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.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Year in Review: Top 10 Iverson Movie Ranch finds of 2015


2014 was a tough act to follow, but as the dust settles on 2015, it becomes clear that this has been a year of even bigger milestones in Iverson Movie Ranch research — highlighted by discoveries dating back to the silent movies and by greater collaboration than ever among a dedicated community of researchers. Here's a look back at some of my personal favorites among the finds I've been privileged to be a part of in 2015 ...


No. 10:
The Lew Murdock inscription from "Have Gun — Will Travel"

Lew Murdock Rock, on the Upper Iverson's South Rim

In a terrific example of collaborative research, Cliff Roberts spotted this beautiful artifact during an expedition on the Upper Iverson, and I was able to find the source of the inscription in an episode of "Have Gun — Will Travel" from 1959. It's always exciting when we can uncover a well-preserved relic of the filming era in all its glory — especially when we're able to figure out its origin.

• Click here to go to the original post with all the details about the Lew Murdock carving and Lew Murdock Rock, from May 2015.

No. 9:
Location of a cabin that stood in Central Garden of the Gods in 1935, seen in "Song of the Saddle"

"Song of the Saddle" (filmed in 1935, released in 1936)

We were able to identify rock clues in the background to pinpoint the location of this cabin seen in the Dick Foran Western "Song of the Saddle." It turns out the cabin was positioned in a historically significant area in Central Garden of the Gods, near where the Phantom Shack would be built a few years later.

• Click here to read the original post from earlier this month about the cabin seen in "Song of the Saddle."

No. 8:
"Ghost images" of Rock Island surface amid the foliage next to the swimming pool in the Cal West Townhomes

"RI-4," part of Rock Island, as seen in 1960 in "Have Gun — Will Travel"

Two major research threads crossed paths in 2015 as an examination of Elvis Presley filming locations at Iverson led us to Rock Island just as our in-depth examination of Rock Island was producing the first detailed picture of what happened to this key formation of movie rocks.

The hidden location of "RI-4," one of the five main features of Rock Island

In a strange way, Rock Island remains intact — depending on one's definition of "intact." Today Rock Island is mostly buried underground, and the small portion of the formation that remains above ground — the tips of what was once a cluster of large columns of rock — is mostly covered with ivy.

• Click here to revisit our in-depth exploration of Rock Island, then and now, from May 2015.
• Click here to see a post focusing on the Elvis Presley connection to Rock Island.

No. 7:  
An old Western "town" set in Garden of the Gods in 1930, seen in "The Utah Kid"

"The Utah Kid" (1930): Early village in Garden of the Gods

Film location historian Tinsley Yarbrough spotted this early-sound-era cluster of buildings in the old Rex Lease Western "The Utah Kid." The buildings, which form a sort of adobe village, may date back to the silent era.

• Click here to read more about this amazing find, in an entry posted back in May 2015.

No. 6:  
Siedry-Bert Inscription near the base of Sphinx, from the TV show "The Loner"

Burgess Meredith at the Siedry-Bert inscription in "The Loner" (1965)

The origin of the "Siedry-Bert" inscription in Central Garden of the Gods has remained a mystery for years, and this year we finally solved the mystery. Iverson explorer Cliff Roberts and I put our heads together to delve into the carving's backstory, and we hit pay dirt, figuring out that the carving originated in an episode of the Lloyd Bridges Western TV series "The Loner," featuring guest star Burgess Meredith as Siedry.

• Click here to read the blog post from March 2015 telling the story of the Siedry-Bert carving.

No. 5:
Elvis Presley filming location in Central Garden of the Gods, from "Harum Scarum" (1965) 

Elvis Presley and Fran Jeffries in Garden of the Gods: the original tent scene for "Harum Scarum"

Elvis Presley's connections with the Iverson Movie Ranch came into much sharper focus during 2015, with much of the progress attributable to a collaboration with Elvis location researcher Bill Bram. A key development was the identification of the "Harum Scarum Cluster," seen in the background of the above promo still.

• Click here for a detailed report on the Elvis shoot at the Harum Scarum Cluster in Central Garden of the Gods, from March 2015.

No. 4:
Footholds in the Boots Rock area near Garden of the Gods

Two of the many footholds in the rocks of the "Footholds Region"

Mysterious manmade holes, apparently dating back to early in the filming era, were discovered in an area located a short distance north of Garden of the Gods. The origins of these possible footholds and anchor points for sets, camera towers and other construction remain largely a mystery.

• Click here to read our in-depth report on the Footholds area, published in June 2015.

No. 3:  
Fake cave house that stood north of Garden of the Gods for much of the 1920s

"Three Ages" (Buster Keaton, 1923): Fake cave house near Garden of the Gods

A fake cave house on the Lower Iverson is seen in screen shots and behind-the-scenes production shots for silent movies filmed at least from 1920-1926, meaning it may have been built for an even earlier production.

• Click here for a full report on the cave house published on the blog in August 2015.

No. 2:  
"The Silent Man": A 1917 silent Western containing the earliest known film images of the Iverson Movie Ranch

William S. Hart and Vola Vale in the Iverson Gorge: "The Silent Man" (1917)

The discovery of the silent Western "The Silent Man" — probably not the earliest movie filmed on the Iverson Ranch, but the earliest that I've been able to identify positively — was something of a miracle. Most of the movies from this period have been destroyed, along with much of the documentation of film production at Iverson during the silent era. "The Silent Man" survives as one of the most important documents of the ranch's earliest days.

• Click here to read the December 2015 post revealing the many Iverson Movie Ranch treasures contained in the 1917 Western "The Silent Man."

No. 1:
Location of the Chinese Bridge in "Tell It to the Marines," including anchor points for the struts

Production shot for "Tell It to the Marines" (1926)

The above production shot, unearthed by Iverson Movie Ranch aficionado Ben Burtt, played a key role in solving the mystery of the Chinese Bridge seen in the 1926 silent movie "Tell It to the Marines."

• Click here to see the blog item from September 2015 pinpointing the spot on the Lower Iverson Movie Ranch where the Chinese Bridge was located.



We had a number of other noteworthy finds in 2015 that just missed making the Top 10. Here are the best of the rest, in no particular order, with links to posts containing photos and details about each find:

• New details surface about the 1920 shoot in the Garden of the Gods for the silent spectacle "Man-Woman-Marriage."

• Strange Rock is identified — the spot where Glenn Strange positioned himself in the ambush of Texas Rangers that launched the story of "The Lone Ranger."

• The location of the Grapes of Wrath truck-pushing sequence is found.

• Disaster at Overlook Point on the set of the 1938 Gary Cooper movie "Adventures of Marco Polo."

• Lower Iverson's East Gate is identified, along with a fire station that was the movie ranch's closest neighbor.

• A previously unknown fake cave turns up in the TV show "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp," located on the south side of the Phantom in Central Garden of the Gods.

• The Crouching Cat Walkway area is identified after blog reader David King matches it up with a shot in the 1949 Columbia serial "Batman and Robin."

• The exact spot is pinpointed where Fuzzy Knight placed the dynamite on the Upper Iverson's South Rim in "Boss of Bullion City."

• The proximity of the Iverson Ranch to a notorious nearby movie ranch is spotlighted by the appearance of Iverson's Garden of the Gods in "Linda and Abilene, a "Naughty Western" filmed on the Spahn Ranch.

In a welcome trend, foliage is being peeled back all around the Lower Iverson, revealing more of the original movie rocks. Naked rocks appear in several locations, thanks to tree removal in Garden of the Gods, the stripping away of ivy concealing Rock Island, and the removal of brush covering Mushroom Rock.


Click here to see the Top 10 Iverson Movie Ranch finds of 2014.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Silent movie cowboy William S. Hart, Hollywood pioneer Thomas H. Ince and the 1917 Western "The Silent Man": Some of the earliest images of the Iverson Movie Ranch to be captured on film

I recently found a silent Western produced under the supervision of legendary studio mogul Thomas H. Ince and filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif. "The Silent Man," released in 1917, starred early movie cowboy William S. Hart, who also directed the feature film.

"The Silent Man" (1917): Gorge Arch (Garden of the Gods in background)

"The Silent Man" contains the earliest images I've seen of a number of Iverson rock features — including this early shot of the Gorge Arch. Garden of the Gods can be seen in the background, at top center.

The picture quality is less than spectacular by today's standards, but considering that the images were first captured on celluloid almost 100 years ago, they're pretty remarkable.

Lobby card for "King of the Jungle" (1933): Gorge Arch

The Gorge Arch went on to a fruitful screen career, but was rarely seen again in the "middle of nowhere" setting in which it appears in the 1917 shot.

"Adventures of Red Ryder" (1940)

The arch is most commonly associated with the Gorge Cabin, which stood in the Iverson Gorge from about 1936-1944. As you can see in this screen shot, the Gorge Arch was situated adjacent to the cabin.

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (ABC TV series, 1959)

After the cabin was removed from the area, the arch continued to appear in movies and TV shows. Sadly, the Gorge Arch was destroyed when development came to the Iverson Gorge in the late 1980s.

"The Silent Man" (1917): Looking through Devil's Doorway

Another natural arch, known today as Devil's Doorway, also turns up in "The Silent Man." In this shot the camera looks north through Devil's Doorway, with riders visible on the other side of the arch, at bottom center.

Devil's Doorway in modern times

Unlike the Gorge Arch, Devil's Doorway is still standing. Today it can be found among the condos of the Cal West Townhomes.

The shot from 1917 is detailed enough to enable the identification of a number of markers in the rocks. All of the features noted above can still be found today.

I've noted the same rock markings and details on the recent shot.

Even with the two photos taken almost a century apart, the rocks remain pretty much the same. The biggest differences between the two shots appear in the background, where mounted cowboys could be seen during filming of "The Silent Man" in 1917.

In modern times, the background contains condos and landscaping.

Crown Rock, in "The Silent Man"

Another image from "The Silent Man" captures Crown Rock in 1917. In this shot Crown Rock fills much of the left half of the screen.

Similar to Devil's Doorway, Crown Rock remains in place today as part of the Cal West landscape. However, the surviving section of the rock consists of only about half of the original formation.

The portion of the rock indicated above was removed during construction to make room for a driveway through the condo complex.

"The Silent Man": Major rock features of the Upper Gorge, filmed in 1917

The images in this shot don't immediately leap off the screen, but it may be the most historically significant of any of the screen shots from "The Silent Man." On close examination, three particularly important rocks can be discerned in the top right corner.

These are the earliest images I've seen of any of the features noted above. I've written previously about each of these rocks — you can find posts about Angry Cardinal here, Hobbit House here and Plaza Rock here.

"Zane Grey Theatre" — Plaza Rock at the right

With any "stacked rock," such as Plaza Rock, the question comes up as to whether the feature occurred naturally or was created by human intervention, possibly with a smaller rock being cemented on top of a larger rock.

Plaza Rock in 1957 ("Zane Grey Theatre" episode "The Freighter")

While not conclusive, the existence of Plaza Rock in 1917 — early in the evolution of the movie ranch — adds weight to the theory that the rock was naturally occurring.

Plaza Rock no longer exists — at least not above ground; in all likelihood, it's now buried beneath the lawn seen here, covered by dirt brought in for grading during construction of the Cal West Townhomes.

A portion of the Hobbit House remains above ground, but about three-quarters of what was once a tall rock tower is now buried.

The Angry Cardinal, too, has been effectively dismantled. A portion of the rock appears to still be in place, but it is unrecognizable today — and is concealed beneath trees and other landscaping.

"The Silent Man": William S. Hart and Vola Vale 

Here's a shot of the two main stars of "The Silent Man," William S. Hart and Vola Vale, in the Iverson Gorge. Some readers may recognize the large rock feature seen behind the actors.

This version of the shot identifies Three Ages Rock — a well-known feature of the Upper Gorge.

"Tarzan the Ape Man" (1932) — Cheeta on Three Ages Rock

The same view of Three Ages Rock — spotlighting the north end of the rock — appears in the final sequence of "Tarzan, the Ape Man," the 1932 feature that launched the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan franchise.

"The Big Show" (1936)

We get another look at the north end of Three Ages Rock in the Gene Autry movie "The Big Show," which we examined in a recent post that you can read by clicking here.

"The Fighting Seabees" (1944) — Iverson Gorge, looking south

Three Ages Rock also turns up in this shot of the Upper Gorge from the John Wayne war movie "The Fighting Seabees." Near the right of the frame is Crown Rock, which was discussed above. All of the rock features shown here took a hit when development came to the Iverson Gorge.

Three of the major features of the Upper Gorge are noted here. Much of Three Ages Rock has survived, but the north end of the rock — the "face" seen here — was removed to clear space for condos. The Wall was demolished in its entirety, along with about half of Crown Rock, as discussed above.

Promotional shot for "The Silent Man" — above the Gorge

A promotional photo for "The Silent Man" shows Hart and Vale in an area just above the Iverson Gorge. The photo includes a copyright date of 1919, but the shot would have been taken during filming at Iverson in 1917.

The background detail on the promo shot is less than sharp, but it's possible to identify some of the rocks — including the so-called "Hole in the Wall" area, as noted above.

The rocks making up the Hole in the Wall formation can still be found today, at the end of a long driveway through the condos — the same driveway that prompted the removal of half of Crown Rock. To read an earlier post with additional details about these rocks, please click here.

Another promo shot for "The Silent Man," apparently taken around the same time as the "Hole in the Wall" promo shot, offers a nice look at the film's two stars. The photo was presumably taken on the Iverson Ranch, although the background features are unidentifiable.

Premiere of Grauman's Million Dollar Theatre, Feb. 1, 1918: "The Silent Man" on the marquee

"The Silent Man" provides an interesting snapshot of early Hollywood history — and of the role the Iverson Ranch played in that history. When Sid Grauman's famed Million Dollar Theatre held its grand opening in Los Angeles on Feb. 1, 1918, "The Silent Man" was the featured attraction.

The Million Dollar Theatre in modern times

The Million Dollar Theatre became a Spanish-language venue way back in the late 1940s, and for decades was one of the country's most important sites for Hispanic films and live productions. Located at 307 S. Broadway in downtown L.A., its stature has been diminished in recent years but it remains a functioning theater.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre — opened in 1927

Sid Grauman went on to build Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in 1922 and Grauman's Chinese Theatre — the last and most famous of his silent-era movie palaces — in 1927. The three theaters have all changed hands over the decades, but all three remain in operation today.

Thomas H. Ince, "Father of the Western"

One of the key players behind the scenes of "The Silent Man" was Thomas H. Ince, who supervised production. In previous years Ince had his own Western filming location, Inceville, in the Palisades Highlands near L.A. But the pioneering director and producer had abandoned Inceville a couple of years before "The Silent Man."

Inceville, in the Palisades Highlands above Pacific Coast Highway

Inceville is regarded today as the first modern film studio, and with Ince producing as many as 150 films a year at the site — most of them Westerns — he became known not only as the father of the Western but also as the creator of the Hollywood studio system.

Ince-Triangle Studios, Culver City, Calif. — the original Greek colonnade still stands today

Ince co-founded Triangle Pictures and the Ince-Triangle Studios in Culver City with his new partners D.W. Griffith and Mack Sennett in 1915, but the partnership lasted only a couple of years. By late 1917 Ince was between studios, and it's around this time that we begin to find Ince productions filmed on the Iverson Ranch.

Thomas H. Ince Studios, Culver City

At least two Thomas Ince Westerns — "The Silent Man" and "The Narrow Trail," released one month later — were filmed at Iverson in late 1917. Ince would shift his focus again in 1918, when he began construction on his new state-of-the-art Thomas H. Ince Studios, a few blocks from the old Ince-Triangle Studios.

Sony Pictures Studios — built on the old Triangle lot in Culver City

Both of Ince's Culver City studios remain in use today. The old Triangle lot is now the home of Sony Pictures Entertainment, after serving as an MGM lot for more than 60 years.

The Culver Studios in recent years — the former Thomas H. Ince Studios

The old Thomas H. Ince Studios went through a number of incarnations, including stints as DeMille Studios, RKO-Pathe Studios, Selznick International Pictures and Desilu Studios, before being bought by an investment group and becoming The Culver Studios, as the facility is known today.

This Google aerial shows the proximity of the two main Culver City studios, both founded by Thomas H. Ince in the 1910s. The juxtaposition of the facilities and their long, complicated and intertwined histories have combined to create quite a bit of confusion — and misinformation — about the two movie industry landmarks.


This post is part of a series of entries exploring silent movies filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch.  Other movies in the series can be found at the following links ...

• "Man-Woman-Marriage" (Dorothy Phillips, 1921): Large-scale battle sequence filmed near the Garden of the Gods in 1920, billed at the time as "so stupendous that it amazed even the film colony of Los Angeles."

• "Richard the Lion-Hearted" (Wallace Beery, 1923): Special effects place a massive Medieval castle among the huge rock features of Garden of the Gods.

• "Three Ages" (Buster Keaton, 1923) — One of the most popular silent-era Iverson shoots, and for good reason. Examine "Buster's armory," controlled by Keaton's caveman character, built high atop Rock Island in the Iverson Gorge.

• Fake cave house: More good stuff from "Three Ages" (1923) — The fake rock feature stood near Garden of the Gods for several years in the 1920s — may even go back to the 1910s.

• "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" (Ramon Novarro, 1925): Terrific behind-the-scenes photos from Jill Bergstrom, granddaughter of the great Iverson cinematographer George B. Meehan Jr., who worked a camera on "Ben-Hur." Most of the material is non-Iverson, even though parts of "Ben-Hur" were filmed on the location ranch.

• "Tell It to the Marines" (Lon Chaney, 1926): MGM production featured construction of elaborate Chinese arched bridge supported by fake rocks; anchor points for the bridge-and-fake-rocks contraption are carved into the rocks north of Garden of the Gods.

• "Noah's Ark" (Dolores Costello, 1928): Noah's Ark is "beached" on top of the sandstone giants of Garden of the Gods, as in the series label above. Directed by Michael Curtiz, who later directed "Casablanca."