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, December 30, 2018

Let's put an end to the Myth of End Rock — and celebrate a survivor

"Under Texas Skies" (1940): End Rock, at left

Among the many myths about the Iverson Movie Ranch, a big one that has been out there for at least as long as I've been exploring the ranch is a myth about the movie rock known as "End Rock."

The rock comes up all the time in movies and TV shows, in large part because it was positioned right next to a road running north and south that was constantly used to film chases and stagecoach runs.

Planter with decorative rocks, in the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village

The myth is that the large, flat rock that today resides in a planter outside the clubhouse of the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village is actually End Rock, which — according to the myth — survived the development of the park.

I can understand if right now you're thinking, "That's ridiculous — that rock doesn't look anything like End Rock!" That's pretty much what I thought too, and the main reason I never completely bought into the myth.

"20 Million Miles to Earth" (1957): End Rock shares the screen with Ray Harryhausen's "Ymir"

If only the myth were true, it would contain the reassuring news that End Rock, a "star" of hundreds of movies and TV episodes, had indeed survived.

But reality is reality, even when it's not what we want to hear. As a location historian, sometimes it's my sad task to deliver bad news, and the bad news here is that End Rock no longer exists.

The old movie road running past End Rock (looking northwest)

Taking another look at the shot from "Under Texas Skies," we see the old movie road running north and south past End Rock. This view looking northwest is one of the most common angles for End Rock.

"Overland Trail" TV series (1960): End Rock on the right

The same area was also filmed in other directions, as in this shot from the TV series "Overland Trail" taken with the camera facing southwest.

From either direction, End Rock is often seen in combination with Corner Rock, as it is here. The old movie road ran right between the two rock features.

The direction of the movie road is indicated here, and we can see that the stagecoach is heading south.

The old road as it appears today, looking south

The movie road is essentially still in place, although it has been regraded and paved. Known today as Mohawk Avenue, the road runs north and south through the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village.

Mohawk Road continues to follow the north-south route of the old movie road

The direction of the road is indicated here. Note that the planter can be seen at the right of the frame, on the west side of the road, with the mobile home park's clubhouse behind it.

The planter is positioned on the west side of the old movie road

The old road is part of the reason the myth of End Rock has persisted, because the road runs past the planter and the flat rock the way it once ran past End Rock.

Corner Rock remains in place, but End Rock ... not so much

Further, Corner Rock remains in place just across the street, and admittedly, it would be comforting to think that the two old pals, End Rock and Corner Rock, remain "pardners" after all these years. Too bad it's not true.

Beautiful imposter: "Planter Rock"

Now, I have to say, the rock in the planter — can we just start calling it "Planter Rock"? — is a nice rock in its own right. It's just not End Rock.

The "pardnership" these days is between Corner Rock and Planter Rock.

While we're in the neighborhood, let me point out Range Rider Rock, another movie rock of some repute.

Range Rider Rock in 2018

Range Rider Rock doesn't get around much these days, but you can find it if you look hard enough. To read more about it, along with some of the other rocks in the neighborhood, check out this previous post.

"Overland Telegraph" (RKO, 1951): Another stage rolls past End Rock

We recently found the "smoking gun" that should finally put the myth of End Rock to rest. As is usually the case on the former Iverson Movie Ranch, the proof can be found in the movies and TV shows filmed on the ranch.

The story begins with this shot from the Tim Holt B-Western "Overland Telegraph," featuring yet another stagecoach headed south between End Rock and Corner Rock.

My pal and research partner Cliff Roberts started asking questions a few weeks back about this mystery rock hiding in the shadows — questions that ultimately blew the case of End Rock and Planter Rock wide open.

Planter Rock, looking northwest

Let's take another look at Planter Rock, this time looking northwest — more or less the same angle used in the "Overland Telegraph" shot. Maybe you can see where we're headed here.

If you focus on this part of the rock, you might notice that it has exactly the same profile as the mystery rock in the Tim Holt movie. You may want to click on some of these photos to see a larger version.

Take another look. For a variety of reasons, this rock almost never turns up in productions. Hidden under a tree, and overshadowed by its more flamboyant neighbor End Rock, it essentially went unnoticed all this time.

"Tales of Wells Fargo" TV series: "Woman With a Gun" (premiered Dec. 7, 1959)

You probably want more proof — and here it comes. The mystery of End Rock vs. Planter Rock might never have been solved had it not been for this shot from the TV show "Tales of Wells Fargo."

The shot features a perfectly good movie rock that had the bad fortune of being hidden under a tree. It turns out this hard-to-find rock is none other than Planter Rock — today's mobile home park landscaping feature.

Planter Rock today — sporting a monster crack

Today the rock has a massive crack in it. Besides detracting from the rock's aesthetic qualities, the crack also makes it hard to match up the rock with its movie shot — but we'll give it a try.

Matching the "Tales of Wells Fargo" angle is the first step, and it's not as easy as it should be, thanks in part to the bush at lower right. But this angle is fairly close.

I marked a number of features that I think can be found in the "Tales of Wells Fargo" shot. What you see here is basically my "rock-matching worksheet," and it won't necessarily be easy to see the matches.

For comparison's sake, I've zoomed way in on the "Tales of Wells Fargo" shot here. The most important item may be the black line, which approximates where the rock later would split in two.

Here's what it looks like in the context of the full "Tales of Wells Fargo" frame. It should be noted that the horizontal "scratches" outlined in light blue and magenta line up here, but no longer line up after the rock splits.

Changing the angle from which the rock is viewed, even a little, dramatically alters how the various markings appear. From this angle a number of key markers can be identified that weren't as clear from the previous angle.

Notice the dark area highlighted here.

We can easily find that same marking in the "Tales of Wells Fargo" shot. To me it looks like a badge here, but your mileage may vary.

We can also see that the "badge" is positioned near what appears to be the fault line that will later help create the split in the rock.

This may be my favorite marking on the rock — although it's a bit like admitting which of your children you love the most. The TV shot doesn't do it justice — it kind of resembles a face here, but no big whoop.

Where the "face" really pops out is in contemporary shots of the rock. I'm not sure whether it's a skull, a clown, an alien or what ... but it's something.

To be honest, it freaks me out a little.

"Tales of Wells Fargo": End Rock on the right, Corner Rock on the left

The point of this analysis is that the rock that's found in the planter today is the same rock seen in the "Tales of Wells Fargo" episode, and it's not End Rock. We can be sure because the sequence also includes End Rock.

The sequence uses one continuous camera shot, but End Rock and Planter Rock do not appear on screen at the same time. To juxtapose them in the sequence using still frames, we can use the tree as a reference point.

The same tree, which was positioned between End Rock and Planter Rock, appears on screen with both rocks, moments apart, revealing that while the two rocks were neighbors, they kept some distance between them.

Planter Rock in 2018: Holding it together

Taking another look at Planter Rock as it survives today, it's readily evident that the crack in the rock is no trifling matter — it's a serious rift that runs clean through the entire rock.

Planter Rock as seen from space — including the crack

The crack running through Planter Rock is big enough to be seen from space. You can't miss it in this Google 3D image taken from a satellite.

From a lower angle the shift in elevation created by the crack is evident. How the crack got there is not known, but it may have happened as long ago as 1963, when the mobile home park was built.

Planter Rock — take a bow!

Crack or no crack, the survival of Planter Rock is worth celebrating. Sure, it's no End Rock, but it's a movie rock all the same — just one that was never quite as famous as its neighbors.

Have a terrific 2019, cowboys and cowgirls!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Gems from the Bison Archives: Bob Hope visits Lone Ranger Rock, Tom Mix gets vertical ... and I'll have a Norma Shearer on the rocks

Promo still for "Never Say Die," 1939 (Bison Archives)

Here's a fun shot that surfaced recently from Marc Wanamaker's Bison Archives, an indispensable resource for historical Hollywood photos. Marc has been a big supporter of my research and of the Iverson Movie Ranch Blog.

The photo was taken during filming in the Iverson Gorge in late 1938 for Paramount's 1939 comedy "Never Say Die." The scene finds Bob Hope reluctantly taking part in a duel under the watchful eye of Lone Ranger Rock.

A lobby card for the movie contains a photo taken in almost the same spot, and again Lone Ranger Rock appears in the background. But with the top of the rock cut off here, it would have been hard to ID from just this shot.

A screen shot from the movie provides a wider view of the scene, with the action taking place on the plateau above the Lower Gorge. The rock towers of the Garden of the Gods loom in the background.

Almost unnoticed at the edge of the frame, Lone Ranger Rock continues to oversee the action.

For the shoot, the production team installed a small fence at the edge of the plateau.

Bob Hope in "Never Say Die"

Bob Hope stands near the fence in this shot from the movie. You may recognize the rocks and hills in the background, which are located southwest of the Iverson Ranch, below Santa Susana Pass Road.

The producers also created some "movie magic" in post-production, blending footage of the Iverson Gorge with a painted background featuring wild trees and huge snow-covered mountains.

They went just a little crazy with the special effects, but it's a fun use of the Iverson rocks.

Promo still for "Dick Turpin" (Fox Film Corp., 1925)

Another intriguing shot that recently surfaced from the Bison Archives is this promo still for the 1925 silent movie "Dick Turpin," starring Tom Mix. It's a historical adventure in which Mix plays an English highwayman.

It's easy to miss Tom Mix, who's dwarfed by the unusual rock features as he appears to climb a large vertical crack in one of the rocks. I was initially unable to identify this scene as being shot on the Iverson Ranch.

The designation at the bottom includes the reference "Bly 34," pinpointing the photo as a promo still for the movie "Dick Turpin." The "Bly" part refers to the movie's director, John G. Blystone.

The "Dick Turpin" promo shot in the photo's proper orientation

Somehow it occurred to me to rotate the photo to get a fresh perspective, and suddenly it made sense. The photo had been rotated 90 degrees for the promo still, but this is its correct orientation.

The Sphinx, in the Iverson Movie Ranch's Garden of the Gods

It turns out Mix is "climbing" — or crawling, to be more accurate — along a horizontal crack in the heavily filmed Iverson rock feature known as the Sphinx.

Mix was photographed along the northwest corner of the sandstone behemoth. He was up pretty high, presumably having been placed there through the use of a ladder or scaffolding.

One thing you almost can't help noticing in the promo still is this upside-down "tree," which doesn't belong there and is probably a fake that the "Dick Turpin" team installed.

"Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" (MGM, 1925)

We can see in this screen shot from the silent "Ben-Hur," released the same year as "Dick Turpin," that no such nature-defying tree actually existed in that spot.

The two shots from 1925 also showcase an optical illusion I've always found fascinating. The "Ben-Hur" shot appears to contain a "mystery circle."

When one visits that corner of the Sphinx today, it is difficult to discern whether the "mystery circle" remains in place — especially from ground level.

Drone shot taken in 2017

But in fact, the illusion remains intact, as this drone shot taken by Dennis Cohee in 2017 illustrates. When we're able to view the rock from an elevated position, the circle appears.

Even with that dumb tree in the way, the "Dick Turpin" photo is the missing link that brings clarity to the mystery. The photo reveals that the "circle" is formed by a combination of a more or less circular hunk of rock along with a fortuitously positioned hole to its immediate left.

"Ben-Hur": The illusion of the perfect circle

The angle seen in "Ben-Hur" tightens up the illusion by making it almost perfectly circular.

Tom Mix and Kathleen Myers in "Dick Turpin" — not exactly an Iverson movie

It should be noted that the movie "Dick Turpin," at least in its surviving form, does not contain the Sphinx shot, nor does it include anything readily identified as Iverson. It may be that only the promo still was shot at the ranch.

This is the same corner of the Sphinx we spotlighted in a recent post about an "intruder rock" that fell sometime after the filming era. Please click here if you haven't seen that post — or just want to refresh your memory.

As luck would have it, the "Dick Turpin" photo pinpoints where the intruder rock was situated before it fell. The photo provides the best look by far that I've seen of the rock when it was still perched up high.

When the rock fell, it failed to dislodge a small rock feature that had been sitting directly in front of it. This small rock can be identified both in the 1925 photo and in recent shots.

The intruder rock area in 2018

Given the intruder rock's rounded shape, it may have been inevitable that it would roll off, whether it was prompted by an earthquake or just got sick of being stuck there. Maybe a bug moved and that was all it took.

Regardless of how it got there, the restless rock has settled in nicely, and the area appears to be stable now.

Promo still for "Excuse Me" (MGM, 1925): Nyoka Cliff in the background

Still another gem from the Bison Archives is this promo still for the silent comedy "Excuse Me," starring Norma Shearer and Conrad Nagel. Watching the young couple embrace are actors William V. Mong and Edith Yorke.

The photo is taken looking east from the Garden of the Gods toward Nyoka Cliff. Thanks to this photo we can add Norma Shearer's name to the list of huge stars of Hollywood's Golden Age who worked on the Iverson Ranch.

Norma Shearer in "He Who Gets Slapped" (MGM, 1924)

One of MGM's top stars of the late silent era and into the 1940s, Shearer made her mark playing sexually liberated women — one of the first major actresses to do so.

Shearer shows off her Oscar in 1930

Nominated six times for Academy Awards for her leading roles, Norma won her only Oscar in 1930 for MGM's "The Divorcee." She was nominated twice that year, including one for MGM's "Their Own Desire." 

"Upstage" (MGM, 1926): Norma reaches new heights

Like most teenage girls, Norma had her "massive beehive" phase. I grew up in the East Valley and had a big sister, so this is nothing new to me.

Norma dazzles in her new hat in "The Tower of Lies" (MGM, 1925)

She also could rock a funny hat if the producers insisted.

Norma Shearer on the rocks ... sounds like it would make a fine cocktail

Speaking of rocking, Norma wasn't just another pretty face in the rocks. While she was at Iverson for "Excuse Me," she got out there and got her hands dirty shooting the film's rocky climactic action sequence.

It's a hard movie to find, and as it turns out, Norma's rocks are hard to find too. I've already been out to Iverson on an "Excuse Me" hunt, and was reminded that these things are never as easy as they should be.

This one should be a slam-dunk: Just line up the rocks above Nyoka Cliff. Well, excuse ME! I got close, I'm sure, but no cigar ... and no sign of the rock that once had a moment with Norma's ... um ... photo shoot.

The "other woman" in the movie is played by French actress Renee Adoree. That's Adoree draped over Nagel this time, in position to make her move while Nagel and Shearer squabble.

"The Michigan Kid" (1928): Conrad Nagel and Renee Adoree

Adoree and Nagel apparently hit it off. They went on to work together in five movies, including making the jump to Universal for the 1928 melodrama "The Michigan Kid."

"The Cossacks" (MGM, 1928): Renee Adoree and Ernest Torrence

Adoree also tangled with the feared contrabass balalaika in "The Cossacks," another silent movie filmed on the Iverson Ranch. From the looks of that thing, we may be lucky the movie was silent!

"Heaven on Earth" (1927): Renee Adoree on mandolin, with Conrad Nagel

But Adoree apparently did have some musical chops. They found a more "size appropriate" instrument for her, something in the mandolin family, in MGM's "Heaven on Earth."

"The Pagan" (MGM, 1929): Adoree with Ramon Novarro

The diminutive Adoree was downsized all the way to a ukulele for "The Pagan."

Adoree in a photo shoot for "The Cossacks"

Born in Lille, France, Adoree was the daughter of circus performers and got an early start in showbiz. As a youngster she toured Russia — where herds of wild balalaikas reportedly still roamed free at the time.

"The Big Parade" (1925): Adoree reminds John Gilbert what he's fighting for

Adoree, whose stage name means "adored," was apparently a good kisser. She practiced on John Gilbert in "The Big Parade," considered by many historians to be one of the best films of the silent era.

"Forbidden Hours" (MGM, 1928)

She later got to show off her skills for Ramon Novarro.

"Exchange of Wives" (1925): Renee Adoree and Creighton Hale

Adoree even wound up in bed with a snoozy Creighton Hale, in the provocatively titled "Exchange of Wives." This was years before the Hays Code forced Hollywood to pretend it didn't know about the birds and the bees.

"Back to God's Country" (Universal, 1927)

Renee's "adorableness" may have got her in trouble during filming on "Back to God's Country." In a juicy rumor right out of "Hollywood Babylon," she was accused of an illicit affair with director Lynn Reynolds.

Renee Adoree at home by the fireplace, circa 1927

As the story goes, Reynolds' wife, actress Kathleen O'Connor, got vocal about the alleged affair during a dinner with cast and crew, prompting Reynolds to ruin the party, first by hitting O'Connor and then by killing himself.

Renee Adoree — publicity still for "Rose-Marie" (1928)

Life wasn't all that kind to Adoree either. She lived to be just 35, dying of tuberculosis on Oct. 5, 1933.