Here's what the Iverson Movie Ranch obsession is all about ...

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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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Monday, December 14, 2015

Silent movie cowboy William S. Hart, Hollywood pioneer Thomas H. Ince and the 1917 Western "The Silent Man": Some of the earliest images of the Iverson Movie Ranch to be captured on film

I recently found a silent Western produced under the supervision of legendary studio mogul Thomas H. Ince and filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif. "The Silent Man," released in 1917, starred early movie cowboy William S. Hart, who also directed the feature film.

"The Silent Man" (1917): Gorge Arch (Garden of the Gods in background)

"The Silent Man" contains the earliest images I've seen of a number of Iverson rock features — including this early shot of the Gorge Arch. Garden of the Gods can be seen in the background, at top center.

The picture quality is less than spectacular by today's standards, but considering that the images were first captured on celluloid almost 100 years ago, they're pretty remarkable.

Lobby card for "King of the Jungle" (1933): Gorge Arch

The Gorge Arch went on to a fruitful screen career, but was rarely seen again in the "middle of nowhere" setting in which it appears in the 1917 shot.

"Adventures of Red Ryder" (1940)

The arch is most commonly associated with the Gorge Cabin, which stood in the Iverson Gorge from about 1936-1944. As you can see in this screen shot, the Gorge Arch was situated adjacent to the cabin.

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (ABC TV series, 1959)

After the cabin was removed from the area, the arch continued to appear in movies and TV shows. Sadly, the Gorge Arch was destroyed when development came to the Iverson Gorge in the late 1980s.

"The Silent Man" (1917): Looking through Devil's Doorway

Another natural arch, known today as Devil's Doorway, also turns up in "The Silent Man." In this shot the camera looks north through Devil's Doorway, with riders visible on the other side of the arch, at bottom center.

Devil's Doorway in modern times

Unlike the Gorge Arch, Devil's Doorway is still standing. Today it can be found among the condos of the Cal West Townhomes.

The shot from 1917 is detailed enough to enable the identification of a number of markers in the rocks. All of the features noted above can still be found today.

I've noted the same rock markings and details on the recent shot.

Even with the two photos taken almost a century apart, the rocks remain pretty much the same. The biggest differences between the two shots appear in the background, where mounted cowboys could be seen during filming of "The Silent Man" in 1917.

In modern times, the background contains condos and landscaping.

Crown Rock, in "The Silent Man"

Another image from "The Silent Man" captures Crown Rock in 1917. In this shot Crown Rock fills much of the left half of the screen.

Similar to Devil's Doorway, Crown Rock remains in place today as part of the Cal West landscape. However, the surviving section of the rock consists of only about half of the original formation.

The portion of the rock indicated above was removed during construction to make room for a driveway through the condo complex.

"The Silent Man": Major rock features of the Upper Gorge, filmed in 1917

The images in this shot don't immediately leap off the screen, but it may be the most historically significant of any of the screen shots from "The Silent Man." On close examination, three particularly important rocks can be discerned in the top right corner.

These are the earliest images I've seen of any of the features noted above. I've written previously about each of these rocks — you can find posts about Angry Cardinal here, Hobbit House here and Plaza Rock here.

"Zane Grey Theatre" — Plaza Rock at the right

With any "stacked rock," such as Plaza Rock, the question comes up as to whether the feature occurred naturally or was created by human intervention, possibly with a smaller rock being cemented on top of a larger rock.

Plaza Rock in 1957 ("Zane Grey Theatre" episode "The Freighter")

While not conclusive, the existence of Plaza Rock in 1917 — early in the evolution of the movie ranch — adds weight to the theory that the rock was naturally occurring.

Plaza Rock no longer exists — at least not above ground; in all likelihood, it's now buried beneath the lawn seen here, covered by dirt brought in for grading during construction of the Cal West Townhomes.

A portion of the Hobbit House remains above ground, but about three-quarters of what was once a tall rock tower is now buried.

The Angry Cardinal, too, has been effectively dismantled. A portion of the rock appears to still be in place, but it is unrecognizable today — and is concealed beneath trees and other landscaping.

"The Silent Man": William S. Hart and Vola Vale 

Here's a shot of the two main stars of "The Silent Man," William S. Hart and Vola Vale, in the Iverson Gorge. Some readers may recognize the large rock feature seen behind the actors.

This version of the shot identifies Three Ages Rock — a well-known feature of the Upper Gorge.

"Tarzan the Ape Man" (1932) — Cheeta on Three Ages Rock

The same view of Three Ages Rock — spotlighting the north end of the rock — appears in the final sequence of "Tarzan, the Ape Man," the 1932 feature that launched the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan franchise.

"The Big Show" (1936)

We get another look at the north end of Three Ages Rock in the Gene Autry movie "The Big Show," which we examined in a recent post that you can read by clicking here.

"The Fighting Seabees" (1944) — Iverson Gorge, looking south

Three Ages Rock also turns up in this shot of the Upper Gorge from the John Wayne war movie "The Fighting Seabees." Near the right of the frame is Crown Rock, which was discussed above. All of the rock features shown here took a hit when development came to the Iverson Gorge.

Three of the major features of the Upper Gorge are noted here. Much of Three Ages Rock has survived, but the north end of the rock — the "face" seen here — was removed to clear space for condos. The Wall was demolished in its entirety, along with about half of Crown Rock, as discussed above.

Promotional shot for "The Silent Man" — above the Gorge

A promotional photo for "The Silent Man" shows Hart and Vale in an area just above the Iverson Gorge. The photo includes a copyright date of 1919, but the shot would have been taken during filming at Iverson in 1917.

The background detail on the promo shot is less than sharp, but it's possible to identify some of the rocks — including the so-called "Hole in the Wall" area, as noted above.

The rocks making up the Hole in the Wall formation can still be found today, at the end of a long driveway through the condos — the same driveway that prompted the removal of half of Crown Rock. To read an earlier post with additional details about these rocks, please click here.

Another promo shot for "The Silent Man," apparently taken around the same time as the "Hole in the Wall" promo shot, offers a nice look at the film's two stars. The photo was presumably taken on the Iverson Ranch, although the background features are unidentifiable.

Premiere of Grauman's Million Dollar Theatre, Feb. 1, 1918: "The Silent Man" on the marquee

"The Silent Man" provides an interesting snapshot of early Hollywood history — and of the role the Iverson Ranch played in that history. When Sid Grauman's famed Million Dollar Theatre held its grand opening in Los Angeles on Feb. 1, 1918, "The Silent Man" was the featured attraction.

The Million Dollar Theatre in modern times

The Million Dollar Theatre became a Spanish-language venue way back in the late 1940s, and for decades was one of the country's most important sites for Hispanic films and live productions. Located at 307 S. Broadway in downtown L.A., its stature has been diminished in recent years but it remains a functioning theater.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre — opened in 1927

Sid Grauman went on to build Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in 1922 and Grauman's Chinese Theatre — the last and most famous of his silent-era movie palaces — in 1927. The three theaters have all changed hands over the decades, but all three remain in operation today.

Thomas H. Ince, "Father of the Western"

One of the key players behind the scenes of "The Silent Man" was Thomas H. Ince, who supervised production. In previous years Ince had his own Western filming location, Inceville, in the Palisades Highlands near L.A. But the pioneering director and producer had abandoned Inceville a couple of years before "The Silent Man."

Inceville, in the Palisades Highlands above Pacific Coast Highway

Inceville is regarded today as the first modern film studio, and with Ince producing as many as 150 films a year at the site — most of them Westerns — he became known not only as the father of the Western but also as the creator of the Hollywood studio system.

Ince-Triangle Studios, Culver City, Calif. — the original Greek colonnade still stands today

Ince co-founded Triangle Pictures and the Ince-Triangle Studios in Culver City with his new partners D.W. Griffith and Mack Sennett in 1915, but the partnership lasted only a couple of years. By late 1917 Ince was between studios, and it's around this time that we begin to find Ince productions filmed on the Iverson Ranch.

Thomas H. Ince Studios, Culver City

At least two Thomas Ince Westerns — "The Silent Man" and "The Narrow Trail," released one month later — were filmed at Iverson in late 1917. Ince would shift his focus again in 1918, when he began construction on his new state-of-the-art Thomas H. Ince Studios, a few blocks from the old Ince-Triangle Studios.

Sony Pictures Studios — built on the old Triangle lot in Culver City

Both of Ince's Culver City studios remain in use today. The old Triangle lot is now the home of Sony Pictures Entertainment, after serving as an MGM lot for more than 60 years.

The Culver Studios in recent years — the former Thomas H. Ince Studios

The old Thomas H. Ince Studios went through a number of incarnations, including stints as DeMille Studios, RKO-Pathe Studios, Selznick International Pictures and Desilu Studios, before being bought by an investment group and becoming The Culver Studios, as the facility is known today.

This Google aerial shows the proximity of the two main Culver City studios, both founded by Thomas H. Ince in the 1910s. The juxtaposition of the facilities and their long, complicated and intertwined histories have combined to create quite a bit of confusion — and misinformation — about the two movie industry landmarks.

This post is part of a series of entries exploring silent movies filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch.  Other movies in the series can be found at the following links ...

• "Man-Woman-Marriage" (Dorothy Phillips, 1921): Large-scale battle sequence filmed near the Garden of the Gods in 1920, billed at the time as "so stupendous that it amazed even the film colony of Los Angeles."

• "Richard the Lion-Hearted" (Wallace Beery, 1923): Special effects place a massive Medieval castle among the huge rock features of Garden of the Gods.

• "Three Ages" (Buster Keaton, 1923) — One of the most popular silent-era Iverson shoots, and for good reason. Examine "Buster's armory," controlled by Keaton's caveman character, built high atop Rock Island in the Iverson Gorge.

• Fake cave house: More good stuff from "Three Ages" (1923) — The fake rock feature stood near Garden of the Gods for several years in the 1920s — may even go back to the 1910s.

• "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" (Ramon Novarro, 1925): Terrific behind-the-scenes photos from Jill Bergstrom, granddaughter of the great Iverson cinematographer George B. Meehan Jr., who worked a camera on "Ben-Hur." Most of the material is non-Iverson, even though parts of "Ben-Hur" were filmed on the location ranch.

• "Tell It to the Marines" (Lon Chaney, 1926): MGM production featured construction of elaborate Chinese arched bridge supported by fake rocks; anchor points for the bridge-and-fake-rocks contraption are carved into the rocks north of Garden of the Gods.

• "Noah's Ark" (Dolores Costello, 1928): Noah's Ark is "beached" on top of the sandstone giants of Garden of the Gods, as in the series label above. Directed by Michael Curtiz, who later directed "Casablanca."


billyray said...

Utterly fantastic

Mark said...

Thanks for the archive of previous posts! You do a great job. Mark Sherman

Anonymous said...

Thank you again for your fine Iverson Movie posts. These from the silent movie era are excellent. Those of us who have roamed the rocks appreciate you.