The movie showcases the talents of Gene Autry, still a rising star in 1936 but already one of the crown jewels in Republic's stable of stars. By the end of the year, Autry was voted the movies' No. 1 Western star — a title he held every year until 1942, when he took a hiatus from acting to join the war effort, becoming an Army Air Corps pilot.
The "movie in a movie" element makes "The Big Show" something truly special from a location standpoint, because in filming a movie being made, even a fictional one, "The Big Show" captures what it would have in fact looked like to make movies at Iverson.
Promo still for "The Big Show": Gene Autry seated on the "bench" next to Crown Rock
This photo catches Gene during a "break" from filming in the Iverson Gorge — really just part of a series of promo shots in which Autry is being snuck up on by a Native American. In the real world if a Native American wanted to sneak up on people, I have a feeling he wouldn't try to do it in full headdress.
Crown Rock and Crown Bench as they appear today
To passers-by who are aware of the area's movie history, Crown Rock and Crown Bench serve as reminders of the northwest San Fernando Valley's important role in creating the mystique of the American West. But I suspect some residents of the condo complex see these landmarks and think, "What's that stupid rock doing there?"
Devil's Doorway as it appears today
Devil's Doorway is another rock feature that has survived and today is part of the condo complex.
The mustache is the giveaway that this is a shot of the "evil" Gene Autry character in "The Big Show" — the egotistical movie cowboy Tom Ford. The rocks in the background can be easily found today — visitors can see them from the car along the west side of Redmesa Road in Chatsworth.
Roy Rogers, who would eventually give Gene Autry some competition for the title of America's favorite cowboy, also turns up in "The Big Show," in an uncredited role as backup guitarist in the Sons of the Pioneers.
The Roy Rogers: cola, grenadine syrup and a maraschino cherry
But it was Roy Rogers who ended up with a cocktail — or "mocktail" — named after him. Who doesn't have fond memories of ordering a delicious "Roy Rogers" as a kid — or for the girls, a delicious "Shirley Temple."
Gene Autry and a cast of notables in "The Big Show"
When "The Big Show" was produced, Rogers was still waiting his turn. In the movie he settles mainly for pickin' and grinnin' in the background as Autry commands center stage.
"The Big Show" at the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas
One of the big attractions of "The Big Show" for some of the movie's fans is that, along with its Iverson Movie Ranch footage, the production filmed extensively at Fair Park in Dallas. The historic facility had recently been transformed into an art deco showcase for the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition.
I recently obtained a copy of the DVD set "Gene Autry Collection 1," which contains "The Big Show" along with the Autry movies "Melody Trail," "Boots and Saddles" and "Rhythm of the Saddle." The movies are remastered, and the picture quality on "The Big Show" is dramatically improved from any previous versions I've seen. The movie is also restored to its original running time of 71 minutes.
Here's a link to Amazon, where you can buy the Gene Autry Collection 1. Most of the photos in this post come from this DVD set, and I can recommend it to anyone who's interested in the Iverson Movie Ranch.