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.
• 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 find other 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 go right to the great Iverson cinematographers,click here.
• 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.
• If you know of a way I can set up this blog so readers can subscribe to receive future posts via email, please let me know. In the meantime there's a link all the way at the bottom of this page that says "Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)," and if you're inclined to try it, it seems to take you into a world of customizable home pages or something, and you can have blog updates as a part of that page ... whether this is useful to you, who knows, but I thought I'd let you know it's there.
• Your feedback is appreciated — please leave a comment on any post, or email me at iversonfilmranch@aol.com.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Topanga Canyon Boulevard — sort of — circa 1947

This is an older blog entry that I decided to update and repost because I've learned more about it since then and wanted to clarify some details.

The above shot is from the 1947 Republic serial "The Black Widow," directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet and Fred C. Brannon, with cinematography by the great John MacBurnie. We're looking toward the north at what I believed when I originally posted this to be part of Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Chatsworth, circa 1947. I originally noted: "Anyone familiar with that corner of the San Fernando Valley knows that Topanga has come a long way from being an undeveloped two-lane country road with nothing but a fruit stand as far as the eye can see. These days it's fully built out and even at six lanes wide or more, constantly jammed with cars."
However, I've since learned that Topanga Canyon Boulevard may not have existed at that time, at least not that far north. It's a bit of a technicality, as this stretch of road appears to be in more or less the same place where one finds Topanga now — and old aerial photos of the area do show a country road following much of the route now occupied by Topanga. The stretch of road seen above was most likely part of Old Santa Susana Pass Road, which followed part of the current Topanga route at that time, or it may have been a nearby north-south route traversing what was then a very rural eastern San Fernando Valley. It's definitely Chatsworth, based on the landmarks noted below (from the original post).

Among the landmarks in this screen shot are Stoney Point on the far right and some of the rocks at or near the Iverson Movie Ranch in the center background, which would be right where the 118 freeway now crosses Topanga. All the way in the background is Oat Mountain.

Here's a more recent shot of Stoney Point, which is a familiar sight to motorists traveling along the northern end of Topanga. It's a popular rock-climbing venue these days. It has minimal history as a movie location in its own right, but it appears frequently in the background of films shot at the nearby Iverson Movie Ranch.


Stoney Point also figures prominently in a well-known promo shot for John Ford's "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940), seen above. In the movie itself, Stoney Point was cut out of the shot, with the focus instead on the rich farmland that surrounded it in 1940 — all of which has since been fully developed into residential and business properties. Check out Jerry England's blog for a good entry on Stoney Point, including a bit more about "Grapes of Wrath."

Here's an example of how this shot is handled in the movie:


The sequence is shot from Iverson, although I've never been sure whether it's taken from Overlook Point (aka Camera Mount) or somewhere else. At any rate, this view signifies the arrival of the migrant family in the promised land of California, where they have been counting on finding agricultural jobs. After barely making it through the Mojave Desert, they're pretty excited to see how good the land is here.

While I've never been able to properly explain it, I find a sort of circular perfection — albeit a bit disturbing — in Hollywood telling the story of the migration to California for farming, when ultimately the even more defining migration to California may have been for Hollywood itself, for the burgeoning movie industry — a migration that in fact brought about the destruction of farmland for housing and movie sets (including Iverson), along with the decidedly "farming unfriendly" diversion of water from rural areas to L.A. Inevitably, Hollywood and L.A. got too big to even allow the industry's movie sets to survive, and they eventually succumbed to the spiraling development pressure and, in some cases (as in the case of the Upper Iverson), wound up hosting the sprawling homes of those who had made their fortunes in Hollywood. "The Real McCoys" offers another prespective, even if it's a lot lighter in tone.

On another lighter note, Stoney Point is a great place to see faces pop out of the rocks. Here are a couple of the characters I spotted in the recent photo of Stoney Point above:

"Wee Willie Winkie" and Shirley Temple Rock

One of the most important location shoots in the early history of the Iverson Movie Ranch was for "Wee Willie Winkie" in 1937, directed by John Ford and starring Shirley Temple and Victor McLaglen. A number of sets were built for the production, notably the India Outpost at Sheep Flats, which has been featured in a recent post, and the mountain stronghold of Khoda Khan (Cesar Romero), seen below. The Khan set was built next to the formidable rock structure known as The Wall in Iverson's Upper Gorge.

Khoda Khan's stronghold, Iverson Gorge, "Wee Willie Winkie," 1937

The set in the Upper Gorge at the time included a number of stone or adobe buildings, one of which is seen above, along with Shirley Temple perched on a rock that I came to refer to as Shirley Temple Rock. This rock — a small one by Iverson standards — has appeared in other productions as well, and has been useful in helping to identify scenes shot in the Upper Gorge.

This is Shirley again, scampering about near the rock as the battle rages all around her in "Wee Willie Winkie." The movie is based on a Rudyard Kipling story set in India during the British colonial period. This view gives a better idea of what Shirley Temple Rock looked like.

Here's a much later appearance by Shirley Temple Rock, in the 1960 Western "One Foot in Hell," shot long after the "Wee Willie Winkie" sets were gone.

Update: At the time I first published this post, I was unsure whether Shirley Temple Rock still existed. I have since determined that the rock was destroyed during development of the Cal West Townhomes project, after the former Iverson Movie Ranch was subdivided. Following the death of Shirley Temple Black on Feb. 10, 2014, I posted a tribute to the actress, including an update on Shirley Temple Rock. You can read that tribute by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Update on the Adobe Fort at Sheep Flats — connecting some of the dots

Following up on yesterday's post about the Adobe Fort at Sheep Flats, I found a couple of screen shots that provide an interesting comparison ...

Wee Willie Winkie, 1937

The above shot from Wee Willie Winkie in 1937 and the shot below from Army Girl the following year may contain some of the same buildings. I believe they both include a particular rock, although it's much more obvious in the Army Girl shot. One of the better clues, although it doesn't appear so at first, could be the trees.

Army Girl, 1938

I believe the buildings seen here, including the two-story ones, are the same ones seen in the right half of the Wee Willie Winkie shot, even though those are all single-story. The best starting point is the rock. Here it's seen at the far left of the photo. In the Wee Willie Winkie shot, it's close to the center of the photo — and only the top of the rock is visible. (It may help to click on the photo to enlarge it.)

Directly above the rock are some trees, and even though they lean the "wrong way" from one photo to the next, and while they're mere wisps in the Winkie shot compared with the more fully fleshed out giants seen a year later in Army Girl, the horizon lined formed by the treetops, working to the right from the rock, does seem to match. (The part that compares is the right half of the Winkie photo with the left half of the Army Girl photo, ending at the flagpole.) My guess is they must have got a lot of rain in the year or so in between the two productions, and the trees really filled out. The two shots are probably also taken at a different time of year.

Oddly, the flagpole appears to be in the same place in both shots. It's surprising considering that the sets were so mobile, with even buildings being moved around.

The buildings themselves bear little outward resemblance. Besides the second stories being added, the overall complex has a new finish and different trim, along with possible changes to the windows and doors. But the general layout seems to be the same.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The awesome Adobe Fort at Sheep Flats

 Rawhide Rangers, 1941

In the years before Iverson's Western street was built at Sheep Flats in 1945, for the Gary Cooper movie Along Came Jones, a pretty spectacular adobe fort stood on the site for a while. Its history is a bit cloudy, but what's known is that it was in place from at least 1938 to 1941, appearing in a number of movies and serials during that span, and can probably be traced to Wee Willie Winkie in 1937.




Army Girl, 1938

The structure went through a series of changes over the years and had a few different looks in different films. In Army Girl it took on a white stone finish, while in the Western-themed movies it had more of a traditional adobe appearance, as seen in the shot from "Rawhide Rangers" at the top of this post.


Wee Willie Winkie, 1937

It's almost inevitable that the structure's history would be traced to Wee Willie Winkie, specifically the expansive India outpost that was built on Sheep Flats for this landmark production — a big-budget Shirley Temple movie that was said to include the most costly sets ever built at Iverson. I'm sure this is where the fort originated, and I tried a number of times over years of research to match up the buildings in Wee Willie Winkie with those seen in subsequent movies, It took a while, but I eventually did have some success in that effort — check out this post for an update on that part of the research.




Here's a shot from Fugitive Valley (1941), showing Cactus Hill in the background and placing the adobes near the western end of Sheep Flats. In addition to the movies cited above, the adobe complex appeared in Rocky Mountain Rangers (1940) and in the Republic serials Zorro's Fighting Legion (1939) and Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941), among other productions of the late 1930s and early 1940s.



One prominent theory is that portions of the adobe complex were eventually incorporated into Iverson Village when it was built in 1945, but here again, I've never been able to make a positive match. My feeling is that the adobe complex was just to the west of where the town would be built.

Indian Hills Mobile Home Village

Sheep Flats, where both the adobe complex and Iverson Village stood at various times during the filming era, is home today to the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village, seen above.



Friday, December 23, 2011

Center Rock, Sheep Flats, Smooth Hill ... and a bunch of utility poles


Here's a nice shot from one of the best Iverson movies, the 1940 Three Mesquiteers installment Rocky Mountain Rangers, from Republic Pictures. It's directed by George Sherman, with cinematography by Jack Marta — both men worked a lot at Iverson and contributed mightily to documenting its legacy in the form of cinematic images.

One thing I like about this shot is it reveals no fewer than five utility poles on and around Smooth Hill, all the way back in 1940. That means they were in place for the bulk of the B-Western shoots, including throughout the lifespan of Iverson Village. Some of them can occasionally be seen as anachronisms in the background of Westerns, but rarely are they as clearly evident as they are here. You still may have a hard time seeing them. (Click on the photo to enlarge it.) Two of them are at the top, just to the right of the hill's peak. Another one is farther right, sticking out from the top of a rock along the horizon, near the right of the shot. Two more are about midway down the hill, near the center of the shot, along what appears to be a road cut across the hill.



Please note that I've included the Amazon ad above for the "Saturday Matinee Double Feature" DVD because the set includes the great Iverson movie "Rocky Mountain Rangers" (along with the non-Iverson Buck Jones/Tim McCoy Rough Riders movie "Arizona Bound").

Click here for a post that talks about what happened to Smooth Hill and also shows what it looked like in the background of Iverson Village.


Another shot from Rocky Mountain Rangers, from approximately the same angle, gives a better look at Center Rock, the light-colored clump of rocks at the left of the shot. Center Rock was in the middle of Sheep Flats, where Iverson's Western town was built a few years later. This cluster of rocks was noteworthy for a number of things, including its isolated location, its protruding ledge and the odd little arch at its base. Somewhat miraculously, Center Rock survived, even as a trailer park — the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village — was built around it.


Today Center Rock's setting isn't nearly as grand, as it's been stuffed behind fences and barriers and is essentially part of a maintenance facility at the park. I've been especially frustrated by that white plywood, which not only is a bit of an eyesore but also conceals the rock's trademark arch.



Here's a shot of Center Rock in the 1948 Republic serial G-Men Never Forget, showing pretty much the same angle as the contemporary shot above. Looks like the arch would be just about big enough to hide a motorcycle.



Here's what Center Rock looks like today from the other side. The rock was rarely filmed from this side.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Grumpy and Diplodocus — joined at the lip


Grumpy, as seen in "South of Death Valley" (1949)

In a previous post about Fayte Browne, one of the great Iverson cinematographers, I briefly mentioned a rock I call Grumpy, because Browne featured shots of Grumpy in his masterpiece "South of Death Valley." You can see the Fayte Browne post here. But the time has come — it's way overdue, to be honest — to really put Grumpy in the spotlight.


Diplodocus, in "West to Glory" (1947)

I could have said the same thing about a rock called Diplodocus. I did a previous post that included Diplodocus in connection with examining the work of another great Iverson cinematographer, Milford Anderson. That post can be seen here.


Here's the head of a toy diplodocus. I know, it doesn't look that much like the rock. I may have been thinking of brachiosaurus. What can I say? It reminded me of a diplodocus at the time, and the name stuck. I guess I should get this out of the way too: I like to intentionally mispronounce it, because when I was growing up and played with toy dinosaurs, I always thought it was pronounced dip-low-DOCK-us; it was only years later that I learned it's supposed to be pronounced dih-PLOD-uh-cuss — not nearly as much fun.


Brachiosaurus

Anyway ...


Here's a little different angle on Grumpy, from "Ghost Town Renegades" (1947). The view here is from the south, looking north to Oat Mountain in the background. Grumpy was situated right next to one of the Upper Iverson's major chase roads.

The news flash is that Grumpy and Diplodocus are the same rock, shot from opposite sides. Either way it's a beauty. Shot from the west or southwest, it's Grumpy. Shot from the east, it's Diplodocus.


Grumpy, or Diplodocus, was located on the Upper Iverson's heavily filmed South Rim, and showed up in the background in countless chase scenes over the decades. In the shot above, from the seminal Republic serial "The Perils of Nyoka" (1942), you can see Grumpy just to the left of the chariot.


The Grump also shielded its share of shooters over the years — more often as Grumpy than as Diplodocus. Here's an example from the 1951 Tim Holt movie "Hot Lead."


Another look at Diplodocus, from the 1948 Eddie Dean movie "Check Your Guns." The research into this rock took another twist when I realized I was seeing the rock in some later productions, but something was missing. Compare this with the color shot below, a few years later, from "The Lone Gun" (1954).


That's Diplodocus again, on the right. But it's missing a big chunk. I think of it as the top lip being gone.


A closer look at the rock, from the Grumpy side, again missing the top lip. This shot is from an episode of the TV show "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" called "Just Before the Battle," which first aired on June 13, 1961. It's a little hard to recognize Grumpy from this angle, but it checks out. You may be able to tell by comparing it to the shot three photos above it, from "Hot Lead," which is taken from a similar angle. The piece of rock that the shooter is hiding behind in that shot — Grumpy's "top lip" — is gone now.


Back in its heyday — when it still had all of its original parts — Grumpy was sometimes used as a colorful framing device, as in this shot from a 1952 episode of the "Abbott and Costello" TV show called "The Western Story." This was probably one of the last appearances of the Grump with the top lip. I've been able to narrow down that the lip vanished by sometime in 1952, based on where and when Grumpy and Diplodocus show up with or without the lip. I can't help but wonder why the lip disappeared, but as it always was kind of precariously perched, it may have just fallen off. (In which case it should be lying around, right? Now there's a souvenir I'd like to have.)


Here's a glimpse of lipless Grumpy in "Gunsmoke," with James Arness and Dennis Weaver. It's from an episode called "Custer," which premiered Sept. 22, 1956. You can see Grumpy in the background, just above the head of Marshal Dillon (James Arness). You can enlarge the photo (and any of these photos) by clicking on it.


I've searched for Grumpy/Diplodocus countless times and haven't found it. I did find this cluster of rocks in a driveway in the same general area, and I've tried to match it up, but it's hard to get at the right angle. My guess is it's not the same cluster of rocks, and my sense is that Grumpy/D no longer exists. But I haven't completely given up on it.

There you have it — Grumpy and Diplo. I suppose the moral of the story is even a rock can have a hard time keeping a stiff upper lip.

Remember to say dip-low-DOCK-us — it's fun!