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.
• Your feedback is appreciated — please leave comments on any of the posts.
• 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 iversonfilmranch@aol.com 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.
• Readers can email the webmaster at iversonfilmranch@aol.com.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Harnessing the power of "Stay at Home" orders: The Lillian Gish mystery is solved!

Roy Barcroft and George Chesebro adapt to the latest bandana-mask requirements

The longer the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, the more some of us are finally getting some work done.

Lillian Gish at Chatsworth's "Lillian Gish Rocks" (promo still from the early silent movie era)

One movie researcher who's putting his "stay at home" orders to good use is Tyler Malone, who sent word that he had tracked down the story behind an old Lillian Gish photo that was the focus of a blog post here in 2017.

Last time around, we reported on the rocks' location on Baden Avenue and some of the other details found in the photo — including the bluffs in the background and the historic Miranda Adobe, which is still standing today.

Chatsworth's "Lillian Gish Rocks" in 2020 (Jerry Condit photo)

Photographer Jerry Condit stopped off at the site earlier this year and was able to snap a nice shot of the rocks, even though today they're behind a fence and are usually somewhat hidden from view.

Lillian and her artsy admirer: Who was that unmasked man?

We knew the original photo was from about 1915-1917 and came from Triangle Films. What we didn't know was the name of the movie or the identity of the guy with the receding hairline who's also in the shot.

Alfred Paget

Mystery solved: Tyler figured out that the guy is Alfred Paget, a silent film actor who appeared in more than 225 short features and was close to wrapping up his career at the time he ventured into the tall grass with Lillian.

Alfred Paget

Born in London in 1879, Paget had been appearing on the silver screen since way back in 1908. He was apparently already dealing with that hairline situation by the time he started having publicity shots taken.

"Pathways of Life" (1916): Lillian Gish departs the "Hotel Abandon"

The movie is one that most or all of us have probably never heard of: A 1916 short feature called "Pathways of Life," directed by Christy Cabanne.

D.W. Griffith with Lillian Gish in 1922

Even though the movie is pretty obscure, it has some interesting bloodlines. D.W. Griffith, who was one of the top movers and shakers at Triangle Film Corp., oversaw the project — he's officially listed as the film's "supervisor."

D.W. Griffith points the finger at Lillian Gish as actor Robert Harron stays out of the way

Griffith had a long-running professional relationship with Gish, and there were rumors that at times it was more than just professional — know what I mean, nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say no more.

Lillian and Dorothy Gish in "An Unseen Enemy" (1912); the sisters were about 18 and 14 at the time

Griffith began putting the Gish sisters in his movies in 1912, with "An Unseen Enemy" — the first film role for both Lillian and her kid sister Dorothy. Lillian Gish would go on to work with Griffith in almost 50 films, while Dorothy ... well, let's just say she might have dodged a bullet by being underage at the time.

Lillian Gish rubs elbows with the Klan in "The Birth of a Nation" (1915)

The highest-profile Gish-Griffith collaboration, the pro-Ku Klux Klan landmark "The Birth of a Nation," would stir up a controversy that continues to haunt the legacies of both D.W. Griffith and Lillian Gish to this day.

2019 Deadline article on the Bowling Green-Lillian Gish controversy

The racist aftertaste of "The Birth of a Nation" reared its head again just last year when Bowling Green State University in Ohio removed Lillian Gish's name from its campus theater because of her involvement in the movie.

The theater had been known as "The Gish," in honor of Ohio natives Lillian and Dorothy Gish, since 1976. But the backlash heated up in early 2019 after the school moved the theater to a prominent site in the Student Union.

Students read a notice about the Gish Theater name controversy at Bowling Green State

Almost as soon as the new site opened for business, a big orange notice went up announcing that the school was having second thoughts about the theater's name.

Running under a headline reading "Building a Just Learning Community," the notice gives a pretty good idea of which direction school administrators were leaning. You can click on the photo if needed to read the text.

Hollywood responds to the controversy

The Hollywood community came out with a show of support for keeping the name, with insiders including James Earl Jones, Martin Scorsese, Helen Mirren, Peter Bogdanovich, Malcolm McDowell and Lauren Hutton among those signing off on a letter aimed at convincing the school to keep the Gish name.

The former Gish Theater — now the BGSU Film Theater

In the end, though, the school went with a rename and the Gish display went dark.

Lillian Gish handles the honorary Oscar she received in 1971

Controversy or not, Lillian Gish became known as the First Lady of American Cinema and had one of the most celebrated careers in Hollywood history. It was also one of the longest, spanning 75 years.

"The Whales of August" (1987): Lillian Gish, left, and Bette Davis

She packed it in after the 1987 feature "The Whales of August," in which she and Bette Davis starred as aging sisters reflecting on their lives. Gish was 93 and Davis was 78 years young at the time.

"Pathways of Life" (1916): Lillian Gish with W.E. Lawrence (left) and Spottiswoode Aitken

The "Pathways of Life" mystery from 71 years earlier (wow!) broke when Tyler found the promo still seen here, in which Gish appears in the same dress she was wearing in the "Lillian Gish Rocks" photo.

Lillian Gish in the same outfit in two promo stills for "Pathways of Life"

The shading on Gish's dress looks much darker in the second photo. But knowing what we know about the "Lillian Gish Rocks," it does appear that the two pictures may have been taken in the same general area.

"Pathways of Life": The "Hotel Abandon" promo still

Gish appears in a similar costume in the "Hotel Abandon" promo still, but if we look closely we can see that that this is not her free-flowing "Lillian Gish Rocks" dress. The devil is in the details.

Once Tyler had the movie pinpointed, along with a short cast list that includes Alfred Paget, it didn't take long to zero in on Paget as the previously unknown receding hairline guy.

"Intolerance" (1916): Alfred Paget as Belshazzar

A little more research on Paget confirmed his history with D.W. Griffith — Paget worked with Griffith on almost 200 movies from 1908-1916, including playing Prince Belshazzar in Griffith's epic "Intolerance."

"Martyrs of the Alamo" (1915): Alfred Paget, center, as Jim Bowie

Paget also had a history with Christy Cabanne, the director of "Pathways of Life," including playing Jim Bowie the previous year in Cabanne's "Martyrs of the Alamo."

"Pathways of Life" director Christy Cabanne

I felt compelled to include Cabanne's photo here, mainly because he has such a classically villainous look.

Snidely Whiplash

Come to think of it, has anyone ever seen Christy Cabanne and Snidely Whiplash in the same room?

Intrepid LAPD Det. Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver)

Nice detective work, Tyler. Thanks for all of your contributions to the research!

Monday, April 13, 2020

A close encounter with the Iverson Movie Ranch's "Gray Rock"

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (1956): Gray Rock

One of the most mysterious movie rocks on the former Iverson Movie Ranch was a relatively obscure stacked feature that I call "Gray Rock."

It's in quite a few movies and TV shows — not nearly as many as the "star" attractions at Iverson such as Tower Rock and Sphinx, but it turns up from time to time on screen, usually hovering in the background.

Burt Lancaster in "Ten Tall Men" (1951) — Gray Rock keeps a low profile

I started calling it "Gray Rock" because it reminded me of the so-called "Grays," or "Gray Aliens" — the extraterrestrial figures widely associated with UFOs and Roswell, N.M.

The "Gray Alien"

You've almost certainly seen pictures of the "Grays," or "Greys" — they usually look about like this.

Famous photo of a "Gray Alien" meeting some presumably important human

We see the alien term spelled both ways, either "Gray" or "Grey." For consistency, I try to spell "Gray Rock" with an "a," but even I have to admit it probably doesn't matter.

"Sky King" episode "Carrier Pigeon" (1952): A charismatic Gray Rock steals the scene

This is one of my favorite shots of Gray Rock, from the second episode of the TV series "Sky King." Everyone else in the shot is oblivious to it, but I can't find a way not to see that totally out-of-place alien at top right.

"Gray Alien," left, and "Gray Rock," right

Is it just me, or do you see the resemblance too?

A more ominous version of the "Gray Alien"

The "Gray Aliens" have a number of other names too, including "Roswell Grays" and "Zeta Reticulans."

"Whistling Hills" (1951): Johnny Mack Brown butts up against Gray Rock

Anyway, the reason I'm finally reporting on Gray Rock after all these years is because there's been a development.

The head of Gray Rock, which has long been missing, has suddenly turned up. My good friend and research partner Cliff Roberts made the discovery earlier this year.

"Wyatt Earp" episode "Wyatt Wins One" (1959): Gray Rock and Sabertooth Rock

To understand the significance of the find, and the mystery of Gray Rock, it may help to get the lay of the land. One of Gray Rock's closest neighbors is a rock I call Sabertooth Rock.

Gray Rock as we knew it has long been seen as a casualty of condo development. But Sabertooth Rock survived — and today it helps point the way, quite literally, to whatever might be left of Gray Rock.

Sabertooth Rock in its current role, as landscaping for the Cal West Townhomes

Sabertooth Rock still has a "public life" of sorts, remaining visible to residents of the Cal West Townhomes who happen to live near the rock. The condos were built in the 1980s on former Iverson Movie Ranch property.

Sabertooth can be found at the end of Sun Ranch Court, one of the driveways through the condo complex. The private residential area is located just off Redmesa Road in Chatsworth, Calif.

Sabertooth Rock "points" toward its former neighbor, Gray Rock

In a way, the former movie rocks remain neighbors — Sabertooth intact, and Gray Rock, not so much.

Examining the contemporary setting from a different angle, we can see that the remnants of what was once the "base" of Gray Rock can still be found at the site.

Zooming in on the "Wyatt Earp" screen shot, it's evident that the angle is close to that of the recent shot.

One big difference between the recent shot and the "Wyatt Earp" shot is that Gray Rock's head is now gone.

Sabertooth Rock, the Gray Rock base and environs, in 2020

This shot taken from a higher vantage point on a recent visit to the site again shows Sabertooth Rock on the left. The base, at center, is all but consumed by a tree, and a drainage channel runs downhill from near the base.

The foliage and rock features complement each other nicely, but one would never guess the movie history hidden within the bucolic setting.

Visible toward the right of the frame is a third rock feature, which will play an important role in the story. Would anyone care to guess where this is headed?

Bring me the head of Gray Rock!

That's right — it's the long-lost "head" of Gray Rock. It turns out the thing was hiding in plain sight all along.

Gray Rock: Not quite ready for its closeup

The rock is barely recognizable, all turned around, and in brutal shape. You have to crawl around the back side to see anything remotely familiar, and much of what was once an intact "alien" head today lies in pieces.

The "business end" of Gray Rock: Its back side

But once we work our way to the back side of the rock, we can begin to put some of those pieces together. This is the side we almost always saw when the rock was in the movies and on television.

"Ghost Valley Raiders" (Don "Red" Barry, 1940): Close encounter with Gray Rock

The devil's in the details, so let's see how well they match up. This shot of Gray Rock in "Ghost Valley Raiders" provides a good starting point.

Zooming in on Gray Rock, we can identify what I would call the "eye" of the rock.

Taking another look at the contemporary version of the rock, there's the eye again. It's falling apart, and some of the key pieces are missing, but in general it still looks about the same.

Now take a look at the small rock segment sticking out over the front part of the eye.

It's a perfect match for the present-day rock.

"Annie Oakley" TV episode "The Runaways" (premiered July 24, 1954)

This shot from the TV series "Annie Oakley" provides one of the best views of Gray Rock during its Hollywood career. Even though the rock is partially cut off, the detail in the picture surpasses what we usually see.

Zooming in on Gray Rock in the "Annie Oakley" shot, we can see a distinctive marking on the rock, shaped much like the heel of a shoe.

"Smoking gun": The shoe heel mark is still there

The "shoe heel" mark is a little harder to see on the present-day rock, but if you look closely, it's still there.

Replicating the shape of Gray Rock's head is a bigger challenge than it first appears. You may have noticed that the recent photos show a corner, or point, at the right edge of the rock.

The back "corner" equates to the section of the original rock noted here. However, the way the rock was propped up on its base throughout the filming era, it always prominently displayed its trademark curved "cranium" area.

Gray Rock's "cranium" (difficult to replicate today)

Even though the best shots of the rock in modern times show off its "eye," "shoe heel" mark and other features, they don't tend to match the distinctive curved "cranium" displayed in the movie shots.

Gray Rock today: Its curved cranium remains intact

Because of the rock's current position in the condo complex landscaping, this was a difficult shot to get — but it's the closest I could come to showing that the "cranium" still looks about how it did in days gone by.

Some readers may be surprised to hear that replicating the overall shape of a rock tends to be one of the most challenging aspects of creating a "then-and-now" comparison — especially when the rock has moved.

"Clash of the Wolves" (1925): Rin Tin Tin stands on a rock on the Iverson Ranch

I ran into a similar problem back in 2017 when I found a rock that Rin Tin Tin stood on in 1925 for the movie "Clash of the Wolves." The rock had been moved and it was impossible to match the angle seen in the movie.

Parker demonstrates proper "standing on a rock" etiquette — using the Rin Tin Tin rock from 1925

But upon careful examination — and with help from Parker the Wonder Dog — it became clear that it was the same rock. You can click here to read all about the rock and some of Rin Tin Tin's other Iverson Ranch exploits.

The former base of Gray Rock, hidden today beneath a tree

As part of my exploration of the Gray Rock site, I crawled through the underbrush beneath the tree that has swallowed up the former foundation of Gray Rock, hoping to find evidence that the rock feature was manmade.

I was expecting to find — and did find — residue on the surviving rock foundation from material that was used long ago to affix Gray Rock's "head" to the top of the base.

White residue from the material used to fasten the head to the foundation

I was unable to determine the exact nature of the material, which I would think would be some type of cement. But the residue provides the evidence that Gray Rock was indeed a manmade feature.

The rock feature was presumably the handiwork of Joe Iverson, who was known to take a creative approach to sprucing up Iverson's rocks and other features throughout his 50-plus years overseeing the ranch.

James Coburn in the "Bonanza" episode "The Long Night" (premiered May 6, 1962)

It was almost too much to hope for that we might one day find the head of Gray Rock, which may explain why, in my 12 years of exploring the movie ranch, it never occurred to me that it might be sitting right out in the open.

Major props to Cliff for what is clearly one of the most significant Iverson Movie Ranch finds in some time.