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, September 30, 2014

The march of progress claims another casualty: The Cockatoo is dead

The Cockatoo, in happier times

Raise a glass to the Cockatoo, as another noble Iverson Movie Ranch rock has gone the way of the dodo. The Cockatoo is no more.


Here's the setting where the Cockatoo rested peacefully on the South Rim of the Upper Iverson, presumably for centuries. The Cockatoo, in its characteristic reclining position, can be seen near the bottom center of the shot. You may also notice the distinctive movie rock Ol' Flattop nearby — I'll ID them both in the next shot.

This version of the shot has the Cockatoo and Ol' Flattop highlighted. The cluster of rocks seen here was situated a little bit "out back" — adjacent to a busy filming era, but not right in the main mix — back when Iverson was a hub of the movie and TV business. Still, the camera did occasionally wander out their way, as you'll see below.

"Captain Midnight" (1942)

This shot from the Columbia serial "Captain Midnight" captures a couple of relatively rare movie rocks in Ol' Flattop, at top left, and Gorilla, above the roof of the car.

Gorilla gets its name from its appearance from a different angle, which you can see below or by clicking here.

Situated at the northeast corner of Cactus Hill, the rock I call Gorilla is positioned today adjacent to lots that have been cleared for development of hillside estates.

You can probably match up Gorilla with the shot from "Captain Midnight," but here's a labeled version of the photo just in case. The angle here is a little different from the "Captain Midnight" shot — the rocks seen immediately to the left of Gorilla in "Captain Midnight" are separated from it here and can be seen more toward the left of the frame.

"Five Guns West" (1955)

Gorilla really looks like a gorilla in Roger Corman's great Iverson movie "Five Guns West," as seen here. Please click here to see additional photos from this Iverson spectacle.

Recent shot of Ol' Flattop

On my most recent visit to the former Iverson Movie Ranch, I discovered to my great disappointment that the Cockatoo has fallen victim to the bulldozers — buried alive, in a sense. You'll notice in the above shot of Ol' Flattop that this side of the rock is now abutted by dirt. The entire cluster of rocks below Ol' Flattop on its eastern side — the same group seen in the shots higher up in this post, including the Cockatoo — is now buried beneath this expanse of dirt.

Here's an illustration approximating the area that has been buried.

This version of the shot lets you see the rocks that are now hidden underground. While being buried under dirt may not sound like a death sentence for rocks, my experience with the Iverson Movie Ranch, and specifically with how the encroachment of development plays out at the site, dictates that once the rocks are buried, they stay buried.

Rock Island — or what's left of it — as it exists today: "only" about three-quarters buried

A number of widely filmed movie rocks on the Lower Iverson suffered similar fates, and are unlikely to ever be seen again. In many cases it's unknown whether a rock was buried or broken up, but among the probable burials are Plaza Rock and Bald Knob, while the fate of Rock Island is known: The once-towering rock feature was buried about three-quarters of the way up, with the "tip" of the formation still visible next to the swimming pool area in the condos, as seen in the photo above.

"Ride 'em Cowboy" (1942)

This is what Rock Island used to look like, in a screen shot from the Abbott and Costello movie "Ride 'em Cowboy." The bulk of the formation seen in this photo is now underground.

This version of the shot indicates the portion of Rock Island that remains above ground. For more about the partial burial of Rock Island, please click here.

Retaining wall for "Mansion on the Hill" being built at the east end of Cactus Hill
— the Cockatoo is buried somewhere under this dirt

The shakeup on Cactus Hill and the Upper Iverson's South Rim was triggered by construction of what appears destined to eventually be a large estate at the east end of Cactus Hill. A huge retaining wall went up about a year and a half ago, and the ongoing project has increasingly had an impact on the historic rocks and other features in the area.

Springtime on Cactus Hill

The march of progress has been going on sporadically at Iverson since the 1960s, when the land began to be repurposed from its role in filming and converted into mobile homes, condos and residential estates. Only a few areas have remained relatively pristine — including Cactus Hill, until recently.

Looking northeast from Cactus Hill toward Oat Mountain

Today the region suffers from historic drought conditions, which has slowed — but not stopped — development. In this view of the construction area at the east end of Cactus Hill we can see barren versions of a number of familiar background hills: Two-Humper on the left and Notch Hill on the right, with the sprawling Oat Mountain in the background.

The hills identified here were not on Iverson property, but appeared in the backgrounds of countless movies and TV shows shot at Iverson. Through their roles in hundreds of Westerns in particular, these heavily filmed features — like many of the iconic rocks on the Iverson Ranch — became representations of the American West for generations of film goers and TV viewers.

I can't help but wonder about the pile of rubble seen next to the construction equipment in the photo. It's unclear what this pile of rocks used to be, but that is what famous movie rocks would look like after tangling with a bulldozer.

I've blogged before about the Cockatoo — which at times I've also called either the Rock Cockatoo or the Rockatoo. You can see an earlier entry on the Cockatoo by clicking here.

"Zane Grey Theatre" (1958)

If you clicked on the Plaza Rock link I included up above and you find you want more, more, more Plaza Rock — I hear you. It's a cool rock; here's another fun Plaza Rock item.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A few notes about the terrific Iverson Movie Ranch production "Army Girl," the Oscars, and legendary Iverson cinematographer Ernest Miller

The 1938 Republic movie "Army Girl," which shot the bulk of its outdoor action on the Iverson Movie Ranch, has a few claims to fame that I want to make sure readers of this blog know about. One of them is the Academy Award nomination it received for cinematography, shared by the two co-DPs on the movie, Harry J. Wild and the great Ernest Miller.

"Army Girl" received three Oscar nominations in all, including nods for best sound recording (Charles L. Lootens) and best original score (Victor Young). While the movie did not win in any of its three nominated categories, the nominations represented unusual recognition for Republic, which built its business model on making movies fast and cheap, not on winning awards.

I'm especially fond of this particular movie poster for "Army Girl," for an obvious reason. The old vertical-format poster — a film poster style known as an "insert" — includes a depiction of one of the most interesting Iverson features to make its way onto a movie poster. In the sort of sepia-tone section near the bottom of the insert we see Iverson's Western Sheep Flats Adobe Complex, in all its circa-1938 glory.

This complex of buildings has a long and intriguing history, albeit one that has been a challenge to document. I've blogged about it before, noting that the set originated with the shoot for John Ford's "Wee Willie Winkie," a Shirley Temple movie released in 1937. You can read more about this important Iverson set in this earlier blog post, and I am sure I will be writing about it again in the future.

"Army Girl" (1938)

Here's another view of the Western Sheep Flats Adobe Complex as it appears in "Army Girl," where it serves as the Cavalry installation "Fort Lawson." This is essentially the opening shot of the movie.

Another shot from "Army Girl" offers a nice look at a couple of the main buildings in the adobe fort complex. The buildings were left over from "Wee Willie Winkie," filmed the previous year, but were given a thorough makeover, including a new white stone finish. When these buildings appeared in "Wee Willie Winkie" they had a much different appearance, closer to a standard adobe look. (As seen in the photo below.)


Incidentally, the mini-Army tank seen in the foreground of the "Army Girl" shot above appears throughout the movie and plays a pivotal role in it. The film tackles the ambitious task of telling the story of the arrival of the mechanized Army, the clash between horse and machine, and how the emergence of the battle tank represented the beginning of the end for the venerable equestrian version of the Cavalry.

"Wee Willie Winkie" (1937) — Victor McLaglen and Shirley Temple

This shot from "Wee Willie Winkie" gives an idea of what those same buildings looked like one year earlier. Built specifically as the India outpost for "Wee Willie Winkie," much of the sprawling set remained in place for decades, surviving until Sheep Flats was sold to build a mobile home park in 1963. Please click here to see a detailed analysis of the transition of the set from "Winkie" in 1937 to "Army Girl" in 1938.

"Little Big Horn" (1951) — cinematography by Ernest Miller

"Army Girl" co-DP Ernest Miller is in my pantheon of the top Iverson cinematographers, not only because he may have shot more movies at Iverson than any other DP, but more important, because he seemed to genuinely "get it" as far as what was special about Iverson. Miller had an incredible eye for how to shoot the location ranch's rocks, trees and other features, and showcased them at times in ways that have never been equaled.

"The Devil's Apple Tree" (silent film, 1929) — Ernest Miller, DP (not an Iverson production)

A native of the Los Angeles area who was born in 1885, Miller got an early start in the movie business. He was in his mid-40s by the end of the silent film era and had already amassed a lengthy resume as a DP.

His long list of Iverson showpieces includes the standouts "Come On, Cowboys" (Three Mesquiteers, 1937), "Bordertown Trail" (Sunset Carson, 1944), "Bells of Rosarita" (Roy Rogers, 1945), "Ghost Town Renegades" (Lash LaRue, 1947), "The Bold Frontiersman" (Allan "Rocky" Lane, 1948), "Check Your Guns" (Eddie Dean, 1948), "Dead Man's Gold" (Lash LaRue, 1948), "The Hawk of Powder River" (Eddie Dean, 1948), "Outlaw Country" (Lash LaRue, 1949), "The Longhorn" (Wild Bill Elliott, 1951), "Oklahoma Justice" (Johnny Mack Brown, 1951), "Canyon Raiders" (Whip Wilson, 1951), "Kansas Territory" (Wild Bill Elliott, 1952), and the movie that may be Miller's greatest Iverson achievement, "Little Big Horn" (Lloyd Bridges, 1951).



You can read more about Ernest Miller in this earlier blog entry about him, which I've recently updated. The entry is part of my series on the great Iverson cinematographers.

If anyone reading this happens to have insights into Ernest Miller — maybe a relative has photos of the man, or knows details about his career or his life — I would love to hear from you. I haven't been able to find out much about him, other than his filmography and his great camera work at Iverson. Please comment here or send me an email at iversonmovieranch@gmail.com.

Oscar-nominated "Army Girl" co-DP Harry J. Wild went on to his own notable achievements at Iverson, albeit on a much smaller scale than Ernest Miller. Outside of "Army Girl," Wild's best cinematography at Iverson, in my opinion, can be seen in another movie that found its way onto my list of Iverson Movie Ranch greats: the RKO B-Western "The Fargo Kid" (Tim Holt, 1940), which, unfortunately, seems to be a little bit hard to find.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Are you on the mailing list? If not, look at all the great stuff you're missing ...

The Iverson Movie Ranch blog now has a mailing list, which is the best way to be notified whenever I put up a new post. You can join by sending me an email at:

iversonmovieranch@gmail.com

Just say "Put me on the mailing list" (or any other words that make the same point).

What you'll get out of it is an email notifying you whenever I post a new entry, which lately has been averaging about once every five days, often slipping to about once a week if I get busy (i.e., lazy).

I'm sure the big highlight for people on the list is that each email includes a silly annotated photo taken on the Iverson Movie Ranch — talking rocks, confused cowboy heroes and so forth.

Here are a few of the "gems" from recent mailings ...















Once again, to join the mailing list, just email me at:

iversonmovieranch@gmail.com

and ask to be put on the list.

Thanks!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Where did Daniel Boone teach young Izzy Boone to shoot the Pennsylvania long rifle? On the Iverson Movie Ranch!

Fess Parker in "Daniel Boone" (1965)

Fess Parker became the quintessential TV version of not one but two legendary real-life American frontiersmen, first as Davy Crockett in a miniseries that aired from 1954-1955 as part of "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color," and later as Daniel Boone in a popular adventure series that ran for six seasons on NBC, from 1964-1970.

"Daniel Boone" episode "Doll of Sorrow" (premiered April 22, 1965)

It was as Daniel Boone that Parker found his way to the Iverson Movie Ranch. The above shot from the NBC series includes a portion of Rock Island in the background, at top left. The "Doll of Sorrow" episode featured this opening segment shot on the Lower Iverson along with a later segment taped on the Upper Iverson.

Fess Parker and young Darby Hinton in "Doll of Sorrow"

In the opening moments of the episode, Daniel Boone teaches his son, Israel Boone, or "Izzy," played by Darby Hinton, how to shoot the frontiersman's trademark Pennsylvania long rifle.

The target is a small gourd hanging from a tree, at the center of the shot. In the background the familiar rock wall and other rock features known collectively as "Hole in the Wall" can be seen.

This version of the shot highlights the rock arch that gives the Hole in the Wall its name (noted in yellow), along with other key components of the widely filmed Hole in the Wall rock formation.

Today the Hole in the Wall provides a rocky backdrop for the Cal West Townhomes.

Two of the key features of the Hole in the Wall rock group are noted here. It's a bit of a challenge, but the features in their current setting can be matched up with the "Daniel Boone" shot. Please click here to read a previous post about the Hole in the Wall.

To young Izzy's delight, his Pa finally lets him handle the rifle. The male bonding session plays out against the backdrop of the Lower Iverson's Rock Island along with some of the features of an area I call "Batman Corner," which is around the corner from Batman Rock.

Of course the first thing the youngster does with the heavy weapon is drop it. Fess Parker's patience and fatherly tenderness are on ample display during the sequence.

Some of the main background rock features are identified here.

Izzy shows he's game, even as he continues to struggle with the heft and length of the rifle.

With the help of a rudimentary monopod, young Izzy finally does get a shot off — and at least in this fictionalized version of the lesson, he hits the target.

Unfortunately, a traveling salesman happens to be driving by in his horse-drawn cart at that exact moment.

The large rock noted here was a prominent feature of Batman Corner, but became a casualty of condo development in the late 1980s when that entire section of the Iverson Gorge was filled with dirt.

Izzy's shot frightens the traveling salesman's horses, who rear up and then take off running.

As the horses run out of control they race up Garden of the Gods Trail, where they pass Hawk Rock.

Hawk Rock and other features seen in the "Daniel Boone" shot are identified here.

A recent photo of the same area provides a view of Hawk Rock from a similar camera angle.

To read a previous post about Hawk Rock, please click here, and for still more about the rock, find "Hawk Rock" in the long index of labels running down the right side of the page.

The runaway horse sequence ends in a wagon crash, ratcheting up the tension. As Izzy looks on, Fess Parker, right, tries to reason with the angry owner of the horse cart, played by prolific character actor Edward Binns.

Inevitably, the two men fight — with Izzy, at far left, closely eyeing the action. The fisticuffs take place in a small clearing I call the Arena, which is still intact and is situated just off the main trail into Garden of the Gods.

This is the site of the fistfight today. The large rock on the left, with a notch along its right edge, is the one Izzy stands in front of in the "Daniel Boone" shot. You can read more about the Arena in an earlier post by clicking here.

As the men continue to scuffle, we get a closer look at a rock cluster dominated by a distinctive "ledge" rock.

Here's another view of the ledge rock and its neighbors as they appear today. The "Arena" is now on public parkland and can be easily accessed by visiting Garden of the Gods Park in Chatsworth, Calif.

Entrance gate into Garden of the Gods, on Redmesa Road

Directions to Garden of the Gods, and the Arena: From Topanga Canyon Boulevard just below the 118 Freeway, head west on Santa Susana Pass Road and take the first right, onto Redmesa Road. Park just below where the condos begin, and you should be able to find the trail into Garden of the Gods, behind the metal gate on the west side of Redmesa. The Arena is a short distance up the trail, on the right side.