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.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Jack and the Beanstalk (1917): When the children of Chatsworth joined forces to conquer a giant (Off the Beaten Path)

"Jack and the Beanstalk," 1917 (Click on the photo to see a larger version — highly recommended!)

Hollywood discovered the dramatic landscapes of Chatsworth, Calif., more than a century ago, back in the formative years of the movie industry — a point illustrated by this stunning promo shot from 1917.

The "Jack and the Beanstalk" filming location in 2017

This may look like another shot from 1917, minus the movie set, but it's actually a photo I took myself just this week. The black-and-white shot reveals that the site is virtually unchanged, 100 years later.

The same recent photo of the filming location, in color

This is the site in its natural colors, which in August in Southern California means mostly brown. The location is part of the Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park, and it's open to hikers — although I recommend waiting until the weather cools down.

The promo still, which surfaced in Marc Wanamaker's exhaustive Bison Archives, features a massive walled city with a main castle in the back. But let's start with a look at the top right corner of the frame.

Top right corner of the 1917 promo shot

If this rocky slope looks familiar, it's probably because it's the same sandstone bluff in western Chatsworth that turned up in the Lillian Gish photo we examined on this blog one week ago.

The same bluff, as seen in the background of the Lillian Gish photo

This is the bluff as it appears in the Lillian Gish photo, which dates back to the same period when "Jack and the Beanstalk" was filming. The angle is different and the background is not as clear here as in the "Beanstalk" shot.

Lillian Gish and unidentified actor, Chatsworth, Calif., circa 1915-1917

Here's the rest of the Lillian Gish photo, with the bluff again in the top right corner. You can click here to read my previous post detailing the surprising discovery of the photo's many surviving features.

You may recall I noted that one of the rocks looks like an Egyptian mummy.

Background of the "Jack and the Beanstalk" promo shot

Mummy Face turns up again in the "Jack and the Beanstalk" photo, although from this angle and in this light, the mummy's face disappears. For consistency, I'll continue to identify the rock as "Mummy Face."

The "Mummy Face" slope, from the "Jack and the Beanstalk" angle

Here's a view of Mummy Face from my recent expedition to the "Jack and the Beanstalk" location. The framing of this photo approximately matches the one above it.

This is where Mummy Face lurks above the "Jack and the Beanstalk" walled city. The set contains several houses, at least one church and a windmill, along with a nice castle in the back.

This may be obvious, but the figure in the foreground is the Giant from the "Jack and the Beanstalk" story. The arrival of the menacing Giant, who lives in his own castle nearby, means trouble for the denizens of the walled city.

Jim G. Tarver as the Giant in "Jack and the Beanstalk"

The Giant was played by Jim G. Tarver, a real-life giant who stood anywhere from 7-foot-3 to 8-foot-6, depending on which hype you choose to believe. Tarver had just one film credit, in "Jack and the Beanstalk."

Promotional shot for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus side show

He did, however, have a life in show business, if you see it that way. Known as "the Texas Giant" and billed as the World's Tallest Man, Tarver spent 26 years as a side show attraction with the circus.

Tarver with the Franklin brothers, co-directors of "Jack and the Beanstalk"

Tarver went along with promotional stunts for the movie, including this photo taken with brothers Sidney and Chester M. Franklin, the directors of "Jack and the Beanstalk."

Jim G. Tarver with Charlie Chaplin, 1924

He apparently stayed in touch with Hollywood, as he was photographed with Charlie Chaplin in 1924.

The "Jack and the Beanstalk" photo includes a large crowd of people gathered along the wall of the city, and if you look closely, you can see that many of the faces in the crowd are children.

Local kids and other cast members line the wall of the city

In an oral history back in 1974, Joseph W. Bannon, the son of Chatsworth homesteaders who was about 15 when the movie was filmed, recalled that "all the kids in the area" turned out for the production.

The producers put those kids in costumes and put them all in the movie, later declaring in ads for the film that the production included a cast of "1,300 children" — probably a bit of an exaggeration.

Homestead map of the area where "Jack and the Beanstalk" filmed

The Bannons homesteaded just north of the Mirandas in the early years of the 20th century. The Mirandas, whose adobe survives in the Oakwood Cemetery, played a key role in the recent post about the Lillian Gish photo.

The big set for "Jack and the Beanstalk" was situated mainly on the Bannons' property, but filming encroached at least a little bit onto Miranda turf to the south.

Using a stone boat to haul rocks

In Joseph Bannon's oral history he said one of his jobs on "Jack and the Beanstalk" was to bring Tarver up the hill to the filming site, which Bannon said he did using a rock-hauling vehicle known as a "stone boat."

The Bannons' Chatsworth rock quarry, circa 1898

The Bannons owned the land where Chatsworth's turn-of-the-century rock quarry stood, so even at age 15 Joe Bannon would have known how to handle a stone boat. 

Main filming area for "Jack and the Beanstalk" — part of the Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park

One of the best things about the "Jack and the Beanstalk" filming location is that the land has been preserved for public use. Anyone who can manage a modest hike can visit the spot.

The Andora trailhead, leading to the "Jack and the Beanstalk" filming location

The map below should point you to the Andora trailhead, which is on Andora just south of Lassen Street and the Oakwood Memorial Park. Once you're there, head for the Miranda Loop Trail.

Follow the trail marked here in yellow. The "X" marks the vantage point where I had the most luck trying to approximate the camera angle from the 1917 promo shot.

The Bannon Quarry, which operated from about 1892-1915, was located a short distance northeast of the "Jack and the Beanstalk" filming location, just north of what is now the Oakwood Memorial Park.

Promo still for "Jack and the Beanstalk," 1917: The Giant's castle, a separate set

The identification of the site where the walled city once stood is not the end of the story — there's also the matter of the Giant's castle, which was a separate set — and a fairly elaborate one.

In the movie the children sweep up the long staircases and invade the castle.

The invasion is part of the movie's climactic sequence, and even if it didn't quite include the claimed "1,300 children," the movie's producers did suit up a lot of kids for the occasion.

The rocks where the Giant's castle stood in 1917

The Giant's castle location is much harder to access today than the rest of the "Jack and the Beanstalk" filming site, but the rocks remain intact.

The site of the Giant's castle can be found on a hilltop a short distance southeast of the main filming area. Today the rocks are adjacent to a long driveway and the area is marked with "no trespassing signs," even though technically the rocks may be located on park property.

Motography, Sept. 8, 1917

A blurb that ran in the trade magazine Motography in 1917 offers a quaint reminder of how new the movies still were when "Jack and the Beanstalk" came out a century ago.



"Jack and the Beanstalk" may or may not have survived — suffice to say it's a hard movie to find. However, through the miracle of YouTube, we do have a 16-minute clip from the movie, which you can watch above.


Off the Beaten Path is a series of posts that stray from the usual subject matter of this blog, which is the Iverson Movie Ranch. Past subjects have included Franklin Canyon, Bell Ranch, Pioneertown, Corriganville, Oak Park, various parts of Chatsworth and other old filming locations. You can go directly to the Off the Beaten Path posts by looking up the term "Off the Beaten Path" in the long index of labels at the right of the page, or by clicking here.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A century-old photo of Lillian Gish reveals secrets to Chatsworth's past (Off the Beaten Path)

Promo still of Lillian Gish and unknown actor, circa 1915-1917 (Bison Archives)

A mysterious promotional photo from early in Hollywood's silent movie era has had film historians stumped for a while, but just in the past few weeks some of the photo's biggest mysteries have been solved.

The photo, which features Lillian Gish with an actor who has yet to be identified, dates from circa 1915-1917 and is thought to be associated with the Triangle Film Corp. — the D.W. Griffith-Thomas Ince-Mack Sennett partnership.

My hunch is that the actor in the shot is Wilfred Lucas, which would suggest the photo was taken for the 1917 feature "Souls Triumphant." At this point it's only a theory, and I would love to hear what readers think.

As soon as I received the photo I began trying to determine where it was taken. I concentrated initially on the bluffs in the background, which I thought almost "had to be" somewhere in the hills west of Chatsworth, Calif.

Zoomed-in shot of the background bluffs

This is what I was looking for, and it only took a couple of expeditions to the "edge of civilization" — along the perimeter of Chatsworth at the far west end of the San Fernando Valley — before it turned up.

The same bluffs as they appear today

The sandstone outcroppings were located on the side of an east-facing slope a short distance southwest of the Iverson Movie Ranch.

The key to identifying the rocks was this "face," which appears when the outcroppings are captured in the right light. To me it bears a strong resemblance to an Egyptian mummy.

The same "mummy-faced" rock can be seen in the background of the Lillian Gish photo.

The "Bat Signal," west of Chatsworth

The formation with the mummy-like rock is part of a section of the Santa Susana Mountains I call the "Bat Signal."

In this recent shot of the Bat Signal, the "mummy-faced" rock appears at the right of the frame.

The real Bat Signal

The name "Bat Signal" comes from the formation's similarity to the actual Bat Signal from the "Batman" TV show — not that "actual" or "real" are the right words to use when describing the Bat Signal.

As usual with rock names, it's not a perfect fit. But the wide "wings" combined with the small peak in the center evoke the Bat Signal for me, and that's what I've been calling it for years.

The Bat Signal in 1949

The Bat Signal is visible across a wide swath of the northern San Fernando Valley. Here's a shot of it that someone posted online that was taken following a rare San Fernando Valley snowstorm on Jan. 11, 1949.

The photo is taken looking west along Plummer Street in Chatsworth. In my experience, once you see the Bat Signal, it's impossible to "unsee" it. I apologize to those of you who might find this unsettling.

Promo still for "Three Word Brand," 1921 (Jerry England collection)

The Bat Signal can occasionally be spotted in productions. Here's a promo shot for the silent William S. Hart Western "Three Word Brand," taken at the Chatsworth Reservoir, in which the Bat Signal can be seen at the right.

The formation looks less "bat-like" from this angle, shot from farther south than the Lillian Gish promo still. But the profile of the formation remains recognizable.

"Bat Masterson" episode "Garrison Finish" (premiered Dec. 10, 1959)

In this screen shot from, appropriately, the TV show "Bat Masterson," a partial version of the Bat Signal appears at top left, helping to pinpoint the filming location as the Marwyck Ranch in Northridge.

Marwyck was a thoroughbred farm founded by Barbara Stanwyck and Zeppo Marx, who owned neighboring ranches near Devonshire and Reseda. Stanwyck's home remains intact and is now known as the Oakridge Estate.

Extending north from the Bat Signal are the same Santa Susana Mountains frequently seen in the backgrounds of productions filmed on the Iverson Ranch, although the unusual angle here makes them harder to recognize.

The Oakridge Estate — former home of Barbara Stanwyck

The Friends of Oakridge have been working for years to help preserve Stanwyck's Northridge home. I recommend a visit to the website (click here) to learn more about the estate and its preservation.

Google aerial photo of northwest Chatsworth, including the Bat Signal

It can be challenging to translate hill profiles to an aerial map, but here's a rough diagram. The tops of the Bat Signal formation rise above Lilac Lane and Mesa Drive, east of Box Canyon Road.

You can barely see it here, but this is where Mummy Face can be found. Along with the bulk of the Bat Signal, Mummy Face sits on land that today is part of the Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park.

Here's a zoomed-in version, just to give you an idea of what Mummy Face looks like in the aerial photo. I'm tempted to call it Max Headroom from this angle, but I will resist that temptation.

Other important features in the area include the Oakwood Memorial Park and the former Iverson Movie Ranch.

Once I determined the general location where the Lillian Gish photo was shot, I set my sights on finding the clump of rocks that stood behind Gish during the shoot.

"Search area" for the Lillian Gish rocks

With all the development that has taken place in the area since the 1910s, I felt it was likely that the rocks did not survive. And even if they had, there was still the pesky problem of finding them.

Ground Zero for the search

Thanks to getting a pretty good matching angle on the "Mummy Face" rock in the background, I was able to establish that Ground Zero for the search was somewhere near the Lassen-Andora intersection.

It's an interesting section of Chatsworth — not only a point where four roads meet, but also a frontier between the developed areas to the south, east and north and the undeveloped parkland to the west.

A number of landmarks can be found near this key intersection — including the Andora trailhead into the park, which is right where Roy Rogers and Dale Evans used to have their driveway.

Survivors: the same rocks seen in the Lillian Gish photo

Now we can add another landmark to the list: The Lillian Gish Rocks. They survived development, and can be found along the west side of Baden Avenue, just below Lassen and the cemetery entrance.

The rocks seen behind Lillian Gish are part of a larger cluster of rocks, most of which do not appear in the old promo shot. As you can see, today the rocks are behind a chain-link fence.

While the rocks are on Baden Avenue, they're in the backyard of a house on Andora. The location of the rocks turned out to be pretty much at Ground Zero.

Once I found the Lillian Gish rocks I got a little cocky, setting my sights on the seemingly unrealistic goal of finding other features hidden deep within the promo shot.

Zoomed-in shot of the background features

Specifically, I wondered whether the old house seen in the circa 1915 photo might, by some miracle, still be standing. And assuming the house was long gone, I could still search for that interesting clump of rocks.

Undated photo of the Miranda Adobe in modern times

To my amazement, I found out the house is in fact still standing. Known today as the Miranda Adobe, the building was once the home of Francisco Miranda, an early Chatsworth homesteader.

A map of the old homesteads in the area shows that Miranda owned much of the property that became the Oakwood Memorial Park, along with a strip of land to the west that is now public parkland.

When the Oakwood Memorial Park was established at the west end of Lassen back in the early 1920s, Miranda's former home became a part of the cemetery.

The Miranda Adobe in 2017 — as Joan's Flowers

In recent years, the Miranda Adobe, now located behind the Oakwood offices and chapel, became a flower shop.

The building has been renovated and reinforced, but still retains much of its original appearance.

Out behind the flower shop, Mummy Face continues to overlook the setting.

The Miranda Adobe, circa 1915-1917, as seen in the Lillian Gish photo

Photos of the Miranda Adobe as far back as the 1910s are extremely rare — possibly even nonexistent, until now. The Lillian Gish photo provides an important view of the building in its early setting.

But what about that great clump of rocks out behind the house?

The rocks out behind the Miranda Adobe

Sure enough, the rocks have survived too. They can still be found on a rise just north of the house.

Off the Beaten Path is a series of posts that stray from the usual subject matter of this blog, which is the Iverson Movie Ranch. Past subjects have included Franklin Canyon, Bell Ranch, Pioneertown, Corriganville, Oak Park and other old filming locations. You can go directly to the Off the Beaten Path posts by looking up the term "Off the Beaten Path" in the long index of labels at the right of the page, or by clicking here.