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HISTORY

According to the 24 Jul 1960 NYT , How the West Was Won began as a series of articles published during 1959 in Life magazine, chronicling the U.S. westward expansion of the nineteenth century. The series was followed by a record album of the same name, released on RCA-Victor in early 1960. The two-volume set featured singers Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, among others, performing songs and stories of the Old West. On 21 Jun 1960, NYT announced that Bing Crosby Enterprises partnered with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) to produce The Great Western Story, using the Cinerama widescreen format. Inspired by the bestselling album, the story would be told in “six historical segments, each written for twelve of Hollywood’s stars.” The filmmakers also intended to include iconic Western characters and appropriate music from the period. A portion of the profits would be allocated for the construction of a new wing at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, CA. More than two months later, the 1 Oct 1960 LAT reported the official title as How the West Was Won. The picture would now be comprised of eight episodes, with actor George Peppard as the unifying character. Veteran actress Irene Dunne was added to the cast, but did not appear in the finished picture. On 27 Feb 1961, LAT announced that Gary Cooper, Glenn Ford, and Burt Lancaster would also be given roles. Actors John Wayne and Spencer Tracy were chosen to play General William T. Sherman and General Ulysses S. Grant, respectively, according to the 21 ... More Less

According to the 24 Jul 1960 NYT , How the West Was Won began as a series of articles published during 1959 in Life magazine, chronicling the U.S. westward expansion of the nineteenth century. The series was followed by a record album of the same name, released on RCA-Victor in early 1960. The two-volume set featured singers Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, among others, performing songs and stories of the Old West. On 21 Jun 1960, NYT announced that Bing Crosby Enterprises partnered with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) to produce The Great Western Story, using the Cinerama widescreen format. Inspired by the bestselling album, the story would be told in “six historical segments, each written for twelve of Hollywood’s stars.” The filmmakers also intended to include iconic Western characters and appropriate music from the period. A portion of the profits would be allocated for the construction of a new wing at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, CA. More than two months later, the 1 Oct 1960 LAT reported the official title as How the West Was Won. The picture would now be comprised of eight episodes, with actor George Peppard as the unifying character. Veteran actress Irene Dunne was added to the cast, but did not appear in the finished picture. On 27 Feb 1961, LAT announced that Gary Cooper, Glenn Ford, and Burt Lancaster would also be given roles. Actors John Wayne and Spencer Tracy were chosen to play General William T. Sherman and General Ulysses S. Grant, respectively, according to the 21 Apr 1961 LAT. The 28 Apr 1961 LAT stated that Crosby would provide voice-over narration. Other casting announcements mentioned George Gobel (1 May 1961 LAT) , Jim Hutton (6 May 1961 LAT) , Barry Harvey, Tudor Owen, and Lee Van Cleef (12 May 1961 LAT) , Frank Sinatra (24 May 1961 Var) , and Jerry Holmes (4 Aug 1961 LAT). Crosby was replaced as narrator by Spencer Tracy, who relinquished the role of Grant to Henry (Harry) Morgan. Neither Ford, Lancaster, Gobel, Hutton, nor Sinatra participated in the completed film, and Gary Cooper died before the start of principal photography. Harvey, Owen, and Van Cleef appeared in uncredited roles. The picture also marked Jerry Holmes’s feature film acting debut.
       An article in the 21 May 1961 NYT stated that production was expected to begin the following week, with a minimum budget of $8 million, to be shot on locations “from the Ohio River to the Pacific.” The article revealed that Bing Crosby purchased the rights to the original Life magazine series with the intention of making a “television spectacular,” rather than a movie. He eventually offered the project to MGM, which was searching for suitable properties to fulfill its five-picture deal with the Cinerama Corporation. Producer Bernard Smith anticipated a limited run for the 145-minute epic, as there were only 110 Cinerama theaters in the entire world at that time. As Smith explained in the 3 Sep 1961 LAT, screenwriter James R. Webb spent fifteen months composing the script, which chronicled the fictional Prescott family from 1840 to 1885 as each generation moved further west. Directors Henry Hathaway, John Ford, and George Marshall were each given their own units to avoid the logistical difficulties of moving an entire film company from one location to the next. Hathaway was assigned the first, second, and fifth segments, with Ford and Marshall filming the third and fourth segments, respectively. Production took place on locations in KY, IL, OH, CO, AZ, and southern CA. The 16 Sep 1961 NYT revealed that Marshall was originally assigned the second segment, depicting “a comic treatment of a mammoth Indian attack.”
Columnist Hedda Hopper, in her 12 May 1961 LAT column, announced the impending start of principal photography in Charlesville, TN. The 24 May 1961 Var estimated that ninety percent of the picture would be shot on locations across the U.S., with completion of photography anticipated for late Dec 1961. The budget was expected to exceed $12 million. Filming began 28 May 1961, according to a 19 Jul 1961 Var production chart. On 22 Aug 1961, LAT reported the production’s move to Montrose, CO, with new cast members Thelma Ritter, Robert Preston, and Gregory Peck. The 16 Sep 1961 NYT stated that John Ford was in the process of editing the completed Civil War sequence. With production nearly completed, the 3 Jan 1962 LAT announced a summer premiere, tentatively scheduled for 4 Jul 1962.
An article in the 24 Jan 1962 Var noted that How the West Was Won was the first MGM release for which the studio had no rights to the soundtrack. Bing Crosby Enterprises intended to market the score independently. Three weeks later, however, the 13 Feb 1963 Var stated that MGM subsidiary Robbins Music acquired rights to the score, composed by Alfred Newman, with plans to aggressively market the soundtrack album. According to the 3 Apr 1963 Var, music rights were originally under the control of Project Records president Si Rady, through his affiliation with Bing Crosby Enterprises. Following a buyout of the label by Capitol Records, MGM was able to purchase the rights for an estimated $250,000. The 4 Apr 1962 Var revealed that Dimitri Tiomkin was initially hired to write the score, but was forced to postpone the project due to an eye injury, from which he needed two months to recover. On 27 Jun 1963, NYT reported that Tiomkin was suing MGM for $2.6 million, claiming he was “unjustly” fired, causing him “a loss of royalties” and jeopardizing his chances for further employment. Tiomkin had already spent five weeks writing the score when he was injured on 12 Mar 1963, resulting in a four-week hospital stay. The composer received notice of his dismissal on 26 Mar 1963.
       In his 10 Jan 1963 LAT column, sportswriter Jim Murray recounted the on-set accident that nearly cost stuntman and actor Bob Morgan his life. While performing a scene on a moving train in Globe, AZ, Morgan was struck in the face by a 6,000-pound stack of fiberglass logs. He was then run over by two flat cars and a caboose, severing his left leg. Morgan was transported seventy miles to a hospital in Phoenix, AZ, where his face was reassembled. He later sued MGM for an undisclosed amount, which Murray described as “enough money to buy a small country.”
       Although principal photography was completed weeks earlier, the 14 Feb 1962 LAT reported that MGM executives Joe Vogel and Robert Weitman decided the film “needed a very important finish.” Another month of location shooting was required, featuring actors George Peppard and Debbie Reynolds. Henry Fonda would complete his scenes in New York City, where he was appearing in a play. Productions charts in the 14 Mar 1962 Var stated that photography resumed on 5 Mar 1962.
       While filming was still in progress, the 21 Mar 1962 Var reported MGM’s plan to release How the West Was Won overseas, hoping it would present a positive image of American culture. Two months later, on 16 May 1962, Var announced autumn 1962 openings in England, France, Japan, Australia, Spain, and Austria. Subsequent openings were planned for Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Chile, South Africa, Belgium, and Germany. The 4 Oct 1962 NYT reported that a private screening was held for a select group of exhibitors the previous evening, adding that the picture would not be released in the U.S. for another year.
       How the West Was Won premiered 1 Nov 1962 in London, England. The screening was preceded by a “charity gala,” according to the 7 Nov 1962 Var. The U.S. premiere took place on 20 Feb 1963 at the Warner Hollywood Cinerama Theatre in Los Angeles, CA. The 10 Feb 1963 LAT revealed that veteran actress Irene Dunne, president of the St. John’s Hospital Foundation, “was instrumental” in arranging the premiere, which benefited her organization.
       Reviews were lukewarm, exemplified by the 27 Jan 1963 LAT and the 28 Mar 1963 NYT, both of which described the film as a composite of Western clichés. Native-American horse wrangler Gene Hoback, who coordinated 225 Navajo background actors for a battle sequence, told the 5 May 1963 LAT that he refused to see the film, saying the reenactment was too realistic. The 6 Mar 1963 reported that George Peppard attended the Dallas, TX, premiere, where he received the award for “most distinguished young motion picture star” by the Dallas chapter of Women of the Motion Picture Industry (WOMPI).
       The 8 Jan 1964 Var declared How the West Was Won the top rental among exhibitors, anticipating earnings of $17 million over the course of its run.
       The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards: Best Picture; Color Cinematography; Color Art Direction-Set Decoration; Color Costume Design; Original Music Score; Story and Screenplay—Written Directly for the Screen; Achievement in Sound; and Film Editing. It won the latter three awards. Other awards and accolades were bestowed by the American Cinema Editors, the Motion Picture Sound Editors, Photoplay magazine, Western Heritage, the National Board of Review, and the U.S. Congress. Although the picture continued as a first-run feature for more than two years, Var revealed on 30 Dec 1964 that it not yet earned “‘a substantial portion’ of Cinerama’s share of the film negative cost.” Faced with losses in excess of $10 million, Cinerama curtailed its investments in film production.
       The 26 Jul 1961 Var reported that author Louis L’Amour was commissioned to write a novelization of the screenplay for Bantam Books. Six hundred thousand copies were planned for the first printing.
       Location scenes filmed at Battery Rock along the Ohio River in Illinois; Courthouse Mountain in the Pinnacles National Monument, California; Chimney Rock in the Colorado Rockies; Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border; the countryside around Paducah, Kentucky; Custer State Park, South Dakota; and in Uncompaghre (Colorado), Tonto (Arizona) and Inyo (California-Nevada) National Forests. Opened in London 1 Nov 1962. Also reviewed at 162 and 165 min; copyright length: 149 min. The final scene in the Cinerama version, a panoramic helicopter view of modern-day America, was omitted from the film in its general release version. The non-roadshow version was released in 35mm CinemaScope. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Los Angeles Times
24 Apr 1960
Section D, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
1 Oct 1960
Section B, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
27 Feb 1961
Section C, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
21 Apr 1961
p. 23.
Los Angeles Times
28 Aug 1961
Section B, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
1 May 1961
Section C, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
6 May 1961
Section A, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
12 May 1961
Section A, p. 9, 11.
Los Angeles Times
17 May 1961
Section C, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
30 May 1961
Section C, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times
22 Apr 1961
p. 23.
Los Angeles Times
4 Aug 1961
p. 24.
Los Angeles Times
3 Sep 1961
Section A, p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
3 Jan 1962
p. 25.
Los Angeles Times
14 Feb 1962
Section C, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
16 Aug 1962
Section C, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
10 Jan 1963
Section B, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
21 Jan 1963
Section C, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
23 Jan 1963
Section A, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
27 Jan 1963
Section K, p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
10 Feb 1963
Section H, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
20 Feb 1963
Section E, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
11 Apr 1963
Section E, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
25 Apr 1963
Section C, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
5 May 1963
Section C, p. S7.
Los Angeles Times
17 Oct 1963
Section C, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
14 Dec 1963
Section B, p. 8.
New York Times
24 Jul 1960
Section X, p. 16.
New York Times
21 Jun 1960
p. 27.
New York Times
21 May 1961
Section X, p. 7.
New York Times
16 Sep 1961
p. 10.
New York Times
27 Jan 1962
p. 40.
New York Times
4 Oct 1962
p. 45.
New York Times
28 Mar 1963
p. 8.
Variety
24 May 1961
p. 3.
Variety
19 Jul 1961
p. 16.
Variety
26 Jul 1961
p. 69.
Variety
20 Dec 1961
p. 18, 20.
Variety
24 Jan 1962
p. 1.
Variety
14 Mar 1962
p. 21.
Variety
21 Mar 1962
p. 4.
Variety
4 Apr 1962
p. 17.
Variety
16 May 1962
p. 17.
Variety
31 Oct 1962
p. 24.
Variety
7 Nov 1962
p. 19.
Variety
13 Feb 1963
p. 53.
Variety
6 Mar 1963
p. 15.
Variety
3 Apr 1963
p. 87.
Variety
8 Jan 1964
p. 37.
Variety
26 Feb 1964
p. 35.
Variety
25 Mar 1964
p. 13.
Variety
15 Apr 1964
p. 11.
Variety
30 Dec 1964
p. 4.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir--"the civil war"
Dir--"the railroad"
Dir--"the rivers," "the plains," "the outlaws"
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
2nd unit photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus assoc
Mus coordinator
SOUND
Sd supv
Sd cons
Sd cons
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec visual eff
Spec visual eff
MAKEUP
Makeup created by
Hairstyles
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv for cinerama
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the series of articles "How the West Was Won" in Life (6 Apr--18 May 1959).
SONGS
"Home in the Meadow," music undetermined, lyrics by Sammy Cahn
"Raise a Ruckus," "Wait for the Hoedown" and "What Was Your Name in the States?" music undetermined, lyrics by Johnny Mercer
"How the West Was Won," music and lyrics by Alfred Newman and Ken Darby
+
SONGS
"Home in the Meadow," music undetermined, lyrics by Sammy Cahn
"Raise a Ruckus," "Wait for the Hoedown" and "What Was Your Name in the States?" music undetermined, lyrics by Johnny Mercer
"How the West Was Won," music and lyrics by Alfred Newman and Ken Darby
additional folk songs, composers undetermined, sung by Dave Guard and the Whiskeyhill Singers.
+
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Great Western Story
Release Date:
20 February 1963
Premiere Information:
London premiere: 1 November 1962
Los Angeles opening: 20 February 1963
Production Date:
began 28 May 1961
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Copyright Date:
31 December 1962
Copyright Number:
LP26268
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex
Color
Metrocolor
gauge
3x35
Widescreen/ratio
Cinerama
Duration(in mins):
155
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

A 5-part saga beginning with THE RIVERS: In 1829, Zebulon Prescott takes his wife Rebecca and their two young sons and two daughters away from their New England farm and heads west on a raft down the Ohio River to seek new opportunities and find husbands for the girls, Eve and Lil. One night a stranger in a canoe approaches the family's campsite; at first they suspect him of being a river pirate, but he turns out to be congenial fur trapper Linus Rawlings, who impresses the Prescott boys with tall tales of legendary mountain man Jim Bridger. Eve is also taken with Linus, but the noncommittal backwoodsman leaves abruptly one morning. Linus interrupts his journey to stop at a tavern-general store operated in a cave by river pirate Colonel Hawkins, whose alluring young daughter, Dora, clubs Linus on the head and throws him into a pit in the back of the cave. Soon the Prescotts happen by and are in the midst of being robbed by the murderous Hawkins clan when Linus, who has swum outside to the river through an opening in the pit, sneaks up behind the thieves and saves the settlers with the help of some explosives. As the Prescotts continue their journey by raft, they are swept away by rapids; Zebulon and Rebecca drown; and Linus, having seen Eve survive danger twice, decides at the funeral to marry her and settle by her parents' gravesite. Lil, meanwhile, decides to go to St. Louis. THE PLAINS: Gambler Cleve Van Valen and his cronies watch Lil Prescott's dance hall act and make a wager as to how many petticoats she is wearing. Cleve goes backstage to ... +


A 5-part saga beginning with THE RIVERS: In 1829, Zebulon Prescott takes his wife Rebecca and their two young sons and two daughters away from their New England farm and heads west on a raft down the Ohio River to seek new opportunities and find husbands for the girls, Eve and Lil. One night a stranger in a canoe approaches the family's campsite; at first they suspect him of being a river pirate, but he turns out to be congenial fur trapper Linus Rawlings, who impresses the Prescott boys with tall tales of legendary mountain man Jim Bridger. Eve is also taken with Linus, but the noncommittal backwoodsman leaves abruptly one morning. Linus interrupts his journey to stop at a tavern-general store operated in a cave by river pirate Colonel Hawkins, whose alluring young daughter, Dora, clubs Linus on the head and throws him into a pit in the back of the cave. Soon the Prescotts happen by and are in the midst of being robbed by the murderous Hawkins clan when Linus, who has swum outside to the river through an opening in the pit, sneaks up behind the thieves and saves the settlers with the help of some explosives. As the Prescotts continue their journey by raft, they are swept away by rapids; Zebulon and Rebecca drown; and Linus, having seen Eve survive danger twice, decides at the funeral to marry her and settle by her parents' gravesite. Lil, meanwhile, decides to go to St. Louis. THE PLAINS: Gambler Cleve Van Valen and his cronies watch Lil Prescott's dance hall act and make a wager as to how many petticoats she is wearing. Cleve goes backstage to her dressing room to obtain firsthand proof and overhears that Lil has just inherited a gold mine in California from an elderly admirer. Heavily in debt, Cleve decides to follow Lil out West in hopes of obtaining some of her revenue; along the way she falls in love with him and refuses the marriage proposal of wagon master Roger Morgan. After surviving an Indian attack, Lil and Cleve arrive in California, only to learn that the mine is worthless. The news temporarily halts Cleve's courtship, but they eventually marry after all and decide to settle in the new boomtown of San Francisco. THE CIVIL WAR: Eve, who has lost Linus to battle, watches their son, Zeb, leave home to join the Union Army. Once in combat, Zeb finds that war is not as glorious as he was led to believe, and at the Battle of Shiloh he meets a Confederate deserter who is similarly disillusioned. Together they witness an intimate conversation between Generals Sherman and Grant, in which the latter expresses concern about public criticism of his drinking. The Confederate soldier suddenly tries to assassinate the generals, and Zeb is forced to kill his new friend. After the war, he returns home to find that his mother has died; he joins the U. S. Cavalry to protect railroad workers from the Indians. THE RAILROAD: Aided by Jethro Stuart, a grizzled buffalo hunter, Zeb manages to keep peace with the Indians until ruthless foreman Mike King demands that the railroad break a treaty and take a shortcut through Indian land. Consequently, the Indians stampede the buffalo, and the animals destroy the camp, leaving several children orphaned. Angered that he has unwittingly been involved in the tragedy, Zeb resigns and goes to Arizona. THE OUTLAWS: Now a marshal in the 1880's, Zeb, his wife, Julie, and their children are visited by Lil, widowed and somewhat impoverished after a life of intermittent luxury with Cleve. Meanwhile, Zeb learns that an old enemy, Charlie Gant, is planning with his gang to rob a train carrying a gold shipment. Julie begs him not to go after Gant, but Zeb, who is anxious to send the outlaw to jail, is adamant. A furious gunfight takes place on the runaway train, during which the chains on the log car break and scatter logs across the countryside. Zeb barely escapes death, and the entire train derails, but Zeb nevertheless slays his adversary and returns to his family. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.