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, November 23, 2019

How a single location on the Iverson Movie Ranch helped decide the fates of Ronald Reagan, Old Yeller and Elvis

Elvis Presley sings to Fran Jeffries on the Iverson Ranch (1965)

Elvis Presley location expert Bill Bram recently tracked down this rare photo of Elvis with Fran Jeffries from March 1965, taken on the Iverson Movie Ranch during filming of the movie "Harum Scarum."

The location of the Elvis Presley-Fran Jeffries photo, as it appears today

I was able to find the exact spot on the former Iverson Ranch where the photo was taken, on the south side of a major rock feature known as the Phantom, in the Central Garden of the Gods.

Any number of identifiers can be highlighted on the rock's surface to help match up the contemporary version of the rock with the version seen more than a half-century ago in the photo from the "Harum Scarum" shoot.

The same identifiers are easy to spot in the photo of Elvis and Fran, illustrating that the rock appears pretty much the same today as it did in 1965.

One of these identifiers, which I would describe as a small horizontal "scar" in the rock, has an intriguing origin story. However, before we proceed I am obliged to holler: "Spoiler alert!" — and that goes for several movies.

Elvis has his hands full in "Harum Scarum"

If you don't want to know who ultimately wins the heart of Elvis in "Harum Scarum" — and it's a close call for a while, as multiple hotties make plays for the King — then you may want to skip the "Elvis-ey" parts of this post.

"Love Me Tender" (1956): Elvis and Debra Paget at Malibu Creek State Park

While we're at it, I'd better add a spoiler alert about "Love Me Tender," the very first Elvis movie. But you won't have to worry about it until you get all the way to the end of the post.

"Tennessee's Partner," 1955 (L-R): Ronald Reagan, Anthony Caruso and John Payne

Similarly, if you plan to watch the fun Western "Tennessee's Partner" anytime soon and don't want to know who gets gunned down and who lives happily ever after, best to move along.

"Old Yeller" (1957): Spike, in the title role, on the Iverson Movie Ranch

Finally, if you've made it this far in life and still don't know what happens at the end of "Old Yeller" — but you remain determined to watch it someday — good luck with that and we'll see you next time.

"Tennessee's Partner" (1955): A dying Ronald Reagan is held by his friend and partner, "Tennessee"

Now that it's just us chickens ... 10 years before Elvis did his womanizing on the Iverson Ranch, in exactly the same spot, Ronald Reagan's character "Cowpoke" was gunned down at the end of "Tennessee's Partner."

Cowpoke's dying words, after taking a bullet for his friend

The heroic Cowpoke delivers his dying words with all the classic B-movie panache and overacting that we've come to expect and love from Reagan. Just for fun, try reading them aloud as the former Prez!

The Reagan death scene takes place near the entrance to a gold mine, and we see mining tools and implements in various places around the mine.

One piece of equipment, which appears to be shoved into the rock, is of particular interest.

Anthony Caruso as "Turner," holed up in the mine entrance in "Tennessee's Partner"

We get a slightly better look at the "mystery mining tool" in this shot of Anthony Caruso, playing the main bad guy in "Tennessee's Partner," who's shooting it out with Tennessee and Cowpoke during this sequence.

The shot also features this big indentation in the rock, which we've seen before.

It's the same indentation seen at the top of the 1965 photo of Elvis and Fran.

"Tennessee's Partner": Turner outside the mine entrance

At one point in the "Tennessee's Partner" shootout, we see Turner from a different angle, just outside the mine entrance, and here we get a better look at the mysterious mining tool.

We know this sequence was filmed in the evening, because the shot emphasizes the long shadow of the mining tool, with the sunlight coming from the west.

We also get another look here at that small horizontal "scar" we talked about earlier. We can't be sure, but indications are that the hole was put there for this movie, specifically to hold the mining tool.

There it is again 10 years later, making the "Harum Scarum" photo that much more memorable.

The photo we began studying in 2015

Bill Bram first brought the photo of Elvis and Fran to my attention in 2015, when we collaborated on a study of the Iverson shoot for "Harum Scarum." But at that time all we had was this skinny version of the shot — and no scar.

Song Hits magazine Elvis tribute (1982)

The skinny pic first surfaced in an Elvis tribute edition of Song Hits magazine published in 1982.

Inside the Song Hits tribute — the "Harum Scarum" photo on the right

This is how the photo of Elvis and Fran appeared inside the 1982 Song Hits tribute. Based on this "skinny" version of the shot, I had a pretty good idea where it was taken, but I wasn't sure.

Wide version of the Song Hits photo

The wide version of the shot, which we didn't get a look at until 2019, left no doubt about the location.

Location of the Elvis and Fran photo, on the south side of the Phantom, in 2019

It's no surprise that the spot where the photo was taken was just a few feet from where Elvis and Fran shared a romantic picnic outside a tent.

Elvis and Fran picnic during filming of the outtake tent sequence for "Harum Scarum"

I reported in 2015 on the shooting done at Iverson for "Harum Scarum," including the "tent sequence" filmed in the Central Garden of the Gods. The scene is all the more intriguing because it was deleted from the film.

The Elvis shoot in 1965 prompted me to start calling these rocks the "Harum Scarum Cluster."

The Harum Scarum Cluster in modern times

The Harum Scarum Cluster remains in place today in the Central Garden of the Gods, and can be seen in this photo I took in 2015.

To show how the rocks in the 2015 photo match up with the rocks seen in the "Harum Scarum" shoot, I've labeled a few of the rocks, "A" through "D."

Here are the same rocks, "A" through "D," as they appear in the 1965 photo.

Central Garden of the Gods

Pulling back for a wider look at the Central Garden of the Gods, we can see that the Harum Scarum Cluster is positioned near the base of the mighty Sphinx.

The smaller Harum Scarum Cluster is located on the south side of Sphinx. If you can find the Sphinx — which is hard to miss on a visit to the Garden of the Gods — you can probably find the Harum Scarum Cluster.

"Revenge" (1928): early film appearance by the Harum Scarum Cluster

The cluster of rocks turns up in many productions over the years, even popping up all the way back in 1928 in the Dolores Del Rio silent movie "Revenge."

"Tennessee's Partner": Ronald Reagan, right, as "Cowpoke," with John Payne as "Tennessee"

In "Tennessee's Partner," the Harum Scarum Cluster plays a role in the sequence leading up to Cowpoke's death. John Payne stars as "Tennessee," but it's Reagan in the title role, as he's literally "Tennessee's Partner."

The screen shot includes a few of the major boulders that make up the Harum Scarum Cluster. Also present is the Old Yeller Tree, which had a hand in the sad outcome of the classic children's tearjerker "Old Yeller."

Turner holed up in the mine entrance in "Tennessee's Partner"

For the time being, Tennessee and Cowpoke have their arch-nemesis Turner pinned down in that big hole in the Phantom — almost the same spot where Elvis was trying to pin down Fran Jeffries.

Things get complicated as "Tennessee's Partner" approaches its denouement

Just as Tennessee and Cowpoke have Turner where they want him, the law shows up and messes up their plans.

The wider shot, with the sheriff and his deputy in the background, again features both the Harum Scarum Cluster and the Old Yeller Tree. While the rocks remain in place today, the tree died around the early 1990s.

"Old Yeller" (Disney, 1957): Tommy Kirk sits in the tree as Old Yeller harasses some feral pigs

The Old Yeller Tree gets its name from its pivotal role in "Old Yeller." The tree was bolstered with fake limbs for the movie, and Disney also redecorated the Harum Scarum Cluster, bringing in its own fake rocks.

Former site of the Old Yeller Tree in modern times

The demise of the Old Yeller Tree isn't nearly as sad as what happened to Old Yeller, but it's still kind of sad. Not a trace of the tree can be found today, after the poor thing apparently just uprooted itself and keeled over.

"Old Yeller": Tommy Kirk balances on the Old Yeller Tree's fake limbs

As you may recall from way back when you were a kid bawling your eyes out at the end of "Old Yeller," Tommy Kirk's character, Travis, falls out of the tree and Old Yeller has to save him by fighting the pigs.

"Old Yeller": Tommy Kirk frets over his wounded dog

Unfortunately, the pigs turn out to be capable fighters and Old Yeller is badly injured.

Travis, who has been injured himself, tries to keep Yeller safe by hiding him in an opening under some rocks, supplied by the Disney fake rock department. The drama plays out entirely in the Central Garden of the Gods.

Having donated his shirt to dressing Yeller's wounds, Travis limps out of the Central Garden of the Gods, headed west. The large rock near the center of the frame is Getaway Rock.

Travis eventually returns on a rescue mission with reinforcements, including his mom, played by Dorothy McGuire, and kid brother Arliss, played by Kevin Corcoran.

The family rigs up a homemade litter — I believe the technical term for this particular type of rig is a "travois" — to bring the still badly wounded Old Yeller home.

Never content to leave well enough alone, Disney installed a bunch of its own trees for the production. I suppose with all those "imagineers" on the payroll, the company had to keep giving them stuff to do.

I mentioned Getaway Rock up above — it's this big egg-shaped rock marking the west end of the Central Garden of the Gods, and it appears in a lot of movies and TV shows.

"Tennessee's Partner": Turner bolts past Getaway Rock

Getaway Rock surfaces again in "Tennessee's Partner," although the Disneyland trees are nowhere in sight. Here we see Turner making his getaway past the rock.

Turner's frantic escape was the inspiration for the rock's name. I tracked a little bit of Turner's escape route in a post I published in 2013, which you can see by clicking here.

"Harum Scarum": Fran Jeffries seduces Elvis in the Garden of the Gods

The time Elvis spent frolicking in the Garden of the Gods with the seductive Aishah, Fran Jeffries' character, really didn't work out all that well either. It turns out she was only seducing him to try to get him to kill an Arab king.

Elvis ends up with Mary Ann Mobley instead

Elvis wouldn't do the job, which led to a ton of trouble. But the Big E made out OK, as usual — he wound up with the king's daughter, Princess Shalimar, played by former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley.

"Line!" — Old Yeller awaits his cue to attack the pigs

Spike, the dog actor who played Old Yeller, made out just fine too, unlike his character in the movie. Spike went on to a full life and worked in a number of films and TV shows during his Hollywood career.

"The Westerner" (NBC TV series, 1960): Spike with star Brian Keith

The mastiff/Labrador mix, who was rescued from a shelter as a pup, became a dog of a different color a few years later, when he played "Brown" in the short-lived 1960 TV series "The Westerner," created by Sam Peckinpah.

"Old Yeller" promo still: Spike strikes a pose on the Fez

The spot where he worked the camera for that promo still for "Old Yeller," standing on top of a rock I call the Fez, was located near where the feral pigs encounter took place.

The Fez today — where Spike posed for his photo op for "Old Yeller"

The Fez is still in place today. This shot I took doesn't capture exactly the same angle, but for the most part it includes the same rocks.

This wider angle, with Tower Rock looming in the background, shows the Fez near where all the action was — slightly east of the spot where Elvis and Fran made out, Reagan took a bullet and Old Yeller fought the pigs.

The Harum Scarum Cluster in 2015, with a glimpse of the Fez

In the shot we've been looking at of the Harum Scarum Cluster from 2015, which is taken looking toward the east from roughly the middle of the Central Garden of the Gods, the Fez sneaks into the picture at far right.

The Garden of the Gods (Google aerial)

The locations discussed in this post — including the Elvis and Fran photo op and tent picnic, the Reagan death site and Old Yeller's pig-fighting arena — are all still there, within a few feet of each other.

They're all in the Garden of the Gods, which is on public land and is open every day from dawn to dusk.

The sites detailed in this post are all part of the filming location I call the Central Garden of the Gods. It's a heavily filmed open area immediately south of the main rock features Sphinx, Tower Rock and the Phantom.

Central Garden of the Gods (Google aerial)

Zooming in on the Central Garden of the Gods, we can get a pretty good idea of the layout, including the filming locations for "Tennessee's Partner," "Old Yeller" and "Harum Scarum."

Four of the most prominent rocks in the Garden of the Gods — Tower Rock, Sphinx, the Phantom and Buttress Rock — can be found in the immediate area, more or less lined up.

The Central Garden of the Gods consists mainly of the open area directly adjacent to and south of the Sphinx and the Phantom.

Among the Central Garden of the Gods features we can spot in the aerial view are several that figured into the filming we've been discussing in this post.

A few of the highlights in the area are the spot where the Song Hits photo of Elvis and Fran was taken; the nearby Reagan death site; the former location of the Old Yeller Tree; and the site where Old Yeller fought the pigs.

The former Lower Iverson (Bing aerial)

If you're coming from outside the Chatsworth, Calif., area and want to visit the former Iverson Ranch, get off the 118 Freeway at Topanga and head south, then turn right at Santa Susana Pass Road and right on Redmesa.

Park on Redmesa below the condos and head for the entry gate on the west side of the road. Behind the gate is the easy trail into the Garden of the Gods.

"Love Me Tender" (20th Century-Fox, 1956): Elvis Presley and Neville Brand at Bell Ranch

There's one more twist of fate in the saga of Elvis, Ronald Reagan and Old Yeller, because right around the time Reagan and Yeller were meeting their fates at Iverson, Elvis was in the neighborhood meeting his.

"Love Me Tender": The view down the Rocky Hill at Bell Ranch

The King didn't turn up on the Iverson Ranch until 1965 — 10 years after Ronald Reagan was gunned down and eight years after Old Yeller fought the pigs — but it turns out Elvis was already working nearby in 1956.

Elvis, about to get killed off in his movie debut

A few years back, Bill Bram and I trekked out to Bell Ranch, just southwest of Iverson, and found the spot where Elvis was gunned down in 1956, in his film debut in the Western "Love Me Tender."

Debra Paget comforts a dying Clint Reno, played by Elvis, in "Love Me Tender"

Naturally, the fuss is all about a girl — played by Debra Paget. I published a blog post about the location of the Elvis death scene at Bell Ranch in February 2015, which you can read by clicking here.

Bill's acclaimed Elvis movie book, "Elvis: Frame by Frame," was published before Bill and I found the "Love Me Tender" site. These days the book is a collector's item — you're lucky if you can find it for under $100 on eBay.

"Harum Scarum": Which song was Elvis singing?

One more tiny twist-slash-silly observation: The song Elvis was singing to Fran when this photo was taken was "Animal Instinct." Do you suppose the song choice had anything to do with the fateful life-or-death Old Yeller vs. feral pigs clash a few years earlier in the same spot? Probably not, but still ...


Below you'll find links to Amazon, where you can buy DVDs of the main movies featured in this post. The first link is for a reasonably priced two-movie set that includes "Tennessee's Partner" along with "Cattle Queen of Montana," which is also filmed on the Iverson Ranch. I have the set and can recommend it — the "Tennessee's Partner" screen shots seen in this post are from that set.