Monday, September 23, 2013
Movie Monday: Corriganville, Iverson, and the rest...Movie Ranches of the Santa Susana Mountains/Simi Hills
Today, I was going to write a simple little post about the movie ranches around the area where I grew up in Southern California. A little research has convinced me that it is impossible to write such a post, because there are and were more separate ranches around the area than I knew existed, and because their histories are very much entwined.
I knew about Corriganville Movie Ranch, of course. I grew up within just a few miles of that ranch, went by the entrance on a constant basis, and even visited there in the old days when it was open to tourists on weekends and holidays. I also knew about, but knew less about, the Iverson Movie Ranch, which is farther to the east, at the north/northwest end of San Fernando Valley, in Chatsworth. And everybody knows about Spahn's Movie Ranch, one of the smaller movie ranches, due to it's involvement in the whole Charlie Manson thing. I even knew about the newer Big Sky Movie Ranch, farther west in the hills north of Simi Valley, California.
But I didn't know about the Bell Moving Picture Ranch, later renamed Bell Location Ranch and I didn't really know about the Lasky Movie Ranch/Ahmanson "Lasky Mesa" Ranch, either.
As I said, Corriganville is the movie ranch I'm most familiar with, since it was within a couple of miles of the first house I lived in and maybe four or five miles from the house I finished most of the rest of my growing up in. The land was acquired by Ray "Crash" Corrigan, an actor and stuntman, in 1937. By the end of that year, movie makers had begun to use the land as a location for their films. Besides being used as a filming location, Corrigan opened the ranch to the public in 1949, where they could go on weekends and holidays to see stunt shows and the western town, frontier fort, and village he had built as a backdrop for films. The attraction remained open to the public until 1965, when he sold the ranch to Bob Hope. Hope subdivided part of the land and built homes there. Additionally, some of the land was used for motorcycle racing in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Wildfires in 1970 and 1979 destroyed what remained of the movie sets Corrigan had built.
Segments of many of the old Western and adventure TV series in the 50s and early sixties were filmed at Corriganville. "Gunsmoke", "Bonanza", "Wagon Train", "The Lone Ranger", "Wanted: Dead or Alive", "Have Gun, Will Travel", "The Adventures of Superman", "Hopalong Cassidy", "The Roy Rogers Show", "The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin", "The Adventures of Superman" (1951), and many more were filmed in part or completely there. Lots of western films, most of which you've never heard of were also filmed there over the years. Some of them were really bad - the one that comes to mind immediately because I saw it once on late-night television is "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter" (1966). But, parts of "How the West Was Won" (1962), "Fort Apache" (1948), "Duel in the Sun" (1946), and "The Inspector General" (1949) were also filmed there. For a time in the early 1950s, the ranch even had it's own show, a children's variety show, called "Crash Corrigan's Ranch" was also filmed there.
In fact, that children's show may have been referenced in the 2006 film "Hollywoodland", a drama that examines the mystery of the death of "Superman" actor George Reeves. At one point Reeves (played by Ben Affleck) appears, in his Superman costume, in a show for kids at an unnamed western-themed tourist attraction. At the time I first saw the film, I did not know about the variety show that came from Corriganville, but I immediately connected the movie ranch with the on-screen scene in my mind. I have no evidence that this was the show being referenced by the film-maker, but it fits the time-frame and the fact that parts of some episodes of the Superman series were shot at the ranch.
The Iverson Ranch is at the other end of the Santa Susana Pass and was active as a movie ranch from at least 1912 to the late 1960s, when it was cut in half by the building of the Simi Valley Freeway. Many early series were shot at Iverson - in fact, it seems that many of those shows went back and forth frequently between Iverson and Corriganville. Many of the early Republic Pictures serials were also shot at Iverson. IMDB lists 951 titles of movies and television series episodes that were shot at Iverson over the years. Among the series shot there were "Perry Mason", "The Rifleman", "The Big Valley", "Wagon Train", "The Lone Ranger", "Whirlybirds", and "The Real McCoys". Among the films that were at least partially filmed at Iverson were "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940), "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948), "The Jazz Singer" (1927), the 1927 Ramon Navarro version of "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ", "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1936), the Laurel and Hardy film "Flying Deuces" (1939), "The Cattle Queen of Montana" (1954), which starred Barbara Stanwyck and Ronald Reagan, and "They Died With Their Boots On" (1941), directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Haviland. And this is not to mention the many B-movies filmed there.
Here is a sample of the sort of scenery at both Iverson and Corriganville, in the opening for "The Lone Ranger":
In between Iverson and Corriganville, there were the Spahn Ranch, located along Santa Susana Pass Road, which was a minor player in the movie-location game and only became really famous after Charlie Manson and his group took up residence and used it as a base for their killing spree. I couldn't find reference to too many films being shot there, but parts of "Duel in the Sun", mentioned previously were also shot there, as well as something called "The Creeping Terror" in 1964, and an 8-day quickies shoot of a film called "Satan's Sadists" (1969), which was actually filmed while Manson and his followers were living there. The only surprise about "Satan's Sadists" is that it actually starred a name actor, Russ Tamblyn, who had previously been in such classics as "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (1954) and "West Side Story" (1961)
South of the Santa Susana Pass Road (which played a part in last week's Movie Monday post, coincidentally) was also Bell Moving Picture Ranch, later renamed Bell Location Ranch. I couldn't find too many references to things filmed there, either (more research is obviously in order), but Paul Newman's film "Hombre" was filmed there at least in part in 1967), as was "Carson City" (1952), and the Star Trek episode "A Private Little War".
To review, between Corriganville, Iverson Ranch, Spahn Ranch, and Bell Ranch, movie ranches extended along both sides of the Santa Susana Pass all the way from the western end of San Fernando Valley to the east end of Simi Valley, straddling the Los Angeles County, Ventura County line. In addition, somewhat to the south, was the Lasky Movie Ranch/Ahmanson "Lasky Mesa" Ranch. I couldn't find much information on Lasky either, but among the movies with scenes filmed there were two Errol Flynn films, "Santa Fe Trail" (1940) and "They Died With Their Boots On" (1941). Again, films were jumping from ranch to ranch for different scenery. And oh, yes, another small movie you may have heard of, "Gone With The Wind" (1939) was also filmed in part at Lasky.
This leaves Big Sky Movie Ranch, which is further west than the other ranches I've written about today, nestled in the less-rocky hills north of Simi Valley. Big Sky is probably best known as the main location for filming of the television series "Little House on the Prairie", which ran from 1974 to 1982. It's history doesn't go as far back as the other ranches I've mentioned, although some scenes for the old Western shows "Bonanza", "Rawhide", and "Gunsmoke" were filmed there. It was also the location for the 1983 mini-series "The Thorn Birds", and the 200 - 2005 HBO series "Carnivale". Additionally, scenes from more recent films, including "Coming to America" (1988) and "Transformers" (2007) were also shot there.
I really didn't mean for this post to get so long. And the thing is, I've barely scratched the surface of the subject here today. Still, this quick outline is enough to illustrate the sheer amount of movie-making that went on within just a small region of Southern California. There are other ranches in the larger area around Southern California, but I don't think there is anywhere where there are so many of them within such a concentrated area.