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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• 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).
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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Anita Ekberg stars as "Valerie," filmed on the Upper Iverson by Oscar-Winning Cinematographer Ernest Laszlo — and a toast to Hugh O'Brian

I recently ran across the Sterling Hayden-Anita Ekberg Western "Valerie," a bigger-budget United Artists production filmed on location on the Iverson Movie Ranch in 1957.

Anita Ekberg and Sterling Hayden on the Iverson Ranch in a promo shot for "Valerie"

As one of the top Western stars of the 1950s, Sterling Hayden was a frequent presence on the Iverson Ranch back then. It was much more rare to see someone like Ekberg out riding the range.

Anita Ekberg in 1956 (promo shot for "Back From Eternity")

Not that there was anyone quite like Anita Ekberg. The Swedish bombshell was making a name for herself at the time as one of Hollywood's hottest new sex symbols. We'll take a closer look at her below, but first I want to talk about the Iverson locations used in "Valerie." (Boy, are my priorities messed up!) 

"Valerie": Anita Ekberg and Peter Walker at the Midway House, on the Upper Iverson

The movie made ample use not only of Ekberg's sex appeal, but also of a number of Upper Iverson sets, including the Midway House, the Fury Barn and the Middle Iverson Ranch Set.

Peter Walker, seen here with Ekberg at the Midway House, plays Sterling Hayden's brother in "Valerie."

Peter Walker chats up Anita Ekberg on the front porch of the Midway House

Walker's character, Herb Garth, can't help being charming, but is he just being friendly with his brother's wife, or is it something more lascivious? 

Sterling Hayden keeps an eye on the Midway House in "Valerie"

Lurking in the shadows a short distance away, we see a jealous Sterling Hayden, as John Garth, spying on his wife and brother. The plot of the movie involves a "Rashomon"-like retelling of a brutal crime as it is tried in court.

Ekberg makes a hasty exit after she realizes her crazy husband has come a-calling

The movie's plot structure brings the viewer back repeatedly to the various filming locations as each witness offers an account of the events leading up to the crime. A location researcher could hardly ask for a better setup.

Overview of the Upper Iverson looking north from Cactus Hill, in "Valerie"

The movie also offers a number of wide shots of the Upper Iverson. In this one, both the Fury Barn and the Midway House can be seen, along with some significant rock features.

Fury Barn and Midway House, on the Upper Iverson

"Midway House" is my own name for the set where Ekberg and Walker are seen in the movie. The building is sometimes thought of as part of the Fury Set, although it's a ways south of the barn.

Key rock features also seen in the "Valerie" shot

Among the rock features captured in the shot are the Midway Rocks — so named because they're about midway between the Upper Iverson's North and South Rims — and the Three Stooges, located on the North Rim.

Here's a shot from "Valerie" that again captures both the Fury Barn and the Midway House — from a much closer angle this time.

Built for the TV series "Fury," the Fury Set was constructed starting in 1955, initially consisting of just the barn. A number of other buildings were added to the set over the next few years.

"Fury" TV series: The Fury Barn as the Broken Wheel Ranch

The Fury Barn appeared as the Newton family's beloved Broken Wheel Ranch in the TV show "Fury." The barn went on to be one of the Iverson Ranch's most widely filmed sets, turning up repeatedly in movies and TV shows before it was leveled by a massive wildfire in 1970.

The main cast of "Fury" at the Midway House in 1956; L-R: William Fawcett, Peter Graves
and Bobby Diamond ("Trial by Jury," premiered Oct. 27, 1956)

The Midway House first appeared in 1956, and even though it was set off a bit from the Fury Barn, it became the family home for "Fury's" Newton clan.

"Have Gun, Will Travel" (1958): The new "Fury Barn House" next to the Fury Barn

By 1958 a new house stood next to the Fury Barn. For a while I was calling this the "Fury House," but that's too confusing, considering that it was a different house, the Midway House, that served as the Newton family house in "Fury." I eventually settled on calling the new house the "Fury Barn House."

"The Gambler Wore a Gun" (United Artists, 1961)

The Fury Barn appears again in the Jim Davis Western "The Gambler Wore a Gun" in 1961, seen from an angle that's similar to the one used in "Fury," a few shots up from here.

A big difference between the two shots of the barn — first in "Fury" (four shots up from this one) and then about five years later in "The Gambler Wore a Gun" — is that the new Fury Barn House is now in place.

"The Gambler Wore a Gun": Fury Barn and Fury Barn House

Another shot from "The Gambler Wore a Gun" again shows the proximity of the new Fury Barn House to the barn. The new house had a minor role as Packy's house in later seasons of the TV show "Fury," but most of the angles used in the show, which aired from 1955-1960, suggest that when the Fury Barn was being filmed for "Fury," the crew was careful to avoid shooting the house.

"The Gambler Wore a Gun"

It's easy to mix up the Midway House and the Fury Barn House, which have some design elements in common. In the years after the "Fury" TV show wrapped, the Midway House was used mainly as a separate set, while the Fury Barn and Fury Barn House formed their own ranch set, generally called the "Fury Set."

This scene in "The Gambler Wore a Gun" captures a rare shot of all three structures in the same frame — the Fury Barn, Fury Barn House and Midway House.

"Valerie": Another look at the Fury Set area in 1957

The overviews seen in "Valerie," filmed before the construction of the Fury Barn House, give us a chance to compare what the Upper Iverson looked like before and after the house was built.

Sterling Hayden opens the gate to his ranch in "Valerie"

Some of the most interesting shots in "Valerie" are filmed from a vantage point near the top of Cactus Hill, where a gate was set up to represent the entrance to the Garth Ranch.

You may have already spotted the Fury Barn in this shot. Some readers might also recognize the familiar Iverson background features Oat Mountain and the Triangle Brand.

"Black Saddle" episode "Client: Braun" (premiered April 4, 1959)

Here's a shot of the same background area almost two years later, in the TV show "Black Saddle." The white building is the Fury Barn House, and the Fury Barn can also be seen, although it's harder to make out.

At first the two backgrounds may not look the same, which is explained by a number of factors, including a lower camera angle used in the "Black Saddle" sequence, which is also shot from farther east.

"Black Saddle": Two sections of road and a plateau area noted

Also complicating the comparison is the fact that the productions are shot at different times of the day, with the shadows falling in opposite directions. Seasonal differences are evident too, with more lush foliage seen in "Black Saddle" — especially in the "Road B" area.

"Valerie": The same markers help identify the spot

However, it's possible to identify common markers in the two shots. The same three features noted above in "Black Saddle" — two sections of road and a plateau — can also be found in the "Valerie" shot.

"The Brass Legend" (UA, 1956): The Upper Iverson about a year before "Valerie" was filmed

A comparison can also be made between the Upper Iverson as it appears in "Valerie" and what it looked like a little less than a year earlier, when the movie "The Brass Legend" was filmed in the same area.

In "The Brass Legend" we again see many of the same features noted in "Valerie." "The Brass Legend" and "Valerie" add up to something of an "Iverson period" for Gerd Oswald, who directed both movies.

"The Brass Legend," 1956: Midway House not yet built

The Upper Iverson overview in "The Brass Legend" reveals that the Midway House was not yet built as of late April 1956, when the movie was filmed.

"Valerie" (filmed in December 1956): Midway House in place

Another look at "Valerie" about eight months later shows the Midway House occupying the spot that was vacant in "The Brass Legend." I also couldn't help noticing how much more "barn-y" the Fury Barn looks with the door open.

Google aerial: Surviving rocks, along with the footprints of the old buildings

No remnant of any of the buildings exists today, but their footprints are approximated in this recent Google aerial. The Three Stooges and about half of the Midway Rocks have survived, but both features are now contained in the backyards of luxury estates and are inaccessible.

Main house on the Middle Iverson Ranch Set, in "Valerie"

Also featured in "Valerie" is the main house on the Middle Iverson Ranch Set, sometimes called the Halfway House. It is here that the grisly crime takes place, setting the plot in motion.

Front porch of the main house, or "Halfway House"

The movie features the house's southwest face, the more widely filmed of the building's two main fronts.

Some of the structure's design elements are similar to the look of both the Midway House and the Fury Barn House. Similarities among the structures were presumably intentional, making them somewhat interchangeable.

Middle Iverson's "Halfway House" from an eyewitness's perspective

Scenes in "Valerie" are often shot from behind the actors as their characters observe a particular setting, emphasizing that it is their perspective we're seeing, and not necessarily an objective reality.

Google aerial view: Footprints of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set

As with the other buildings discussed above, not a trace remains of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set. This recent Google aerial shows the approximate footprints of the set's main buildings, with the land now occupied by condos.

Wider view of the former Upper Iverson Movie Ranch

A wider aerial view shows the set areas depicted in the two maps above. I've also noted the Topanga interchange on the 118, the closest exit to the former Upper Iverson. The area can be accessed via Poema Place at the north end of Topanga, but the section above the condos is a gated community.

South Rim rock features, looking north from Cactus Hill

I was struck by some of the unusual camera angles seen in "Valerie," especially the movie's use of Cactus Hill.

This shot taken from Cactus Hill captures the rarely filmed rock feature I call "Gorilla," along with the far more widely filmed Turtle Rock. The angle of the shot is extremely rare.

"Five Guns West" (1955)

The only other production I know of that features a similar view of Gorilla is "Five Guns West," the first film directed by Roger Corman. The Corman movie shot later in the day, with the sunlight from the west helping to bring out more of the "gorilla" in Gorilla — seen near the right of the frame in this screen shot.

Turtle Rock and Gorilla in modern times

Here's a look at Turtle Rock and Gorilla in their contemporary setting, from a similar angle to those seen in "Valerie" and "Five Guns West." Once again, the evening light helps present Gorilla at its most "gorilla-like."

Driving past a rare rock on a "country lane" on Cactus Hill

Another unusual rock that turns up in "Valerie" is one I call Dire Wolf, which howls at Hayden and Ekberg, or their doubles, as they drive past.

This rock is almost never seen in productions, even though it's positioned next to one of the main trails along the northern edge of Cactus Hill.

Vintage dire wolf plastic replica by MPC

"Dire Wolf" refers to a perceived resemblance between the rock's "mouth" and the plastic dire wolf toys I had as a kid as part of my prehistoric animals collection. I'm aware that it's a stretch, and will add that it's only with some degree of embarrassment that I admit this.

"The Brass Legend" (United Artists, 1956) — Dire Wolf

I've spotted Dire Wolf in just one other production — "The Brass Legend." I'm sure it's no coincidence that it happens to be the other movie, along with "Valerie," from director Gerd Oswald's "Iverson period."

Dire Wolf in modern times

Here's a more recent shot of Dire Wolf. The wider the view of the rock, the less it looks like a dire wolf.

Hugh O'Brian as Sheriff Wade Addams in "The Brass Legend" (Upper Iverson)

While we're talking about "The Brass Legend," let's raise a glass to Hugh O'Brian, who starred in the movie. O'Brian, who was a fixture on the Iverson Ranch for years, died Sept. 5 at age 91.

O'Brian was best known as TV's Wyatt Earp, playing the Old West lawman for six seasons on the ABC series "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp."

Hugh O'Brian and Ray Boyle at Wyatt Earp Rock in the episode "Shoot to Kill"

O'Brian leans against the rock that was named for his character — Wyatt Earp Rock, on the Lower Iverson. Ray Boyle, who used the screen name Dirk London, played Wyatt's brother Morgan Earp.

"Shoot to Kill" (premiered Oct. 18, 1960)

With his trademark square jaw, O'Brian would have made a good Dick Tracy.

The triumvirate gathers at Rock Island on "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp"; L-R: Wyatt
(Hugh O'Brian), Doc Holliday (Douglas Fowler) and Shotgun Gibbs (Morgan Woodward)

In his later years, O'Brian was a frequent attendee at Western trade shows, cowboy star reunions and vintage TV festivals. He also founded the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Foundation in support of high school scholars.

O'Brian married his girlfriend of 18 years, Virginia Barber, in 2006, when O'Brian was 81, and the couple collaborated on his memoir, "Hugh O'Brian, or What's Left of Him," published in 2014.

"Dodge City Gets a New Marshal" (Sept. 4, 1956) — O'Brian on the Lower Iverson

The "Wyatt Earp" TV show filmed extensively on the Iverson Ranch, preserving important images of the location ranch during what turned out to be the final half-decade or so of Iverson's "golden age."

Shooting up the Garden of the Gods Trail in "The Gatling Gun" (premiered Oct. 21, 1958)

O'Brian's "Wyatt Earp" premiered four days before "Gunsmoke," and has been cited as the first TV Western written for adults — but that didn't keep Wyatt from having a blast with a Gatling gun.

"The Brass Legend" (1956): Hugh O'Brian rides the Upper Iverson

This is just conjecture, but it's possible that it was O'Brian who brought the Iverson Ranch to the attention of director Gerd Oswald. "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" had already been shooting on the ranch for a while when Oswald and O'Brian joined forces to work on "The Brass Legend."

Gerd Oswald, director of "The Brass Legend" and "Valerie"

With "The Brass Legend" wrapped, Oswald returned to Iverson the following year for the more ambitious "Valerie" — and this time he brought along reinforcements in the form of heavyweight cinematographer Ernest Laszlo.

Ernest Laszlo, behind camera, with Jackie Robinson and director Alfred E. Green, 
at work on "The Jackie Robinson Story" (1950)

The Hungarian-born Laszlo already had some gems on his resume as a director of photography — "Stalag 17" (1953), "The Naked Jungle" (1954) and "Kiss Me Deadly" (1955), to name a few.

Ernest Laszlo with his Oscar for Best Cinematography for "Ship of Fools" in 1966, 
flanked by presenters Kim Novak and Richard Johnson

Laszlo would go on to chalk up eight Oscar nominations, one Oscar win and a body of work that raised the bar for cinematographers. In the years following "Valerie," he filmed "Inherit the Wind," "Judgment at Nuremberg," "Baby, the Rain Must Fall," "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" ... the list goes on.

"Valerie" — Sterling Hayden in front of Turtle Rock on the Upper Iverson

Laszlo brought a keen eye to "Valerie," embracing the unique cinematic opportunities presented by filming on the Iverson Movie Ranch. It may be unintentional, but I couldn't help noticing that the pointed edge of Turtle Rock hovers menacingly close to Sterling Hayden's neck in this shot.

A piece of farm equipment becomes an artistic element on the Fury Set

A proponent of framing devices, Laszlo utilized the trees, rocks and farm implements he found on the location ranch.

Foliage and shadows add a subtle counterpoint to a shot of the Midway House

"Valerie": An unusual shot from inside the Fury Barn, looking toward the South Rim

The interior of the Fury Barn was rarely filmed, but Laszlo took his camera inside the structure to bring the audience into a shadowy corner of John Garth's world.

In an early sequence in "Valerie" filmed outside the Halfway House on the Middle Iverson Ranch Set, a tight shot of Garth suggests something bad is about to happen.

Anita Ekberg on the Upper Iverson — filmed near the Midway House

The artistic element that was Ekberg didn't escape Laszlo's notice either.

Anita Ekberg — Miss Sweden 1950

A little background on Ekberg ... as a teenager she won the Miss Sweden competition in 1950, earning a trip to the U.S. to compete in the Miss Universe pageant.

Ekberg in Life magazine in 1951

She wound up as a finalist for Miss Universe, an honor that brought her a contract with Universal Pictures. She immediately started getting attention, including being photographed for Life magazine.

Anita Ekberg in "Pickup Alley" (1957) — her last role before "Valerie"

Ekberg, who spoke almost no English when she arrived in the U.S., soon began building a resume as one of the sexiest leading ladies in Hollywood.

Ekberg in "La Dolce Vita" (1960)

When Ekberg turned up on the Iverson Ranch for "Valerie," she was still a few years away from the role that would make her an international sensation — playing Sylvia in Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita."

Anita Ekberg — early promo shoot

Producers clearly understood the appeal of Ekberg, and the gorgeous Swede showed little reluctance to maximize her exposure.

"Valerie": The newlyweds arrive home on Cactus Hill

In contrast to much of her career, Ekberg's exposure in "Valerie" was relatively buttoned-up. Even so, the actress added her own memorable accents to the usually barren Iverson Movie Ranch landscape.

For readers who might want to explore more about "Valerie," Anita Ekberg, Hugh O'Brian or Ernest Laszlo, I've included some links to Amazon at the bottom of this post.

This 1998 music video by Neil Finn includes one of the most unusual appearances ever by the Fury Barn — almost 30 years after it burned down.

You'll find links throughout this post to additional blog items about the Midway House, Fury Set and Middle Iverson Ranch Set. You may also want to click here to see a post about a Burt Reynolds photo shoot for "Gunsmoke" at the Fury Barn, or click here for more about the Fury Barn's appearance in the Neil Finn video.

Please click on the links above to go to if you're interested in purchasing DVDs, Blu-rays or books related to this blog post.