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.
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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Can we talk about "the Mattress"?

Saddlehorn Relay Station in an old Iverson family photo (ca. 1939-1940)

Following up on my latest post about the Saddlehorn Relay Station, let's focus in on a feature that can be seen behind the relay station in this Iverson family photo, toward the left of the frame.

I've been tracking this unusual manmade feature, which I call "the Mattress," for several years, because it keeps turning up in the backgrounds of movies and TV shows.

"Ghost Valley Raiders" (1940): The Mattress, out behind the Relay Station

There it is again, in "Ghost Valley Raiders." The Mattress can be seen in productions spanning two decades — making it unlikely that it was an actual mattress.

"Black Bandit" (Universal, 1938): Earliest known sighting of the Mattress

The Mattress was already hanging around before the Relay Station was built. When it first showed up in the Bob Baker B-Western "Black Bandit" back in 1938, the unusual piece was situated at the base of Batman Rock.

It appears to be a slab of concrete or plaster of Paris, and presumably originated as a foundation or other part of a movie set in the late 1930s — possibly in John Ford's epic 1939 Western "Stagecoach," which I'll get into below.

"The Adventures of the Masked Phantom" (1939): The Mattress, at the base of Batman Rock

Batman Rock is shot from an unusual angle in this sequence from the Equity B-Western "The Adventures of the Masked Phantom," which captures the Mattress still in position at the base of the rock.

Batman Rock is almost unrecognizable from this angle, as we usually see it with its "Buffalo Nickel" face on.

"Six-Gun Serenade" (Monogram, 1947): The Mattress in its later location

By late 1939 or early 1940, the Mattress had been moved a short distance to the west, where it was situated near a rock I call the Happy Slab — a holdover from my "silly rock names" period several years ago.

The Mattress would remain in this location for the next two decades. Most Mattress sightings, including this one in the Jimmy Wakely movie "Six-Gun Serenade," take place between 1947 and 1959.

"Six-Gun Serenade": The Mattress, just sitting there

"Six-Gun Serenade" provides what may be the best view of the Mattress. In fact, the boxy and unnatural-looking Mattress is seen so clearly in this shot, it's surprising that they left it in the movie.

The familiar Garden of the Gods feature the Sphinx is partially visible in the background, as is Sunset Peak, located a short distance southwest of the Iverson Movie Ranch.

"Wanted Dead or Alive" (1959): Steve McQueen rides past the Mattress

In a similar but more subtle shot from the TV series "Wanted Dead or Alive" — seen in the episode "Bad Gun," which premiered Oct. 24, 1959 — the Mattress appears to have a fake tree sitting on top of it.

However, a wider shot from the same "Wanted Dead or Alive" sequence reveals that the fake tree was situated behind the Mattress, not on it. It's not easy to see — you may want to click on the photo for a better view.

"Atom Man vs. Superman" (Columbia serial, 1950)

The Mattress is usually seen in that same exact spot, right in front of the Happy Slab.

It's possible that the Mattress was made of movie foam — the stuff used to make fake rocks. But it was exposed to the elements at least from 1938 to 1959, which would have been a long time for movie foam to hold up against Chatsworth's harsh weather extremes.

"Colorado Ambush" (1951) — the Mattress and, above it, the Happy Slab

The fact that the Mattress is always seen in the same general area — and almost always in one spot, in front of the Happy Slab — suggests it was heavy, which would have been a good reason not to move it around.

"War Horse" — episode of the TV show "The Lone Ranger" (premiered Oct. 20, 1949)

Still, the presence of the Mattress in the backgrounds of so many movies and TV shows indicates that production teams didn't realize the feature would stick out like a sore thumb. It's human nature to believe what we want to believe, and clearly they didn't want to have to deal with the stupid thing.

"The Lone Ranger" episode "War Horse": The Mattress at the center of the frame

Presumably it could have been moved out of the way with a crane. But it still had to end up somewhere, and on the Iverson Movie Ranch, it would have gotten in the way of filming almost anywhere it ended up.

"Stagecoach" (1939) — Batman Rock and the Happy Slab near the burned-out Lee's Ferry station

John Ford's landmark Western "Stagecoach" may hold the key to the origin of the Mattress. In this shot from the movie's Lee's Ferry sequence, we see the close proximity of Batman Rock and the Happy Slab.

When the stagecoach arrives at Lee's Ferry, the ferry station has been destroyed in an Indian attack. Just below the Happy Slab, we can again see what appears to be the Mattress.

If this is the Mattress, it's positioned in still another spot — northwest of the Happy Slab but separated from the Slab by some distance. My hunch is that this sighting represents the original use of the Mattress.

Promo still for "Stagecoach," 1939 (Jerry England collection)

A partial view of the Mattress in that same position — again, assuming it is in fact the Mattress — also turns up in a promotional photo for "Stagecoach."

The Mattress's unusual appearance in "Stagecoach" — including its unusual location — invites speculation that the feature was created as a part of the burned-out Lee's Ferry set for the epic.

The long shadows extending east in the promo shot indicate that the shoot took place late in the day.  

Zooming in on the center section of the promo shot, we get a better look at the Mattress, among other features.

The zoomed-in shot reveals that even a low-lying hunk of concrete casts a long shadow as dusk draws near.

The zoomed-in shot also highlights a chimney, a part of the destroyed Lee's Ferry set. The proximity here of the chimney and the Mattress suggests the two pieces are related.

Lobby card for "Stagecoach" showing stops along the coach's route

Could it be that director John Ford had the Mattress built so his Lee's Ferry ruins might include a more authentic fireplace, complete with a concrete floor, or hearth? An unusual lobby card for the movie offers a clue.

Lee's Ferry is represented on the lobby card by the ruins of a fireplace — suggesting that the feature, despite being barely noticeable in the movie, was important to the filmmaker. I can almost hear the notoriously meticulous John Ford barking at the production designer, "A chimney without a hearth? Seriously?!!? Build me a hearth!!"

Approximate positions of the Mattress over the years

While the origin of the Mattress remains speculative, its various positions have been documented in the productions filmed in the area over the years. This diagram illustrates its three known locations.

A proposed timeline for the Mattress

Even though "Black Bandit" came out in 1938 — ahead of the early 1939 release of "Stagecoach" — it makes sense to place the filming of "Black Bandit" after the filming of "Stagecoach," a big-budget movie that would have been in production for much longer than the B-Western "Black Bandit."

The zoomed-in version of the "Stagecoach" promo shot includes one of the best views we'll ever see of the Happy Slab in all its glory — even if it's not as "happy" as in some of its other appearances.

"The Roy Rogers Show" — "Phantom Rustlers" (premiered April 5, 1953)

A more typical shot of the Happy Slab, along with a weird view of the Mattress, appears almost 15 years later in "The Roy Rogers Show." I can't explain why the usually boxy Mattress looks like an overinflated air mattress here.

The "Roy Rogers Show" screen shot provides a look at the Happy Slab's "face" in a happy mood. The smile as it appears here and in other productions prompted me to start calling the rock the Happy Slab.

What remains today of the Happy Slab

Recent years have been less than happy for the Slab, ever since more than half of it was lopped off during condo construction. Today the rock's barely recognizable "stump" coexists with a cluster of mailboxes.

The Slab and Batman Rock, frequent co-stars during the filming era, remain close neighbors. Here's a recent shot of Batman Rock, on the left, and the stumpy Slab at far right.

"Stagecoach" (1939): The Happy Slab as a "Mini-Me" version of Batman Rock

In kind of an odd twist of fate, both Batman Rock and the Happy Slab have curved notches missing — one way to put it would be "bites" taken out of them — in pretty much the same place.

"Batman and Robin" (Columbia serial, 1949)

About 10 years later, we get a less cluttered view of the same key players in "Batman and Robin."

As usual, the Mattress is a part of the landscape.

"Viking Women and the Sea Serpent" (1957)

Even a pair of shapely Viking women can't conceal the potent screen presence of the Mattress, as we see in a shot from Roger Corman's Iverson Movie Ranch tour de force "Viking Women and the Sea Serpent."

The Mattress made one of its final film appearances in Corman's Viking movie, which has six different titles. The full title is a mouthful: "The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent."

For readers who might be interested in further exploring these sightings, I've included links below to some of the productions discussed in this entry.


cliff said...

Thanks for the climactic ending to the story, great stuff again.

Steve Wilson said...

Love the then and now shots. Great job!

Wild Bill said...

I find the then and now shots sad. Surely houses could have been built on land with no movie memories? There is no justification for the unthinking destruction of such magnificent landscapes as these. The dollar wins every time.

Mark Sherman said...

Always entertaining! I'm always amazed at the amount of research you do. Thanks so much

Tracy Galvin said...

I am thrilled to have found your site last year. Here from the east coast every 12 weeks, including today. Perfect timing for one of your installments which gives me another reason to drive up Topanga Blvd once again. Thanks for making my business trips more than just business.