Chatsworth has a special quality—a magic charm conjured up by the thousands of feet of film shot in the area from the early 1900s to the present day. So many movies have been made in the area that visitors sometimes get a feeling of déjà vu—sometimes they think that they have been here before.
The area has always been ideal for westerns, with its rugged rocks and picturesque sunrises and sunsets against the blue mountain silhouette, but the land also lends itself to change. Under the skilled hands of movie makers, the old Iverson Movie Location Ranch became different locales. And television technicians continued the magic camera tricks that like a modern woman’s makeup changes the way an actress’s face changes to fit a part.
For instance, a complete Indian Village was built for “Wee Willie Winkie” starring nine-year old Shirley Temple in 1937. And a complete military parade ground was created for the soldiers such as Victor McLaughlin, who also starred in the picture.
The same ranch was used for making, The Good Earth, with a screenplay based on Pearl S. Buck’s 1932 Pulitizer Prize winning novel set in China. Louise Rainer starred in the Academy Award winning movie.
Lex Barker played Tarzan in the 1950s when the ranch became a jungle. An article in the New York Herald Tribune in 1950 described the diversity of the scenery as having 10 different location sites including jungle, mountain, desert, and open range among them. The Iverson Ranch was also used in the movie Lorna Doone to represent the English moors.
Stagecoach, starring John Wayne, was a western blockbuster movie made on the ranch in 1939. It launched Wayne as a frontier hero and began a trend toward more serious, meaningful dramas filmed in western settings.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, as the saying goes, and on a set near the “Stagecoach” location, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were making Flying Deuces and entertaining the working film crews, as well as fans, who later saw the finished film.
But the Iverson Movie Location Ranch was only a part of the story of Chatsworth’s relationship to the movie industry. The small rural community was used for hundreds of movies and later television productions, especially the train station. The train station sign could be changed and the station could represent almost anywhere in the United States. There was a lot of space around the station, no big buildings nearby, and not much automobile traffic in the area.
One of the very first movies made in the Chatsworth area was Jack and the Beanstalk. It was filmed in the area of what is today Oakwood Memorial Park, inside the cemetery gate. The big stone entryway is gone now but the old gate was impressive. It was a big wall of stones covering both the driveways. And the set for Jack’s house in the movie was right there inside the gate. Many local people remembered the set because it was left there for a long time afterward. Also the large young man who played the giant was remembered for a long time after the movie—but no one remembered his name!
Both Lila Schepler and her late husband Bill remembered watching the actors and actresses as they played their parts. They lived in the area and were close to the action. The movie was also mentioned in the oral history of Joseph Bannon, the man who owned the relay station for the stagecoach. The stagecoach stop is now located within the boundaries of the Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park and the relay station site may be marked in the future.
Another memorable movie made in Chatsworth was Tess of the Storm Country, starring Mary Pickford. According to a published newspaper report, Pickford stayed at the old Chatsworth Inn while the picture was being made and the hotel was under construction.
The location of the Inn was on Marilla Street near the intersection of Topanga Canyon Boulevard. The Chatsworth Inn had a very interesting reputation. Stories were told of the patrons and behavior of the guests.
There were newspaper reports of clashes between the hotel guests and the local sheriff. The people in the town of Chatsworth were very much against serving liquor and the Chatsworth Inn was well-known for its well-stocked bar. The hotel building was completed in 1911 but in later years the building stood empty and became rundown.
Hell’s Angels made in 1930 was a memorable movie, according to local early residents. And their Chatsworth Park Elementary School-age children told of how noisy and disruptive Howard Hughes' movie was as it was filmed. The film starred Jean Harlow and Richard Arlen and was a very successful box office event. It was a movie with many airplane “dog fights” filmed during the day. The children in the elementary school remembered the very public noisy dog fights held over the school house for several weeks as the film was being completed.
Long-time resident Lila Schepler remembered a French farmhouse set that was built near Lassen Street and Mason Avenue. She remembered that the aerial dog fights overhead were annoying but she said she never did see the finished product.
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was made up near Chatsworth Park North (before it was a park or had a name). She remembers that the film company used an old horse-drawn fire engine to make rain during the filming of the rainy scenes. Parts of this movie were also made at the Iverson Ranch. Sylvia Sydney starred in the movie and it made history. It was the remake of two earlier silent movies. Made in 1936, the film also starred Henry Fonda and Fred MacMurray. It was significant as the first outdoor film made in the new three-color Technicolor.
If you would like to learn more about other people and events from the past you may visit the local museum at The Homestead Acre, 10385 Shadow Oak Drive, within Chatsworth Park South at the west end of Devonshire Street. The museum is open the first Sunday of every month from 1-4 p.m. There is no charge and plenty of free parking.