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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Sunday, February 9, 2020

It was just a tumbledown shack, but what a peach: the Iverson Movie Ranch's last set standing

"Captain Fury" (Hal Roach Studios, 1939): The Phantom Shack, in its first movie appearance

This ramshackle building seen in the action-adventure film "Captain Fury" is an unlikely choice to be the most durable movie set in the history of the Iverson Movie Ranch, but in fact, it was.

The shack was built for "Captain Fury," which starred Brian Aherne and was directed by Hal Roach. The set was constructed over a period of two days in February 1939 by a crew from Hal Roach Studios.

Central Garden of the Gods and the location of the Phantom Shack (Google aerial)

The shack leaned against the southern face of the major Garden of the Gods rock feature known today as the Phantom. The set remained in this location for only about its first five years, before it was relocated.

The Phantom in modern times, seen from the north

The Phantom is better known for its northern "face," which resembles an actual face, giving the rock its name. But much of the filming activity involving the rock took place on its slightly less impressive southern side.
Southern side of the Phantom, where the shack stood from 1939 to about 1944

The south side of the Phantom looks like this, at least in a black-and-white photo. This one was taken in 2016.

The Phantom is framed here to help delineate it from surrounding rocks. The Sphinx, to its right, is much larger than the Phantom but looks smaller here because it's farther away.

Production records show that the "Captain Fury" crew came out ahead of filming, in early February 1939, and made impressions of the rock area where the set would be built.

"Captain Fury": The Phantom Shack conforms to the shape of the Phantom

These rock impressions were then taken back to the studio to aid in creating construction materials matching the shack to the shape of the rock — resulting in a building that was better constructed than it appeared.

"Song of the Saddle" (Warner Bros., 1936): A smaller precursor to the Phantom Shack

The Phantom Shack wasn't the first movie set to stand in that location. This smaller cabin seen in the Dick Foran B-Western "Song of the Saddle" turned up three years earlier in pretty much the same spot.

"Song of the Saddle" cabin location — the same spot where the Phantom Shack would later stand

I discussed the "Song of the Saddle" cabin in a 2015 blog post, which you can see by clicking here. The cabin wasn't meant to be permanent, and was taken down once filming was completed on "Song of the Saddle."

"Captain Fury": The Phantom Shack gets plenty of use in its film debut 

But the Phantom Shack, built three years later, would prove to be far more substantial, and more prolific. Its many appearances in "Captain Fury" were just the beginning of a long career in film and on television.

"The Arizona Kid," starring Roy Rogers: The Phantom Shack resurfaces

Within months after production wrapped on "Captain Fury," the Phantom Shack, with its trademark sloping roof, began turning up in other productions. In August 1939 it was filmed for Republic's "The Arizona Kid."

"Days of Jesse James" (Republic, released Dec. 20, 1939)

Following filming on "The Arizona Kid," Roy Rogers returned to the Iverson Ranch three months later, in November 1939, to film "Days of Jesse James." Once again, the Phantom Shack saw action.

Various corrals and other minor structures were installed in the area from time to time, depending on the needs of the production. At least two corrals were put in for "Days of Jesse James."

"Tennessee's Partner" (1955): Turner makes his escape

The location of the Phantom Shack in the Central Garden of the Gods places it right where the action would later take place in "Tennessee's Partner," which we discussed in this recent post.

Anthony Caruso, as Turner, heads southwest into the rocks

You may recall we talked about how Turner, the last bad guy standing in "Tennessee's Partner," makes his getaway past Getaway Rock.

Also visible in the "Tennessee's Partner" screen shot are these two smaller rocks, one pointed and one rounded. As Turner flees the scene, he makes a beeline for these two rocks.

"Days of Jesse James": The pointed rock and round rock appear in the corral

The same two rocks can also be seen in "Days of Jesse James," albeit not as clearly as in "Tennessee's Partner." Here the rocks help pinpoint the location of the corral just southwest of the shack.

The pointed rock and round rock as they appear today

The pointed rock and rounded rock remain in place today, and are fairly easy to find on a visit to the Central Garden of the Gods. The big rock on the right is Getaway Rock.

"Tennessee's Partner": John Payne takes off in pursuit of the fleeing Turner

In "Tennessee's Partner," the camera continues to focus on the pointed rock and round rock even after John Payne, in the title role of "Tennessee," goes after Turner.

Turner is a little hard to spot as he disappears in the distance, but his escape route takes him right between the pointed rock and the round rock.

Moments later, as the chase continues, we can still see Turner between the two rocks, although he's growing more distant all the time.

This shot suggests it was a conscious decision by "Tennessee's Partner" director Allan Dwan — or possibly one of his assistant directors — to make use of the gap in the rocks to continue to frame the fleeing bad guy.

"Days of Jesse James": Bird's-eye view of the Central Garden of the Gods looking west

Getting back to 1939 and "Days of Jesse James," still in the Phantom Shack's first year of existence, another shot from the movie provides an overview of the Central Garden of the Gods and the shack area.

In this shot we can see that some additional corral fencing was installed toward the east end of the Central Garden of the Gods, and we can see the Phantom Shack toward the west.

"Young Buffalo Bill," 1940: The Phantom Shack becomes an adobe (Jerry England collection)

An adobe-style shell was added to the front of the building in late February 1940, and for a little more than a year the structure remained configured as an adobe. I call this configuration the "Phantom Adobe."

"Rawhide Rangers" (Universal, 1941)

The shack's adobe configuration resurfaced in Universal's brilliant 1941 Iverson production "Rawhide Rangers." The Johnny Mack Brown B-Western filmed on the Iverson Ranch from May 6-9, 1941.

"Belle Starr" (20th Century Fox, 1941)

Just a few days after "Rawhide Rangers" filmed the "Phantom Adobe," a 20th Century Fox crew restored the set to its wooden configuration for "Belle Starr," filmed at Iverson from May 12-17, 1941.

"Red River Valley" (Republic, 1941): A hybrid adobe/shingle version of the shack

For at least one movie, "Red River Valley" — another of the many Roy Rogers films that used the set — the shack was transformed into a hybrid version of itself, combining adobe walls with its familiar patchwork shingle roof.

"Outlaws of Boulder Pass" (George Houston, 1942)

The Phantom Shack was once again back in its traditional wooden configuration when PRC arrived in July 1942 to film the set for "Outlaws of Boulder Pass."

Taken with the camera aimed almost directly west, the "Outlaws of Boulder Pass" screen shot includes a picturesque field in the background, which turns up on occasion in the background of Iverson productions.

In movies and TV shows shot on the Lower Iverson, the presence in the distance of the distinctive Boat Hill (my name for it) is a good indication that the shot is taken looking west.

The two defining Iverson Movie Ranch rocks seen in the shot are noted here, along with the Phantom Shack. The field in the background was not located on Iverson property.

Here's a closer look at the field to the west, again from "Outlaws of Boulder Pass." The sprawling Church at Rocky Peak was later built in this field, first breaking ground in the mid-1980s.

Central Garden of the Gods and the area to the west in modern times (Google 3D)

A recent bird's-eye view of the area, taken from Google Maps, shows the former Phantom Shack location near the bottom of the frame, along with later construction that has taken place to the west.

Boat Hill continues to loom in the distance, to the west, while the familiar Central Garden of the Gods features Getaway Rock and the Phantom can be readily identified near the bottom of the photo.

To the west of the Garden of the Gods are the two later construction projects that now define the area: the Cal West Townhomes, on former Iverson Movie Ranch property, and the Church at Rocky Peak farther west.

We can also pinpoint the spot where the Phantom Shack once stood.

The Phantom Shack in "Western Cyclone," filmed in early 1943

The shack was the focus of a flurry of filming activity throughout much of 1943, primarily involving B-Westerns. PRC got the ball rolling when it arrived in January 1943 to film the set for "Western Cyclone."

"Six Gun Gospel" (Johnny Mack Brown, 1943)

Other movies that featured the Phantom Shack during this period include "Cowboy Commandos," filmed in March 1943; "Six Gun Gospel," shot in May 1943; and "The Texas Kid," which filmed at Iverson in late July 1943.

"Mystery Man" (Hopalong Cassidy, 1944): Final appearance by the Phantom Shack?

A similar view of the Phantom Shack — in what may be its last movie appearance in this location — can be seen in the Hopalong Cassidy movie "Mystery Man," which did some filming on the Iverson Ranch in August 1943.

Aerial diagram of the shack's move to its new location, circa 1944

Sometime between August 1943 and November 1944, the Phantom Shack was taken down and the structure was relocated to a different part of the Iverson Ranch about a quarter-mile northeast of the original site.

"Tennessee's Partner" (1955): A previously hidden "cave" in the Phantom plays a key role

The exact reason the shack was moved is unknown, but I presume it's because the wonderfully rocky Central Garden of the Gods, where the shack had been located, was in high demand for filming.

This picturesque cave, where Anthony Caruso's Turner holes up before the climactic chase in "Tennessee's Partner," was previously hidden behind the Phantom Shack.

Elvis Presley and Fran Jeffries — photo taken during filming on "Harum Scarum," 1965

In the span of 10 years, from 1955-1965, Elvis Presley, Ronald Reagan and Old Yeller all worked in the area where the shack once stood. Click on the links in the previous sentence to follow up on each of those shoots.

Filming the wild hogs sequence for "Old Yeller" in the Central Garden of the Gods in 1956

For most of the productions that filmed in the Central Garden of the Gods in the years following the removal of the Phantom Shack, having a building in that location would have just got in the way.

"The Naked Hills" (1956): A fake mine appears on the south side of the Phantom

In the fall of 1955, when the Western "The Naked Hills" filmed in the Central Garden of the Gods, a fake mine entrance was built for the movie, and the natural cave was once again covered up.

In a sense the fake mine replaced the Phantom Shack, as the new set was built in almost the same location.

The "Naked Hills" set includes a mysterious horizontal strip of white material. I have yet to figure out what it is, but it appears to be associated with the new construction, rather than a remnant from the Phantom Shack.

"The Naked Hills": The mysterious white slime

The color's not very good in this shot, but it provides a closer look at the mystery white goo.

"Wyatt Earp" episode "Frontier Surgeon" (premiered Jan. 19, 1960)

The fake mine remained in place for several years, turning up again in a 1959 shoot for the TV series "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp." Click here for a detailed look at that shoot, which also examines Lane Bradford's chin.

"South of Monterey" (1946): An early appearance by the Hangover Shack

Following its relocation the shack was positioned against a rock we know today as Hangover Rock. The Hangover Shack, as it came to be known in this location, would remain in this spot for more than 50 years.

The shack's new location came with pre-existing fencing, left over from the 1941 Republic serial "Adventures of Captain Marvel."

"Adventures of Captain Marvel" (Republic serial, 1941): the "stockade"

Here's a look at the same fencing in its original appearance in "Captain Marvel." Referred to during production as the "stockade," this set was constructed in late December 1940, with filming taking place in January 1941.

The shack would take over the approximate spot where the two tents were positioned for the "stockade" sequences in "Adventures of Captain Marvel."

Promo still for "Buffalo Bill Rides Again," 1947 (Jerry England collection)

The Hangover Shack would become a favorite location for stunts. Over the years the old "jump off the roof onto the bad guy" became a staple.

The "Buffalo Bill Rides Again" promo still also captures Hangover Rock, which hovered above the shack for more than a half-century and gave the shack its name.

Hangover Rock in 2016

A modern shot of Hangover Rock shows that it still lives up to its name, as a large rock hangs over the southern end of the overall formation.

At the time I photographed Hangover Rock in 2016, I was intrigued by this smaller rock I found below the main formation, which I dubbed the "Peach Slice."

Origin story for the "Peach Slice"

I'm always fascinated by old movie rocks that manage to fall apart or otherwise find ways to move about. Not to mix metaphors, but here we can see that the peach slice doesn't fall far from the mothership.

"Superman" (Columbia serial, 1948): Cartoon superhero lands next to the Hangover Shack

Knowing where it came from, we can track down the "Peach Slice" in its former life and see that by the time cartoon Superman dropped in at the Hangover Shack in 1948, the handwriting was already on the rock wall.

It's not as though the Peach Slice was hanging on for dear life — at that time Slice was just a smooth hunk of sandstone seemingly well integrated into the larger formation.

But trouble was brewing in the form of a fissure running clear through the rock just above and adjacent to the Peach Slice. Even with Superman on the job, this was bound to end badly.

"The Duel at Silver Creek" (Universal, 1952)

The Audie Murphy Western "The Duel at Silver Creek" showcases the Hangover Shack in Technicolor. The shack went through a series of remodels over the years, but typically was wood on the left and fake stone on the right.

"The Duel at Silver Creek": Wide shot of the Hangover Shack area

A wide shot from the movie shows the shack nestled among the big boulders.

This shot from "The Duel at Silver Creek" includes a cowboy perched up on top of a rock we now know is fixin' to fall apart in a matter of a few decades.

The cowboy almost certainly has no clue about the danger that lurks in that crack.

Filming "The Roy Rogers Show" at the Hangover Shack (June 8, 1953)

The early '50s brought a slew of TV Westerns to the Iverson Ranch. Here's a behind-the-scenes shot from "The Roy Rogers Show" — if you look closely you can spot Roy and Dale along with Bullet the Wonder Dog.

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (1957)

An episode of "Wyatt Earp" found a batch of Wild West legends — John Wesley Hardin, Bat Masterson and others — joining forces at the Hangover Shack. Click here for IDs on all the actors and their characters.

The Hangover Shack played the ramshackle Stony Wells roadhouse in the episode, "The Time for All Good Men," which premiered June 4, 1957.

"Have Gun — Will Travel" (1958)

An episode of "Have Gun — Will Travel" called "A Snare for Murder," which premiered Nov. 22, 1958, featured a nice shot of the Hangover Shack as Paladin rides in.

"Gunsmoke" (1959)

"Gunsmoke" got in on the act too. That's Patricia Huston and a group of chickens in front of the Hangover Shack in the episode "Sky," which premiered Feb. 14, 1959.

"Strangers at Sundown" ("The Virginian," 1963)

The last of the classic TV Westerns to use the set may have been "The Virginian," which shot back-to-back episodes at the Hangover Shack in 1963.

"Strangers at Sundown"

Most of the action in the episode "Strangers at Sundown," which premiered April 3, 1963, took place at the shack, where a band of outlaws laid siege to the building, holding a group of stagecoach passengers hostage.

Harry Morgan at the Hangover Shack in "Strangers at Sundown"

Actor Harry Morgan played one of the hostages. Before he became Col. Potter on "M*A*S*H," Morgan was already a familiar face on TV thanks to "Pete and Gladys," "Dragnet" and guest spots on early TV Westerns.

The "I've Got a Secret" panel: Bill Cullen, Betsy Palmer, Henry Morgan and Bess Myerson

Harry Morgan — the Col. Potter guy — started his career as Henry Morgan, but he went back to his given name, Harry, because TV already had a Henry Morgan — the one seen in 500-plus episodes of "I've Got a Secret."

A grumpy Lee J. Cobb in "Strangers at Sundown"

Lee J. Cobb, a regular on "The Virginian," was also caught up in the Hangover siege. If he looks crabby here, he has good reason, what with the siege and the hostage situation and all ...

More potential problems for the hostages in "Strangers at Sundown"

... not to mention the ever-present threat from that Peach Slice.

The building had a new corrugated tin roof on it when "The Virginian" arrived in '63. Maybe someone had a feeling the Peach Slice was about ready to drop and they were hoping a tin roof might deflect it.

The front of the building was all done up in fake stone at the time.

Lee J. Cobb defends the Hangover Shack

Cobb may have dressed the part of a dapper dandy, but when the chips were down he came out firing. This shot offers another view of the shack's "stone" front.

"The Virginian" episode "Mountain of the Sun": One last major role for the shack

The building turned up again in the next "Virginian" episode, "Mountain of the Sun," which premiered April 17, 1963. Here James Drury — the Virginian himself — arrives at the Hangover Shack.

The producers may have been trying to get away with something, disguising the shack with a thatch roof. But there was no disguising that giant crack looming above the building.

The shack's new neighbor — a TV version of a jail building

They also put up an "adobe" jail building at the north end of the main cabin. We're savvy enough these days to see that the jail was just a front, while the thatch roof was just set dressing placed on top of the tin roof.

The womenfolk arrive in "Mountain of the Sun"

Even so, it's an effective set. And even though this "Virginian" episode may have been the shack's last really good hurrah, it never looked better.

Take a good look at the shack, because this is the last time it's going to look anywhere near this good.

"Xtro 3: Watch the Skies" (1995): What was left of the Hangover Shack

Fast-forward more than three decades and the shack turns up again in the low-budget sci-fi sequel "Xtro 3." This is all we see of it in the movie, but it's enough to know it was still standing ... more or less.

Around the corner from the shack, Hangover Rock hovers over the Marine camp in "Xtro 3"

The movie, which went straight to video, was filmed in part on the former Iverson Ranch in fall 1994, and focuses on a group of U.S. Marines who encounter an alien.

"Xtro 3": The alien

This is what the alien looks like in "Xtro."

Unknown biker movie (circa 1996)

The shack's later appearances tend to be in obscure and sometimes even unknown movies. This shot believed to be from about 1996 comes from an unknown biker flick and again shows the shack in extremely rough shape.

Unknown 1990s Western depicting the Hangover Shack as "Dakota Outpost"

These later appearances aren't so much by the Hangover Shack as they are by whatever happened to be left of it at the time. If anyone can ID this movie, I'd be interested to find out what it is.

The decaying Hangover Shack in 1998 (Tinsley Yarbrough video footage)

The final images of the shack — at least, the most recent shots I've ever run across — come from footage shot by location historian Tinsley Yarbrough on an expedition to the former Iverson Movie Ranch in 1998.

Closeup of the shack showing deterioration throughout (1998)

Tinsley's video footage provides the best document we have of the shack's final days. It is unknown just how much longer the building's remains continued to stand, but it's unlikely that it was much beyond 1998.

A crumbling portion of the shack seen below Hangover Rock in 1998

Here we see the dilapidated southern end of the building — really little more than a pile of lumber at this point — with Hangover Rock looming in the background.

The soon-to-be Peach Slice still in place above the shack in 1998

Tinsley's footage captures the Peach Slice, still attached to the mothership. That means it survived the area's two big earthquakes of the 20th century (in 1971 and 1994) before losing its grip between 1998 and 2008.

African hut built for the NBC TV series "Heroes" (2008)

When I first turned up at Hangover Rock in 2008 I found that the area was once again an active filming location. An African hut had been built for the TV show "Heroes," immediately south of the longtime footprint of the shack.

The main hut and other pieces of the sprawling "Heroes" set in 2008

The Hangover Shack was now gone, but a number of "Heroes" set pieces filled the area, including fake rocks and trees, the main hut and a series of dreamlike rock paintings.

"Heroes" episode "Eris Quod Sum" (premiered Oct. 27, 2008)

This is how the hut and its surroundings appeared in the show, including a title confirming that the scene takes place in Africa. The Iverson Movie Ranch sequences ran throughout the show's third season.

The "Heroes" shoot confirms that the Peach Slice had finally jettisoned itself from the mothership by the summer of 2008 and moved into the basement.

The former Hangover Shack location during "Heroes" filming in 2008

However, the Peach Slice itself was nowhere to be seen during filming on "Heroes," presumably having been concealed behind some of the elaborate set construction for the show.

Fake rocks were put in place throughout the Hangover area by the "Heroes" production team.

I believe one of those "Heroes" fake rocks, identified here as the "Peach Slice containment rock," was given the specific task of hiding the Peach Slice.

"Heroes" episode "One of Us, One of Them" (premiered Sept. 29, 2008)

In this shot from the TV show, actor Greg Grunberg wanders among the painted dream rocks in the vicinity of Hangover Rock. Click here for more about the 2008 Iverson Movie Ranch shoot for "Heroes."