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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• 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.
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• 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.
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Monday, January 23, 2012

James Dean's connection to the Iverson Movie Ranch — and the tomb of Jesus

James Dean

This discovery took a fair amount of work and a lot of luck, but I was able to unearth the tantalizing fact that James Dean's first screen credit was in a production that brought him to Iverson. And if that weren't enough, the tomb of Jesus is depicted in the production — and it turns out it's at Iverson too!

The production was an hour TV drama called "Hill Number One." Don't expect to see any sharp, clear screen shots of Jimmy scrambling among the Iverson rocks with a six-shooter. This isn't that kind of discovery. But it's a story I think is pretty fascinating anyway, going back to the early days of television and the early days of Dean's career, which came together in 1951.

The occasion was an episode of a relatively unknown TV anthology series called "Family Theatre," which had a long run on TV in the 1950s. The series was a Christian-oriented production of the Family Rosary Crusade, under the stewardship of Father Patrick Peyton. (Peyton is often credited as the guy who came up with the slogan "The family that prays together stays together," and he delivers it at the end of the episode.) The "Family Theater" series started on radio in 1947 and apparently moved to TV in 1951 — with a minor spelling change, from "Theater" to "Theatre" — and then remained on the air through 1957. According to some accounts, the series produced something like 540 episodes — a total that would rank it among the most prolific TV shows in history.

The bulk of the material in these productions appears to have disappeared, or at least is out of circulation. But a select few episodes — notably the one with James Dean, Iverson and the tomb of Jesus — appear to have made it to DVD. Additionally, some of the radio episodes reportedly still get aired on the EWTN Radio Network. "Hill Number One," probably the most widely distributed of the vintage episodes, has a DVD cover, seen above, that depicts a scene shot at Iverson, with three crosses on a hill representing Calvary, or Golgotha. The key word there is "depicts," as this cover shot is not an actual shot of Iverson.

Here's the equivalent shot from the production itself, showing Calvary soon after the crucifixion. The shot first appears about 22 minutes into the hourlong episode, and this is the first Iverson I was able to identify in the show. The actual hill is a relatively nondescript one at Iverson, just east of Nyoka Cliff. I've begun calling it Mount Calvary in honor of this show.

It gets more interesting when the camera pans right, revealing a familiar rock I call Jaunty Sailor, which I've blogged about before in an entry you can find here. Jaunty Sailor is the large vertical rock just right of center, and while it's a little hard to make out here (you can click on the photo to enlarge it), some movie construction has been attached to its right side — its eastern side at the location. It turns out this is the tomb where the body of Jesus was placed after he was removed from the cross. (In the show, not in real life ... just in case that needs to be said.)

The tomb of Jesus, in "Hill Number One"

Here's a closer look at the tomb of Jesus, as it was constructed for the production, complete with the large round stone meant to ensure that the body stayed put. You can see a little bit of Jaunty Sailor to the left, jutting out next to the tomb entrance.

James Dean as John the Apostle in "Hill Number One"

James Dean plays John the Apostle — a role that has sometimes been reported in error as John the Baptist. It's a small role, but Dean is easy to spot even in a cast that includes a surprising number of familiar names — Roddy McDowall, William Shallert, Michael Ansara and others. Dean's role has sometimes been described as non-speaking, but that's another erroneous report. He has a number of lines, including a brief speech at a meeting of the disciples, seen in the above shot. It's not much, but it's the start of what turned out to be his lasting screen legacy.

The production gives us a good look at a young James Dean — about four years before his breakout and only 19 or 20 years old. (Even though he would play a high school student a few years later in the 1955 movie "Rebel Without a Cause," Dean was already 24 years old when that movie was being made.)

Here's the first appearance of James Dean at Iverson, second from the right, with Ruth Hussey as Mary, Regis Toomey as Nicodemus, next to Dean, and Nelson Leigh as Joseph of Arimathea on the left. The scene takes place at the tomb of Jesus, located a short distance east of Nyoka Cliff.

Another shot of James Dean at work at Iverson. That's Dean as John the Apostle on the right, with Charles Meredith as Peter on the left. The disciples have just received word of the Resurrection, and John is examining the stone that was supposed to keep the body of Christ in the tomb.

Peter and John look over the empty veil that was previously wrapped around Jesus' head — prompting John to grasp what has happened and go forth to spread the word, announcing: "He has risen as he promised."

Family Theater Productions still exists, and apparently still has some of the vintage productions for sale on its website ( I couldn't find "Hill Number One" on the site, but it's available on Amazon and other sites. (You can find it by clicking on the ad below.)


Drifting Cowboy said...

Another great job of super sleuthing. It's also on YouTube, but pretty grainy.

Keep up the wonderful quest.


Anonymous said...

Watch a film called "The Forbidden Christ" made in 1951...the year that Dean appeared in this.....directed by Curzio Malaparte.

Sanford Roth, the famous photographer who was behind him in the station wagon when he died, told him about Malaparte....