Welcome to My Obsession: The Iverson Movie Ranch

western movies, western movie locationsGuest blogger Dennis Ronald writes:

We discovered it in summer 2008 and have been hooked on it ever since — the rugged landscape in Chatsworth, Calif., that marks the site of the former Iverson Movie Ranch. Known as the most widely filmed outdoor location in the world, this remote corner of the San Fernando Valley on the outskirts of Los Angeles was an important hub of the movie business from the 1930s through the 1950s, with its striking sandstone rock formations among its biggest draws.

An ideal setting for Westerns, the 500-acre Iverson Movie Ranch also found its calling in science-fiction movies, war epics and tales of distant lands such as Africa and Arabia. It is the site where Republic Pictures made virtually all of its serials and B-Westerns, and where countless outdoor action sequences were filmed by crews from Columbia, Universal, Paramount, Fox, RKO, Monogram and just about every major production company of Hollywood’s Golden Age. An estimated 3,000 film and television productions were shot at Iverson, dating back to the silent era.

While B-movies and early TV shows provided much of Iverson’s business, the sprawling ranch also took a bow in major features such as John Ford’s epic Western “Stagecoach” (1939) and his classic Depression saga “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940). Gary Cooper was a frequent visitor to Iverson and built a Western village on the site for his only feature as a producer, the 1945 film “Along Came Jones,” co-starring Loretta Young. Cooper’s “The Lives of a Bengal Lancer” (1935) was among the major war movies shot at Iverson, along with John Wayne’s “The Fighting Seabees” (1944) and Errol Flynn’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1936).

All the cowboy movie heroes worked at Iverson — Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Audie Murphy, Randolph Scott, Tom Mix, William S. Hartand the rest. So did major movie stars from Barbara Stanwyckto James Cagney to Judy Garland to Henry Fonda to Shirley Temple. Bob Hope, Buster Keaton, etc, Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges were among the comedy stars to film at Iverson. Pioneering stuntman Yakima Canutt perfected his trademark stagecoach stunts on the Upper Iverson’s well-traveled chase roads, while superheroes from Superman to Batman donned their capes at the ranch. Early TV Westerns such as “The Lone Ranger” and “The Cisco Kid” shot regularly at Iverson, paving the way for the next generation of bigger, better TV productions to bring their cameras to the ranch for classic series such as “Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke” and “The Big Valley.”

Iverson’s charismatic rock “characters” — Lone Ranger Rock, Batman Rock, Indian Head and Eagle Beak, Nyoka Cliff and hundreds of others — coexist today with the condominiums, trailers, mansions and apartments that took over the land as the heyday of Westerns, serials and B-movies faded into history. While a number of Iverson’s distinctive and widely filmed movie rocks have been blown up to pave the way for progress, most have survived — even if in many cases they now lie forgotten in back yards, hidden behind locked gates or buried under a half-century of natural overgrowth. Meanwhile, some Iverson landmarks remain at risk of being bulldozed for future development, opening the door for debate as to whether these silent stars are cultural icons that deserve to be protected. western movies, western movie locations

On the screen or in person, Iverson’s unique giant boulders have so much personality that they seem to be living creatures. The charismatic stone figures that populate this intriguing corner of the world have become almost like family to us. We’re learning more about Iverson all the time, but it is a rich and complicated place, and one reason we love it is we know it holds mysteries we will never solve.

Dennis Ronald, curator of the Iverson Movie Ranch blog, is a film historian, writer and videographer who is working to preserve the legacy of the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., the most widely filmed outdoor location in film history. His research is focused on cataloguing and preserving the charismatic giant rocks that occupy the site and on unearthing the stories of the production people who filmed there, including cinematographers, production managers, stunt coordinators and grips. He can be reached through his blog or at screemapillar@aol.com.