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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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Buster Keaton returns to the Iverson Movie Ranch for a classic "Route 66" episode

Buster Keaton christens "Bathtub Rock" in a promo shot for "Three Ages" (1923)

Buster Keaton has one of the longest-spanning Iverson Movie Ranch careers of any actor. He first worked on the ranch in silent movies in the early 1920s, then returned in the 1960s for a guest spot on the TV show "Route 66."

"Three Ages": Keaton tees off with a prehistoric golf club at Iverson's camera mount

His silent movie work — especially his 1923 feature film "Three Ages" — is much better known among Iverson aficionados than his return engagement for "Route 66." "Three Ages" stands as one of the classic Iverson movies.

Buster at Iverson Pond with "Route 66" stars George Maharis, left, and Martin Milner

But his "Route 66" appearance was classic in its own way, as the show mined Keaton's comedic talents to produce a fun episode of the often light-hearted drama series.

"Route 66": Buz (George Maharis), Tod (Martin Milner) and their babe-magnet Corvette

In case you're hazy on "Route 66," it was an early '60s CBS series that starred George Maharis and Martin Milner (later of "Adam-12"), along with an all-important third "character" — a jazzy Corvette.

Throughout the four-season run of the series, the boys would criss-cross the country in their hip ride — on occasion they even drove Route 66 — getting into adventures, picking up women and exchanging witty banter.

"Route 66" episode "Journey to Nineveh" (premiered Sept. 28, 1962)

But in the episode "Journey to Nineveh" early in the third season, it was Buster Keaton and a big, scruffy dog who wound up catching a ride in the 'Vette. Coincidentally, Keaton was 66 years old at the time.

Even though the episode was set in rural Missouri, the group soon pulled up on the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., arriving at the exact spot where the ranch's historic Western street had stood until four years earlier.

Their location is pinpointed by the instantly recognizable Church Rock, so named because it once hovered over the church at the southwest end of the movie ranch's busy Western street.

"Cheyenne Takes Over" (Eagle-Lion, 1947): The church at the end of the Western street

The church can be found in its share of movies, notably a number of low-budget Lash LaRue and Eddie Dean Westerns from PRC and Eagle-Lion filmed in the late 1940s.

While the church remained in place for only about two years, from 1947-1949, the rest of the Western street proved far more durable, standing from 1944 until early 1958.

"Along Came Jones": Gary Cooper and William Demarest arrive in "Payneville"

The Western street was born as the town of Payneville, built in late 1944 by Gary Cooper for his 1945 Western "Along Came Jones." It was the only movie the actor produced during his legendary film career.

The Iverson Western street looking southwest, with the church in place (ca. 1947)

The town wasn't "high end" by any stretch, but it was well-suited for both the B-Westerns of the late '40s and the kid-oriented 1950s cowboy shows that proliferated in TV's early years. 

Over the course of the set's 13-plus years, it would become the hub of filming activity on the movie ranch.

"Hoppy" (William Boyd) and Topper on the Western street in 1954 (Jerry England collection)

As the Western movies lost ground to TV in the early '50s, shows including "The Lone Ranger," "The Cisco Kid," "The Roy Rogers Show," "Hopalong Cassidy" and "Annie Oakley" would keep the place hopping.

"Whirlybirds" (1956): A flooded and crumbling Western street

But the town set was plagued by flooding whenever it rained, a recurring problem that caused headaches for productions trying to film in the town and probably fast-tracked the set's deterioration.

"The Roy Rogers Show": Pat Brady negotiates the flooded town in his Jeep "Nellybelle"

Production companies were pretty resilient back then. When "The Roy Rogers Show" arrived to find a flooded Western street during filming on the 1952 episode "Ghost Town Gold," the flooding was worked into the plot.

"Man in the Saddle" (Columbia, 1951): A muddy Western street

Minor flooding is visible in the street in this shot from the Randolph Scott Western "Man in the Saddle," filmed in April 1951. The shot brings back a bygone era when it would routinely rain in April in Southern California.

"The Lone Ranger" episode "Ghost Town Fury" (premiered March 28, 1957)

By the mid-1950s the Western town was in ragged shape and was being used mainly as a ghost town. Demolition of the set began by late 1957, and by early 1958 the Western street was gone.

"The Virginian" TV series: A lake on the Iverson Ranch, in the episode "Strangers at Sundown" (1963)

With the town out of the way, Joe Iverson turned a former headache into an opportunity, using the "flooding problem" to create a lake — or the illusion of one — on the same spot where the Western street previously stood.

"The Virginian" (1963): Wider shot reveals there's not much to the lake

The water feature could be shot in ways that created the impression of a larger and more beautiful lake, but when the camera pulled back, Iverson Pond, as it has come to be known, wasn't much more than a puddle.

"Overland Trail" TV series (1960): The stage struggles to traverse the puddle

Even so, the pond flourished from 1959-1963. Along with "The Virginian" and "Overland Trail," everyone from Burt Reynolds to "Bonanza" and Audie Murphy to "The Rifleman" and the Three Stooges filmed there.

"Route 66" (1962): The gang arrives at the Iverson Pond

And we can add Buster Keaton and the "Route 66" crew to that list. Their shoot for "Journey to Nineveh" took place almost entirely at the pond, where the script called for Buster and the boys to do some fishing.

By the way, that's Cooper Rock in the background, named for Gary Cooper, who deserved a nice tribute after building the Western town. Unfortunately, the tribute didn't come until decades later, when movie historians began going over everything and naming stuff — and by that time the rock was already gone.

Behind the scenes on "Route 66": The crew works out details for the fishing sequence

Anyway, the puddle that was Iverson Pond worked well as a fishing hole when the "Route 66" production team turned up in June 1962 to shoot "Journey to Nineveh."

The fishing premise, the seemingly idyllic setting and the unusually shallow water provided Buster with everything he needed to create havoc.

Almost every rock and tree seen during the sequence is a historic movie feature. In this shot Tod and Buz are using Hidden Rock to take a load off.

"Along Came Jones": Arriving at the Western street from the southeast

During the years when the Western street was standing, Hidden Rock was positioned next to the town set's small barn. It was off the main drag, kind of hidden out back, hence the name.

Back at the fishing hole, Keaton takes to it more readily than the other guys.

Buster Keaton in his trademark pork pie hat

At this late stage in his career, his face was as expressive as ever.

Buster Keaton in the "Twilight Zone" episode "Once Upon a Time" (1961)

The comedy legend had already been making the rounds of some classic TV dramas. This shot comes from his 1961 appearance in a time travel-themed episode of "The Twilight Zone."

Uh-oh: Maharis and Keaton find a rowboat

The "Route 66" fishing trip was going smoothly until the boys decided to try out a rowboat they found. (Spoiler alert: If you don't want to know whether the boat sinks, read no further!)

After an aborted first try, they managed to get a few feet from shore without much trouble. This shot includes a historic oak tree.

I call it the Pond Oak because of — obviously — its proximity to the Pond. While most of the background rocks in this shot have survived, the Pond Oak, like everything else in the immediate vicinity of the Pond, was lost.

The Pond Oak can be seen in a much wider setting in this undated photo of the Pond and Sheep Flats, which was a scenic spot in its day. You may want to click on the photo to see a larger version.

A number of other significant features can also be identified. Oat Mountain and most of the Corral Rocks have survived, but Smooth Hill, the Pond, Pond Rock and Hidden Rock have all gone away.

Back on the pond, the inevitable occurs: The boat starts to sink. I think this shot was part of that aborted first try I mentioned, and I don't think it made it into the "Route 66" episode.

But however many tries it took, the bottom line is people started getting wet.

Maharis is part of the first group to get soaked.

A heroic rescue effort gives the hunky Milner a chance to do a wet T-shirt scene.

Zooming in on the background for a better look at the rocks

By now, Hidden Rock and Cooper Rock are "old friends."

Shaggy takes a dip too. That's right, the dog's name is "Shaggy" — I'll bet you never would've guessed.

I get a sense memory about the smell of wet dog when I see this picture.

Buster appears to be trying to take a turn as the hero here. I'm pretty sure he gets blamed for the whole fiasco, so it's only fair that he would make an effort.

Next comes a lot of exasperation and standing around in wet clothes.

This part of the sequence gives us a rare opportunity to see Pond Rock up close.

Here's another look at Pond Rock — I'll have to apologize for George Maharis, who keeps getting in the way.

"Montana Incident" (1952): Pond Rock and the General Store

When the Western street was still standing, Pond Rock was situated at the northeast end of town, next to the walkway in front of the General Store. The store was outfitted with saloon signage for "Montana Incident."

Promo still for "Wee Willie Winkie": Shirley Temple, right, Pond Rock, Smooth Hill and the India Fort

Back in 1937, before the town was built, Pond Rock had a photo op with Shirley Temple during filming on "Wee Willie Winkie." The stone building seen here is part of the large India Fort built for the movie.

"Rawhide Rangers" (1941): An early version of Iverson Pond

Even in those pre-Payneville days, there were times when the Pond was a pond. One of the best examples is in "Rawhide Rangers," filmed in May 1941. The buildings seen here as the Texas Rangers headquarters — and reflected in the Pond — were originally another part of the "Wee Willie Winkie" India Fort.

"Under Texas Skies" (Republic, 1940)

At other times of the year the area was bone-dry. Here's Pond Rock again, with nothing around it but cowboys and trail dust in the Three Mesquiteers movie "Under Texas Skies," filmed in late summer 1940.

"Route 66" (1962)

Back on the road to "Nineveh," Buster managed to lose his pants. I don't think this shot made it into the final edit.

Joe E. Brown and Buster Keaton: Promo still for "Journey to Nineveh"

Along with Buster, "Journey to Nineveh" featured a guest appearance by another comedy legend: Joe E. Brown.

"Shut My Big Mouth" (1942): A splotchy green Range Rider Rock at top right

Joe E. Brown had his own track record on the Iverson Ranch, highlighted by his starring role in the Western comedy "Shut My Big Mouth."

Joe E. Brown, Jenny Maxwell and Buster Keaton in "Journey to Nineveh"

Also in the cast of "Journey to Nineveh" was Jenny Maxwell, because with all those old fogeys around, the episode needed a young blonde.

Naturally, Tod and Buz gravitate toward Jenny.

Edgar Buchanan in "Journey to Nineveh"

As if it didn't already have enough star power, Edgar Buchanan is in the episode too.

"Tales of Wells Fargo" episode "The Prisoner" (1958): Edgar Buchanan and Dale Robertson

Buchanan didn't make it out to Iverson for the fishin' hole shoot, but he put in his share of work on the ranch during his career. That's him on the left, at Lash LaRue's Arch in "Tales of Wells Fargo."

Corvette News, September/October 1962: "Route 66" writeup

"Journey to Nineveh" received some interesting coverage in Corvette News, which did an in-depth feature on "Route 66" in fall 1962. You can click here to read the writeup on the show's visit to the Iverson Ranch.