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 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

Friday, September 25, 2015

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" reveals a previously unknown fake cave in Garden of the Gods

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp"

The Iverson Movie Ranch was home to a number of well-used fake caves and fake mines during the filming days, but I recently heard about a little-known one that was set up in Central Garden of the Gods in the late 1950s.

"Wyatt Earp" episode "Frontier Surgeon"

Iverson researcher Cliff Roberts noticed the cave in "Frontier Surgeon," an episode of the TV series "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp." The episode premiered Jan. 19, 1960, and would have been shot in 1959.

Phantom — the north face

The cave entrance appeared over a large crack on the south side of Phantom, one of the most iconic boulders in Garden of the Gods. The above photo from recent years shows the more familiar north side of Phantom.

"Tennessee's Partner" (1955): Anthony Caruso in the crack on the south side of Phantom

The crack on Phantom's south side is famous in its own right, having played a pivotal role in the RKO Western "Tennessee's Partner." Spoiler alert: Skip ahead if you don't want to know that a certain U.S. president gets gunned down near here. As Iverson location shoots go, that "Tennessee's Partner" sequence is a barnburner.

"Frontier Surgeon": Fake cave built over the crack

The crack on the south side of Phantom is right where the fake cave was built that appears in "Wyatt Earp." This area is "Grubstake's Claim," so named after its role in "Tennessee's Partner."

Damian O'Flynn guest stars on the episode as Dr. Goodfellow, the "Frontier Surgeon" of the title. The other two guys are series regulars.

At one point in "Frontier Surgeon," bad guys start pouring out of the fake cave, guns blazing.

This wide shot gives a better idea of where the cave was located. Besides the famous scene in "Tennessee's Partner," the same area in Central Garden of the Gods was where Elvis Presley filmed the original tent scene for "Harum Scarum" in 1965. A few feet away and a few years earlier, wild boars caused trouble in "Old Yeller."

The shot is taken with the camera aimed toward the west, with a hazy view of the Santa Susana Mountains in the distance, to the west of the Iverson Movie Ranch.

This is a shot I took not long ago of that same part of the Santa Susana Mountains. This ridge west of Garden of the Gods, which I call Boat Hill, can be spotted in the background in a lot of old movies and TV shows.

Here's another recent shot that includes Boat Hill. Part of Central Garden of the Gods can also be seen in this photo, including the important marker Getaway Rock.

Getaway Rock turns up again in the "Wyatt Earp" sequence, as noted here. Also note the large bump on the rock on which Wyatt Earp is leaning as he and his associates get the jump on the outlaw gang.

This photo from a recent visit captures the same bump on the rock, near the top left corner, along with a partial view of Getaway Rock, to the left of the bump.

The angle here is different from the one seen in the TV show. You may or may not be able to match up the bumps in the two shots, but other features are readily identifiable.

The horizontal lines can also be seen in the "Wyatt Earp" shots.

This shot from "Wyatt Earp" has it all: the bump, the horizontal lines, a tiny semblance of the diagonal crack where the fake cave entrance construction begins ... and the entrance itself.

The bump, the lines and the cave are all noted here.

A huge diagonal crack appears in the recent shot, near the right end of the horizontal lines, but does not appear in the "Wyatt Earp" shot. That's because in the TV show the crack marks the beginning of the section of the rock that is filled in with material forming the fake cave entrance.

"Tennessee's Partner"

The huge crack is also visible in the shot of Anthony Caruso from "Tennessee's Partner."

In "Tennessee's Partner," we also get a good look at the main cave area, just to the right of the diagonal crack. The cave, which is shallow, appears in its natural state in the movie — in contrast to the "enhanced" artificial cave we see in "Wyatt Earp."

How about a special shoutout to this important little diagonal sliver of shadowy intent — I mean, sliver of a shadowy indent — pointing the way to where the fake cave material begins, to the right.

I'd say roughly this much is fake. I don't know, fake caves can be pretty lame. Speaking from the heart ... I won't come out and say this one is lame, but let's just say it's not the most convincing fake cave ever seen.

Lane Bradford, in "Wyatt Earp"

I'd be remiss not to point out Lane Bradford, one of the most familiar bad guys in the B-Westerns.

He's right here in all those shots of the cave. His character in the "Wyatt Earp" episode is "Swanee." Having a character name can be an upgrade for a TV outlaw. Bradford was often billed generically as "henchman."

Lane Bradford, right, with fellow outlaw Jimmy Noel in the "Wyatt Earp" episode

Bradford never lost his stride when the Westerns shifted to TV in the 1950s. The prolific actor tallied in the ballpark of 250 credits, about evenly distributed between B-Westerns and TV series.

Note the chin on Bradford — his trademark chin signifies both strength and weakness. Mostly strength — he was a formidable thug. On the other hand, as a perennial outlaw, sometimes his job was to make dumb decisions. My guess is Lane Bradford the actor was a man of high intellect who knew how to maximize his assets.

That chin can be hard to miss. In this shot it almost looks as though it's drawn in. Bradford wasn't the only tough outlaw in the Westerns to boast an awe-inspiring chin, but he may have been the most memorable.

Today a tree gets in the way, but this is a look at Grubstake's Claim on the south side of Phantom.

The same diagonal crack and main cave entrance can still be found.

A wider shot shows more of the south side of Phantom, but this is mainly a better look at the tree that makes access to the cave a challenge.

Swanee, played by Lane Bradford, schemes to get the dying man's money

In some "Wyatt Earp" shots we catch glimpses of an indented area on the rock, to the right of the fake cave. In this shot it's near the top left corner.

Take a look at this indented area.

I took this photo of the same indented area on a recent visit to the site.

This is the distinctive indented area on the rock.

Also here we see some worn signs of old graffiti.

Graffiti near entrance to Grubstake's Claim (2011)

The graffiti has been there for some time. It already looked worn-out — and appeared exactly the same as it does now — when I took this photo back in 2011.

One of the many interesting features of the cave area is this hole.

Going back to that original screen shot of Anthony Caruso from "Tennessee's Partner," notice that the same hole is seen in the movie, and it has what appears to be some kind of metal blade sticking out of it.

I have this other angle on the metal blade, but it doesn't add much. The "shiv" and its shadow can be seen in the bottom right corner. The hole's origin story remains untold, although we know it predates the "Wyatt Earp" cave.

"Outlaws of Boulder Pass" (1942): Phantom Shack

It should be noted that the same site was home to the Phantom Shack in the 1940s. If I had to guess I'd say the hole is most likely an artifact of this period and probably originally helped hold the shack in place.

"Six Gun Gospel" (1943): Phantom Shack

But even if the hole originated as part of the support system for the Phantom Shack, it may have been called upon again in 1959 to serve as an anchor point for the fake cave in "Wyatt Earp."

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp"

While many of the fake caves and fake mines on the old Iverson Movie Ranch stood for years and were used repeatedly, the fake cave seen in "Wyatt Earp" appears to have been in place for only a short time — possibly for a single production.

"Tennessee's Partner": Anthony Caruso holds Grubstake McNiven's claim sign

In telling the tale of Grubstake's Claim out behind Phantom in "Tennessee's Partner," the movie goes so far as to display the claim sign. In a way, the sign works not only to stake Grubstake's claim in the movie, but also to stamp this historic filming location as "Grubstake's Claim" ... at the risk of over-romanticizing the movies.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Are car commercials the new B-Westerns?

Scion commercial starring James Franco (2015)

The B-Western faded from the cultural landscape decades ago, taking with it the Iverson Movie Ranch's most reliable source of revenue. But in the past few years, a new breed of Hollywood production — the car commercial — has begun to make itself at home in the same rocky gulches of northwest Chatsworth, Calif.

Scion just unveiled a new spot it calls "James Franco and James Franco," which includes a couple of nice shots taken in the Garden of the Gods. The ad shows a denim-clad Franco exploring his artistic side while showcasing the Scion iM against the rugged backdrop of the former Iverson Ranch.

James Franco in the 2016 Scion iA

Franco is seen elsewhere in the ad driving a different model, the Scion iA, in which he navigates a more urban environment while wearing a tux. We're given the impression that the iA nurtures the actor's civilized side while the iM is his choice when he needs to color outside the lines.

Above is a video of the Scion spot. The ad is brand new — Iverson researcher Cliff Roberts sent word after spotting it on TV a few days ago, and Scion just posted the above version on its YouTube site Sept. 14.

The same location, photographed on a recent visit — after the tree removal

The location for this shoot is the same spot where we recently discovered that a large tree had been removed. The ad was shot just a month ago — I heard they were filming in Garden of the Gods on Aug. 15. That was after the tree came down, and probably as soon as the 2016 Scions were available for the shoot.

From this angle we can make out the stump that remained after the tree was cut down. In the Scion ad, the view of the stump is blocked by the car. For more about the removal of the tree, please check out this recent post.

The rocks in the background of the Scion shoot can be matched up against the current setting. Nothing unusual there, but what is unusual about the ad is it's such a recent shoot that even the sagebrush matches.

The dry brush area and the sagebrush plants highlighted here are the same ones seen in the Scion commercial. I'd say the Scion ad is just about the "freshest" Iverson shoot I have ever seen in a production.

I took this photo on a visit to the site just yesterday — on Sept. 16. To me, this looks like about where Franco stands in the Scion ad, amid the familiar sagebrush and dry clump.

Here I've designated three of the sagebrush plants "A," "B" and "C," to make them easy to match up with the shot from the Scion ad.

The same plants are identified in the ad, again marked "A," "B" and "C."

The Scion ad also features this sequence shot a little deeper in Garden of the Gods — in the camera mount area, or Overlook Point, just south of where the previous shots of Franco were taken.

Besides Franco and his artistic interpretation of the landscape, the sequence features the Chatsworth landmark Stoney Point — and another interesting clump of weeds.

Along the lines of the previous sagebrush labels, I've identified these hardy plants as "A," "B" and "C."

The match is less than conclusive, in part because the artist's easel blocks the view of Plant C in the Scion ad. But I believe these are the same plants, as they appeared on Sept. 16.

Components of the old camera mount

You may have noticed the metal track, said to be part of an old camera mount apparatus once used to film shots of the Iverson Gorge. The rig's center mount, resembling a piece of pipe sticking out of the ground, can also be seen.

This closeup provides a better look at the camera mount's center "pipe," along with an additional piece of track that remains in place from the front of the camera rig.

For the Scion commercial, foliage was brought in and strategically placed to conceal the metal track and other unwanted elements of the setting. The hunk of foliage noted at the left appears to hide the front track area, while the hunk on the right hides the rear track. I suspect that the artist's easel is blocking the pipe.

The strategic foliage blends well with actual live plants growing at the site. We might never have known the added foliage was anything out of the ordinary if "someone" didn't obsess over this stuff in excruciating detail.

The actual live plants are still found at the site, and are a nice match for the Scion ad. Incidentally, that's Judy Garland Rock that the plants are hiding behind.

Speaking of excruciating detail, I found this tiny group of rocks interesting. In the ad, the rocks appear just in front of some of the imported foliage.

In the real world, the same tiny cluster of rocks can be seen immediately adjacent to the end of the metal track. The proximity of the rocks and the track underscores that the foliage was used to cover up the track.

Another car company that has filmed at Iverson in recent years is Subaru. I originally had a video here showing an ad for the 2015 Subaru Legacy, which included a shot of the Hangover Rock area, east of Nyoka Cliff. But Subaru has since decided to make the video private, so we're left to imagine it. Bad Subaru!