"Gunsmoke": Glenn Strange as Sam the Bartender
Fans of "Gunsmoke" know Glenn Strange mainly as Sam Noonan, the mild-mannered, albeit occasionally shotgun-wielding, bartender in Miss Kitty's Long Branch Saloon.
Glenn Strange: B-Western baddie
But before he settled down in 1961 for what would turn out to be 12 years and 238 episodes of steady, law-abiding work keeping Dodge City liquored up, Strange spent three decades in Hollywood piling up a resume as one of the baddest — and busiest — bad guys in the Westerns.
"Last Stagecoach West" (1957): Glenn Strange in the Iverson Gorge
As one of the most prolific actors in B-Westerns and early TV Westerns, Strange was a regular on the Iverson Movie Ranch. Between his career in movies going back to 1930 and his TV work starting with "The Lone Ranger" in 1949, Strange appeared in close to 600 productions.
Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's monster
Strange also played Frankenstein's monster in a series of Universal horror films in the 1940s, taking over the role made famous by Boris Karloff after Karloff reportedly got tired of being the monster all the time.
"The Lone Ranger," Episode 1: Glenn Strange as Butch Cavendish (1949)
One of Strange's signature roles came in the TV series "The Lone Ranger." Starting in the show's first episode, Strange played one of the most hated characters of his career — the brutal killer Butch Cavendish.
The Cavendish Gang gathers in Iverson's Garden of the Gods to plan an ambush
In a way, Strange's character created the Lone Ranger. Early in episode one of the TV show, Cavendish masterminded an ambush of a group of Texas Rangers that left almost all of them dead — all except one, who would recover from his injuries and would go on to become the Lone Ranger.
L.A.'s Bronson Canyon: Members of the Cavendish Gang lie in wait
The ambush scene was edited together from two location shoots in two different parts of L.A. — one in Bronson Canyon, near Griffith Park, and one on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth. Many of the shots of the bushwhackers were filmed in Bronson Canyon.
Texas Rangers ride into trouble in L.A.'s Bronson Canyon
The "box canyon" configuration of Bronson Canyon — a setup that a layman might call a "dead end" — makes it the ideal spot for an ambush.
Glenn Strange as Cavendish — the Phantom in the background
But shots of Cavendish himself during the ambush were filmed in front of a distinctive rock located on the Iverson Movie Ranch: the Phantom, one of the many sandstone giants found in the Garden of the Gods.
The same site as it appears today (photo by Tony M)
The general location for this shot has been known for several years. I blogged about the sequence back in 2010, soon after identifying the Phantom as the rock in the background. But it was only a couple of months ago that the other rocks in the shot were identified.
Rock C: "Strange Rock," in foreground
The identification of Rocks B and C is historically significant, given the central role the site played in the "Lone Ranger" story. After Tony showed me the spot, I found I couldn't resist calling Rock C "Strange Rock," in honor of Glenn Strange. The rock's slightly "strange" shape only makes the name that much more appropriate.
"Desire" (1936): Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich
Rocks B and C turn up in a number of other productions as well, although they're generally not seen from the angles used in "The Lone Ranger." Both rocks are visible in the background in this screen shot from the Marlene Dietrich-Gary Cooper movie "Desire."
Where Glenn Strange was positioned during filming of the "Lone Ranger" ambush
Taking a closer look at the "Lone Ranger" ambush site today, we can see that the almost 45-degree slope on the south side of Strange Rock, where Cavendish and his henchmen were positioned, would have made this a precarious shoot — even without the dried brush that now occupies much of the space.
"The Flying Deuces" (Laurel and Hardy, 1939)
"Rock B" from the ambush sequence has its own claim to fame, having provided the foundation for a mountain of laundry during the famous "laundry scene" in the 1939 Laurel and Hardy movie "The Flying Deuces."
The Phantom and "Rock B" in modern times
Here's "Rock B" without the laundry piled on top of it. I posted a blog item last year providing additional details about this shoot, which you can find by clicking on this link.
Map to Strange Rock and the "Lone Ranger" ambush site
If you can find your way to Redmesa Road in Chatsworth, Calif., you can probably find Strange Rock and the site of the "Lone Ranger" ambush. Park on Redmesa, just before the condos, and head for the blue gate on the west side of the road. Behind the gate, take Garden of the Gods Trail; at the top, continue straight ahead.