The Great White Hope (1970)

GP | 103 mins | Biography | 11 October 1970

Director:

Martin Ritt

Writer:

Howard Sackler

Producer:

Lawrence Turman

Cinematographer:

Burnett Guffey

Production Designer:

John De Cuir

Production Company:

Lawrence Turman Films, Inc.
Full page view
HISTORY

Twentieth Century Fox-Film Corp. purchased screen rights to Howard Sackler’s play, The Great White Hope, shortly after its debut on 7 Dec 1967 at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Theatre, as announced in the 6 Feb 1968 NYT. Producer Lawrence Turman took credit for discovering the play, which he had read but had not seen performed, and recommending it to Fox chief Richard Zanuck before it moved to Broadway, as noted in articles in the 9 Nov 1969 and 5 Jul 1970 LAT. Fox gave playwright Howard Sackler an advance of $550,000 plus ten percent of the play’s gross receipts in profitable weeks up to a “ceiling price” of $1,050,000. The total budget for the picture was cited as $7.5 million.
       James Earl Jones, who had originated the stage role of “Jack Jefferson,” based on the pugilist John Arthur “Jack” Johnson, was set to play the lead in the film. In the meantime, Jones reprised the role on Broadway when it debuted at the Alvin Theatre in New York City on 3 Oct 1968. The 7 Feb 1968 DV noted that The Great White Hope would mark one of the few produced biography pictures centered around a real-life boxer, to that time, after 1956’s Somebody Up There Likes Me (see entry), in which Paul Newman depicted Rocky Graziano.
       In spring 1969, Sackler’s play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The 7 Jan 1970 Var noted that the play eventually “hit the triple crown,” also winning the Antoinette Perry Award for the Best Drama of the 1968-1969 Broadway season, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Prize. Jones ... More Less

Twentieth Century Fox-Film Corp. purchased screen rights to Howard Sackler’s play, The Great White Hope, shortly after its debut on 7 Dec 1967 at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Theatre, as announced in the 6 Feb 1968 NYT. Producer Lawrence Turman took credit for discovering the play, which he had read but had not seen performed, and recommending it to Fox chief Richard Zanuck before it moved to Broadway, as noted in articles in the 9 Nov 1969 and 5 Jul 1970 LAT. Fox gave playwright Howard Sackler an advance of $550,000 plus ten percent of the play’s gross receipts in profitable weeks up to a “ceiling price” of $1,050,000. The total budget for the picture was cited as $7.5 million.
       James Earl Jones, who had originated the stage role of “Jack Jefferson,” based on the pugilist John Arthur “Jack” Johnson, was set to play the lead in the film. In the meantime, Jones reprised the role on Broadway when it debuted at the Alvin Theatre in New York City on 3 Oct 1968. The 7 Feb 1968 DV noted that The Great White Hope would mark one of the few produced biography pictures centered around a real-life boxer, to that time, after 1956’s Somebody Up There Likes Me (see entry), in which Paul Newman depicted Rocky Graziano.
       In spring 1969, Sackler’s play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The 7 Jan 1970 Var noted that the play eventually “hit the triple crown,” also winning the Antoinette Perry Award for the Best Drama of the 1968-1969 Broadway season, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Prize. Jones won a 1969 Tony Award for Best Actor and, in the role of “Eleanor Bachman,” Jane Alexander won the Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress. The 16 May 1969 DV reported that Alexander would make her feature film debut, reprising the role in The Great White Hope.
       Principal photography began on 9 Oct 1969, according to a DV item published the following day. Scenes set in Reno, NV, were filmed in Globe, AZ. Production was scheduled to move from Globe to Tuscon, AZ, in late Oct 1969, and then to the Twentieth Century-Fox studio lot in Los Angeles, CA, as noted in the 15 Oct 1969 DV. However, the 24 Oct 1969 DV claimed that Arizona shooting had been completed in Nogales, AZ, not Tuscon, before the move to Los Angeles. Filming on the Fox lot was slated to be done by mid-Dec 1969, when cast and crew would move to Barcelona, Spain, for six weeks. There, scenes set in Cuba, Mexico, and Berlin, Germany, would be completed by mid-Feb 1970, according to the 13 Jan 1970 DV.
       While filming was underway, a 24 Oct 1969 DV news item noted that Jones had been enlisted by the U.S. State Department to film “a discussion of the status of black Americans” in film and theater to be used in foreign countries. A crew from Yugoslav State Television was scheduled to shoot the production.
       The Great White Hope opened on 11 Oct 1970 at the Baronet Theatre in New York City, and on 23 Dec 1970 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA. Although reviews were mixed, Jones’s performance received consistent praise, and he was eventually nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Drama, in addition to winning the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year—Actor. Jane Alexander also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, and a Golden Globe Award nomination for New Star of the Year—Actress.
       The cumulative domestic box-office rentals were cited as $2.8 million in a 5 Jan 1972 Var chart.
       Prior to the start of filming, author Finis Farr, whose book, Black Champion: The Life and Times of Jack Johnson, was published by Scribner in 1964, filed a copyright infringement suit against Howard Sackler, producers of his play, and the filmmakers, seeking “an injunction against the play and picture, plus damages and an accounting, as stated in the 12 Sep 1969 DV.
       The following actors were named as cast members in DV items published between 6 Oct 1969 and 5 Jan 1970: Leon Williams; Arthur Malet; Moisha Guss; Mildred Milligus; Del Murray; Bryan O’Byrne; Hans Meyer; Dr. W. Beyer; Elizabeth Geyer; Elena Renki; Karin Schwarz; Gustavo Cascade; J. L. De Diego; Aristeo Rubio; Everett Bowman, set to play a small-town pastor; Corenzo Boira; Stefan De Stefano; Detfel Bode; Arnaldo Wynner; H. A. Seyfarot; Herbert Nielsen; Peter Muller; and M. D. Woodburn. The 12 Nov 1969 DV also noted that the following five boxers would appear in the picture: John Davey; Clay Hodges; Richie Gonzalez; Michael Flynn; and Paul Walker, III. An AFI graduate named Oscar Williams reportedly served as an intern.
       The Great White Hope marked the final onscreen appearance of Chester Morris, who died one month prior to the film’s release, on 11 Sep 1970. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
7 Feb 1968
p. 1, 14.
Daily Variety
14 Feb 1968
p. 3.
Daily Variety
14 Mar 1968
p. 4.
Daily Variety
6 May 1969
p. 1, 7.
Daily Variety
16 May 1969
p. 11.
Daily Variety
5 Aug 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
12 Sep 1969
p. 1, 17.
Daily Variety
6 Oct 1969
p. 4.
Daily Variety
7 Oct 1969
p. 4.
Daily Variety
7 Oct 1969
p. 12.
Daily Variety
10 Oct 1969
p. 10.
Daily Variety
13 Oct 1969
p. 10.
Daily Variety
15 Oct 1969
p. 10.
Daily Variety
23 Oct 1969
p. 4.
Daily Variety
24 Oct 1969
p. 8.
Daily Variety
24 Oct 1969
p. 22.
Daily Variety
31 Oct 1969
p. 4.
Daily Variety
12 Nov 1969
p. 10.
Daily Variety
13 Nov 1969
p. 8.
Daily Variety
31 Dec 1969
p. 4.
Daily Variety
5 Jan 1970
p. 4.
Daily Variety
13 Jan 1970
p. 1, 8.
Daily Variety
9 Oct 1970
p. 2, 13.
Los Angeles Times
7 Jan 1969
Section F, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
9 Nov 1969
Section P, p. 1, 18, 21.
Los Angeles Times
5 Jul 1970
Section N, p. 13.
Los Angeles Times
22 Dec 1970
Section I, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
23 Dec 1970
Section G, p. 1, 7.
New York Times
6 Feb 1968
p. 35.
New York Times
6 May 1969
p. 35.
New York Times
12 Oct 1970
p. 45.
Variety
19 Nov 1969
p. 24.
Variety
7 Jan 1970
p. 39.
Variety
7 Oct 1970
p. 21.
Variety
5 Jan 1972
p. 67.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Lawrence Turman-Martin Ritt Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir & spanish asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
MUSIC
Mus supv
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Makeup
Hairstyles
Hairstyles
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit prod mgr
Loc mgr
Spanish prod mgr
Scr supv
Tech adv
Prop master
Vocal coach
Constr coordinator
Key grip
Casting
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play The Great White Hope by Howard Sackler (Washington, D.C., 7 Dec 1967).
SONGS
"Let Me Hold You in My Arms Tonight," words and music by Jesse Fuller, sung by Jesse Fuller.
PERFORMER
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
11 October 1970
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 11 October 1970
Los Angeles opening: 23 December 1970
Production Date:
9 October 1969--mid February 1970
Copyright Claimant:
Lawrence Turman Films
Copyright Date:
11 October 1970
Copyright Number:
LP38328
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex
Color
De Luxe
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
103
MPAA Rating:
GP
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
22547
SYNOPSIS

In the first decade of the twentieth century, boxer Jack Jefferson beats Frank Brady in Reno, Nevada, and becomes the first black heavyweight champion of the world. To the consternation of his common-law wife, Clara, and the militant Scipio, the irrepressible fighter takes as his mistress white divorcée Eleanor Bachman. After crossing the Illinois-Wisconsin state line with Eleanor, Jefferson is arrested in a hotel, charged under the Mann Act, and sentenced to three years in the state penitentiary at Joliet. Disguised as a member of a black baseball team, however, Jefferson escapes to Canada. Accompanied by Eleanor, he travels to London, England, where he is refused a license to fight. In Paris, France, he beats his white opponent so badly that none will challenge him. A pariah, he journeys to Germany. Later, in Budapest, the boxer is so reduced in circumstances as to play the title role in a cabaret performance of Uncle Tom's Cabin. When he is offered a reduced sentence by a federal agent in return for throwing a fight in Havana, Cuba, Jefferson refuses. He retires to Mexico, where he and Eleanor eke out a marginal existence. In desperation, Eleanor begs Jefferson to accept the Havana match. The infuriated boxer berates his mistress, blaming her for their hopeless situation. Distraught, Eleanor drowns herself in a well, after which Jefferson agrees to the fixed fight. During its final rounds he rebels and attempts, too late, to win the ... +


In the first decade of the twentieth century, boxer Jack Jefferson beats Frank Brady in Reno, Nevada, and becomes the first black heavyweight champion of the world. To the consternation of his common-law wife, Clara, and the militant Scipio, the irrepressible fighter takes as his mistress white divorcée Eleanor Bachman. After crossing the Illinois-Wisconsin state line with Eleanor, Jefferson is arrested in a hotel, charged under the Mann Act, and sentenced to three years in the state penitentiary at Joliet. Disguised as a member of a black baseball team, however, Jefferson escapes to Canada. Accompanied by Eleanor, he travels to London, England, where he is refused a license to fight. In Paris, France, he beats his white opponent so badly that none will challenge him. A pariah, he journeys to Germany. Later, in Budapest, the boxer is so reduced in circumstances as to play the title role in a cabaret performance of Uncle Tom's Cabin. When he is offered a reduced sentence by a federal agent in return for throwing a fight in Havana, Cuba, Jefferson refuses. He retires to Mexico, where he and Eleanor eke out a marginal existence. In desperation, Eleanor begs Jefferson to accept the Havana match. The infuriated boxer berates his mistress, blaming her for their hopeless situation. Distraught, Eleanor drowns herself in a well, after which Jefferson agrees to the fixed fight. During its final rounds he rebels and attempts, too late, to win the bout. +

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

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

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.