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.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

What's up with all those 1930s movies about Colonial India
— and why were so many of them filmed in the Iverson Gorge?

"The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (Paramount, 1935)

Back in the 1930s Hollywood became obsessed with big productions about the British occupation of India. Gary Cooper helped get the ball rolling with "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer," filmed largely on the Iverson Ranch.

The "Mogala" set, built atop the Iverson Gorge in 1934 for "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer"
(promo still from the Jerry England collection)

The movie was filmed in 1934 and released on Jan. 11, 1935. A sprawling set was built at the north end of the Iverson Gorge to depict "Mogala," the mountain stronghold of rebel leader Mohammed Khan.

Gary Cooper mans the big gun at "Mogala" — really the Iverson Gorge in Chatsworth, Calif.

The Mogala set was the focal point for much of the action in the movie, with Cooper, Franchot Tone, Richard Cromwell, Colin Tapley and the film's other key players seeing action in Chatsworth during the shoot.

The same promo shot was featured in a lobby card for "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer," but the marketing department saw fit to flip the photo horizontally.

"The Lives of a Bengal Lancer": On location in Lone Pine, Calif.

Even though the Mogala set stood on the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth, some of the outdoor footage in "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" was filmed about 200 miles to the north, in Lone Pine, Calif.

The Lone Pine footage, too, fell prey to some horizontal flipping when it came time to put together lobby cards.

In another bit of movie magic, when Mogala is introduced in "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer," Khan's stronghold in the Khyber appears to be located somewhere that looks a lot like Lone Pine.

Matte painting representing Mogala, set in Lone Pine

A painted version of Mogala, anchored by the familiar tall white tower — similar to the "real" Mogala in the Iverson Gorge, but not an exact duplicate — is placed against a backdrop of Lone Pine landmarks.

While the shot includes actual Lone Pine features such as Lone Pine Peak in the background, much of what's in the frame is fake — including the Mogala set and the rocks near the bottom of the frame. No actual Mogala set was built in Lone Pine.

The gate to the Mogala set in the Iverson Gorge

Here's a look at the gate to Mogala — the "real" gate, built in the Iverson Gorge.

Zoomed-in view of the fake gate in the matte painting

Even though the gate in the matte painting is darker, it appears to be an attempt to replicate the Iverson gate: The designs on the doors are similar, and both gates span the gap between two rock walls — real rock walls in the case of the Iverson set, but fake rock walls in the "Lone Pine" version seen here.

Similar set built two years later for "Wee Willie Winkie" (20th Century-Fox, 1937)

Adding to the confusion, the Mogala set looks a lot like another mountain stronghold — the set built in 1937 for "Wee Willie Winkie," director John Ford's contribution to Hollywood's Colonial India mania of the Thirties.

"Wee Willie Winkie": Cesar Romero and Shirley Temple talk peace in the Iverson Gorge

The "Wee Willie Winkie" set in the Iverson Gorge — one of two major sets built on the Iverson Ranch for the movie — is where Shirley Temple tried to convince Cesar Romero's Khoda Khan that peace is better than war.

Khoda Khan's mountain stronghold in "Wee Willie Winkie"

The mountain stronghold sets for "Wee Willie Winkie" and "Lives of a Bengal Lancer" have plenty of similarities: They were built in almost exactly the same place, both sets feature tapered cylindrical towers ... and both served as home base to rebel leaders named "Khan."

"The Charge of the Light Brigade" (Warner Bros., 1936)

The same flurry of Colonial India movies from the major studios that produced "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" and "Wee Willie Winkie" also yielded Errol Flynn's "Charge of the Light Brigade."

"The Charge of the Light Brigade": Three Ages Rock in the Iverson Gorge
(Promo still from the Jerry England collection)

Like "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" before it, and "Wee Willie Winkie" after it, "The Charge of the Light Brigade" also filmed in the Iverson Gorge. However, no major set was built at the site for the movie.

Promo still for "The Charge of the Light Brigade": Fort built on Lasky Mesa

Instead, "The Charge of the Light Brigade" featured an impressive fort built a few miles to the south of Iverson, on Lasky Mesa. This important filming area has been preserved as public land and is accessible at the west end of Victory Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley.

"The Lives of a Bengal Lancer": Camels in the Gorge

A fun sidenote to the Colonial India movies of the 1930s involves the camels that began showing up on the Iverson Movie Ranch in connection with the often desert-themed productions.

Joe Iverson rides a camel on the "Lives of a Bengal Lancer" set in late 1934

Sometime after the first camels began arriving for "Bengal Lancer," the adventurous Joe Iverson — the man who ran the movie ranch for more than 50 years — seized on the opportunity to take one out for a spin.

Joe and his dog on the set of "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" in 1934

Joe also tried out some of the accommodations of "Bengal Lancer's" impressive Mogala set. The set's construction helped usher in a fruitful period for the Iverson Ranch that would see important productions including "Wee Willie Winkie," "Stagecoach" and "Fighting Seabees" build major sets on the ranch during the next decade.

Here's a wider view of that part of the "Bengal Lancer" Mogala set, taken with the camera looking north. You should be able to spot the doorway where Joe and his dog were sitting in the previous photo.

The main rock formations that provided the foundation for that part of the set remain in place today, among the Cal West Townhomes off Redmesa Road in Chatsworth, Calif.

Recent Google aerial showing the same rocks in their current environment

This Google bird's-eye view indicates where those rocks are situated today. If you plan to visit the site, keep in mind that the condos are in a private residential area.

"The Lives of a Bengal Lancer": Mogala's main tower

A screen shot from the movie provides a good look at the Mogala set's main tower. One of the best ways to tell apart the sets for "Bengal Lancer" and "Wee Willie Winkie" is simply that the "Lancer" buildings are much whiter.

Wide shot of the Mogala set looking south, from the movie

SPOILER ALERT!! In case you're planning to watch "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" sometime soon, you may want to stop reading here because I'm about to give away an important plot point.

Promo still showing battle scene from "Bengal Lancer," with Mogala partially destroyed

That beautiful white tower we've been seeing from "Lives of a Bengal Lancer" ends up getting blown up in the movie. I want to believe they blew it up in real life and filmed it for the movie, even though I know it's not true.

By the time this shot was taken, the tower was nowhere to be found. But as realistic as the smoking ruins may be, the actual destruction of the tower shown in the movie is done with a model.

It's OK — it's just a model

Here's what it looks like when they blow up the tower. They "kind of" re-created the look of the background rocks, but they can't fool location aficionados from the future who have harnessed the power of freeze-frame.

While "Lives of a Bengal Lancer" helped jump-start a productive period for the Iverson Movie Ranch, it would be "Wee Willie Winkie" a couple of years later that would put Iverson over the top as an "A-list" location.

"Wee Willie Winkie": The mountain stronghold in the Iverson Gorge

The "Wee Willie Winkie" mountain stronghold deserves its own deep dive, which is coming up soon. I've been putting the finishing touches on a post about it, and am hoping it blows everyone's minds as much as it has mine.



The links above will take you to DVD versions of the movies discussed above, which can be ordered from Amazon.com. All of the Colonial India movies contain Iverson Movie Ranch footage. There's also a link to a Gary Cooper set that includes both "Bengal Lancer" and "Peter Ibbetson," another movie filmed on the Iverson Ranch.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

A salute to the crew on a 1972 "Alias Smith and Jones" episode, shot on the Upper Iverson and directed by sci-fi legend Jack Arnold

"Alias Smith and Jones," Season 3: Roger Davis and Ben Murphy on the Upper Iverson

The early '70s TV Western "Alias Smith and Jones" still has a dedicated following today, and one of the show's many loyal fans got in touch recently to point me to an unusual Iverson Movie Ranch shoot for the series.

The boys ride past Gold Raiders Rock on the Upper Iverson's South Rim

A few things set this shoot apart from most. For one thing, it was the 1970s and filming on the Iverson Ranch had largely shut down. Production on the ranch during the '70s was relatively rare.

The concrete bridge lurks in the background as Smith and Jones ride past, but the bridge, which would have been out of place in the Old West, is disguised by a row of foliage that has been added to hide the structure.

"Border Feud" (Lash LaRue Western, 1947): The concrete bridge, unadorned

This is what the bridge looked like when it wasn't hidden behind foliage. Plenty of Westerns opted to just leave it there and not worry about whether someone might be bothered by seeing a modern bridge in the background.

"Superman" (Columbia serial, 1948)

The "Superman" serial in 1948 decided to go ahead and put the bridge to use — that's Clark Kent ducking under it to change his outfit. The big valve to his right could be used to cut off the flow of water through the bridge, turning the concrete structure into a dam and creating a reservoir behind it.

When Clark comes back out a moment later, he's Superman. That's "a moment later" in movie time — the shadows have shifted, revealing that even though it was morning when Clark went under the bridge, by the time Superman came out it was getting close to dusk.


If you're interested in learning more about the Superman shoot at the bridge, please click here to read a previous post examining the sequence. The post includes photos of what the bridge looks like today.

Catering for the crew on the Upper Iverson in 1972 (Posted on the IATSE Local 728 website)

Getting back to the "Alias Smith and Jones" shoot, the trade union IATSE — the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees — posted a set of behind-the-scenes photos from the shoot.

At mealtime on location, one of the Iverson Ranch's most familiar chase rocks contributes to the ambiance as the mostly anonymous crew members chow down.

Gaffer Ron McLeish checks his light against a backdrop that includes "Ol' Roundtop"

The unusual IATSE photos give us a chance to salute some of those anonymous crew members — and we can still give shout-outs to a few famous rocks.

"Ol' Roundtop," or just "Roundtop," is part of an especially rocky area on the South Rim of the Upper Iverson.

"Calamity Jane and the Texan" (1950): Wild Bill Hickok's grave

Here's one of Roundtop's movie appearances, in a scene featuring Wild Bill Hickok's grave — with Hickok's name spelled wrong on the grave marker. (Click here to read more about this sequence.)

Wardrobe man Jack Takeuchi may have just used that broom on Ben Murphy, who has his back to the camera. I wonder whether the broom was used to keep the dust off or to put it on.

With or without the broom, Takeuchi sticks close by as Ben Murphy and Roger Davis work on a scene.

The IATSE site identifies this camera guy as "Bill Sweringer," but I had a feeling they had his name wrong, and I was able to track down who he really was: Bill Swearingen, who helped found the Society of Operating Cameramen in the late 1970s and had a long career in camera work, mainly in television.

Bill Swearingen

Sadly, Bill died in February 2017 at age 79. At the time of the "Alias Smith and Jones" shoot in 1972, he was uncredited, working as a camera assistant. Over the course of his career he worked his way up from loader to second assistant to first assistant and finally camera operator. Bill's TV work included long runs on "Happy Days," "Falcon Crest," "The Guns of Will Sonnett," "Peyton Place" and other shows.

On the left is John Gaudioso, assistant director on the "Alias Smith and Jones" episode and one of the few people in these photos who received an actual credit. The guy on the right is identified as best boy J. King.

Laurie Lynn: Where are you now?

Laurie Lynn took part in the 1972 shoot as a stand-in. I wasn't able to find out anything else about her, in part because it turns out a number of women identified as "Laurie Lynn" have tried to break into the movies over the years. Let's hope she's one of the ones who made it.

Have you seen this man? (The answer is probably "Yes!")

Cecil Combs, another stand-in on "Alias Smith and Jones," was one of those "face in the crowd" actors who turned up in the background in a lot of movies and TV shows. He was in at least 200 productions going back to the 1940s — always uncredited. Cecil did more than his share of TV Westerns: 20 or more "Wagon Trains," close to 50 episodes of "The Virginian," at least 14 "Tales of Wells Fargos" ... here's to all the Cecil Combses out there!

Speaking of faces in the crowd, Eddie Rochelle is listed by IATSE as an extra on "Alias Smith and Jones." He's one of a number of people in the IATSE photos I couldn't find anything else on, even though, like Cecil Combs, he looks as though he could have blended easily into just about any Western setting.

Script supervisor Della Ross helps Roger Davis work on his lines while other members of the crew do what production crews do best: stand around killing time.

Lou Perna seems to be enjoying himself on the set, and why not — he's in craft services. Talk about a dream job ... my guess is Lou's workday was improved by access to unlimited quantities of fermented day-old jumbo shrimp!

Assistant director Charles Dismukes "rests his eyes" during his ample free time on the set

Charles Dismukes worked steadily behind the TV cameras throughout the '70s in a variety of roles — unit manager, assistant director, associate producer and producer, among others. He had long runs on "Baretta" and "Quincy M.E.," sharing in "Baretta's" Emmy nomination in 1977 for Outstanding Drama Series.

Don B. Courtney: Special effects

Don Courtney was a special effects man who worked at least into the 1980s, both on TV and in features. He kept busy on the TV series version of "Logan's Run" in the late '70s and on "Vega$" in 1980-1981.

Norm Lincoln was in the electrical department, according to IATSE. Beyond that, he remains a mystery.

Another mystery is this guy identified as Ronny Collins, who was an uncredited sound man on the "Alias Smith and Jones" shoot. There's a Ron Collins who operated the boom on "The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training" in 1977 — just a guess, but my hunch is he's the same person.

Glenn Corbett was the main guest star on the "Bushwack!" episode. For an actor, he doesn't seem to like having his picture taken — maybe he's insecure about his purple shirt.

Crew members cling to a rocky slope during shooting on the episode's climactic sequence

"Bushwack!" builds up to a bullet-riddled denouement that plays out on this rocky slope on the South Rim.

Another behind-the-scenes shot depicting the rocky slope from a different angle enables us to match up some of the rocks seen in the "Alias Smith and Jones" episode.

"Alias Smith and Jones": Just before the final shootout

This scene leading up to the final shootout shows the rocky slope in the background.

Notice the rocks labeled here as "A" through "G."

The same rocks can be identified in the behind-the-scenes photo.

In this screen shot from the big shootout, Ben Murphy's character, Kid Curry — aka Thaddeus Jones — dives for cover behind Rock A.

The behind-the-scenes photo includes some landmark rocks near the rocky slope. I call them the Pixies — click here to see an old blog post about them.

"Zorro" TV episode "Zorro's Romance" (premiered Nov. 7, 1957): The Pixies

The enigmatic Pixies pop up in productions from time to time, although they tend to be camera-shy. That's them in the background of Disney's "Zorro" TV series.

The Pixies in recent times

On a visit to the Upper Iverson earlier this year, photographer and movie location researcher Jerry Condit snapped this photo of the Pixies from the same angle seen in the "Zorro" episode.

Director Jack Arnold offers instructions to his stars

Jack Arnold, who directed "Bushwack!" and four other "Alias Smith and Jones" episodes, was already an icon among science-fiction fans thanks to a certain creature feature he directed almost 20 years earlier.

"Creature From the Black Lagoon" (1954)

Even if all he had done was direct "Creature From the Black Lagoon," Jack Arnold would be a sci-fi legend. As monster movies go, it's a classic.

"Creature From the Black Lagoon"

For kids who watched it on TV back in The Day, including me — it was a staple on the "Chiller" movie series on Channel 11 in L.A. — "Creature From the Black Lagoon" was too close to our watery nightmares. You know, the old, "Help, I'm stuck to the bottom of the swimming pool!" Anyone else have those, or is it just me?

"Creature From the Black Lagoon": Accident on the set

The movie was also a bit of a headache for its star Julie Adams, who was reportedly almost knocked out in an accident on the set. Here director Arnold, at top left, is a concerned observer as a nurse administers first aid.

Note that one of the enraptured spectators is the "Gill Man" himself, played by Ben Chapman.

Part of the complex love story running through "Creature From the Black Lagoon"

In the widely reported on-set mishap, the adorable Adams, the object of the title Creature's procreation interests, bonked her head during the endless sequences when Chapman was hauling her around.

I love some of the expressions on the Gill Man's face ... but really I'm just coming up with excuses to run more pictures of Julie in her bathing suit.

Here's another one, because ... why not?

The head-banging incident reportedly took place when Ben Chapman was swinging Julie around in a fake cave — maybe it was about to happen right here!

Ben Chapman gets fitted for his Gill Man suit

Chapman didn't actually look like a fish-lizard monster in real life. Julie could do worse.

Here's a weird artifact from the movie's marketing material, in which the Gill Man takes the form of a map.

How about an unusually creepy poster for "Creature"? This must be what the Gill Man looked like first thing in the morning — before he had a chance to put on his red lipstick.

There are so many great posters for the movie it's hard to know when to stop — this is another awesome one. In keeping with the space age technology of the mid-1950s, the movie was released in 3-D and 2-D versions.

"It Came From Outer Space" (1953): Another Jack Arnold sci-fi classic

Jack Arnold's legend status was cemented by "Creature," but he also directed a couple of other genre classics: "It Came From Outer Space" and "The Incredible Shrinking Man."

"Tarantula" (1955) — directed by Jack Arnold

Then there was "Tarantula." Sure, an oversized bug superimposed over a normal-sized background is a yawner by today's standards. But it's a cool movie for locations, filmed largely in the Southern California desert.

Born Betty May Adams in Iowa, Julie Adams has gone by "Julie" for most of her career even though she was billed as "Julia" early on, including on "Creature From the Black Lagoon."

Julie Adams in an interview a few years ago

Adams, who has given many interviews over the years, explained that she never warmed up to "Julia," a name that was given to her by the studio — and the studio was generous enough to let her change it. By the way, Julie just turned 91 last October and is still going strong.

Julie Adams on the Middle Iverson Ranch Set in Lippert's "Crooked River" (1950)

Adams holds an interesting place in the history of the Iverson Movie Ranch. Back when she was getting her acting career started in 1950, she landed the female lead in not one but six B-Westerns made by the small outfit Lippert Pictures. Lippert made all six movies in a span of five weeks, filming extensively all over the Iverson Ranch.

Promo still for "Marshal of Heldorado" (Lippert, 1950): Gorge Arch at right

All six Lippert Westerns were directed by Thomas Carr and filmed by master Iverson cinematographer Ernest Miller — possibly the greatest director and DP team in the history of the Iverson Movie Ranch, at least when it comes to appreciating the rocks and understanding how to showcase them.

Julie fights off a different monster: John L. Cason, in "Crooked River"

The movies starred Jimmy Ellison and Russell Hayden, with support from B-Western stalwarts including Raymond Hatton, Fuzzy Knight, John L. Cason and Tom Tyler — and Julie held her own with the baddest of the bad.

Promo still for "Colorado Ranger" (Lippert, 1950): Julie in control

I'm working on a follow-up post about the Lippert Westerns, and Julie's role in them, which I plan to publish soon. If you like what you've seen so far of Julie — and if you like a lot of Iverson rocks — stay tuned!

Home page of the official Ben Murphy website (benmurphyfans.com)

A big shout-out to Marion Veal, who runs the official Ben Murphy website at benmurphyfans.com and is keeping the lamp lit for Ben and "Alias Smith and Jones." Marion was the one who found the terrific IATSE photos.

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Below you'll find a link to a nice DVD set, "Big Iron Collection," featuring all six of the "Lippert Six" B-Westerns. I've also included a link to "Alias Smith and Jones: The Complete Series." The six Lippert Westerns all filmed on the Iverson Ranch, while I've only found the one "Alias Smith and Jones" episode so far that filmed on the ranch. I have the "Big Iron Collection," which is nice picture quality and is the source for screen shots seen above ...



Here are some links to various versions of "Creature From the Black Lagoon" — a reasonably priced DVD along with two Blu-ray sets, both of which include both the 2-D and the 3-D versions of the movie ...