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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Decades before there was a Corriganville — even before there was a Hollywood — Hollywood came to Corriganville to make movies
(Off the Beaten Path)

Film industry pioneer William N. Selig with cowboy actors and Blackfoot Indians (1912)

Back before the Hollywood film industry existed, William Nicholas Selig — known today as "the man who invented Hollywood" — settled on the Edendale section of L.A. to open Southern California's first film studio.

Rented bungalow at 1845 Allesandro St. in Edendale — site of Selig's first West Coast studio

It was 1909, and this rented bungalow on Allesandro Street — today's Glendale Boulevard — is said to be where it all started. Soon as many as 30 studios — including Pathe, William Fox, Bison Film Co., Keystone and other early operations — would be in business along a four-block stretch of Allesandro.

Later version of Selig's Edendale studio, with its fancy new gate

Allesandro between Effie and Duane, in what is now the Silver Lake-Echo Park neighborhood, was the forerunner of Hollywood — the West Coast base for a film industry that was still finding its footing in the early teens.

Google street view of the Jack in the Box on Glendale Boulevard in Silver Lake

Almost nothing survives today of the original Edendale studios, but there are exceptions. Notice the large building designated here with a blue arrow, tucked in behind the Jack in the Box on Glendale Boulevard.

The building was once the centerpiece of Mack Sennett's Keystone Pictures studio. Seen here in an early photo with the Mack Sennett sign on top, the building is said to be history's first fully enclosed film stage and studio.

Located today at 1712 Glendale Blvd., the former Mack Sennett building is now part of the Public Storage facility.

"The Outbreak" (Selig Polyscope, released on March 2, 1911)

The first Hollywood studio, the Nestor Motion Picture Co., would open in late 1911. But almost a year before that milestone, William Selig's Edendale operation, Selig Polyscope Co., made a short Western called "The Outbreak."

Still photo from filming of "The Outbreak"

Almost nothing is known about "The Outbreak" — not even who starred in it or who directed it. The movie itself is lost, but one photo that survives from the film's production contains more than its share of history.

While the cast members are unknown, it's possible to determine from the plot description that the two terrified women seen huddled together here are being held captive.

The terrain surrounding the group appears hand-picked to suggest the stark, perilous nature of the American West. Each corner of the frame, in its own way, says, "Don't mess with me."

It's no accident, then, that decades later, this tortured terrain would in fact become a widely seen symbol of the West, appearing in hundreds of movies and TV shows. The presence of a familiar movie feature known to historians as "Fort Apache Rock" pinpoints this unforgiving land as the future site of Corriganville.

"Santa Fe Stampede" (Republic, 1938): An early Corriganville appearance by Fort Apache Rock

The smooth-faced rock outcropping casts a striking and immediately identifiable profile in its screen appearances — which until now were known to date back only to the late 1930s.

"Wyoming Outlaw" (Republic, 1939)

Almost everything we previously knew about Fort Apache Rock came from productions spanning less than 30 years, from the earliest filming at Corriganville in late 1937 until the arrival of the 118 Freeway in the 1960s.

The background hills as they appear today, with Fort Apache Rock missing

With progress comes sacrifice, and sadly, Fort Apache Rock became a casualty of the freeway that today is a major route from Simi Valley and Ventura County into the San Fernando Valley and L.A.

The Corriganville story is traditionally thought to go back only to 1937, when B-Western cowboy Ray "Crash" Corrigan took ownership of a rocky swath of foothill property in the southeastern corner of Simi Valley.

"Tarzan the Ape Man" (1932): One of Ray Corrigan's first gorilla suits

Corrigan had just found his way into the movie business five years earlier, starting out as a stuntman and an uncredited guy in a gorilla suit — including an appearance in Johnny Weissmuller's first Tarzan movie, filmed in part on the Iverson Ranch.

Ray "Crash" Corrigan, movie cowboy (Lower Iverson Ranch)

"Crash" was already an accomplished cowboy actor by 1937, but he dreamed of something more. Germinating inside of Ray Corrigan were the seeds of a vision that would blossom into Corriganville — a thriving movie ranch, sure, but also a place where children's Wild West fantasies could take flight.

"Overland Stage Raiders" (Republic, 1938) — L-R: Ray Corrigan, John Wayne and Max Terhune

Corrigan had become a fixture in Republic's Western trio series "The Three Mesquiteers" — a steady paycheck, but one that required him to play second fiddle, first to Robert Livingston and later to John Wayne.

Readers who keep up with the Iverson Ranch might recognize Eagle Beak Rock in this shot. The big sandstone promontory, which turns up all the time in chase scenes, remains in place today on the former Upper Iverson.

"Undersea Kingdom" (Republic serial, 1936)

Ray Corrigan would have been feeling pretty flush in 1937 — at least by B-movie cowboy standards. He had recently been promoted to leading man status, including a juicy starring role in the serial "Undersea Kingdom."

"Pals of the Saddle" (Three Mesquiteers, 1938): Ray Corrigan, center

With the ink barely dry on the deed to his new Simi Valley property, Corrigan opened the place to film shoots — and business was good. By mid-1938 a full slate of films was in production at Corriganville — including Ray Corrigan's own "Three Mesquiteers" movies, which had previously shot largely on the Iverson Ranch.

Here again, Fort Apache Rock looms in the background — and looming in the background was its specialty.

Corriganville postcard (1950s): Ray Corrigan and his Western movie set, "Silvertown"

As the movies came to Corriganville, sets were built — a Western town, a lake, a Corsican village and various cabins, caves, bridges and barns. Ray Corrigan kept the pieces intact, groomed it all into something resembling a frontier theme park, and in 1949 he began opening the gates to the public on weekends.

Corrigan's own house was a part of the set, positioned at the end of the main street through Silvertown. The postcard shows the view looking northeast along the main street from Corrigan's yard.

"The Fighting Lawman" (Allied Artists, 1953): Southwest end of Silvertown

The same picket fence noted on the postcard, outside Ray Corrigan's home, can be seen in movie shots of Silvertown, along with Corrigan's house, all but hidden at the southwest end of the street.

Bird's-eye view of Silvertown in the mid-1950s

By the mid-1950s, Corriganville's Silvertown had grown into an elaborate Western set, bustling with film and TV shoots during the week and hosting a stream of tourists on the weekends that was said to rival attendance at Southern California's top theme parks of the era, Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm.

Once again, Ray's house can be spotted at the southwest end of town.

Fort Apache, built in 1947 for John Ford's "Fort Apache," released in March 1948

When John Ford needed a fort for his Western "Fort Apache," he built one at Corriganville. I can imagine Ray telling him, "Don't worry about the mess, John — I'll clean it up" ... and then re-using the fort for the next 20 years.

It may go without saying, but it was Fort Apache that gave rise to the name "Fort Apache Rock" for that smooth cliff face, which hovers — OK, looms — behind the fort in shots taken with the camera facing north.

Henry Fonda and John Wayne at Fort Apache

Ford's big-budget "Fort Apache," starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda, became known as the first part of the director's "Cavalry Trilogy," followed by "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" in 1949 and "Rio Grande" in 1950.

"Fort Apache": Shirley Temple, John Agar and John Wayne on the Corriganville fort set

The movie also starred a 19-year-old Shirley Temple, seen here outside one of the main buildings on the original Fort Apache set. Also pictured are John Wayne and John Agar, Temple's real-life husband at the time.

Shirley Temple and John Agar: Happier times?

Temple and Agar married when Temple was just 17, and wound up in a bitter divorce five years later. Some critics have noted that the couple did not appear to have much chemistry as a romantic pairing in "Fort Apache."

Shirley Temple at Fort Apache

Temple's career in movies wouldn't last much beyond "Fort Apache." Her body may have grown up, but she had a hard time convincing audiences that she wasn't still the 6-year-old who sang "On The Good Ship Lollipop."

Shirley Temple, age 6, delivers her signature song in "Bright Eyes" (1934)

Come to think of it, would this even be considered appropriate in the Hollywood of the #MeToo era?

"The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin" (1954-1959): Steady work for Fort Apache

The Fort Apache set would undergo a series of adaptations over the years, notably the addition of a high wooden wall that made it look more like, well, a fort.

Two youngsters endure a photo op outside the fort — which boasts an identifying sign just for the tourists

Not only did the high wall give Fort Apache more of that frontier fort je ne sais quoi it needed for the movies, it also proved useful in the fort's weekend job: convincing visiting kids that they were at a real deal Wild West fort.

Children playing at Fort Apache, early 1960s

And it worked: As the souvenir booklet promised, everyone really did have fun at Corriganville.

A bird's-eye view of the fort taken in the 1950s, with the camera facing west, shows more of the wall along with some deteriorating movie buildings — and appears to show the fort being used for overflow tourist parking.

For a look at Fort Apache from a tourist's-eye view, here's a little home movie footage of a 1956 Corriganville visit. The first segment features Fort Apache. (You can also stay tuned for gunfights, fistfights, a stage holdup, etc.)

"Fort Vengeance" (1953): Fort Apache in glorious Cinecolor

Movie and TV work found Fort Apache playing a series of "other forts": Fort Bravo, Fort Vengeance and so on. On the "Rin Tin Tin" TV show, in the true spirit of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," it was Fort Apache.

Fort Apache Rock rears its stony head, yet again

There's our old friend again — Fort Apache Rock ... and it's telling us it's time to get back on track — back to 1911, and back to our story about what must have been the Great Rock's first foray into the movies.

"The Outbreak" (1911): What else is up in the old neighborhood?

With Fort Apache Rock gone now, I wanted to match up anything I could find of the other rock features seen in the "Outbreak" shot. To begin that process, notice the cluster of rocks highlighted here.

This is the same cluster in modern times. You can't miss it if you're out exploring Corriganville, wondering where the heck Fort Apache Rock went. Back in the day this group blended in with Fort Apache Rock and would have been easy to miss, but these days it pretty much has the spotlight all to itself.

By the way, is this place beautiful or what?

Here's another view. I think of the formation as a "Mini-Me" version of Fort Apache Rock that got left behind when the freeway came through. Depending on the angle, it marks the spot where Fort Apache Rock should be.

"Fort Apache": The understudy takes a bow

The "Mini-Me" rock did have its moments back in the filming era, including this solo appearance in "Fort Apache." The shot was taken from the fort, but at a low enough angle that Fort Apache Rock disappeared over the horizon.

While we're in the area, I also want to point out the 118 Freeway, trying in vain to blend into the background and acting like it had nothing to do with the disappearance of a major movie rock.

The "Mini-Me" rock: All huff and no puff

For all its landmark aura, I didn't find the "Mini-Me" rock to be of much use in trying to locate other rocks from "The Outbreak." When it came time to get down to some serious triangulating, "Mini-Me" just didn't have it.

"The Outbreak": Some background rocks that could come in handy

On the other hand, the rocks noted here turned out to be terrific triangulation partners. Once I locked in on this crowd, I had a hunch that if I could find them in the current century, I'd be in business.

Here's a shot zeroing in on those same rocks, again from the 1911 photo.

And here they are more than 107 years later, on an expedition to the site just a couple of weeks ago.

I was able to pick them out among the boulders in those background hills to the north.

Some of the key marker rocks are identified in the 2018 photo

One nice thing about these rocks is that the sharp "beak" on Rock A makes it relatively easy to tell whether we're seeing it from the angle we need to see it from — the same angle seen in "The Outbreak."

The same rocks can be identified in the 1911 photo

And we are — or at least pretty close. Everything matches up nicely. If only it were always this easy.

You may already have a sense of where this is heading, but the No. 1 objective was always to try to find the main clump of foreground rocks — the ones with all the people gathered on them. This turned out to be not so easy.

The same rocks seen in "The Outbreak," as they appear in 2018

It took three separate expeditions to Corriganville, but ultimately I was able to find them. The rocks are in a remote part of the former movie ranch that I would guess has rarely if ever been filmed since that one time in 1911.

Here's a wider view of the rocks showing more of the background the filmmakers would have seen when they shot the movie in 1911 — although clearly it's not the same without Fort Apache Rock in the picture.

I believe the camera would have been positioned on top of the same rock where I stood when I took these pictures. Due to the difficulty in accessing the area, I suspect they would have left behind any camera scaffolding.

Corriganville in recent times (Bing aerial)

This aerial shot depicts the main portion of the former Corriganville Movie Ranch, which today is contained in Corriganville Park. It's open to the public, and you can enter from the southwest off Smith Road.

Zooming in on the hill that sits right in the middle of Corriganville, this is where "The Outbreak" was filmed. It's a fairly rugged climb, and I can't recommend the route I took, but if you're determined enough, you can get there.

Two rocks marked with the white "X" (Google 3D photo)

One way you'll know you've found the rock is that it happens to have a big white "X" on it — presumably these are surveyor's marks used in aerial mapping. A second "X" rock can also be found nearby but the "Outbreak" rock is the farther south of the two.

The discovery of the "Outbreak" shooting location leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Here are a few of my "fantasy" questions:

• We know they got at least one great shot during their visit to "pre-Corriganville" Corriganville for "The Outbreak," but which other features did they film? Sadly, since the movie is lost, we'll probably never know.

• Why did they go to the trouble to get to such an inaccessible spot to shoot these particular rocks? The area had plenty of other rocks to choose from, and almost any of them would have been easier to get to.

• Which brings up a related question: How on Earth did they get all the way up there with a full cast and crew, along with a lot of heavy, delicate silent movie gear, with no roads and presumably not even so much as a trail?

• Now that we know there was filming at Corriganville more than a quarter-century before it became Corriganville, what else might have been filmed there before 1937?

I want to give a big shout-out to historian and author Carla Bollinger, who pointed me to the release flier for "The Outbreak." That was one heck of a find.

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. In addition to Corriganville, past subjects have included Franklin Canyon, Bell Ranch, Pioneertown, Oak Park, various corners 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.


Scotty Rawson said...

Great exploring alway love your adventures

Mark Sherman said...

You've been busy! Thanks again...

Bret said...

Always very interesting and enjoyable. Thanks for your hard work and dedication.