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.
• 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.
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Sunday, December 16, 2018

Gems from the Bison Archives: Bob Hope visits Lone Ranger Rock, Tom Mix gets vertical ... and I'll have a Norma Shearer on the rocks

Promo still for "Never Say Die," 1939 (Bison Archives)

Here's a fun shot that surfaced recently from Marc Wanamaker's Bison Archives, an indispensable resource for historical Hollywood photos. Marc has been a big supporter of my research and of the Iverson Movie Ranch Blog.

The photo was taken during filming in the Iverson Gorge in late 1938 for Paramount's 1939 comedy "Never Say Die." The scene finds Bob Hope reluctantly taking part in a duel under the watchful eye of Lone Ranger Rock.

A lobby card for the movie contains a photo taken in almost the same spot, and again Lone Ranger Rock appears in the background. But with the top of the rock cut off here, it would have been hard to ID from just this shot.

A screen shot from the movie provides a wider view of the scene, with the action taking place on the plateau above the Lower Gorge. The rock towers of the Garden of the Gods loom in the background.

Almost unnoticed at the edge of the frame, Lone Ranger Rock continues to oversee the action.

For the shoot, the production team installed a small fence at the edge of the plateau.

Bob Hope in "Never Say Die"

Bob Hope stands near the fence in this shot from the movie. You may recognize the rocks and hills in the background, which are located southwest of the Iverson Ranch, below Santa Susana Pass Road.

The producers also created some "movie magic" in post-production, blending footage of the Iverson Gorge with a painted background featuring wild trees and huge snow-covered mountains.

They went just a little crazy with the special effects, but it's a fun use of the Iverson rocks.

Promo still for "Dick Turpin" (Fox Film Corp., 1925)

Another intriguing shot that recently surfaced from the Bison Archives is this promo still for the 1925 silent movie "Dick Turpin," starring Tom Mix. It's a historical adventure in which Mix plays an English highwayman.

It's easy to miss Tom Mix, who's dwarfed by the unusual rock features as he appears to climb a large vertical crack in one of the rocks. I was initially unable to identify this scene as being shot on the Iverson Ranch.

The designation at the bottom includes the reference "Bly 34," pinpointing the photo as a promo still for the movie "Dick Turpin." The "Bly" part refers to the movie's director, John G. Blystone.

The "Dick Turpin" promo shot in the photo's proper orientation

Somehow it occurred to me to rotate the photo to get a fresh perspective, and suddenly it made sense. The photo had been rotated 90 degrees for the promo still, but this is its correct orientation.

The Sphinx, in the Iverson Movie Ranch's Garden of the Gods

It turns out Mix is "climbing" — or crawling, to be more accurate — along a horizontal crack in the heavily filmed Iverson rock feature known as the Sphinx.

Mix was photographed along the northwest corner of the sandstone behemoth. He was up pretty high, presumably having been placed there through the use of a ladder or scaffolding.

One thing you almost can't help noticing in the promo still is this upside-down "tree," which doesn't belong there and is probably a fake that the "Dick Turpin" team installed.

"Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" (MGM, 1925)

We can see in this screen shot from the silent "Ben-Hur," released the same year as "Dick Turpin," that no such nature-defying tree actually existed in that spot.

The two shots from 1925 also showcase an optical illusion I've always found fascinating. The "Ben-Hur" shot appears to contain a "mystery circle."

When one visits that corner of the Sphinx today, it is difficult to discern whether the "mystery circle" remains in place — especially from ground level.

Drone shot taken in 2017

But in fact, the illusion remains intact, as this drone shot taken by Dennis Cohee in 2017 illustrates. When we're able to view the rock from an elevated position, the circle appears.

Even with that dumb tree in the way, the "Dick Turpin" photo is the missing link that brings clarity to the mystery. The photo reveals that the "circle" is formed by a combination of a more or less circular hunk of rock along with a fortuitously positioned hole to its immediate left.

"Ben-Hur": The illusion of the perfect circle

The angle seen in "Ben-Hur" tightens up the illusion by making it almost perfectly circular.

Tom Mix and Kathleen Myers in "Dick Turpin" — not exactly an Iverson movie

It should be noted that the movie "Dick Turpin," at least in its surviving form, does not contain the Sphinx shot, nor does it include anything readily identified as Iverson. It may be that only the promo still was shot at the ranch.

This is the same corner of the Sphinx we spotlighted in a recent post about an "intruder rock" that fell sometime after the filming era. Please click here if you haven't seen that post — or just want to refresh your memory.

As luck would have it, the "Dick Turpin" photo pinpoints where the intruder rock was situated before it fell. The photo provides the best look by far that I've seen of the rock when it was still perched up high.

When the rock fell, it failed to dislodge a small rock feature that had been sitting directly in front of it. This small rock can be identified both in the 1925 photo and in recent shots.

The intruder rock area in 2018

Given the intruder rock's rounded shape, it may have been inevitable that it would roll off, whether it was prompted by an earthquake or just got sick of being stuck there. Maybe a bug moved and that was all it took.

Regardless of how it got there, the restless rock has settled in nicely, and the area appears to be stable now.

Promo still for "Excuse Me" (MGM, 1925): Nyoka Cliff in the background

Still another gem from the Bison Archives is this promo still for the silent comedy "Excuse Me," starring Norma Shearer and Conrad Nagel. Watching the young couple embrace are actors William V. Mong and Edith Yorke.

The photo is taken looking east from the Garden of the Gods toward Nyoka Cliff. Thanks to this photo we can add Norma Shearer's name to the list of huge stars of Hollywood's Golden Age who worked on the Iverson Ranch.

Norma Shearer in "He Who Gets Slapped" (MGM, 1924)

One of MGM's top stars of the late silent era and into the 1940s, Shearer made her mark playing sexually liberated women — one of the first major actresses to do so.

Shearer shows off her Oscar in 1930

Nominated six times for Academy Awards for her leading roles, Norma won her only Oscar in 1930 for MGM's "The Divorcee." She was nominated twice that year, including one for MGM's "Their Own Desire." 

"Upstage" (MGM, 1926): Norma reaches new heights

Like most teenage girls, Norma had her "massive beehive" phase. I grew up in the East Valley and had a big sister, so this is nothing new to me.

Norma dazzles in her new hat in "The Tower of Lies" (MGM, 1925)

She also could rock a funny hat if the producers insisted.

Norma Shearer on the rocks ... sounds like it would make a fine cocktail

Speaking of rocking, Norma wasn't just another pretty face in the rocks. While she was at Iverson for "Excuse Me," she got out there and got her hands dirty shooting the film's rocky climactic action sequence.

It's a hard movie to find, and as it turns out, Norma's rocks are hard to find too. I've already been out to Iverson on an "Excuse Me" hunt, and was reminded that these things are never as easy as they should be.

This one should be a slam-dunk: Just line up the rocks above Nyoka Cliff. Well, excuse ME! I got close, I'm sure, but no cigar ... and no sign of the rock that once had a moment with Norma's ... um ... photo shoot.

The "other woman" in the movie is played by French actress Renee Adoree. That's Adoree draped over Nagel this time, in position to make her move while Nagel and Shearer squabble.

"The Michigan Kid" (1928): Conrad Nagel and Renee Adoree

Adoree and Nagel apparently hit it off. They went on to work together in five movies, including making the jump to Universal for the 1928 melodrama "The Michigan Kid."

"The Cossacks" (MGM, 1928): Renee Adoree and Ernest Torrence

Adoree also tangled with the feared contrabass balalaika in "The Cossacks," another silent movie filmed on the Iverson Ranch. From the looks of that thing, we may be lucky the movie was silent!

"Heaven on Earth" (1927): Renee Adoree on mandolin, with Conrad Nagel

But Adoree apparently did have some musical chops. They found a more "size appropriate" instrument for her, something in the mandolin family, in MGM's "Heaven on Earth."

"The Pagan" (MGM, 1929): Adoree with Ramon Novarro

The diminutive Adoree was downsized all the way to a ukulele for "The Pagan."

Adoree in a photo shoot for "The Cossacks"

Born in Lille, France, Adoree was the daughter of circus performers and got an early start in showbiz. As a youngster she toured Russia — where herds of wild balalaikas reportedly still roamed free at the time.

"The Big Parade" (1925): Adoree reminds John Gilbert what he's fighting for

Adoree, whose stage name means "adored," was apparently a good kisser. She practiced on John Gilbert in "The Big Parade," considered by many historians to be one of the best films of the silent era.

"Forbidden Hours" (MGM, 1928)

She later got to show off her skills for Ramon Novarro.

"Exchange of Wives" (1925): Renee Adoree and Creighton Hale

Adoree even wound up in bed with a snoozy Creighton Hale, in the provocatively titled "Exchange of Wives." This was years before the Hays Code forced Hollywood to pretend it didn't know about the birds and the bees.

"Back to God's Country" (Universal, 1927)

Renee's "adorableness" may have got her in trouble during filming on "Back to God's Country." In a juicy rumor right out of "Hollywood Babylon," she was accused of an illicit affair with director Lynn Reynolds.

Renee Adoree at home by the fireplace, circa 1927

As the story goes, Reynolds' wife, actress Kathleen O'Connor, got vocal about the alleged affair during a dinner with cast and crew, prompting Reynolds to ruin the party, first by hitting O'Connor and then by killing himself.

Renee Adoree — publicity still for "Rose-Marie" (1928)

Life wasn't all that kind to Adoree either. She lived to be just 35, dying of tuberculosis on Oct. 5, 1933.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Very informative! Merry Christmas!