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Film-Ranch Owner’s Birthday a Matinee Idyll

Times Staff Writer

Good old western rabble-rousing, carousing, dancing and fighting returned to the Santa Susana Mountains Sunday after a hiatus of decades as old-time cowboy actors, stuntmen, friends of Hollywood lore and the merely curious came out to honor a legendary patron of the Western movie.

At least 500 people endured heat and dust to celebrate the birthday of Joe Iverson, reportedly Chatsworth’s oldest native and the owner of Iverson Movie Ranch where hundreds of Westerns were filmed.

Iverson turned 89 this week, or 84, or 92, or 96, depending on who was giving the testimony. Most of his friends had their own estimates of his age, give or take a decade.

Iverson’s grand-nephew Robert Sherman, who threw the party, said Iverson is 89. So did a proclamation from the Los Angeles City Council.

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‘Born and Raised Here’

Iverson said he is 92.

“I was born and raised here,” he said.

That’s roughly what he said, anyway. Iverson didn’t talk a lot. A woman who sat beside him barked the question into his ear and he whispered the answer into hers. She said he said he was 92.

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Whatever the actual count, Iverson adopted the manner of his age, watching the party from under the shade of an old oak tree behind his ranch house while hundreds of his guests stood in line across a vineyard waiting to be served a picnic lunch.

For his merriment and theirs, young movie stuntmen from the school of Kim Kahana occasionally wrestled in the dust and hurled insults at one another.

Another group, the 1880 Gunfighters Assn., staged a scene from mythical western life, complete with shotgun battles, ax-handle fights, Civil War combat and cancan girls.

Even for those who weren’t fighting, the theme was definitely western.

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Iverson wore a blue-and-white cowboy shirt, a string tie with a fist-sized turquoise pull and a straw hat with a rattlesnake skin for a hatband. He sipped beer, nibbled popcorn and smiled through the affair.

A few illustrious Western heroes attended. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans visited briefly.

But most of the dozens of movie people who came were those whose faces and costumes tell more than their names about who they were.

Most of the guests came in the traditional cowboy dress of the movies, though some were Indians. Some even wore the very clothes they had used in the movies.

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“First time I wore these was in 1927,” said character actor Robert Strong, who came to the party as himself, in a round-crowned cowboy hat, leather chaps and boots with spurs. “We use to hide in the rocks, shoot each other and fall off.”

Many of the guests thought the party was for more than just a birthday, but for what else wasn’t exactly clear.

The invitation described it as the “Iverson Movie Location Ranch Centennial Jubilee” without further explanation.

Garden of the Gods Petition

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Many guests thought the party had something to do with saving the Iverson Ranch from development.

The Santa Susana Mountains Assn. had a booth there, asking for signatures on a petition urging the state to buy the 88 acres called Garden of the Gods, which Iverson sold several years ago.

Most of Ranch Sold Off

And Sherman, who is also the author of “Quiet on the Set: History of the Iverson Movie Location Ranch,” suggested that there was another purpose--to announce that the ranch is open for filming again.

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Sherman conceded that since most of the original several hundred acres of the ranch have long since been sold off, “it will never be like it used to be.”

But few of the guests were that focused on the future of cinema.

They were the heroes of the past. And Iverson, they said, was a hero of theirs.

‘We Love Him’

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“We came just to honor Mr. Iverson, to tell him we love him and thank him for the many years of friendship and happiness we had here,” said Sunset Carson, star of “Call of the Rockies” and “Sheriff of Cimarron.”

Carson, in a sky blue western suit and a cowboy hat and boots, said he performed in at least 60 movies on the ranch.

“I’d say about 90% of all the cowboy movies were made on this ranch,” he said. “He’s selling it so it’s going to go into condominiums. It’s kind of sad to see it go. I think it should be kept as a museum. Youngsters are going to ask, ‘Where were the movies made?’ And we’ll say, ‘Up in the housing tract.’ ”


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