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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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Remember the Iverson Movie Ranch rock that Norma Shearer sat on in 1925? It has been found!

"Excuse Me" (1925): promo still from Marc Wanamaker's Bison Archives

Back in December we discussed this promo still for the silent movie "Excuse Me," starring Norma Shearer. At the time I published the post — click here to see it — I had already begun searching for this site.

Nyoka Cliff in the background narrowed down the location, making for a rock hunt that "should" have been easy. But these things are rarely as easy as they should be, and the search turned out to be a challenge.

My focus was mainly on finding this rock, which has enough markings on it to be easily recognizable. The reason it was the key rock, in case it's not obvious, is because Norma Shearer sat on it.

Less important was the rock that her co-star Conrad Nagel sat on, and the reason, while admittedly shallow, is again fairly obvious: Nagel wasn't anywhere near the Hollywood legend that Shearer was. (Did you really think I would admit that it's because his butt was less interesting than hers?)

The overriding goal was to find the entire group of rocks, but I knew if I did find any of the rocks, I'd probably find them all. To help in identifying individual rocks, let's call them Rocks A, B, C and D.

Garden of the Gods, 2018: A dead tree in a logistically important area

On an early pass through the area I noticed that a dead tree had fallen over, right in the target zone. Not only was the tree obstructing the view of Nyoka Cliff, but it might also be concealing historic movie rocks.

I initially dismissed the "dead tree problem" and continued to explore the adjacent area in search of the Norma Shearer rocks. It felt a little "too obvious" to blame the tree.

But I noticed early on that the shape of one nearby rock was similar to that of "Rock D" in the 1925 photo. And by my third or fourth expedition — as the Norma Shearer Rocks persistently failed to turn up anywhere else — I became convinced that the rocks must be hidden under the tree after all.

Possible "Rock C," center

Delving a little more deeply into the tree and its maze of dead brush, I was able to get a look at what appeared to be Rock C ... but the elusive Rock B, where Norma Shearer sat, remained mostly buried under dead branches.

The Norma Shearer Rocks — Free at last!

As luck would have it, I discovered on a subsequent visit that someone had done some badly needed clearing work and had removed part of the dead tree — effectively liberating the Norma Shearer Rocks.

Now Rocks A, B, C and D can all be identified again. It appears that the spot where Conrad Nagel sat is an extension of Rock B, which is wide enough to have accommodated both lovebirds.

Closeup of the Norma Shearer-Conrad Nagel "loveseat" as it appeared in 1925

It has been almost a century since Norma and Conrad hugged it out on Rock B, and the passage of time has taken a toll on their sandstone-upholstered loveseat.

The surface of the rock as it appeared in 1925 bears little resemblance to its contemporary counterpart after a number of the boulder's most distinctive nooks and crannies have either eroded or simply fallen off.

A few key markers, however, remain in place today, even if it takes careful examination to find them.

Notice the raised "blob" outlined here in red, protruding from the rock's surface.

The same raised chunk of rock can be found affixed to the larger rock in 1925, although it is camouflaged to some extent by an "extension" sticking out below it that later fell off.

Super closeup of the key "blob"

To understand how this 1925 version of the rock hunk translates to the current rock, let's take an even closer look at that critical blob of sandstone near the top of this interesting rock.

The area highlighted here tells an important part of the story.

The same "blob" in modern times

The yellow outline on this contemporary version of the rock designates approximately the same area.

Inside the yellow outline we find a "main blob" that remains attached to the rock, along with an area where the lower "extension," which was still present in 1925, can no longer be found.

We can readily identify the missing piece, along with the main blob, in the 1925 photo.

A "fault line" can be discerned in 1925 between the main rock hunk and the piece that would later fall off.

The fault line that was in place in 1925 matches the crescent-shaped break left behind when the lower extension became detached from the rock.

Near the fault line is another obvious marker, sort of a "tab" that's squared off at the bottom.

The same tab can be seen in 1925, but here again, the tiny feature's overall appearance was a little different then because it was surrounded by bits and pieces that have since fallen off.

Similar markers can also be found in various other places on the rock. Have fun trying to find them, if you're so inclined — but I hope you don't go off the deep end with it, as I kind of did.

Norma Shearer (publicity still, ca. 1930)

The presence of an actress of the stature of Norma Shearer on the Iverson Ranch during the silent film era is a reminder of the vital role the ranch played in the early evolution of the film industry.

Shearer was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1920s and 1930s. An Academy Award winner for the early talkie "The Divorcee," released in 1930, she became a fixture at the Oscars for the next decade.

Touted at the time as a film that "exposes the hypocrisy of modern marriage," "The Divorcee" was unabashed in its exploitation of Shearer's reputation for playing "liberated women" on the big screen.

The 1930 ad for "The Divorcee" asks, point blank: "If the world permits the husband to philander — why not the wife?" With the Hays Code still a few years away, Hollywood was in the throes of its first sexual revolution.

Power couple: Shearer and Thalberg at the White House in 1929

Shearer was married to pioneering movie producer Irving Thalberg for a good chunk of Hollywood's Golden Age — from 1927 until Thalberg's death in 1936.

Norma with her Oscar for "The Divorcee"

She was the exception to the rule of silent film stars who couldn't make the transition to the talkies. Shearer would establish herself as the Meryl Streep of the 1930s, chalking up six Oscar nominations during the decade.

Norma Shearer "on the rocks" in 1925

We're fortunate that the Norma Shearer Rocks were spared the destruction that claimed much of the former Iverson Ranch when development inevitably cut a swath through the northwest San Fernando Valley in the 1980s.

The Norma Shearer Rocks today

The rock formation stands today as one of hundreds of unheralded, and in many cases undiscovered, monuments to the decades in which our shared cultural history was shaped on the Iverson Movie Ranch.

Map to the Norma Shearer Rocks

To find the Norma Shearer Rock location, park on Redmesa somewhere around Lone Ranger Rock and find the blue-green gate on the west side of the road. Follow the trail up, as noted here by the dotted red line.


Ron Crawley said...

Aw, I was hoping for a picture of you perched on the rock! Good work, although substantial credit (as you noted) goes to whoever cleared the brush! Is there an ongoing effort to clean up the area? Sure would be good to have you as part of the decision making when it comes to that, since you have noted numerous examples of "historic foliage" in previous posts that would be good to retain. GREAT WORK!

Swami Nano said...

It's best for everyone involved if I stay out of the pictures! But thanks for the suggestion.

Phil. said...

It's like the rock wanted to be found, SPOOKY! Great work as always and top marks for Shearer persistence.

Anonymous said...

This is a great find! Please add a map of the location. I'm guessing it is behind (to the west of) Pyramid Rock or Phantom Rock? Thank you for another fine post.

Swami Nano said...

I've never heard of Pyramid Rock. You might mean the Sphinx — I can see how those could get mixed up if you're not an Egyptologist. Anyway, the Norma Shearer Rock area is due east of Sphinx and a bit farther east of Phantom. See the map, which you will probably want to click on to enlarge.


Swami Nano said...

Good one, Phil! Thanks.


Mark said...

What a find from out of nowhere! Thanks for the post!

Jeff said...

Great detective work. Your attention to detail is always a wonderment.