How the West Was Won 60 years later

Gregory Peck as Cleve Van Valen with Debbie Reynolds as Lily Prescott. Frank Sinatra was originally intended for the Gregory Peck role.

How the West Was Won 60 years later…..

First of all, I love this movie. How the West Was Won gives a courageous account of westward expansion from the 1830s to the 1890s. The story is conveyed through the eyes of multiple generations of a driven pioneer family. The rugged landscape of the era is spectacularly captured in this film and the statement “They don’t make them like this anymore” rings true.

There are five interrelated segments directed by three of Hollywood’s most renowned directors who coordinated and shared the zealous vision of making the first full length feature film using the Cinerama process. “The Rivers”, “The Plains” and “The Outlaws”, was directed by Henry Hathaway, “The Civil War”, was directed by John Ford and George Marshall did, “The Railroad”. They were assisted by four top cinematographers, a cast of 24 stars, more than 12,000 extras, including several Indian tribes and a roster of over 50 actors and stunt men.

The movie had an All-Star cast which includes three of Hollywood’s greatest Western stars; John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda, appearing together for the first and only time, although none share scenes together. The rest of the cast includes Carroll Baker, Walter Brennan, Lee J Cobb, Carolyn Jones, Karl Malden, Raymond Massey, Agnes Moorehead, Harry Morgan, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Robert Preston, Debbie Reynolds, Thelma Ritter, Russ Tamblyn, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, and Richard Widmark.

The movie ends in present-day America with aerial shots of L.A. freeways (with very little traffic) as an illustration of the inevitable progress and the price it takes to achieve it.

How the West Was Won is widely considered one of Hollywood’s greatest epics. The film received widespread critical acclaim and was a box office success, grossing $50 million on a budget of $15 million. At the 36th Academy Awards, it earned eight nominations, including Best Picture, and won three, for Best Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Sound and Best Film Editing. In 1997, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

If you ever want to see this movie on an 86ft curved screen, How the West Was Won is played at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood during the Cinerama festivals which seem to take place every 4 years. Around 15 years ago, Cinerama projecters were finally installed at the Dome. This theater, which shares it’s name, only showed single-lens Cinerama which is basically Ultra Panavision and never used the 3-Strip film process until recently.

Written and lived by… Donnie Norden

James Stewart as Linus Rawlings with Carroll Baker as Eve Prescott Rawlings. Although James Stewart’s character was only supposed to be 28 in the movie, Stewart was actually 53 at the time of filming.

Karl Malden questions Carroll Baker about her night with a fur trapper while sister Debbie Reynolds looks on. During filming in June 1961, Karl Malden had to be rushed to hospital to have an emergency appendectomy.

Henry Fonda as Jethro Stuart, scout for the railroad with George Peppard as Zeb Rawlings. Henry Fonda’s part was originally much bigger, but was gradually scaled down.

The adult Donnie…protecting his horses on the Universal backlot.

Lee J. Cobb and Mickey Shaughnessy are seen here with “my train”! This train was moved back to MGM Studios after filming and I played on it as a kid.There goes that long haired horse thief, again,”

Wanted -Dead or AliveThe younger horse thief Donnie, on the same train during my days of trespassing, MGM Backlot 2!

Director Hathaway (in white hat) confers with cinematographers for the runaway train sequence. Bob Morgan who was married to Yvonne De Carlo was seriously injured, and almost died, while performing a stunt in this scene. Toward the end of the film, there is a gunfight on a moving train between the sheriff and a gang of train robbers. Morgan was one of the stuntmen playing a robber and was crouched next to a pile of logs on a flatcar. The chains holding the logs together snapped, and Morgan was crushed by the falling logs and lost his leg.

The movie includes three of Hollywood’s greatest Western stars; John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda, appearing together for the first and only time, although none share scenes together.

A scene from How the West Was Won filmed in Culver City, Ca. MGM Backlot #3.

Same Mansion years later in 1970

Another shot taken during the MGM Auction 1970, prior to demolition

The lyrics for “Home in the Meadow”, sung by many characters throughout the movie, was written by Sammy Cahn. The music, however, is the old English ballad “Greensleeves” from the 15th century.

John Wayne had intended to play a character in a part directed by Henry Hathaway, but John Ford insisted he appear in the Civil War sequence. John Ford’s habit was to always sit beside the camera while it was filming, so he could watch the action intently. Unfortunately, because of the triple lens on the Cinerama camera, he kept appearing in shots until director of photography Joseph LaShelle hit on the idea of building a rig that allowed Ford to sit above the camera.

Carroll Baker plays George Peppard’s mother in the film, but George was actually three years older than Baker in real life!

Debbie Reynolds and George Peppard are the only cast members who appear in three of the five sequences in the film. According to Ms. Reynolds her character of Lilith was originally supposed to have drowned in the river. However, it was decided that Lilith would best tie the generations of Prescotts together, so, she remained in the story to become an elderly lady in the film’s conclusion.

This river-rafting sequence was filmed over a period of seven days.

Gary Cooper had been offered the role of Linus Rawlings but died before filming began. James Stewart then accepted the part despite feeling miscast and too old for Carroll Baker.

Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda appeared in five movies together. In addition, they were both married to the same woman, the socialite Susan Blanchard.

It’s hard to beat the All-Star Casts from the Epic movies of the 60’s.

Hollywood Warner Theater, was the only theater in the LA area, able to show 3-Strip Cinerama.

How the West Was Won played there for 92 weeks straight!

The curved Cinerama screen gives it a 3-D effect

This is impressive on the Big Screen, everything appears larger than life.

HTWWW shown in 3-Strip Cinerama to a packed house at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood (2012).

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