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.

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.

10 comments:

Steve Wilson said...

Great detective work! Gray Rock must be pretty heavy to have been artificially stacked on it’s former base. How would this have been accomplished?

Ron Crawley said...

One of the most interesting rocks out there, and the spitting image of an alien! So am I the only one who wants to head over there with some cement glue and put him back together and back in place? Nice job ... RON

Steve Latshaw said...

All this time and it was sitting about 75 feet from my garage door when I lived there from 1998-2006...

Swami Nano said...

The Iverson family had a boom truck that could be used to move pretty big rocks around. I think it got a lot of use. ... Ron, I'd love to see the thing put back together too. Let's put it on our "to do" lists. But we're going to have to deal with that tree, the size and condition of the "head" ... and probably the Homeowners Association too.

Ray Lowe said...

Most impressive work, Dennis. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Any idea why it was put there in the first place and what it's earliest appearance on film was?

Brian Harrington said...

So cool to have people on this blog that actually have lived near or on this property. Thank you for your efforts and contributions

Swami Nano said...

I doubt that it was created for a specific movie. I think the rock stacking was something that Joe Iverson did for the fun of it and to keep the scenery on the movie ranch more dynamic. I know of about 10 manmade stacked rocks at Iverson, and in general they don't seem to be put in place for specific productions. One of them, Freddie Frog (see Index at the right of the page), goes back to the 1920s.

It's hard to say which appearance is the earliest for Gray Rock, but the oldest one I can think of is Fighting Seabees, filmed in 1943 and released in 1944, where Gray Rock makes a minor appearance in the background.

Thanks for the great comments!

Anonymous said...

So interesting...thanks for taking us along on such a fun adventure!

Cliff said...

It’s nice to be able to contribute, and thanks for telling the story they way only you can.