Why we love old movie locations — especially the Iverson Movie Ranch

For an introduction to this blog and to the growing interest in historic filming locations such as 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 iversonfilmranch@aol.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.
• Readers can email the webmaster at iversonfilmranch@aol.com

Monday, December 26, 2022

Jane Russell wouldn't do it without being on the Fez ... or would she? — The 1952 Bob Hope Western "Son of Paleface" reveals all

Filmed largely on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., the 1952 Western comedy "Son of Paleface" featured a high-profile cast led by Bob Hope, Jane Russell and Roy Rogers ... and of course, Trigger.

Cecil B. DeMille, left, and Jerry Mathers ... as the Beaver

The lineup of uncredited bit players was interesting too, including a super-young Jerry Mathers — still about five years away from becoming famous as the Beaver on "Leave It to Beaver." Also on hand were Bing Crosby and Cecil B. DeMille ... yes, THAT Cecil B. DeMille.

"Have Gun — Will Travel" (1957): Richard Boone as Paladin, on "The Fez"

The main reason I'm bringing up "Son of Paleface" is to show off a particular rock at Iverson. You may have noticed, but with me, more often than not, it tends to be about the rocks.

The Fez (the rock), in the "Have Gun — Will Travel" episode "The Long Night"

I call it the Fez, and in "Have Gun — Will Travel," Richard Boone climbs on top of it to get the drop on some bad guys. The Iverson Ranch's Fez is upside-down from how we typically see the hat version.

A Fez (the hat)
You know — one of these things. The Fez — the hat, with its lopped-off cone shape and trademark tassel — tends to be Turkish, or North African.

Guy with a bad fake mustache, wearing a fez

When someone says, "Let me take you to the Casbah," and they really mean it — i.e., it's not said as a joke, the way it usually is around here, often with a "huh-HWAHHH" in an exaggerated French accent somewhere in the same sentence — there's a good chance that person is wearing a fez.
The Fez, as it appears in modern times
This is what the Fez — the rock — looks like today on its bed of rocks in the Garden of the Gods on the former Iverson Movie Ranch. The location is on public parkland, off Redmesa Road in Chatsworth, Calif.

Not that there'd be any doubt, but just in case, the Fez is highlighted here. You can find a map to this location near the bottom of this post.

See, it's shaped kind of like a fez, only upside-down. (They also come in blue.)

The character "Fez" from "That '70s Show," played by Wilmer Valderrama

The Wilmer Valderrama character "Fez" on "That '70s Show" has nothing to do with the Iverson Movie Ranch or the rock called the Fez, but I wanted to mention him here to commemorate his status as a cultural reference point.
"Fez" — one of the least-liked sitcom characters of all time

It's not exactly a positive cultural reference point, since almost everyone who ever caught an episode of "That '70s Show" hates the Fez character — with the possible exception of hard-core fans of the show, and how would they know? But like it or not, the Fez character did exist, and remains some kind of a reference point.
Wilmer Valderrama as Wilmer Valderrama on HBO's "The Sopranos"

No need to feel sympathy for Valderrama over his universally panned role. The actor has done just fine in his post-Fez years, even playing himself once on "The Sopranos."

Wilmer Valderrama and Mandy Moore

Much more famously, Valderrama has had a celebrated dating life, punctuated by high-profile dalliances with younger women including Mandy Moore, Lindsay Lohan and Demi Lovato.
Lyric video for Demi Lovato's TMI "29" (2022)

Apparently, not all of those relationships left both parties feeling warm and fuzzy. Lovato, who turned 29 last year, seized on the opportunity to crush Valderrama — albeit without naming names — in her song "29," seemingly accusing him of taking advantage of her when he was 29 and she was 17.
Valderrama and his partner, Amanda Pacheco

But the actor has since settled down with model Amanda Pacheco, and the couple had their first child, a daughter, in February 2021.

Jane Russell (1942)

While we're on the subject of gorgeous women, this is what Jane Russell looked like back in 1942 ... about 10 years before playing Mike Delroy, a character with an unexpectedly male-sounding name, in "Son of Paleface."

Jane Russell in a promo still for "The Outlaw" (1943)

Here's a famous promo shot of Ms. Russell for the 1943 movie "The Outlaw," produced and directed by eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes (with some uncredited help from legendary director Howard Hawks).

The promo shot has also circulated in this orientation. Choose your poison.

Russell apparently spent a considerable amount of time in the hay for the promo shoot, as a number of photos came out of it — each one more revealing than the rest.

But there wouldn't have been much point in getting her in the hay and NOT making the most of it. I mean, for promotional purposes, of course.

Howard Hughes
Now, before you assume that Howard Hughes, one of the richest and most powerful men in the world at the time, might have exploited the situation for some pre-#MeToo shenanigans, that question has been blowin' in the wind since the '40s and the answer, especially from Jane Russell, has always come back: "Absolutely not."
"Son of Paleface": Jane Russell's character, Mike "The Torch" Delroy, on the Fez
But rather than ruminate on the romantic lives of people who aren't here to defend themselves, let's get back to the rock. Here's a shot of Jane Russell's character standing on the Fez in "Son of Paleface."
The Iverson Movie Ranch's "Fez" in "Son of Paleface"

The sequence is shot day-for-night, so the details don't exactly pop out — but there's the Fez, behind some dry brush. As for the Jane Russell character, there's no way that's the actual Jane Russell.
"Jane Russell" — minus some of her feminine charms

We can be reasonably sure it's not actually Jane Russell because, first of all, it doesn't really look like her. In fact, if you ask me, I'd say it looks more like a dude. (Update: Maybe not! See comments below.)
Boys' club? Jane Russell, as "Mike," with Bob Hope and Roy Rogers in "Son of Paleface"

Sure, Jane's character is named "Mike," but in the movie, "Mike" is clearly not a dude.
That's not the Jane Russell I know!

If there's still any doubt about who might be standing on the Fez, it has to be a stunt person because he or she jumps off the rocks onto a nearby horse. Somehow I can't see Jane Russell agreeing to that.
Jane Russell with the Iverson Ranch projected behind her

Also, the Fez sequence is preceded by this shot of Jane, which appears to be done on a soundstage with better lighting and some of the Garden of the Gods rocks shown in rear projection.
Rock steady, the Fez remains stoic throughout the shoot

Oblivious to whatever is going on around it and whoever might be climbing on top of it, the Fez holds down its spot in the frame throughout the location shoot, and can still be found in the exact same spot today.
Spike, aka Old Yeller, stands on the Fez in a promo still for "Old Yeller"

Someone else who once stood on top of the Fez is Old Yeller — actually a movie dog named Spike, who played Old Yeller in the 1957 Disney movie that traumatized millions of young children.
Old Yeller defends his fallen human from some ill-tempered pigs

One of "Old Yeller's" pivotal sequences was filmed just a few feet from the Fez, where the dog waged a heroic battle against a gang of feral pigs.
Tommy Kirk agonizes over his wounded dog in "Old Yeller"

The outnumbered canine hero suffered serious injuries in the pig fight, sending the trajectory of the movie in a disturbing direction. I imagine at least a few of my readers recall the sad outcome as clearly as I do.
Things get heated for Elvis in the Garden of the Gods

The bloody encounter between Old Yeller and the pigs took place in the same Garden of the Gods location where Ronald Reagan was once gunned down and Elvis Presley romanced one of his many screen girlfriends. Click here for photos and details on all three storylines.
"The Utah Kid" (1930) — the Fez hides in the background

The Fez has been popping up in movies for close to 100 years, if not longer. One of the oldest examples I could find is this shot from the early sound Western "The Utah Kid."
The Fez, in sepia tone

"The Utah Kid" was filmed so long ago they were still releasing movies in sepia tone.
The Fez in the Johnny Mack Brown movie "West of Carson City" (1940)

Here's another glimpse of the Fez in "West of Carson City," which filmed all over the Iverson Movie Ranch.
"West of Carson City": Love blossoms on the Fez

People have been lured into standing, sitting, climbing, leaning and lounging on the Fez since Day One. In this shot Johnny and leading lady Peggy Moran avail themselves of its convenient flat surfaces.
Johnny Mack Brown, Peggy Moran and Bob Baker in "West of Carson City"

Here's a better look at some of the key players in a promo still for "West of Carson City."
"The Lone Ranger" (season 5, 1956-1957) — a rendezvous next to the Fez

Even the Lone Ranger and Tonto once shared a moment at the Fez, during the fifth season of the TV series — the only season of the show to be shot in color.
"The Big Steal" (1949): The Fez gets caught up in a gun battle

In 1949 the Fez found its way into one of only a handful of films noir to be shot on the Iverson Ranch, turning up along with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in "The Big Steal."
Colorized version of "The Big Steal"

I'm usually not a fan of colorization, but this is a rare occasion when it really added something because that old car looks great in baby blue.
Whoever drove that car up there is a hero

If you ever happen to visit this spot, take a moment to try to figure out how they got that car up there.
The Fez, top right, as part of the "Four Square Rocks" in 2011

When the Fez is viewed from this angle, we can see that it's part of an unusual grouping of more or less rectangular and square rocks — the "Four Square Rocks."
"The Wild Westerners" (Columbia, 1962)

The Four Square Rocks also turn up sometimes in the movies, as seen in this promo still for "The Wild Westerners." That's the Fez in the top right corner of the frame.
The Four Square Rocks and their larger neighbors

A wider shot reveals that the Four Square Rocks are one of the smaller rockpiles positioned near the base of Tower Rock and its imposing rock neighbors.
"Cherokee Uprising" (1950): Whip Wilson and Iron Eyes Cody pretend to fight

If this promo still were in color, I imagine the Fez might be red with embarrassment over this extremely fake-looking shot of a fistfight between Whip Wilson and Iron Eyes Cody.
The Fez is unable to hide in the background

The Fez would probably prefer to hide behind the dry brush again, but we know where to find it.
How to visit the Fez (Not the Wilmer Valderrama one)

The best way to get to the Fez is via the Garden of the Gods hiking trail. Park on Redmesa Road about a quarter-mile north of Santa Susana Pass Road, near the gate on the west side of the road. The rock's GPS coordinates are 34.273329, -118.612135.
Don't make me do it without the Fez on!

Here's a link to audio of the Steely Dan song "The Fez." If the song isn't already stuck in your head after all this talk about fezzes, give it a listen and maybe it will be.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Ancient rock carvings on the Iverson Movie Ranch?
Chipping away at an unsolved movie mystery

The mighty Sphinx, alpha rock of the Garden of the Gods (northern profile)

One of the unsolved mysteries on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., is the presence of carvings on the Sphinx, the dominant rock in the famed Garden of the Gods.
The Sphinx — southern profile (2022)

The carvings appear on the south side of the heavily filmed rock, and are plainly visible to anyone who might hike into the interior of the Garden of the Gods — provided they know where to look.
A closeup of the carvings (2022)

My immediate thought when I first encountered these carvings several years ago — and I know I'm not alone in this — was that they might be Native American in origin. (Spoiler alert: They're not.)
Location of the mysterious carvings

Native Americans have lived in California's San Fernando Valley for some 8,000 years, with certain Tongva, Chumash and Tataviam groups among those who are said to have inhabited the region around today's Chatsworth. The idea that these carvings might be thousands of years old, while a bit naive, is clearly enticing.
The carvings as they appear today (2022)

I first reported on the carvings back in 2014, and around that time I also began reaching out to experts on Native American petroglyphs to see whether they could shed light on just what we have here.
Burro Flats Painted Cave — a nearby example of legitimate indigenous rock art

The consensus among the experts was that the carvings are not ancient petroglyphs and do not appear to be the work of indigenous peoples. Relative to the genuine article, as seen here, they're probably not even all that old.
California Chumash rock art (Dan McCaslin photo)
So yeah, on second thought, no way the carvings on the former movie ranch are from thousands of years ago. Among other issues, they bear little resemblance to these painted examples of this region's ancient rock art.
Identifiable images in the Iverson Movie Ranch carvings

But it's an honest mistake, considering that the Iverson Ranch carvings include such recognizable items as a fish and a horse — images that one might reasonably expect would also turn up in bona fide petroglyphs.
The third figure — what is it?

I see this one as a bird, maybe even a chicken, although it's not quite as well-defined as the fish or the horse.
"Follow Me, Boys!" (Disney, 1966): 14-year-old Kurt Russell on the Sphinx

Keeping in mind that this is the Iverson Movie Ranch — accent on the word "movie" — it follows that, like most mysteries surrounding this fascinating and historic property, this one is another movie mystery.
The scene takes place in front of the same carvings

One of the advantages of trying to solve a mystery on a former movie ranch — and I imagine this is obvious — is the movies. We always have movies to look at, and TV shows too, when seeking clues to the location's history.
Kurt's character, Whitey, tries to talk some sense into a fellow Scout who fell down a cliff

So many productions were filmed on the ranch that the rock carvings are bound to show up in at least a few of them. And that's just what we find: a few movies — but only a few — that include shots of the carvings.
The carvings continue to appear behind the boys

Key questions I would love to have answered include these: When did the carvings first appear, and if they were created for a movie, which movie was it? And can we see it?
The other boy, Ronnie, played by Greger Vigen, is rescued thanks to Whitey's heroism

For the most part, the answer to all of those questions, unfortunately, is we don't know. But a number of clues have turned up in various movies and TV shows.
Zooming in on the fish, the horse and ... whatever the thing on the right is

You may have noticed that the rock carvings look "funny" in the "Follow Me, Boys!" screen shots, as though someone tried to paint over them — similar to what we might try to do today with graffiti.
It appears that an attempt was made to cover up the carvings

The masking, whether it's paint, charcoal, putty or whatever, appears to be an attempt by the "Follow Me, Boys!" crew to hide the carvings, which would say something about how badly they wanted to shoot in this location.
"Gunsmoke" episode "Honor Before Justice" (1966)

Around the same time as the "Follow Me, Boys!" shoot, the carvings also made a lower-profile appearance in an episode of the popular Western TV series "Gunsmoke."
What is it about 1966 and those carvings?

It's a rare occasion when the carvings can be seen in any production, and especially rare to see them pop out like this. Because of "Gunsmoke" and "Follow Me, Boys!," for a while I thought the carvings must be from the Sixties.
"African Treasure" (Bomba the Jungle Boy, 1952)

But the timeline shifted recently when my friend and fellow location historian Cliff Roberts found the carvings in the jungle movie "African Treasure." This discovery proves they were already carved at least by 1952.
Bomba traverses a perilous cliff in "African Treasure"

Monogram's "Bomba the Jungle Boy" series starred Johnny Sheffield, who previously played "Boy" in the Tarzan movies. As soon as he was old enough to fight his own alligators, he got his own jungle series.
Location of the carvings

The "Bomba" series filmed frequently on the Iverson Ranch, but it does not appear that the carvings on the side of the Sphinx were created specifically for "African Treasure" or any other "Bomba" movies.
Bomba works his way past the carvings

However, some shots in the Bomba sequence show the carvings with unusual clarity. The carvings are visible throughout a brief sequence in "African Treasure" in which Sheffield works his way along a narrow ledge.
A closer look at the carvings

It's the same ledge where Kurt Russell's character would later rescue the other Boy Scout in "Follow Me, Boys!" Zooming in a little, we can easily make out familiar figures such as the fish and horse.
There's plenty to see on the side of that rock

The Bomba sequence also taps into other parts of the mystery, especially in the area above the fish and the horse and above Johnny Sheffield.
Damaged area near the rock carvings

It's clear that something has happened to the rock in this area, but what is it?
A section of rock wall with a lot going on

Taking another look at the shape the rock is in today, we can see what appears to be scratched-out areas above and below the familiar rock carvings.
What stories is this rock trying to tell us?

The work isn't confined to the area with the fish, horse and bird, but extends across a wider swath of rock surface surrounding those carvings.
The identifiable images are just a part of the story

The area where we find the fish, the horse and other examples of the most recognizable carvings is right in the middle of something that looks almost like a rock carving battlefield.
The surface looks as though it's been sanded or chipped away in this area

Additional images may have once appeared below the fish and horse area, but they're gone now. This section gives the impression that any images previously found here were intentionally and permanently removed.
This section has also been worked and reworked

A similar situation can be found in the area above the fish and horse, where it looks as though someone carved slashes throughout this section, presumably in an effort to eliminate any existing images.
Notice the area above the fish and horse

Whoever may have been trying to eliminate the figures in this area seems to have given up on the task before it was completed, because we can still see remnants of the images.
Remnants of figures can still be seen

The figures in this area would probably form a nice complement to those in the fish and horse area had these not been scratched out. As far as the question of when any of this happened, it remains largely unknown.
The rock carvings area, circa 1926 (Bison Archives)

But an intriguing set of clues surfaced about two years ago when this old still photo turned up in Marc Wanamaker's Bison Archives.
By the 1920s, activity can already be seen in the rock carvings area

The photo, believed to be from about 1926, shows assistant director Fred Fleck scouting a location on the Iverson Movie Ranch. But for our purposes, what's most interesting about it is what we can see behind him.
The rock has something to say — and has already had messages erased by the '20s

Zooming in on the vicinity of the rock carvings, it's immediately evident that activity has already taken place in this area — especially in the fish and horse area and in the section above it.
The "Razorback" — natural markings on the rock

One of the best ways to "navigate" between images of the rock as it appears today and an image from close to 100 years ago is by identifying a key natural formation on the rock.
The Arkansas Razorbacks logo, top, and the rock's naturally formed "Razorback"

I refer to this set of markings as the "Razorback," because it reminds me of the familiar image of a razorback pig — like the one that appears as the logo of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks.
The natural "Razorback" formation: What is its relationship to the manmade carvings?

The Razorback, which is still easy to find on the rock today, can be helpful in locating key reference points between the photo of the rock in the 1920s and photos of the rock as it appears in 2022.
Using the Razorback to help navigate the rock

For example, we know that the fish is directly above the "ear" of the Razorback. Similarly, the horse is directly above the Razorback's hind leg.
Locating the future site of the fish and horse in the 1920s photo

Even though today's fish and horse do not appear to be in place yet in the 1920s photo, the Razorback helps point us to the area where they will later be found.
Rock "canvases" in the shapes of future carvings?

Work has clearly been done in the fish and horse area, but it's hard to be sure what we're seeing. While it appears that no figures have been carved yet, it almost looks as though the rock has been "prepped."
The rock carvings area circa 1926 (top) and in 2022

Meanwhile, the work that has already been done in the section above the fish-horse area aligns with the current condition of the rock. But again, it's hard to tell exactly what's going on here.
No sign of the carvings themselves circa 1926, despite all the "prep" work

The appearance of the rock in the 1920s suggests that it may have already been in use as some kind of "message board." But the carvings that we see today — both in the fish and horse area and in the section above it — appear to have been added later.
The Sphinx — southern profile, including the carvings area (2022)

The takeaway from all of this is that we still don't know what was going on with this intriguing expanse of rock in the early filming era — or for that matter, really in any era.
"Everyman" (Kinemacolor, 1913): Linda Arvidson and the Sphinx (Bison Archives)

However, it's worth keeping in mind that this was a filming location going back to the earliest days of the movie industry on the West Coast — at least as far back as 1913.
The Sphinx, in a 1913 promo still for the lost film "Everyman"

It's likely that secrets to the carvings' origins are hidden away in some of the silent movies filmed on the Iverson Ranch that are now lost — including movies we may never know were filmed on the ranch.
Location of the Linda Arvidson photo in 2020 — more than a century later

For the most part the location of the 1913 photo remains unchanged today — even the laurel sumac continues to thrive in that same spot. I did a post in 2020 about the Arvidson photo, which you can see by clicking here.
Garden of the Gods in 1920, during filming of "Man-Woman-Marriage"

Many other early movies also filmed in this area. One that still exists is "Man-Woman-Marriage," the source of this stunning behind-the-scenes shot.
A tantalizing view of the carvings area in 1920

The photo provides another early look at the carvings area, but like most of the material to surface from this period, it's not detailed enough to add anything about the carvings' origins.
Behind the scenes of "Man-Woman-Marriage"

The photo, which I received several years ago from Ben Burtt, includes more than its share of interesting features. Click here to see more about this photo and other "Man-Woman-Marriage" photos in a post from 2015.
"The Young Rajah" (Rudolph Valentino, 1922): Partially lost silent movie

An example of an important lost silent film — in this case a partially lost one — is Rudolph Valentino's "The Young Rajah" from 1922, which filmed at least one major sequence on the Iverson Movie Ranch.
Battle sequence from "The Young Rajah": This appears to be the only surviving shot

A large battle scene was filmed in the Garden of the Gods, but all of the video footage is lost. Partial versions of the movie can be found on YouTube, but the lone surviving battle photo clearly doesn't tell the whole story — and the photo is not detailed enough to reveal anything about the rock carvings.
A major shoot, complete with large fake rocks and many extras

It's clear from the number of extras, along with the fact that the studio went to the trouble to put up enormous fake rocks for the occasion, that this was a large-scale shoot. It's possible that the lost battle footage, should it ever turn up, could help shed light on the rock carvings.
"The Young Rajah" (Paramount, 1922)

I posted about "The Young Rajah" in 2018 — you can click here to see more photos and other info about the movie, including a detailed breakdown of the surviving battle photo.
Follow the trail off Redmesa Road to the rock carvings

To find the rock carvings, park near the trailhead on Redmesa Road in Chatsworth, Calif., about a quarter-mile north of Santa Susana Pass Road. GPS coordinates for the carvings are 34.273397, -118.612325.
Thank you, Fred Fleck, for pausing here, and Bison Archives, for preserving these photos

Whenever evidence surfaces from the silent film era — as it did just in the past couple of years with the "Everyman" photo from 1913 and the Fred Fleck photo from circa 1926, both from Bison Archives — it adds vital pieces to the jigsaw puzzle that is the early history of the Iverson Movie Ranch.
A multi-layered mystery

In the case of the rock carvings, the mysteries have multiple layers, which makes them that much more compelling. I encourage readers to offer your own theories in the comments section below.