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A star is born: Iverson ranch hosted 3,500 shoots

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If you’re old enough to remember watching “The Lone Ranger” on television during the 1950s, you probably also recall the show’s opening segment when The Lone Ranger rode his white horse named Silver up a narrow, winding trail before reaching a big rock at the top of a peak culminating with Silver raring up on his hind legs.

“A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty ‘Hi-Ho, Silver, The Lone Ranger!’” said an enthusiastic narrator as the“William Tell Overture” Lone Ranger theme music played in the background.

How could one not continue watching the show following such an opening?

This scene, along with many others from the series that aired from 1949 until 1957, was filmed on a 500-acre site called the Iverson movie ranch located in Chatsworth, California, near what is now Ronald Reagan Freeway some 20 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

While the Iverson movie ranch no longer exists as a ranch, the Lone Ranger rock, as it is now unofficially known, does remain.

Even though it can only be viewed now from a distance, the rock sits at its permanent place high on a peak in the middle of a place now named Chariots of the Gods Park.

If the name Iverson movie ranch doesn’t register with you, it didn’t with me either until a few months ago when it was mentioned in a column.

Since then, I have learned more about the place that I’d like to share with you.

Hollywood movie studios began making silent movies and features around 1900 and from the very start, the property that eventually became the Iverson movie ranch was a popular location for shooting outdoor scenes that could not be accomplished inside regular studios.

The natural geography of the site with its valleys, canyons, trails, foothills and large rocks already in place provided the perfect setting for movies of all genres, but especially Westerns.

Instead of having to build sets on their own backlots, it was simpler, less expensive and more realistic if the studios could film scenes on location.

Plus, the site was just up the road from Hollywood. That made things convenient.

Among the earlier movies using the ranch were “Mans’ Genesis” from 1912 and “Ben-Hur- A Tale of the Christ” from 1925.

As filming became more commonplace at the location throughout the 1930s and ‘40s, a productive partnership developed between Hollywood and Iverson.

Hundreds of movies had scenes filmed at the Iverson ranch over the years, not only Westerns, but other film genres as well including war movies, comedies and science fiction.

Some of the most notable offerings were “The Grapes of Wrath,” (1940), “The Guns of Navarone,” (1961),” “Shane, (1953), “The Robe,” (1953), “Stagecoach,” (1939), “In Cold Blood,” (1967), “Tarzan the Ape Man,” (1932), “Hell’s Angels,” (1930), “The African Queen,” (1951) and “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956).

When the shift from movies to television occurred in the 1950s, Iverson was ready and continued to provide backdrop locations for numerous shows.

Besides “The Lone Ranger,” other TV Western shows using the ranch extensively were “The Roy Rogers Show,” “The Gene Autry Show,” “The Cisco Kid,” “Buffalo Bill,” “Zorro,” “Tombstone Territory” “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” “The Virginian,” “The Rifleman,” “Gunsmoke,” “Wagon Train” and “The Big Valley.”

Others included “Wanted Dead or Alive,” “Death Valley Days,” “Have Gun, Will Travel,” “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp,” “Zorro,” “The Wild, Wild West,” and “Tales of Wells Fargo.”

Among popular non-Western TV shows using the ranch were “Perry Mason,” “Adventures of Superman,” “Daniel Boone,” “The Fugitive” and “Lassie.”

By the time the dust had settled on the Iverson movie ranch, the place had hosted an almost unbelievable 3,500 film shoots, making it the most photographed movie/television/serial location in history.

When Simi Valley Freeway (renamed Ronald Reagan Freeway in 1994) was built in 1967, it split the Iverson movie ranch in half and that factor, along with skyrocketing real estate values and a 1970 fire that burned 100,000 acres in the area, signaled the end of filming at Iverson.

Sadly, the last movie with any scenes filmed there was “Motorcycle Cheerleading Mamas” in 1997.

Just for nostalgic kicks, I wouldn’t mind one day visiting the Lone Ranger rock location if I’m out that way for no other reason than to say I did it.

Also, in the future, whenever I watch reruns of movies or TV shows I now know were filmed at Iverson, I’m sure I’ll pay closer attention looking for scenes shot using the same rocks near where Lone Ranger and Silver once made their historic ride up the hill.

“Hi-Ho-Silver, away!

Keith Barnes is a reporter for the Johnstonian News. Email him at kbarnes.jhn@wilsontimes.com.

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