the pillars are seen off to the side, apparently not yet moved into position for the battle.

I also wanted to note that, based on the angle from which the photo is taken for this lobby card, it appears to me that it was shot from the same camera tower seen in the behind-the-scenes photo.

Speaking of that behind-the-scenes photo, Iverson aficionado Ben Burtt pointed out that the shot includes a mysterious "ghost image" in the foreground, possibly of some cowboys and horses. You may be able to spot the image in this detail shot from the wide photo, but just in case, I've highlighted it in the next shot.

I don't know the origin of the image, but one theory I came up with is that these were "spectators" watching the shoot, and once they were spotted in the picture, someone in the photo department tried (but not very hard) to erase them from the shot so it could be used for promotion. The really interesting thing about the ghost image to me is that the cowboys, if that's what they are, may have been part of another film shoot that was going on nearby.

This is where the plot thickens. Ben recently dug up this photo of the same "Man-Woman-Marriage" shoot in the Garden of the Gods area, taken from a different angle. The photo provides a great look at the curved wall that appears in one of the lobby cards, and offers another angle on the positioning of the pillars.

But the "smoking gun" in this photo is the presence of two cowboys in the foreground, looking in at the main set area. This appears to me to be further evidence that a Western shoot was in progress around the same time, and the participants were circling around to sneak a peek at the big "Man-Woman-Marriage" shoot.

Ben also sent along this shot, which is even more behind-the-scenes than the others. Taken from the interior of Garden of the Gods looking toward the north, the photo shows the back of the large fake rock between Sphinx and Tower Rock — along with a reservoir that was in place at the time of the shoot.

The purpose of the reservoir is a bit of a mystery, although one theory is that it may have been used to provide water for the many horses and other animals involved in the shoot.

I want to send out a thank-you to Ben Burtt, and not just for the amazing photos he unearthed that you see in this blog post. Ben is a pioneer among Iverson researchers and was one of my biggest inspirations when I was discovering my own passion for the movie ranch. Whether we realize it or not, we've all been enriched by his love for the Iverson Movie Ranch.

This post is part of what's planned as a comprehensive series of blog entries exploring silent movies filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch. We have previously reported on a few of the Iverson silent films, and you can read those posts by clicking on the following links:

 Click here to see some terrific behind-the-scenes photos from the 1925 silent feature "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ," provided by Jill Bergstrom, the granddaughter of the great Iverson cinematographer George B. Meehan Jr., who was part of the camera crew on "Ben-Hur."

This blog post talks a little bit about the 1928 feature "Noah's Ark" and its director, Michael Curtiz, who also directed "Casablanca" and who brought crews to the Iverson Movie Ranch on a number of occasions. 

• Buster Keaton's comedy feature "Three Ages" may be the best-known of the silent-era Iverson shoots, and this post from August 2014 explores a rarely discussed set for the movie: Buster's caveman character's "armory," built high atop Rock Island in the Iverson Gorge.

1 comment:

Mark Sherman said...

My last name is Sherman but alas no relation... Great Blog this is!