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 4, 2010

The Iverson Church wasn't originally a church

Update (April 12, 2014): I've done a more recent, updated version of this post, which you can read by clicking here. The older version below remains pretty much as I originally published it, and contains some information that didn't make it into the newer post. But in my opinion, if you had to pick one or the other as the place to start ... I'd go to the newer post. (Again, click here to go to the newer post.)

Film location researcher Bill Sasser tipped me off about a 1947 movie called The Millerson Case, part of a series of Crime Doctor movies from Larry Darmour Productions starring Warner Baxter, originally distributed to theaters by Columbia. The series is usually set in the big city, and so it rarely ventures into rustic Iverson territory. But in this installment the lead character goes on a hunting trip and finds himself in a small country town called Brook Falls — played by Iverson's Western street, sometimes called El Paso Street or Iverson Village.


Among a number of important finds in this movie is probably the first film appearance of what would become the Iverson Church. Tracking the release dates of movies in which the church appears — and there are only a few of them, all released from 1947 to 1949 — I've become convinced that the church was built specifically for The Millerson Case, which came out in May 1947, a couple of months before its next known film appearance — in the Hopalong Cassidy feature The Marauders — and a few months before the church would make the first of what are probably its most commonly seen appearances these days, in a string of PRC-produced B-Westerns starring Eddie Dean and Lash LaRue.


The most surprising twist in the story of the church is that when it was first built, it wasn't a church. It was a schoolhouse. It was subsequently modified to make it look like a church — with arched tops added to the two front windows and a taller turret, complete with arched window, replacing the bell tower, transforming it into a steeple. Above is a slightly askew shot from one of the late 1947 to early 1949 B-Westerns from PRC or its spinoff, Western Adventure, showing the church as a church. The tall rock to the left of the steeple, also visible in the top photo, is known as Church Rock, obviously because of its proximity to the church.


Location expert Tinsley Yarbrough offers what seems to be the most plausible explanation for the transformation of the schoolhouse into a church: It was probably undertaken by United Artists for The Marauders, where the building again plays a major role, this time as a church. Since I first published this post I had a chance to see The Marauders, and I can confirm that the movie is set almost entirely in and around the church. I agree with Tinsley that in all likelihood the producers of that Hopalong Cassidy movie were the ones who transformed the schoolhouse into a church — and it retained that identity for the remainder of its short life.


My original theory was that PRC had something to do with the construction of the church, but PRC was notoriously low-budget, and now that the Crime Doctor and Hoppy movies have surfaced with their more meaningful use of the building, that theory can be put to rest. I find it interesting too that once PRC begins shooting in the area — and the company was there a lot from 1947-1949, with Eddie and Lash — the church is always there, in the background, but it's never brought to the foreground or incorporated into the story.


Here's another shot of the schoolhouse in The Millerson Case, giving a better look at the original turret or bell tower. The schoolhouse plays a central role in the plot of the movie — as headquarters for treating an outbreak of typhoid fever. The building is featured far more in The Millerson Case and The Marauders than in any other movie I've seen.


Here's one more view of the schoolhouse in The Millerson Case, with a portion of Iverson Village also seen. The building on the right can easily be matched with the second photo, after the schoolhouse down at the end of town became the church down at the end of town. Note that horse-drawn carts and more modern vehicles such as the stylish coupe in the top photo coexist in the small country town depicted in The Millerson Case.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I am searching for information on the great cinematographers of the B-movie era

I want to honor the legacy of the cinematographers and other production people who worked in relative obscurity during the heyday of the B-Western and the Saturday matinee serial. If you have information about DPs, directors, production managers or other behind-the-scenes people involved in making B-movies, serials or early TV shows from the silent era through the 1950s — especially those involved in location work and anyone who may have worked at the Iverson Movie Ranch — I would love to hear from you.



With the exception of the most high-profile figures from this period — movie stars and prominent directors, mainly — I have been able to dig up precious little information on the talented people who shaped our movie history and our culture through low-budget, independent productions. I think it would be tragic to allow their legacies to fade from memory while there are still people around who can tell their stories.

I would especially like to hear from the survivors — spouses, friends, co-workers, children, grandchildren and beyond — of those who played a role in making movies at Iverson, as well as anyone who is around who has memories of Iverson.

I am especially interested in hearing about the cinematographers — the men who aimed their cameras at Iverson's dramatic rock formations, among other things, and thereby recorded the ranch's legacy for posterity. I hope to hear from anyone who might be able to help flesh out their biographical information and gain insights into what made them tick.

Here are some of the cinematographers I would like to find out more about:

George Meehan
Bud Thackery
Jack Greenhalgh
Jack Marta
Mack Stengler
Marcel Le Picard
Benjamin Kline
Gilbert Warrenton
Ira H. Morgan
George Kelley
Rex Wimpy
William Hyer
James S. Brown Jr.
Edward Kull
Ellis W. Carter
Harry Neumann
... and others who may not yet be on the radar

Please contact me by commenting on any of the blog entries or by e-mailing me at iversonmovieranch@gmail.com.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ready for his closeup: A "character actor"
lurks in the bushes of the Upper Iverson

Here's a screen shot from the 1948 Rocky Lane movie "Sundown in Santa Fe," from Republic Pictures. Visible in the background is a cluster of fairly obscure rocks found on the Upper Iverson Movie Ranch, the focal point being the one with a large, flat "forehead" seen toward the right side of the shot.


Not nearly as flashy as some of the other landmarks of the Upper Iverson, this little group of relatively unknown rocks nonetheless got its share of screen time in the backgrounds of chase sequences during the heyday of the B-Western. They were (and still are) located below and between some of the larger and more iconic chase rocks found in the Upper Iverson's widely filmed South Rim area, such as Prominent Rock (also known as Medicine Rock) and Eagle Beak Rock. I started calling this cluster the Frankenstein Group a while back, because the large forehead on that one rock seemed to be asking for it.

I stumbled upon "Frankenstein" in real life on a 2009 visit to Iverson. I was intrigued by the look of the rock but did not immediately recognize it from the movies. I just thought of it as an interesting character, and I snapped a few photos. Here's one of them:


It wasn't until sometime later — just the other day, while sifting through photos — that it occurred to me there might be a connection between "Frankenstein" and my South Rim denizen. Sure enough, they turned out to be the same rock.

The rock doesn't look much like Frankenstein in real life — it's uglier than Dr. F's man in green. But then, that's a part of what makes it beautiful. Iverson's "Frankenstein" has also probably been in more movies than the famous movie monster — although admittedly, it could be a close call.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The rarely seen backside of Crown Rock

Iverson expert Jerry England sent me a 5-second video clip recently from the 1941 movie "They Died With Their Boots On" that knocked my socks off (sticking with the footwear theme of the movie, and whether said footwear is on or off ... in case you might have missed it).


The movie is several large notches up from the typical Iverson B-Western. It's a major feature from Warner Bros. starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland in a romanticized telling of the life story of Gen. George Armstrong Custer, of Little Big Horn infamy. The bulk of the movie is non-Iverson, but when the action shifts to Indian country near the end of the story, it becomes an Iverson spectacle.

The clip Jerry sent me is a short pan shot, and it begins innocently enough with a shot of a rock I didn't initially recognize but which I knew from the subsequent pan had to be in the Upper Gorge section of the Lower Iverson.

I suspected it might be Crown Rock, and a visit to the photo archives matched it up.

Here's Crown Rock in the movie:

And here it is in more recent times:

That "backside" (north side) of Crown Rock is rarely seen in the movies, which generally show the rock, along with the rest of The Wall that it was part of, from the east. The rest of The Wall was destroyed to build condos in the Upper Gorge, but for whatever reasons the builders decided to spare Crown Rock and leave it in place as decoration for the development. These days Crown Rock sits alone between a couple of those condos, looking a bit like an old warrior who would have tons of stories to tell, if only he could — stories of the hundreds of movies and TV shows filmed in that immediate area during the heyday.

Here's Jerry's 5-second video clip:


What's remarkable here, besides everything, is the view of Rock Island at the end, along with the rare view of the eastern wall of the North Cluster, above Garden of the Gods. This scene is shot from an angle that was almost never used.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An important find: The Molar has survived

One of the most widely filmed rocks at the former Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., is the Molar, which turns up in the background of countless chase sequences filmed on the Upper Iverson back in the '30s, '40s and '50s and seen in B-Westerns, serials and early TV shows. As one example — and there are literally hundreds to choose from — here's a shot of Roy Rogers from 1955, showing him riding past the Molar, which appears in the top right corner of the picture. The shot is from an episode of "The Roy Rogers Show" called "The Scavenger."


In recent times the Molar has eluded film historians — until today. Previously thought to have been destroyed to make way for construction of the luxury homes of Indian Falls Estates, which now occupy most of the former Upper Iverson, it turns out the Molar was preserved and has been under our noses all along. It now sits proudly, if that's the right word, in the driveway of one of those homes. Here's the Molar today — literally today, as I went to the site earlier this evening, found the rock for the first time and snapped this photo:


The angles of the two shots are not identical, as usual, but it's possible to see markings on the rock that make its identification unmistakable, such as the curved line in the bottom half of the rock, near the center, and various indentations just to the left of that curved line. Click on the photos to enlarge them for a better look.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lone Ranger's bushwackers lying in wait at the Phantom



"The Lone Ranger" TV series (1949)

Click here to go to an updated, more detailed and all around better post about this same scene. 

Otherwise, feel free if you still want to read the original post from 2010:

Here's a screen shot from one of the most important scenes in the TV show "The Lone Ranger," shot in 1949. This famous ambush sequence is also seen in the 1952 film version, which was a re-edited version of the first three episodes of the show. It took a while to figure out where this scene was shot. The smaller rock at the top is an obvious clue, but a lot of rocks at Iverson have similar "pebbletops" — including one rock called Pebblehead, located not far from this one. After several months I finally put the pieces together and realized that this rock is the Phantom, which you can get a better look at here. It's in Garden of the Gods on the Lower Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif.


Glenn Strange as Cavendish — behind him is the rock the Phantom, in Garden of the Gods

These shots of the bad guys lying in wait are part of the infamous sequence that sets up the whole saga of the Lone Ranger, in which bushwhackers led by Glenn Strange's character Cavendish wipe out a party of Rangers in a brutal ambush — including almost killing the man who would go on to become the Lone Ranger. The sequence is spliced together from footage shot here in Garden of the Gods and footage filmed elsewhere in L.A., in Bronson Canyon, where the cave featured in the Batman TV show also plays a part in the Lone Ranger saga.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hidden Valley Cabin on the Upper Iverson Movie Ranch


"Prairie Outlaws" (1948)

This screen shot from the old Eddie Dean B-Western "Prairie Outlaws" features a cabin that appeared on the South Rim of the Upper Iverson starting in about 1944. The cabin is usually called "Hidden Valley Cabin," and has been alternately referred to simply as "Stone Cabin."

The distinctive rock towering above the cabin, which helps pinpoint the structure's location, has been called Stone Cabin Rock. In this version of the "Prairie Outlaws" screen shot, Stone Cabin Rock is identified, as is the ubiquitous background feature Oat Mountain — along with Hidden Valley Cabin, or Stone Cabin, in the foreground.

"Cheyenne Takes Over" (1947)

This shot from the Lash LaRue B-Western "Cheyenne Takes Over" gives a good look at the porch of the cabin. The term "Stone Cabin" is a reference to its appearance, not its construction. Being a movie cabin, it would have been built as inexpensively as possible. The outer surface was made to look like stones, but was presumably made up of some kind of facing material — in other words, "movie magic."

Stone Cabin Rock and a portion of the old Upper Iverson in recent times

The cabin is long gone, and this shot of Stone Cabin Rock and its surroundings from a recent visit shows some of the mansions that now occupy much of what used to be the Upper Iverson Movie Ranch. The rock's name, Stone Cabin Rock, commemorates that the distinctive feature clearly marks the spot where the cabin previously stood.

Also visible in these photos, in the distance, is Oat Mountain, and in the recent shot, as noted above, microwave towers and related gear can be seen at top right. (You may want to click on the photo to enlarge it to get a better look.) Back in the Cold War years of the 1950s and 1960s a Nike missile base, part of the national defense system, was situated where the microwave towers now stand. I believe the small rectangular white building visible in the smaller blue box on the left was a part of the missile base.

I've blogged about the Nike base before, in an entry I wrote about the Cold War movie "Panic in Year Zero," which you can read by clicking here. That post includes a shot of the missile base that snuck into the background of the movie, which was released in 1962 at the peak of the nuclear scare.

"Prairie Outlaws," made by Producers Releasing Corp., has an interesting backstory. It was an edited version of a movie the company made two years earlier, "Wild West," with additional footage shot for the new movie even though the new movie wound up being shorter than the original.

The earlier production, "Wild West," was out of character for a notoriously cheap B-movie studio such as PRC: It was in color, for one thing, and at 73 minutes, longer than typical B-movie fare. It also had two cowboy stars instead of the usual one, featuring both Eddie Dean and Lash LaRue. And it had a dual love story AND a story about a heroic young boy.


When PRC reinvented the movie two years later as "Prairie Outlaws," the company was clearly targeting the Saturday matinee market, especially young boys. Much of the "mushy stuff" was cut out, but the plot line about the heroic kid was left in. Even with the movie shortened now to about 56 minutes, a batch of new footage was added — mostly action — at the opening of the movie. The number of songs was cut back, and this time the movie was released in black and white.

The outdoor action in the original movie, "Wild West," was shot entirely at Corriganville. But in the two years that had passed before "Prairie Outlaws" was pieced together, PRC had shifted its focus to Iverson, and that's where the new footage was filmed — including a big shootout at Hidden Valley Cabin.

"Prairie Outlaws" (1948): Hidden Valley Cabin, on the Upper Iverson

Many film historians believe Iverson's Gorge Cabin, which first appeared in 1936 and was located on the Lower Iverson, was taken apart and reassembled on the Upper Iverson, becoming what we now know as Hidden Valley Cabin. The move would have taken place in about 1944, as that's when the Gorge Cabin disappears from film footage of the Gorge.

"Adventures of Red Ryder" (1940): Gorge Cabin, on the Lower Iverson

The above shot shows the earlier cabin, located in the Iverson Gorge on the Lower Iverson. I have yet to find a "smoking gun" image of one or the other cabin that confirms whether they're the same cabin, but so far, I would have to say I still need some convincing. Even so, I have to admit the two cabins are pretty similar.



Thursday, September 30, 2010

The great Iverson cinematographers: Ernest Miller


Ernest Miller: born March 1885, Pasadena, Calif.
— died April 1957, Los Angeles (age 72)

"Little Big Horn" (Lippert, 1951) — Ernest Miller, director of photography

Oscar-nominated cinematographer Ernest Miller, probably the most prolific DP in the history of the Iverson Movie Ranch, showed a love for the location ranch’s dramatic rocks during a career that included stays at Mascot, Republic, PRC, Western Adventure and eventually Monogram and some of its smaller production house partners.

"Made in Heaven" (silent film, 1921) — Ernest Miller, DP (not an Iverson production)

Miller hailed from Pasadena in the Los Angeles area, and got an early start in the movie business — going all the way back to "Made in Heaven" in 1921, his first credit as cinematographer. He was in his mid-40s by the end of the silent film era and had already amassed a lengthy resume as a DP. 

He hit the ground running in the 1930s, working steadily at Mascot Pictures during the first half of the decade before joining Republic in 1935 as part of the newly formed company’s acquisition of Mascot. He would remain at Republic for the next ten years before jumping to PRC soon after World War II.

Early examples of Miller’s career-long love affair with the Iverson Movie Ranch include the Mascot serials "Fighting With Kit Carson" (1933), "The Law of the Wild" (1934, starring Rin Tin Tin Jr.) and Gene Autry’s breakthrough production "The Phantom Empire" (1935). While at Mascot, where dual DP credits were the norm, he shared cinematography duties on a long list of projects with either Jack Marta or William Nobles, both of whom would make the migration to Republic along with Miller and would continue to shoot extensively at Iverson. 

During his first year at Republic, Miller was often again paired with Marta. Presumably one of the two DPs handled the studio work while the other was sent on location — but which one did which? Sadly, little is known about the working arrangements in those days, but my suspicion is that Miller, who was the veteran DP, would have received the more desirable studio assignments at that point in his career, while Marta — Miller's understudy, in a sense — would have had to suffer the hardships of Iverson, with its weather extremes and general notoriety as a harsh environs for film crews.


Miller was not yet a B-Western specialist when he arrived at Republic in 1935, although he did work on projects starring up-and-coming singing cowboy Gene Autry a few times early on. It was Mascot stablemate William Nobles, who had been shooting B-Westerns steadily since the silent era, who first established himself as the new company’s go-to B-Western shooter, landing the bulk of the prestigious shoots with Autry and John Wayne in those first few years at Republic. Miller typically handled more indoor-oriented fare at that point, and only later proved himself to be a powerhouse in B-Westerns, in outdoor adventure shoots ... and in particular, at Iverson.

"Come On, Cowboys" (1937) — Grumpy Candelabra?

He had a breakthrough in 1937, shooting an Iverson rock spectacle in "Come On, Cowboys," a Three Mesquiteers feature. In the above screen shot from the movie, Bill Rock, a relatively common feature in productions shot at Iverson, is partially visible at top left. Far less common is the rock at center-right, which looks like a grumpy candelabra that might be at home in Beauty and the Beast.


"Army Girl" (1938) — the adobe fort at the western end of Iverson's Sheep Flats

The following year, 1938, Miller shot Republic's "Army Girl" largely at Iverson, along with co-director of photography Harry J. Wild. The two men shared an Academy Award nomination for their work on the film.


"Army Girl" was followed by a period in which Miller's workload at Republic steadily increased, and by the early 1940s he was working regularly with most of the company’s cowboy stars, including Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Sunset Carson, Don “Red” Barry and Bob Steele. 

"Bells of Rosarita" (Roy Rogers, 1945) — Iverson's Eucalyptus Grove

Miller's cinematography on Republic's "Bells of Rosarita" produced a series of memorable views of the movie ranch, with the Roy Rogers B-Western winding up as one of the strongest entries in Miller's Iverson portfolio. Meanwhile, Miller also continued to shoot much of Republic’s long-running Three Mesquiteers series.

Miller's special flair for showcasing Iverson can be seen as well in a few Allan “Rocky” Lane features from the late 1940s — "The Bold Frontiersman," released in 1948, being a prime example.

"The Hawk of Powder River" (1948) — the rock is Chili Pepper

Miller began working in the mid-1940s with Producers Releasing Corp., with the period from 1947-1951 yielding a wealth of Iverson-rich spectacles in his work with first PRC and then PRC spinoff Western Adventure. Both companies specialized in cheap B-Westerns shot in about a week, and both took advantage of Miller’s eye for Iverson. During this period he filmed a steady string of Eddie Dean and Lash LaRue pictures — "Dead Man’s Gold" (Lash LaRue, Western Adventure, 1948), "The Hawk of Powder River" (Eddie Dean, PRC, 1948), "Check Your Guns" (Eddie Dean, PRC, 1948) and "Outlaw Country" (Lash LaRue, Western Adventure, 1949) being just a few of the many highlights from a location standpoint.

"The Daltons' Women" (Western Adventure Productions, 1950)

During the short lifespan of Western Adventure from 1948-1952, Miller shot 11 of the company’s 12 movies — all of them at Iverson. At the same time he kept up a busy work schedule at Lippert Pictures, Monogram, Republic and others.


"Little Big Horn" (1951)

Miller went on to work with tiny outfit Lippert Pictures for a couple of years, from 1949-1951, shooting Don “Red” Barry Westerns — something he had also done earlier in his career at Republic — and filming a batch of Jimmy Ellison Westerns, which again involved plenty of work at Iverson. It was at Lippert that he shot what might be considered the crowning achievement of his Iverson work, the Lloyd Bridges-John Ireland retelling of Custer's Last Stand, "Little Big Horn" (1951) — adding an impressive coda to a film career filled with Iverson gems.

Whip Wilson's last starring role (1952)

Miller continued to kick around a few minor production houses in the early ‘50s, mainly companies with distribution and production partnerships with Monogram, such as Silvermine Productions, where among other things he shot the last of the Whip Wilson B-Westerns in 1951 and 1952, and Westwood Productions, where he was part of the last gasp of the B-Western as a viable theatrical format, shooting several Wild Bill Elliott features — again reunited with one of his occasional Republic subjects — in 1953 and 1954.

"Gunsmoke" — 11 episodes shot by Ernest Miller, from 1955-1956

Miller eventually made a mark in the early television Westerns, notably shooting episodes of "Hopalong Cassidy" and "Gunsmoke" before calling it a career in 1956. He died the following year in Los Angeles at age 72.

Ernest Miller left his mark on Iverson, on B-Westerns and on film as a whole. Among other things, he left behind one of the longest filmographies I’ve seen for a cinematographer, with 348 movie and TV series credits as DP. But beyond the numbers, his camera work, his appreciation of the rocks, his eye for interesting angles and his intuitive sense of the drama inherent in the Iverson landscape have never been equaled.