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.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Garden of the Gods: Now featuring more naked rocks!

Tower Rock, left, and Sphinx (2015)

A welcome trend in recent months has been the move toward a more open, one might even say more "naked," Iverson Movie Ranch. The recent photo above shows the "new look" version of the Garden of the Gods fixtures Tower Rock — also known as the Pinnacle — and Sphinx.

Tower Rock and Sphinx a few years ago

Up until recently, this was the view we had of Tower Rock and Sphinx. The main difference, other than the fact that I have a better camera now than I did then, is that the tree was recently removed that was blocking the view of Tower Rock. The view of Sphinx, on the right, remains pretty much the same.

Eraserhead, before the removal of the ivy

I don't know that it's part of a conscious effort to "free the rocks," but the removal of that tree follows a couple of other similar developments, including the trimming of ivy that was covering much of "Eraserhead." In this shot from 2011, Eraserhead — one of the main boulders forming Rock Island — is barely visible behind all that ivy.

Eraserhead, minus the ivy

Eraserhead today is big, bald and proud — and free of not only the ivy, but also the grass that was encroaching on its space. Now if only it could bust out of "Rock Island Prison."

RI-2: It's here, it's clear, get used to it

Some of the other Rock Island mainstays — notably RI-2, positioned to the left of Eraserhead in these shots — are also waving their freak flags a little higher these days. Not that long ago, RI-2 was all but impossible to see.

"Overland Stage Raiders" (1938): Rock Island by the numbers

I did an in-depth blog post about Rock Island back in May, and encourage you to click here to check out that post if you're interested in learning more about this fascinating cluster of famous movie rocks.

Mushroom Rock in recent years: It's in there somewhere

Another beneficiary of the trend toward leaner, cleaner foliage around the ranch has been Mushroom Rock. Movie fans have been deprived of the sight of its defining crown for decades, with much of the rock hidden behind foliage (not to mention garbage bins and other junk).

Mushroom Rock in 2015

For the first time in decades, the crown that defined Mushroom Rock in the movies again saw the light of day this year. Unfortunately, the garbage bins and piles of crappola remain in place. I talked more about the emergence of Mushroom Rock in a blog item back in April, which you can read by clicking here.

One benefit of the new, more visible, Garden of the Gods is that it has "liberated" a piece of the Iverson Movie Ranch legacy: the "Garden" sign. In the past it was difficult to get a good look at the inscription because it was concealed beneath the tree. This recent shot of the sign was taken by film historian Jerry Condit.

Not much is known about the sign, but this shot pinpoints where it is located. It is generally assumed that there's also an "of the Gods" piece of the stone engraving somewhere, but no such piece has ever turned up.

Behind-the-scenes shot from production on "Man-Woman-Marriage" in 1920

I believe it's possible to make out the same rock 95 years ago in this production shot from the 1920 filming of the silent movie "Man-Woman-Marriage," released in early 1921. It is unlikely that the inscription was already in place that long ago, although even with an unusually sharp photo such as this, there's no way to tell from this distance.

This slightly zoomed-in version of the "Man-Woman-Marriage" production shot highlights what I believe to be the same rock that now displays the "Garden" inscription. It appears to me that the small rocks just to the right of the "Garden" rock were covered up by the palace set. To see additional photos from the filming of the battle scene for "Man-Woman-Marriage," please click here.

I first published versions of the "Man-Woman-Marriage" photo as part of a recent post about the fake cave house, which is seen in this version of the shot. For the rundown on the cave house, which is featured in the Buster Keaton movie "Three Ages," please click here.

June 2015: The tree below Tower Rock, weeks before being cut down

Of course, there's a downside to the tree removal, and it's kind of obvious: the loss of the tree. As luck would have it, I happened to take pictures of that same tree on a visit to Garden of the Gods back in June. It seems obvious now that the tree was not healthy, which explains why it had to go.

Was it a famous movie tree? It does appear that the tree was around when filming was taking place in the area, but I have yet to find an example of an identifiable sighting of the tree in any movie or TV show.

Here's a shot of the same tree that I took back in February, when the tree was already looking pretty unhealthy. I took this shot to capture the group of rocks in the foreground, situated just east of where the tree was.

"Wanted: Dead or Alive" (1958): The "Easy Chair"

I gave the group of rocks the nickname the "Easy Chair" because of this shot from the TV show "Wanted: Dead or Alive" in which a sentry relaxes in the crack between two of the rocks while on duty.

"Richard the Lion-Hearted" (1923)

These same rocks — the "Easy Chair," if you will — came up in a recent post about the silent movie "Richard the Lion-Hearted," where I pointed out that the group of rocks could be seen both in recent shots and in shots of the movie's castle set from 1923. Please click here if you would like to read that post in its entirety.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Richard the Lion-Hearted": A silent movie-era Medieval castle in Garden of the Gods

"Richard the Lion-Hearted" (1923)

A number of early filmmakers were inspired to build fake castles and palaces in exactly the same spot — spanning the two most prominent sandstone behemoths in the Iverson Movie Ranch's Garden of the Gods. The above example is a production shot for "Richard the Lion-Hearted," a rarely seen silent picture starring Wallace Beery.

Most of the castle in the photo consists of a painting on glass, superimposed over a partial version of a castle that was built on the site, in the space between Tower Rock on the left and Sphinx on the right. The wandering yellow line in this version of the photo traces the approximate division between the two parts of the composite photo.

Fake castle front, built for "Richard the Lion-Hearted"

This production shot depicts only the portion of the castle that was built in Garden of the Gods, along with a full view of the sandstone boulders framing the construction. You may also notice a few crew members working on a camera tower in front of the castle gate.

The two main rock features are highlighted here. Tower Rock has had multiple names, with "the Pinnacle" being an early reference apparently used by the Iverson family, while "Tower Rock" is a name the family used in the movie ranch's latter days. Both rocks have also been called "Indian Head" in various circumstances, and the Sphinx has also been referred to as "Eagle Beak."

"Dallas" (Warner Bros., 1950)

These giant boulders have been featured in countless movies and TV shows spanning roughly the past 100 years. The above photo is a nice color example of the rocks as they appear in the Gary Cooper Western "Dallas," filmed from approximately the same angle seen in the "Richard the Lion-Hearted" photo.

"The Lone Ranger" TV series (1949)

Here's another example, from the TV series "The Lone Ranger," with the two main rocks shot from a different angle. From this angle I think we get a pretty good idea of why the giant boulder on the right — which is closer to the center in this shot — is called "The Sphinx."

Garden of the Gods, on a visit to the site in 2015

Here's a shot of the same area seen in the "Richard the Lion-Hearted" photo, taken on a recent visit to the site. While Tower Rock and Sphinx are instantly recognizable, even some of the smaller rocks, seemingly strewn about on the ground, can be matched up with the movie shots.

Notice the distinctive group of small rocks highlighted here, on the ground below Tower Rock.

This is that same group of rocks more than 90 years earlier, in the "Richard the Lion-Hearted" photo.

A number of the other rocks in the two photos also match. Here I've highlighted a couple of rocks in the "Richard the Lion-Hearted" production shot from 1923.

Here are those same rocks as they appear today, although they're much closer here and seen from a slightly different angle.

Taking another look at the "Richard the Lion-Hearted" composite photo, you may notice that the two elements of the castle — the glass painting and the location shot — are not perfectly aligned. That's because the photo is taken by a still photographer while the glass is being held in place for filming. It's not exactly the same view seen by the movie camera, where the two parts would be lined up more accurately.

This version of the "Richard the Lion-Hearted" shot reveals some interesting context. We can see part of the frame on the glass shot as it is being held in place to be filmed against the backdrop of the actual location. This photo comes from the book "The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting" by Mark Cotta Vaz and Craig Barron, possibly the only authoritative work done to date — and easily the best — on matte shots in the movies.



The above links to Amazon.com should help you track down a copy of "The Invisible Art" if you have an interest in learning more about the use of matte shots in film. This incredible reference work has been released in both hardbound and paperback versions.

Readers who have been following recent posts about the Buster Keaton movie "Three Ages" and the fake cave house may have already spotted this, but the cave house appears again in this shot for "Richard the Lion-Hearted" — not really a surprise, as the two movies were produced the same year, 1923, and filmed in the same area.

"Three Ages" (1923): Fake cave house

This shot from "Three Ages" shows the cave house in use by a cave family. The "stone" staircase seen at the left here is visible toward the front of the shot in the castle photo above this one. The cave house is known to have stood near Garden of the Gods at least from 1920-1926, and may date as far back as the 1910s. You can read more about this fake cave house by clicking here.

Set for battle scene in "Man-Woman-Marriage" — filmed in 1920, released in 1921

We've recently explored another example of silent movie-era construction in the same spot where the castle was built for "Richard the Lion-Hearted." For "Man-Woman-Marriage," filmed three years earlier, a palace front was built, along with a fake rock backdrop spanning the gap between Tower Rock (aka the Pinnacle) and the Sphinx. Please click here to read the recent post about the 1920 shoot for "Man-Woman-Marriage."


This blog post is part of a series of posts exploring silent movies filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch. We have previously reported on a number of the Iverson silent films, and you can read those posts by clicking on the links below:

• Please click here to read a recent post about a fake cave house that stood near Garden of the Gods for several years in the 1920s — and possibly as far back as the 1910s — which had a prominent role in the 1923 Buster Keaton silent feature "Three Ages."

• Here's a post about a battle sequence filmed near Garden of the Gods for the 1921 release "Man-Woman-Marriage" — a scene that was billed at the time as "so stupendous that it amazed even the film colony of Los Angeles."

This blog post talks a little bit about the iconic scene used in the label above, in which Noah's Ark is "beached" on top of the sandstone giants of Garden of the Gods. The shot comes from the 1928 silent feature "Noah's Ark," directed by Michael Curtiz, who later directed "Casablanca" and who brought crews to the Iverson Movie Ranch on a number of occasions. 

• Buster Keaton's 1923 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: an "armory" controlled by Buster's caveman character, built high atop Rock Island in the Iverson Gorge.

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." (Note that most of the material in this post is non-Iverson, even though parts of "Ben-Hur" were filmed on the location ranch.)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Silent movie-era fake rock house was a fixture on the Iverson Movie Ranch in the 1920s

"Three Ages" (Buster Keaton, 1923): Fake "cave house" near Garden of the Gods

New details have recently come to light about a large fake rock that stood on the Iverson Movie Ranch during the 1920s. In the above shot from the silent comedy feature "Three Ages," the fake rock occupies much of the background — including a crude staircase visible on the left and a cave opening near the center of the frame.

Buster Keaton, left, and Wallace Beery vie for the affections of Margaret Leahy in "Three Ages"

The rock has a prominent role in "Three Ages" as the home of "The Girl," played by Margaret Leahy, along with her cave parents. Leahy's cave girl is Buster's love interest during the caveman portions of the film, which make up about a third of the one-hour movie.

Buster Keaton's "armory" on top of Rock Island in "Three Ages"

All of the caveman sequences in "Three Ages" were filmed on the Lower Iverson, in what was at the time one of the most extensive film shoots ever undertaken on the location ranch. I've blogged previously about one of the sets used in "Three Ages" — an "armory" built high atop Rock Island, as seen above. Please click here to read my earlier post about Buster's armory.

The best study I've seen of the Iverson locations in "Three Ages" can be found in the John Bengtson book "Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Buster Keaton." Along with "Three Ages," Bengtson examines the Iverson shoots for the Keaton shorts "The Paleface" (1922) and "The Balloonatic" (1923) — not to mention countless other Keaton productions filmed in other locations.



Above you'll find a link where you can shop for "Silent Echoes" on Amazon.com, along with Bengtson's similarly exhaustive Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd location books, "Silent Traces" (Chaplin) and "Silent Visions" (Lloyd). I can give an enthusiastic recommendation to all of Bengtson's crucial film location research.

The set of the big battle scene in "Man-Woman-Marriage" (photo taken in 1920)

Recent scouring of old production photos — especially by longtime Iverson researcher Ben Burtt — reveals that the fake rock was in place well before "Three Ages" arrived at the movie ranch for filming in 1923. The above photo that Ben dug up from 1920 is a key piece of evidence.

This remarkable behind-the-scenes photo from the filming of "Man-Woman-Marriage" — which I've zoomed in on here — provides a clear view of the fake cave house, near the left of the frame. I may sound like a broken record, but I'm going to once again recommend that you click on these photos to see them in a larger format.

This version of the shot highlights the fake cave house. Many of the other features seen in the photo are known to be from filming in 1920 for the early 1921 release "Man-Woman-Marriage."

The curved wall, pillars, palace front and large fake rock wall behind the palace, along with various other features, leave no doubt that the photo was taken in 1920, when a huge battle scene was filmed at the location. The set also includes a number of shrub-like structures that I believe are huts.

Another fun item you may have already spotted in the photo is a group of old cars parked on the set, mostly hidden behind one of the huts. For more about the big Iverson shoot for the "Man-Woman-Marriage" battle sequence, please click here to read my recent post.

Lobby card for "Man-Woman-Marriage" (1921) — photo taken in 1920

A lobby card for "Man-Woman-Marriage" also captures a portion of the fake cave house. I talked more about this lobby card in the recent entry on "Man-Woman-Marriage."

Promo still for "Tell It to the Marines" (1926)

Another piece of the puzzle surfaces a few years later, in connection with the 1926 silent feature "Tell It to the Marines." The above promotional still for the movie includes a partial glimpse of what I believe to be the same fake rock house.

It should be noted that the widely circulated promo still uses movie magic to create the overall effect. My initial impression was that the shot must be a composite, but I have since come to understand that the bridge, the fake gorge and all the surrounding fake rocks were in fact built on site, at Iverson. I will go into detail about this impressive construction effort in an upcoming post.

The key feature of the "Tell It to the Marines" promo still, for the purposes of understanding the fake cave house, is what appears to be the same fake rock, still in place in the area north of Garden of the Gods — the same spot where it appeared three years earlier in "Three Ages."

Another photo associated with "Tell It to the Marines" provides a better view of the rock house. This wide behind-the-scenes shot appears in Robert Sherman's Iverson book "Quiet on the Set!"

The fake cave house appears near the left of the frame, as indicated above. Along with the familiar Garden of the Gods rock features, the shot includes a large arch that was built for the movie.

Here's a zoomed-in portion of the wide shot, offering a slightly more detailed view of the fake rock.

Ben Burtt found one of the most interesting photos of the cave house, sending along this undated snapshot — presumably again from the early 1920s — depicting an unidentified group of people standing on top of the feature.

The big questions with any fake rock or other construction at Iverson are always: "Who built it, and where does it first appear?" I'd love to say I know the answers, but I don't. When it comes to the silent movies in particular, records are so sporadic that we may never know the answers.

We know this much: The fake cave house does not appear to be a part of the shoot for "Man-Woman-Marriage," even though it can be seen off to the side during the shoot. That places its origin even further back, perhaps pre-1920.

"The Primitive Man" (D.W. Griffith, 1914): Not believed to be filmed at Iverson

Was it always a "cave house"? Was it a part of an old caveman movie from before that time? Suffice to say the fake cave house is a pretty hot topic among location researchers at the moment, and if the answer is out there, I have a feeling someone will find it.


This post is the latest entry in what's planned as a comprehensive series of blog posts 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:

• Here's a link to a recent post that set the stage for this one, focusing on the battle sequence filmed near Garden of the Gods for the 1921 release "Man-Woman-Marriage."

This blog post talks a little bit about the iconic scene used in the label above, in which Noah's Ark is "beached" on top of the sandstone giants of Garden of the Gods. The shot comes from the 1928 silent feature "Noah's Ark," directed by Michael Curtiz, who later directed "Casablanca" and who brought crews to the Iverson Movie Ranch on a number of occasions. 

• Buster Keaton's 1923 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: an "armory" controlled by Buster's caveman character, built high atop Rock Island in the Iverson Gorge.

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." (Note that the material in this post is mostly non-Iverson.)