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 iversonmovieranch@gmail.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 iversonmovieranch@gmail.com.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

One of the best deals in entertainment history: Thoughts on the Corriganville tour (Off the Beaten Path)

For anyone interested in the history of movies and TV shows — especially Westerns — you'll never get more bang for your buck than taking the $5 Corriganville tour. It isn't the kind of ho-hum tour you might expect when sleepy suburbanites gather on Saturday mornings in Anytown USA. This one's pure Old West with a healthy sprinkle of Hollywood — a detailed, informative and enlightening trip back into movie history.

Gregg "Cheyenne" Anderson,
Corriganville historian and tour guide

The difference maker at Corriganville is tour guide Gregg Anderson, who's one of those obsessive movie historian types (ahem ... like anyone we know?), and boy does Gregg know his subject matter. Gregg's the Corriganville counterpart to folk like me and a few of my pals who obsess over Iverson. He clearly has done his homework — enthusiastically, I'm sure. Gregg digs into the details, delights in new discoveries and passes along his wealth of insights to anyone lucky enough to find their way to one of his monthly tours.

To call Gregg a Corriganville expert doesn't really say enough — Gregg is THE Corriganville expert. Among the many pieces of evidence, it's Gregg's name, expertise and photos that appear on those interpretive signs that were set up around the former movie ranch in the late '90s when a chunk of the sprawling Simi Valley property became a single-family residential development.


Around that same time, the rest of Corriganville — fortunately, the best part, from a historical perspective — was preserved as a park. Gregg's tours, run through the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, cover the portion of the park where the bulk of the filming took place. His accomplice on the tours is Dave "Deadwood" Hugo, who hits the right notes (including the appropriately sour ones) as Gregg's B-Western-style sidekick.

Dave "Deadwood" Hugo,
sidekick extraordinaire

Not a whole lot is left of the original Corriganville movie sets, with the stone foundation of an old barn being one of the few remnants that rise above ground level after a series of fires devastated the Santa Susana Mountains in the 1970s. But like the Iverson Movie Ranch in nearby Chatsworth, many of Corriganville's most distinctive landmarks — its rocks — have survived.

Corriganville's Gorilla Rock rises above
the stone foundation of "Barn No. 2"

Don Megowan and Barn No. 2 in "Snowfire"

The above screen shot, from the low-budget 1958 family movie "Snowfire," shows what that stone foundation looked like back when it held up a working movie barn.

A closeup of the surviving foundation shows 
that the stones match the "Snowfire" shot

As a film historian specializing in the Iverson Movie Ranch, I've been aware of what might be called a mild natural rivalry between Iverson and Corriganville. With the two movie ranches operating just a few miles apart — and being the two busiest movie location ranches during the heyday of the B-Western and early television — they would have been competitors for location work in early Westerns in particular.

But one thing that set Corriganville apart was that it also became a Wild West theme park — and any kid who was lucky enough, as I was, to visit the place in the 1950s or early 1960s would happily tell you that a trip to Corriganville was a peak experience.

Corriganville's main street, Silvertown,
back in the filming and theme park days

Corriganville wasn't a theme park in the way that Universal Studios — which may have had something to do with driving Corriganville out of business — was and is a theme park. Universal, a fancy, modern operation more in the mold of Disneyland or Magic Mountain, is fun enough in its own way, I suppose. But for all its mass commercial appeal and huge crowds, something is missing. Places like Universal Studios and Magic Mountain, where the focus is on the sizzle, on keeping ahead of the competition and on cramming as many visitors as possible through the turnstiles, tend to wind up with a lot of engineered plastic and not much soul. Corriganville weren't nuthin' like that — it was rough and ramshackle and made of wood, like the real West, and there was something exciting and authentic about it — even if its reason to be was to create the illusion of the West in the movies.

For a kid growing up when kids still played cowboys and Indians, rough and ramshackle was what I wanted, and Corriganville delivered. The two family outings we took to Corriganville — I'd say I was in the 7-9 age range at the time — were among the high points of my childhood. 

Live shootout in the streets of Corriganville

A routine stroll down Corriganville's main street, grabbing some grub or checking out the souvenir stores with Mom, flipped in a single defining moment into a Wild West adventure, as shots rang out, shattering the calm on the street and raising the hairs on the back of your neck. These were loud, startling, scary shots, with serious-looking bad guys firing off serious-sounding movie blanks — the kind that made a bang so ferocious that to this day I still think it may be the loudest thing I've ever heard. It was on that terrifying and thrilling note that the action began, and the next thing you knew, a realistic movie-style shootout was playing out all over town.

Stuntman Buddy Mize meets his fate 
during a live shootout at Corriganville

Corriganville was one "wow" moment after another. Guys would be shot off rooftops, or get gunned down and twirl over hitching rails before they hit the ground. I'd be pumping adrenaline of the purest kind ... little kid adrenaline ... like when you meet Santa Claus, only in some ways ... even better.

Ray "Crash" Corrigan 
with young visitors to Corriganville

Ray "Crash" Corrigan, a stuntman and B-movie actor who set up the place as a filming location in the late 1930s and had the foresight to turn it into a family attraction on weekends, recruited his stuntman and actor buddies to put on those fierce shootouts in the streets of Corriganville's Silvertown.

One of the old hanging trees still in place at Corriganville

They even put on hangings at one of the big oak trees at the end of town. It wasn't gory or grim — it was about showing how it was done in the movies. Still, it was cool, to say the least.

Then there was Fort Apache — or as a young kid in the early '60s might call it: paradise. It was a "real" Old West fort, and you could climb up and take up a post along the fence, or just run around shrieking your lungs out — this was playing cowboy on the biggest imaginable stage.

Corriganville tour, April 2013

Fast-forward about 50 years to 2013. I took my first official Corriganville tour as a grown-up earlier this month, and even though I've already been studying Corriganville myself for a few years (an inevitable byproduct of studying Iverson), I learned plenty.

Mystery rock — mystery solved! Canyon Rock,
not the usual angle, in "Down Dakota Way"

One of the highlights for me was finding a mystery rock I've been seeing in chase scenes in old Westerns for years. It turns out it's another angle on the landmark Corriganville rock known as Canyon Rock.

Here's that same rock, photographed from the chase road during the recent Corriganville tour. The similarities between the above two shots won't be obvious to everyone, especially with the foliage that now blocks the view. But the two shots are taken from close to the same angle, and the rock's shape, markings and surrounding rocks all match.

This is a more common view of Canyon Rock — also known as Hideout Rock — shown from the angle where it was often seen as the entrance to an outlaw hideout. This end of the rock would be at the far left in the two shots above this one.

That's Gene Autry in the above shot, peering around Canyon Rock to get a look at the outlaw hideout in "Rim of the Canyon" (1949). You may be able to match the above two shots. One clue is a circular marking in the rock that appears near the right edge of both photos, about two-thirds of the way up.

The Corriganville tour takes place about once a month, and as I mentioned earlier it costs tour goers a whopping $5 a head — that's not a typo. You can sign up by going to the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District website. It may not be immediately apparent where to find the Corriganville tours —the thing that worked best for me was going under the "recreation" tab and scrolling down to the "age 50+ brochure."

The brochure that you can download there lists a number of activities designed for people 50 and up, but if you haven't hit that milestone yet, I wouldn't worry about it. No one's checking IDs, and I'm reasonably sure all ages are welcome. We had a few youngsters on our recent tour.

The current brochure shows the following tour dates for spring and summer 2013:

Saturday, June 15 (10 a.m.-noon)
Saturday, July 20 (10 a.m.-noon)
Saturday, Aug. 17 (10 a.m.-noon)

Even though the tours are listed as 10 a.m.-noon, they can run closer to three hours. The hiking is non-strenuous, and the setting is beautiful. Meet in the Corriganville parking lot, 7001 Smith Road in Simi Valley.

You can also call the park district at 805-584-4400. When I left a message there, they called me back a day or two later and I reserved my spot without any problem. If all else fails, just show up! Cheyenne and Deadwood will look after you.

If you're interested in learning more about Corriganville, please click here to read some additional blog posts about the site.



Off the Beaten Path is a series of posts that are not specifically focused on the usual subject matter of this blog, the Iverson Movie Ranch. Past subjects have included Bell Ranch, Pioneertown and other old filming locations. You can go directly to the Off the Beaten Path posts by looking up the term "Off the Beaten Path" in the long index of labels at the right of the page, or by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fans flock to famous rock

Fans of old movies and early TV shows find a lot to love at the site of the former Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., but the single feature that attracts more interest than anything else is Lone Ranger Rock. It's not the most beautiful or most interesting rock at the site — far from it. But it's the most famous.

The rock became famous mainly because of its appearance in the opening to every episode of the old TV show "The Lone Ranger," in which the masked man, played by Clayton Moore, rears up on Silver right next to the rock — part of the famous "Hi-yo, Silver!" sequence. The rock was seen in many other productions as well, but this was its defining moment. 

"Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" (MGM, 1925)

The rock was making appearances in the movies decades before Clayton Moore first rode up. Above is a screen shot from one of its early appearances, back in the silent movie era. That's Lone Ranger Rock (not yet known by that name) in the top right corner, with a group of characters from biblical times standing on it and a whole mob gathered at its base.

Lone Ranger Rock, in the silent movie "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ"

It's not widely known that Lone Ranger Rock used to be called Indian Head. No one I've heard from knows how or when that name came about, but the name has been confirmed by Iverson family members. It's worth noting that at least four rocks on the former Iverson Ranch have been called Indian Head at one time or other. I blogged about the site's many Indian Heads in an earlier post that you can find by clicking here.


The TV show had its first run on ABC from 1949-1957, and it was probably around that time that the rock first started being called Lone Ranger rock. The above title shot was filmed on the Upper Iverson, while Lone Ranger Rock was located a few miles away on the Lower Iverson.

The good news is that Lone Ranger Rock, by any other name, is still alive and well. It can be seen without even getting out of your car, from Redmesa Road, just north of Santa Susana Pass Road in Chatsworth. It is also relatively easy to get to on foot, if you don't mind tromping through the sagebrush. The rock is on land that has been preserved as a park, so you don't have to risk being shot at by the locals to get your photo op. It's in Garden of the Gods Park — named after the huge sandstone boulders found mainly across the street, on the west side of Redmesa Road, which also appeared in many old Westerns and TV shows.


I was interested to see what other fans did on their visits to Lone Ranger Rock, and I tracked down a few YouTube videos documenting fan pilgrimages. I've posted them below.














First, here's a short clip by David August:




This one, posted by OverwhelmingSilence, is a bit more in-depth:



You can see another cool video about a fan visit to Lone Ranger Rock by going to this YouTube link. That one has embedding disabled, so I can't post it here. But it's worth checking out.

If you're thinking about heading out to Chatsworth to see the rock for yourself, I have two minor cautionary notes: (1) Watch out for poison oak, and (2) watch out for snakes.

Poison oak at Iverson, not far from Lone Ranger Rock

Poison oak is easier to spot after it starts turning red — and it also gets more potent then. But it's dangerous even when it's green, which is one of its sneaky and unpleasant characteristics. (Others include making you itch like heck, being resistant to just about any kind of treatment, and sticking to clothes and everything else, meaning you can get it from just touching your clothes.) In case you haven't had the "pleasure" of coming into contact with it before, take my word for it: You don't want to. If you're not sure you can recognize it in the wild, try not to touch any plants, and be careful when handling your shoes and pants after you hike in the area.

Western diamondback rattlesnake

The other warning is about snakes. A number of different species live at Iverson, but the ones you have to worry about are the rattlers. I still have yet to see my first rattlesnake at Iverson — the above photo is not shot there — but I've encountered other snakes at the site, and that was scary enough. The rattler is known to live there, so be careful about where you step, and if you do see one, give it some room. Word is they don't usually hassle you if you don't hassle them.

Just a reminder: You CAN see Lone Ranger Rock from your car, or from the sidewalk, if you're reluctant to tromp around in the brush. If you head north up Redmesa Road from Santa Susana Pass Road, the rock is one of the first things you'll see, on the right. But I still recommend getting out of the car.



























Below are Amazon links to some of the DVD packages of the old "Lone Ranger" material, with a warning that many of the best packages go out of print from time to time.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A few "Tarzan" scenes filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif.

The many Tarzan movies filmed over the decades, including the wildly popular Johnny Weissmuller movies of the 1930s and 1940s, have an intermittent track record at Iverson. The widely filmed movie ranch, better known for its stagecoach holdups, Western shootouts and rocky landscape, wasn't exactly a jungle location. But Iverson did make significant appearances in a number of Tarzan movies. Here's a look at a few key scenes.

Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan 
at Iverson in "Tarzan the Ape Man," 1932

The movie considered by many fans to be the start of the Tarzan franchise is MGM's "Tarzan the Ape Man," released in 1932 — Weissmuller's first appearance as the Lord of the Jungle. A number of Tarzan movies predated this one, going back to 1918 and silent movie star Elmo Lincoln. But MGM and Weissmuller — along with Maureen O'Sullivan, who fueled Tarzan's jungle passions as Jane — turned Tarzan into a cultural phenomenon.

This is the same rock — known as Three Ages Rock — where Tarzan and Jane stood during the iconic "wave goodbye" scene at the end of "Tarzan the Ape Man." The rock can still easily be seen today, from Redmesa Road, just below the Cal West Townhomes development. You may be able to match up the vertical crack and the smaller rock below Three Ages Rock in the above two shots. (You can enlarge any of these photos by clicking on them.)

The setup for the "wave goodbye" shot provided a couple of nice touches, including unloading an elephant in Iverson Gorge for the above sequence. The large rock feature at the right, known as The Wall, no longer exists, having been torn down to build condos. The overhanging rock just above and to the right of the heads of the riders is Potato Rock, which was also a casualty of that development. What's still around are the Elders, at the center of the shot (directly to the left of the riders' heads), and Elders Peak, top center. These features, seen in the backgrounds of many Iverson movies, are above Chatsworth Park, "across the street" from Iverson — south of Santa Susana Pass Road.

Here's a look at Elders Peak and the Elders in modern times. This shot is from 2008, just after the Porter Ranch Fire, which accounts for the area's barren appearance.

Cheeta made his way to Iverson along with the rest of the "Tarzan the Ape Man" cast and crew, and was filmed racing past Nyoka Cliff to join the "wave goodbye" sequence.

Here's a shot of that same section of Nyoka Cliff as seen on a recent visit to the site, which can be matched up with the details of the Cheeta shot above even though the two shots are from slightly different angles. The tall triangular shape near the center of both shots — a "witch's hat" shape — and the dark "hole in the rock" toward the right are among the better markers.

This is what Nyoka Cliff looks like today — pulling back from the above closeup. The massive cliff is one of the most prominent rock features at Iverson, and is easily seen from Redmesa Road. The "witch's hat" shape is still visible here, in shadow, a little right of center.

The elephant heads down the Gorge after dropping off Jane — who has decided to remain in the jungle with Tarzan in "Tarzan the Ape Man."

The steps visible toward the left of this shot are somewhat famous among film location researchers. The weight of opinion is that they were put in place specifically for "Tarzan the Ape Man," to enable Tarzan, Jane and Cheeta to easily scamper up to the top of Three Ages Rock.

Cheeta arrives at the top of the stairs, which are concealed by a shadow. Oops: It appears that someone has installed a couple of "African-looking" dry palm trees between the previous shot and this one without bothering to reconcile the set arrangement with the shots of Tarzan and Jane, sans palms, ascending the steps.

"Rough Riders' Round-Up" (1939)

The "Tarzan the Ape Man" steps surface in other productions from time to time, including the above shot from the 1939 Republic B-Western "Rough Riders' Round-Up." In this screen shot Three Ages Rock is the large horizontal boulder directly above the top of the steps. The rock immediately to the right of the rider is a fascinating character I've blogged about before, which I call the D-Train.

"The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1936)

Those same rocks also appear in the 1936 movie "The Charge of the Light Brigade," but as you can see in the top right corner of the above shot: no steps. It looks to me as though someone went to the trouble to smooth over that stairway, probably with cement. The shot of the steps above this one that appeared in "Rough Riders' Round-Up" in 1939 could be explained by the use of recycled older footage, but that's just a guess. Another theory would be that someone fashioned a "disguise" for the steps, so they could be covered up or exposed as needed. It sounds like a stretch, but it was not unheard of at Iverson back then to complement the rocks with what might be called "prosthetics."

Tarzan helps Jane climb to the top of Three Ages Rock. You may notice that her outfit got shorter in the time it took her to climb the stairs — an illusion created by a torn dress after it was damaged during her jungle adventures. Jane had yet to shed her "city dress" and move into her far more revealing loincloth, but the producers may have made the choice to show more skin here to illustrate Jane's loss of inhibition as she transitioned from city girl to jungle dweller — and of course, to raise the level of interest in future movies.

The jilted suitor, Harry Holt — whom Jane dumped for Tarzan — rides off on his elephant down Iverson Gorge, with the Garden of the Gods in the background in the top-left corner. You may have to squint to see Harry, played by Neil Hamilton, and his elephant near the bottom center of the shot.

Tarzan, Jane and Cheeta — one big happy family, atop Three Ages Rock. The producers of "Tarzan the Ape Man" were blessed with a dramatic Chatsworth sky on the day of this shoot, and were apparently content to overlook the fact that it didn't match the sky as it appeared in other shots during the sequence.

Lex Barker as Tarzan on the Upper Iverson
in a scene from "Tarzan and the Slave Girl," 1950

Later versions of "Tarzan," including some of the RKO releases in the 1950s in which the ape man was played by Lex Barker ("Tarzan and the Slave Girl," 1950; "Tarzan's Savage Fury," 1952) or Gordon Scott ("Tarzan's Hidden Jungle," 1955; "Tarzan and the Trappers," 1958), featured a number of Iverson scenes, such as this one filmed on the Upper Iverson.

Here's what that same easily recognized rock, which I call Notch Rock, looks like today. It's a frequent landmark in old movies and early TV shows.

This is the same view from farther back. The whole formation has been called Easter Island or the Totem Pole Rocks.

Lex Barker gives the producers a little extra — and risks his neck in the process — by venturing over the edge of Notch Rock. He wouldn't have got much farther than this, but even this much proves he didn't just play a he-man in the movies — he really was one.

In another scene from "Tarzan and the Slave Girl," Lex Barker leads an expedition across the rocky bed of Fern Ann Creek on the Upper Iverson. This sequence is a personal favorite of mine, not because the scene itself is anything special but because the creekbed was rarely filmed, and it took some doing to identify the location. Fern Ann Creek, sometimes called Iverson Creek, still flows (trickles, really) through Chatsworth today and eventually feeds into the "wash" — the concrete drainage system that runs through the San Fernando Valley and is part of what's loosely called the "L.A. River." You can find another shot of Fern Ann's rocky creekbed in this post about a "Bonanza" shoot.

"Tarzan's Savage Fury" (1952)

One of the most ambitious Iverson shoots in the Tarzan movies was for the 1952 release "Tarzan's Savage Fury," again starring Lex Barker. An African village consisting of about 10 huts and other structures appears in the movie, just north of Garden of the Gods. I've always figured it's probably a composite shot, with a portion of the village not really at Iverson. But at least part of it is real, including three or four huts seen in the photo below. In the above shot, all of the rocks are recognizable and familiar, and the flat area in the foreground that contains most of the village is known to be a flat area in reality, which is now full of condos. The rocks at the right, behind the large building in the center, are now a part of Garden of the Gods Park, although the smaller clump of rocks at the far right, directly behind the second hut from the right, was destroyed.


In this shot from inside the village, the Phantom, one of the main rock features of Garden of the Gods, can be seen in the top left corner. This shot establishes that at least a portion of the village was in fact built at Iverson.

Here's a contemporary view of the Phantom.

 Tarzan and Jane — Maureen O'Sullivan 
and Johnny Weissmuller


The producers' battles with the censors over Jane's skimpy loincloths are the stuff of Hollywood legend. But there's no denying the chemistry between Weissmuller's Tarzan and O'Sullivan's Jane, a pairing that lasted throughout the 1930s and into the early 1940s and was on display in six Tarzan movies.