As a stunt man and television star, Jock O’Mahoney broke his nose, crushed his chest and dropped “pounds of skin and quarts of blood” on the Western sets of Iverson Ranch just outside Chatsworth.
“I’ve dug up every foot of ground with my head,” bragged the former star of the “Range Rider” television series that was filmed there during the early 1950s.
Prints in Cement
O’Mahoney, who goes by the name “Jocko,” returned to Iverson Ranch on Sunday to leave yet another impression on the ranch set amid the breathtaking rock formations of the Santa Susana Pass.
He and about 30 other old-time Western actors planted gnarled hands and fancy cowboy boots in wet slabs of cement along the Iverson Movie Location Ranch Walk of Fame in celebration of the ranch’s founding 100 ago.
The event, billed as “The World’s Largest Celebrity Footprinting,” served as the cornerstone of a fund-raiser for the Chatsworth Centennial Committee’s yearlong celebration of the northwest San Fernando Valley community, which also was founded in 1888.
An estimated 650 well-wishers, including Mayor Tom Bradley and Supervisor Mike Antonovich, gathered to remember the ranch’s heyday with a “chuck wagon-style” lunch, film festival of old movies, an auction of Hollywood memorabilia and an exhibition by two modern-day daredevils who traced the history of movie stunts through Western-style shoot-outs to Rambo-era warfare.
For Sheila Watts, a centennial committee member and past president of the Chatsworth Historical Society, Sunday’s festivities were an appropriate means for footing the bill for Chatsworth’s centennial, which so far has included a birthday party and picnic.
“It’s not like there wouldn’t have been a Chatsworth without the Iverson Ranch,” she said, adding that parts of the ranch, which has been the backdrop for 2,000 films and television shows, were in unincorporated lands outside Los Angeles city limits. “It’s part of its charm.
“It’s nice to be able to point to some rocks near where I live and say, ‘That’s where they shot movies with Gary Cooper and Loretta Young,’ ” Watts said, referring to the 1948 movie, “Along Came Jones.”
Still, Chatsworth’s connection to the ranch is more than a matter of civic pride. The plot that once covered 2,000 acres was one of the five original ranches in the area that developer George Crow included on a map filed in March of 1888 for the new community of Chatsworth Park, said Watts, who sported a yellow gingham prairie dress.
A pair of newlywed Scandinavian immigrants, Karl and Agusta Iverson, had just bought the ranch. At the time, the Valley “was wheat as far as the eye could see,” Watts said. But while the Iversons’ neighbors prospered in agricultural pursuits, the Iversons floundered. “The ground was too rocky,” Watts explained.
It wasn’t until 1911, when Cecil B. DeMille proposed shooting “The Squaw Man” at the ranch, that the Iverson family found a way to turn their liability into an asset. Over the next five decades, their son, the late Joe Iverson, turned the dusty, sage-dotted landscape, which brings to mind the South Dakota Badlands, into the backdrop for a steady string of Westerns.
One Elementary School
Chatsworth, meanwhile, continued as an agricultural outpost. When Watts arrived in 1958, the community’s children still attended a single elementary school. There were not enough students to support a junior high or high school. All that changed, however, when North American Aviation located in the Valley, Watts said.
“TRW, Litton and Hughes followed, and the rest is history,” Watts said. “They started building tract homes and never looked back. Now, we’re the Silicon Valley of the Southland.”
Iverson Ranch also found itself the victim of change. It closed in 1969 with the construction of the Simi Valley Freeway, which cuts through the mountains to the north of the ranch. A massive fire that claimed the ranch’s sets in 1970 dealt movie making there its final blow.
Now, what once stretched as far south as Northridge Hospital Medical Center at Roscoe and Reseda boulevards has dwindled to 30 manicured acres where the current owner, Iverson’s nephew Robert G. Sherman, lives with his wife, Debbie. Newly constructed condominiums stand to the west, multimillion-dollar estates to the north and mobile homes to the east. Today, only television commercials and magazine covers are shot at the ranch, which usually earns its keep through less glamorous means.
“Special events is mostly what we do now--weddings, corporate affairs, fund-raisers,” Sherman said. “It’s not like the olden days.”
But anyone who happened onto Sunday’s event may not have noticed.
In a converted garage, a projector reeled through the most famous movies and television shows shot at the ranch--"Ben Hur,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Ten Tall Men,” “Combat,” “Gunsmoke” and “Rawhide.”
Other gingham-clad members of the centennial committee displayed memorabilia from two of Chatsworth’s more famous past residents and former Iverson stars: Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. “Happy Trails: The Story of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans,” the couple’s 1979 autobiography, baked in the sun beside a mid-1950s recording titled “Jesus Loves Me--Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.”
Nearby, an auctioner hawked a gun that was supposed to have been used by Tonto in “The Lone Ranger” television series, and a pair of size 13-E cowboy boots that were supposed to have been worn by Kit Carson.
At the other end of the compound, a stunt man fell from two stories onto bales of hay, only to be accosted by a machine-gun toting Rambo clone. In the distance, a horse dragged another cowboy past a man-made lagoon.
And in the shade, aging stunt men and Western actors complained about people who had the audacity to be born after 1950. “Half of you never saw ‘Rin Tin Tin’,” one groused.
Others swapped war stories. O’Mahoney, who served as stunt man to Charles Sterrett in the Durango Kid movie series and later played Tarzan in two movies from the early 1960s, bragged that he never used a stunt man, preferring instead to take the blows himself: “Who the hell can do it better?”