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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• 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).
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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Someone carved footholes in a rock for cowboy hero Tom Mix back in 1935 — and they're still there today!

Tom Mix was Hollywood's biggest cowboy star of the silent era, appearing in close to 300 movies going back to 1909. He helped define the Western movie genre, rivaled contemporaries such as Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford at the box office, and became known as the "Idol of Every Boy in the World."

Mix rode the Iverson Movie Ranch for his final full-length production, the 1935 Mascot serial "The Miracle Rider" — one of only a handful of talkies he made during his career. Running more than five hours long, the Western adventure, laced with minor sci-fi elements, was the only 15-chapter serial among the many cliffhangers produced by Mascot Pictures. The bulk of the production's outdoor sequences were filmed on the Iverson Ranch.

Tom Mix left his bootprints at Iverson with this production in a very real sense. The above lobby card for "The Miracle Rider" features a rock at the right that was used in a stunt sequence in which Mix climbed down from the top of the rock before supposedly jumping off of it onto a horse. The actual jump was done using a different rock, but the most interesting part of the sequence is where Mix climbs down from the top of the rock.

This version of the lobby card highlights the rock I'm talking about. The rock didn't previously have a name, although it has been featured in movies going back to the silent era — including a prominent role 12 years before "The Miracle Rider," in Buster Keaton's 1923 silent comedy short "The Balloonatic." But with Tom Mix literally leaving his footprints on the rock, I think it just about has to be called Tom Mix Rock.

"The Miracle Rider" (1935) — Tom Mix on Tom Mix Rock

"The Miracle Rider" was a landmark production for the Iverson Movie Ranch — one of the first big sound Westerns to shoot on the location ranch. In the above shot of Tom Mix on top of what I'm now calling Tom Mix Rock, a reader of this blog, Scotty, noticed while he was watching the serial that someone had carved two bootholes into the rock to help Mix with his descent. The sequence takes place in Chapter 3 of the serial.

The bootholes are clearly visible in the movie, as indicated here. Presumably a producer or someone else behind the cameras had a crew member go ahead and carve the holes into the rock — or at least widen existing indentations to make them big enough to accommodate the star's feet.

Here Mix, who plays a character named Tom Morgan, gets in position to climb down from the rock.

As he begins his descent, Mix puts his right boot directly in the carved boothole.

Notice how carefully Tom Mix is studying where to place his foot.

Now the actor has both feet planted squarely in the bootholes.

Here's a shot of that same rock as it appears today, taken on a visit to the site in late 2014. The bootholes are still visible — I've highlighted them in the shot below.

This is the same shot from that 2014 visit to the site, with the bootholes noted. The "A" and "B" labels correspond with the holes as labeled higher up in this post in a screen shot from the movie.

Boothole A, in closeup

Here's a closeup of Boothole A. Considerable weathering has occurred in the almost 80 years since the holes were set up for the "Miracle Rider" shoot, and the holes now blend in more with the rock's natural contours than they did in the movie. But thanks to the evidence we have in the serial itself, I think it's still possible to determine that these are not entirely naturally occurring holes.

Closeup of Boothole B

Here's a closer look at Boothole B. I think this boothole, more than Boothole A, retains the appearance of something that was manmade.

In this recent shot a film researcher demonstrates the use of the bootholes with a position similar to the one taken by Tom Mix in "The Miracle Rider.

Here's the shot of Tom Mix again, in a similar pose to that of the researcher in the recent photo above.

Garden of the Gods today — bird's-eye view

Tom Mix Rock can easily be found today in a section of the former Iverson Movie Ranch that has been preserved for public use as Garden of the Gods Park. The above bird's-eye view of Garden of the Gods pinpoints the location of Tom Mix Rock. If you can find your way to Redmesa Road in Chatsworth, Calif., just north of Santa Susana Pass Road, you'll find the park entrance on the west side of Redmesa. Just up the trail you can go straight to Tom Mix Rock. (I suggest clicking on the photo to see it in greater detail.)

Tom Mix Rock today

This is the view of Tom Mix Rock as you approach it from the top of Garden of the Gods Trail. The white chalk that can be seen on the rock in some of these shots was left by rock climbers — even though the rock is not particularly tall, its shape makes it useful for practicing certain climbing skills.

The area of interest for purposes of tracking the Tom Mix sequence in "The Miracle Rider" is marked in this version of the shot. The best way to view this area is by going around the left side of the rock.

Here's the view of Tom Mix Rock from the left side, which is the southern end of the rock.

The bootholes can be found near the southern end of Tom Mix rock, in the area indicated above. I've swapped out some of the recent photos and added a few new ones since I first posted this blog entry because I have been able to better nail down the position of the bootholes as they appear today.

The scene in "The Miracle Rider" transitions from here, with Tom Mix about to jump off Tom Mix Rock ...

... to here, with a stuntman standing in for Tom Mix, taking a leap from a different rock, onto a horse that does not appear to be Tom's horse Tony Jr., which Mix rode in the serial. I'm assuming it's a stuntman, even though Mix was known to do a lot of his own stunts. Mix was 55 years old by the time "The Miracle Rider" was filmed — certainly not ancient, but maybe a bit too old to be jumping off rocks.

This is that same shot with a number of the main elements identified. I would guess that a big reason they opted to shoot the jump in this particular spot was so they could get a shot of the Sphinx in the background.

"Bonanza" episode "Escape to Ponderosa" (1960)

The rock from which the jump takes place no longer exists, but it is known from appearances in other productions, including the above scene from an episode of the long-running TV Western "Bonanza."

Here's the same "Bonanza" shot with a note about the jump rock.

"Army Girl" (1938)

Another shot of the jump rock, this time from the Republic movie "Army Girl," comes a little closer to duplicating the angle used in "The Miracle Rider."

Here's the same shot with two of the key rocks highlighted.

Tom Mix

My hunch is that the rules about carving holes in rocks at Iverson weren't particularly clear yet at the time Tom Mix rode the ranch in "The Miracle Rider," as it was still relatively early in the evolution of the movie ranch. Then again, maybe the Iversons gave their blessing for the carving work — they were known to do plenty of their own modifications on the rocks over the years. At any rate, I believe such things came to be frowned upon in the decades that followed, as the movie ranch became busier and its operation more professional. But Tom and "The Miracle Rider" left behind a nice movie relic for us to ponder all these decades later.

I'd like to thank Scotty for pointing out the bootholes in "The Miracle Rider" and enabling us all to share in a really cool bit of movie history.


Unknown said...

I've seen a photo of Tom and his last wife, so I have a question. In the photo, Tom is sing two canes, one in each hand. Had he become a cripple later in wife from doing his own stunts?

Unknown said...

It should read, " Tom using two canes....."

Anonymous said...

I bet that photo is when he was recovering from one of his many injuries.