Here's what the Iverson Movie Ranch obsession is all about ...

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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.

1 comment:

Mark Sherman said...

Very interesting as always! Thanks!