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, September 23, 2018

Digging into movie history in the Alabama Hills — "Then and now" shots from Lone Pine's master rock detective Don Kelsen

Lone Pine's Alabama Hills: Filming location seen in "Frontier Days" (photo by Don Kelsen)

Photographer and movie location researcher Don Kelsen has been tracking down filming locations around Lone Pine, Calif., for more than 20 years, and offered to share some of his favorite finds with readers of this blog.

"Frontier Days" (Spectrum Films, 1934)

Don's photo above matches this shot from the Bill Cody Western "Frontier Days." Notice the tiny figure of early cowboy hero Cody near the bottom of the frame, which gives an idea of the scale of the rocks.

Bill Cody keeps an eye on the bad guys in "Frontier Days"

Here's another shot from "Frontier Days" — which, incidentally, is the focus of a tour that Don will be conducting in connection with this year's Lone Pine Film Festival, running Oct. 5-8. Don's movie tours are typically one of the hottest tickets at the festival.

The same spot as it appears today — tracked down and photographed by Don Kelsen

Don learned the ropes at Lone Pine under the tutelage of the late Dave Holland, who was a heck of a rock detective himself. Dave remains a legendary figure among film location historians, especially for his work in Lone Pine, where he was a founder and longtime director of the Lone Pine Film Festival.

"In Old Colorado" (Hopalong Cassidy, 1941)

Don learned his lessons well, and today possesses a depth of knowledge of Lone Pine and its historic Alabama Hills that enables him to find almost any rock in the sprawling landscape.

The same scene in modern times (Don Kelsen)

Hopalong Cassidy is a big part of Lone Pine's film history, with almost all of William Boyd's beloved Hoppy movies filmed in and around the Alabama Hills.

"In Old Colorado": Morris Ankrum uses the rock to steady his aim

Another shot from the same sequence in the movie shows a little more of the background, particularly the area at the right of the frame.

"In Old Colorado" (1941)

In this shot from "In Old Colorado," Morris Ankrum, strolling across an unusual rock formation, shouts down orders to his henchmen James Seay, left, and Weldon Heyburn.

Here's Don's photo of that same confluence of rocks as they appear today.

Errol Flynn in "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1936)

The svelte Errol Flynn, as Maj. Geoffrey Vickers, leaned on a certain acorn-shaped rock when he struck a pose for Warner Bros.' "The Charge of the Light Brigade."

The same rock today

Don was able to find the same giant acorn that provided a resting spot for Flynn.

Don Kelsen visits a shooting location for MGM's "The Firefly" (1937)

To explore a shooting location used in the 1937 Jeanette MacDonald movie "The Firefly," let's start with Don's wide shot of the area — which includes a shot of Don himself. The Eastern Sierra rises in the distance.

"The Firefly" (1937): Allan Jones' horse stops at the same rock

Here's the same spot as it appears in the movie — although with all those rocks, you may want a little help matching it up. As a starting point, the horse is standing near the same rock where Don stands in the recent shot.

This zoomed-in version of Don's photo approximates the framing of the movie shot — and as a bonus, provides a little better look at Don. The road below is Tuttle Creek Road, which was a dirt road when "The Firefly" was filmed but has since been paved.

If you concentrate on the group of rocks highlighted here ...

... you may be able to match them up with the rocks highlighted here in the movie shot.

Here's another scene from "The Firefly." The movie contains a beautifully photographed nine-minute segment filmed in the Alabama Hills.

Don's matching shot brings out some of the characteristic textures of the native rocks — especially the group in the bottom left corner. I recommend clicking on the photo, which should bring up a larger version.

"Strange Gamble" (1948): William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy in the Alabama Hills

Another movie tour Don will be conducting at this year's festival spotlights filming locations for the Hopalong Cassidy movie "Strange Gamble."

The same location in modern times (Don Kelsen photo)

"Strange Gamble" was the last of 66 Hopalong Cassidy feature films. While almost all of the Cassidy movies were filmed in the Lone Pine area, a number of them also filmed on the Iverson Ranch.

"Mystery Man" (1944): Hoppy at the "basin rock" on the Iverson Movie Ranch

Don and I joined forces two years ago to track down Iverson Ranch locations for the Hopalong Cassidy movie "Mystery Man." During our search for this spot we started calling it the "basin rock" because of the distinctive basin-shaped indentation in the rock.

The "basin rock" as it appears today, in the Garden of the Gods

We were able to find the basin rock hidden deep in the Garden of the Gods on the Iverson Ranch. You can click here to read about the location of the basin rock and our search for the other Iverson Movie Ranch locations seen in the climactic shootout.

"The Last Posse" (Columbia, 1953)

This screen shot from the Broderick Crawford/John Derek Western "The Last Posse" captures some striking Alabama Hills rock towers.

Here are those same rock towers in a recent photo by Don Kelsen.

"Have Gun Will Travel" TV episode "The Marshal's Boy" (1960)

Ken Lynch looks over his shoulder on a Lone Pine shoot for the "Have Gun Will Travel" season four episode "The Marshal's Boy," which premiered Nov. 26, 1960.

The same location in recent years

Don captured a photo of the same spot on a recent visit, matching the TV episode's original black-and-white look, but bringing out much more of the detail in the rocks.

"The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (1934): Matte painting of "Mogala," set in Lone Pine's Alabama Hills

For a recent blog post I published about the Mogala set built in the Iverson Gorge for "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer," Don was able to find the exact spot in the Alabama Hills where this shot was taken for the matte painting.

Location used for the Mogala matte shot (photo by Don Kelsen)

By matching the above two photos, you should be able to see where the painted version of the Mogala set was inserted into the middle of the Alabama Hills location setting.

The real-world Mogala set, built on the Iverson Ranch

If you caught that post back in May, you may recall that the physical set for Mogala — the mountain stronghold of rebel leader Mohammed Khan — was built in the Iverson Gorge.

However, when it came time to introduce Mogala in the movie, the producers placed a painted simulation of the set against a Lone Pine backdrop.

While the set in the middle of the shot is fake, the surroundings are all bona fide Alabama Hills, as seen in Don's photo up above. Readers can click here to see the full post about Mogala and "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer."

Connections between the Iverson Movie Ranch and Lone Pine will be explored in a presentation on the Iverson Ranch at this year's Lone Pine Film Festival. The presentation will be given by yours truly at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, in the theater of the Lone Pine Museum of Western Film History.

Details about this year's Lone Pine Film Festival can be found on the festival's website at lonepinefilmfestival.org. The event schedule, including dates and times for Don's movie tours and the Iverson Movie Ranch presentation, can be found by clicking here.

The blurb above, taken from the Lone Pine Film Festival site, provides some background on why the Iverson Movie Ranch is crashing Lone Pine's party — and you can find more information about it here.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

That Quentin Tarantino set being built at Corriganville is just about done — shooting is expected to start any day now

Corriganville, September 2018: Set built on location for "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"

Work has continued at a rapid pace on the former site of the Corriganville Movie Ranch, where we've confirmed that the big set being built is for Quentin Tarantino's next movie, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood."

Drone's eye view of the Tarantino set looking north

My buddy Dennis Cohee visited the site the other day with his drone and sent some terrific shots of what the sprawling set looks like from up above. If you click on the photos you should see a larger, more detailed version.

Junk cars "clutter up" the Corriganville set (photo by Jerry Condit)

One of the most recent developments is they've brought in a bunch of old junk cars that are now strewn about among the distressed buildings.

Period-appropriate prop cars, circa 1969

The cars appear to be among the finishing touches being put on the set. Volkswagen Beetles were a common site back in 1969 — the period being re-created for the movie. But in this case the Beetles are integral to the story.

The main "Spahn Ranch" set for "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" (Cliff Roberts photo)

The movie is set in Charles Manson-era Hollywood, and the Corriganville set replicates the old Spahn Movie Ranch. This part of the set re-creates what might be called the "main set" at Spahn.

Police raid on Spahn Ranch, Aug. 16, 1969

The original Spahn Ranch, where Manson and his followers were based at the time of the Tate-LaBianca murders, was located across the street from the Iverson Movie Ranch. Spahn's main set is seen here in a widely circulated photo taken during a raid on the Manson compound one week after the killings.

Photo from circa 1969 reportedly depicting the Spahn Ranch dune buggy operation

The raid wasn't triggered by the murders, but by reports about a "chop shop" operation being run at the movie ranch in which stolen Volkswagen Beetles were being chopped up to make dune buggies.

Charles Manson arrested at Spahn Ranch, Aug. 16, 1969

Manson and 25 other people were arrested during the raid on suspicion of running a "major auto theft ring" — the dune buggy chop shop. The suspects were released a few days later due to a clerical error in the warrant.

Manson family members in one of the group's chopped-up dune buggies, circa 1969

The dune buggies apparently had been getting some use among Manson's followers while they were on the ranch. Manson would be rearrested in October 1969 — not at Spahn but at the Barker Ranch in Death Valley, Calif.

Tarantino's re-creation of the dune buggy shop

This is the view Dennis Cohee's drone had of the Corriganville chop shop set for "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood." Again, I encourage readers to click on the photo to see it in more detail.

Jerry Condit captured another angle on the Tarantino chop shop, seen in the background.

The "Rock City Cafe" and "Longhorn Saloon" signs can be seen in many of the old photos of the main set, along with the "Trading Post" sign, which is harder to make out. Tarantino's set closely matches the original.

The Tarantino set in early September — shiny and new, with signs covered up for secrecy

Access to the set is restricted, but Jerry Condit managed to get a nice shot of the main Spahn set back in early September. A number of the signs were covered up in an attempt to keep the project as secret as possible, and the set still looked relatively shiny and new at that point.

The set a few days later — "distressed" and exposed

Within a few days the set had been ... the word that keeps coming to mind is "distressed." This shot was taken by location researcher Cliff Roberts on Sept. 6.

"Randy Starr" sign — one of the early clues

One sign that has been covered during much of the construction — but happened to be exposed when Cliff stopped by in late August — mentions stuntman Randy Starr, who was a real-life figure in the Manson story.

Randy Starr

Starr, born Joseph Randall, was the foreman at Spahn Ranch in the late '60s. He reportedly owned a .22-caliber revolver used in the Manson killings and was scheduled to be a prosecution witness in the Manson trial.

The "Randy Starr" sign was one of the first pieces of solid evidence that the set was being built for the Tarantino movie. Starr never got to testify — he died of meningitis on Aug. 4, 1970, at age 38.

The original sign at the east end of the main set at Spahn Ranch, Aug. 16, 1969

We can catch a glimpse of the original "Randy Starr" sign during the 1969 raid on Spahn Ranch.

"Boat Hill" to the west, in the Rocky Peak area

Fans of the Iverson Movie Ranch might recognize a familiar rocky ridge in the background. The profile of "Boat Hill" to the west, in the Rocky Peak area, is commonly seen in productions shot on the Iverson Ranch.

"The Grapes of Wrath" (1940), filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch

To cite just one example, Boat Hill can be seen in the John Ford classic "The Grapes of Wrath." The rocky ridge appears over the shoulder of actress Jane Darwell, who won an Oscar for her role in the movie.

Main set area at Spahn Ranch in 1969

This view of Spahn Ranch in 1969 is taken looking south, with Santa Susana Pass Road visible in the bottom half of the frame. The rocks in the foreground are located today near the Church at Rocky Peak, which is situated on the north side of the road and now owns much of the property surrounding the former Spahn Ranch set area.

The same location in 2015

This matching shot was taken by Jerry Condit in 2015. The rocks remain in place today, as does the distinctive hill in the background. As it turns out, the church rents out land that was once part of the Spahn Ranch for filming, with the Fox series "The Orville" one of a number of productions to shoot in the area in the past few years.

The plateau that once housed the main set area is now a vacant field. Today this triangular plateau is part of the sprawling Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park and is not part of the church's filming operation.

Tarantino presumably would have tried to secure the former Spahn property to build his Spahn Ranch set, but had to settle instead for Corriganville, about 3 miles to the west down Santa Susana Pass Road.

New building coexisting with the old stone walls

Besides the main Spahn set, several other structures have been built. This charismatic old barn was erected partially within the surviving stone walls of what was once Corriganville's "New Barn" or "Barn No. 2."

Tarantino's barn alongside original Corriganville stonework

Here's another view of the barn, along with some of the old Corriganville stonework on the left. I don't know what role the barn will play in the movie, but presumably it's another part of the Spahn Ranch set.

"Fighting Lawman" (1953): Corriganville's "New Barn" at the northeast end of Silvertown

This is what the place looked like, including the old stone walls, back in the filming days. Today the surviving walls of Corriganville's "Barn No. 2" are considered an important historical artifact.

Being integrated into the stone walls of the original Corriganville barn would seem to limit the new structure's usefulness as a set, but it will be interesting to see whether the old walls show up in the Tarantino movie.

George Spahn's house?

One building that appears to be getting some extra attention is this one, which reportedly will play the home of Spahn Ranch owner George Spahn. Sadly, the part of George Spahn will have to be recast following the recent death of film icon Burt Reynolds, who had signed on to play Spahn.

Possible permanent building?

Here's what Spahn's house looks like with its paint job "finished." It's the only building in the entire set that appears to be built to more than movie set standards. The solid foundation suggests the building could be permanent.

This is a shot I took of the George Spahn house back on Aug. 26, before the roof patch was in place and before the building was "spruced down," if that's a term, with its distressed whitewash job.

Gorilla Rock, one of Corriganville's best-known and most heavily filmed rock features, lurks in the background.

"Have Gun Will Travel": Corriganville's Silvertown and Gorilla Rock in 1957

Back in the filming days, Gorilla Rock loomed over Silvertown, Corriganville's famed Western street. This shot comes from the "Have Gun Will Travel" episode "The Great Mojave Chase," which premiered Sept. 28, 1957.

The George Spahn house — complete with concrete slab

A view of the Spahn house from this angle gives some idea of the work that has gone into the foundation. Movie sets don't usually get the full concrete slab treatment unless they're meant to be kept around after filming wraps.

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in costume for "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"

The Tarantino movie is a big-budget production, with a cast that includes not only Brad and Leo, but also Al Pacino, Margot Robbie, Dakota Fanning, James Marsden, Kurt Russell and other A-listers.

Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate

"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" has a tentative release date of July 26, 2019, which strikes me as a bit optimistic, but who knows? I'm looking forward to it — if only to see Corriganville back in action.

The "Manson bus," parked near the old Corriganville stone wall — photo by Jerry Condit

I want to give a special shout-out to the folks on the front lines who have been sending in updates and photos, especially my pals Cliff Roberts, Jerry Condit and Dennis Cohee, for helping us all keep up on this fun story.

The Corriganville set in the early stages of construction — just a few weeks ago

For some background on Corriganville and views of the Tarantino set as it appeared in its early stages a few weeks ago, click here to see the feature we posted about the project back on Aug. 25.