Born Free (1966)

95 mins | Adventure | 6 April 1966

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HISTORY

The 17 Feb 1964 DV announced plans by producers Sam Jaffe, Paul Radin, and Carl Foreman to film Born Free on location in Kenya. The film was based on the 1960 memoir by Joy Adamson. Nearly one month later, the 13 Mar 1964 DV reported that British actress Virginia McKenna would portray the author, with her husband, Bill Travers, playing George Adamson. Tom McGowan, known for his work with the Walt Disney Company, was chosen to direct. On 25 May 1964, LAT stated that the couple had reached Kenya, where they would spend two months getting acquainted with the assorted lions and other wildlife appearing in the film. Production was expected to last another seven months. Principal photography was initially planned for 27 Jul 1964, according to the 3 Jul 1964 DV, but was postponed until 31 Aug 1964, as noted in 4 Sep 1964 DV production charts. The 23 Oct 1964 LAT attributed the delay to the fact that McKenna sustained a broken ankle after a lion fell on her during a screen test. The bones had to be set twice at a Nairobi hospital before her ankle healed properly. In the meantime, the actress wore a cast and appeared only in “close-ups and static scenes.” Production charts in the 27 Nov 1964 DV revealed that director Tom McGowan had been replaced by James Hill.
       The 20 Dec 1964 LAT noted that location filming took place on a 750-acre ranch, rented from a retired English Army officer, in Naro Moru, Kenya. ... More Less

The 17 Feb 1964 DV announced plans by producers Sam Jaffe, Paul Radin, and Carl Foreman to film Born Free on location in Kenya. The film was based on the 1960 memoir by Joy Adamson. Nearly one month later, the 13 Mar 1964 DV reported that British actress Virginia McKenna would portray the author, with her husband, Bill Travers, playing George Adamson. Tom McGowan, known for his work with the Walt Disney Company, was chosen to direct. On 25 May 1964, LAT stated that the couple had reached Kenya, where they would spend two months getting acquainted with the assorted lions and other wildlife appearing in the film. Production was expected to last another seven months. Principal photography was initially planned for 27 Jul 1964, according to the 3 Jul 1964 DV, but was postponed until 31 Aug 1964, as noted in 4 Sep 1964 DV production charts. The 23 Oct 1964 LAT attributed the delay to the fact that McKenna sustained a broken ankle after a lion fell on her during a screen test. The bones had to be set twice at a Nairobi hospital before her ankle healed properly. In the meantime, the actress wore a cast and appeared only in “close-ups and static scenes.” Production charts in the 27 Nov 1964 DV revealed that director Tom McGowan had been replaced by James Hill.
       The 20 Dec 1964 LAT noted that location filming took place on a 750-acre ranch, rented from a retired English Army officer, in Naro Moru, Kenya. Bill Travers told the 5 Jun 1966 NYT that he and McKenna were unable to work with circus animals as they were not naturally affectionate toward humans, due to being imprisoned most of their lives. Instead, the ranch was stocked with lions born in the wild, and with the help of technical advisor George Adamson, the actors developed a rapport with them. Travers and McKenna took daily walks with the animals, and when they seemed ready to play a scene, the crew was alerted via walkie-talkie. Because the lions were not trained performers, only a few seconds of usable footage could be shot each day. Travers regretfully admitted that half the lions were placed in zoos after filming was completed. Joy Adamson, who was staying at the ranch in a tent during production, retrained the remaining lions to return to the wild. The 12 Apr 1966 LAT revealed that twenty-four lions, “including four sets of cubs,” were used to play “Elsa,” the lioness made famous by Adamson. Her husband, George Adamson, trained the animals by playing games with them, noting that lions “adore footballs and balloons.” An aging circus lioness was added to the cast to portray a frightened Elsa encountering a belligerent warthog. The review in the 7 Apr 1966 LAT identified the lioness “Girl” as most frequently portraying Elsa. According to the 20 Dec 1964 LAT, the completion of principal photography was scheduled for late Feb 1965, although production would likely continue for several more weeks.
       The 19 Oct 1965 DV announced the picture’s world premiere at the annual Royal Film Performance for the Cinematograph Trade Benefit Fund, on 14 Mar 1966 in London, England. Queen Elizabeth II would be in attendance. An article in the 23 Mar 1966 DV stated that distributor Columbia Pictures struck three 70mm prints: one for the London premiere, one for the 6 Apr 1966 Los Angeles, CA, opening, and the last for the 22 Jun 1966 New York City opening. At least ten preview screenings “for educational and cultural groups” were also planned, with an expected total audience of approximately 5,000, “to build heavy word-of-mouth.” The advertising campaign emphasized Adamson’s bestselling book to dispel any misconceptions of a “civil rights” theme, which the title might also have suggested. “Sneak previews” were held at various Los Angeles theaters between 24 and 29 Mar 1966, as stated in the 23 Mar 1966 LAT.
       Reviews were generally positive, although some critics believed the picture’s commercial prospects would have been brighter had it been a Walt Disney production. Born Free continued to receive accolades, most notably from Senator Frank Church of Idaho, who entered the 8 Apr 1966 Life magazine review into the Congressional Record. It was also included in the 25 Dec 1966 NYT list of the year’s ten best films, and endorsed by the National Council of Churches’ Broadcasting and Film Commission. It won two Academy Awards for Best Music—Original Song, and Best Music—Original Music Score. The title song became a popular standard, recorded by an array of singers and instrumentalists. In addition, the lions that portrayed Elsa were honored by the American Humane Society with its PATSY award, tying for first place with “Judy,” a chimpanzee featured in the television series, Daktari (CBS, 1966 – 1969). According to the 4 Jan 1967 Var, the picture earned $3.45 million in rental fees, with projected earnings of $3.6 million.
       Born Free introduced American audiences to Kenyan actors Peter Lukoye and Omar Chambati, as noted in the 30 Jun 1966 Los Angeles Sentinel. Joy Adamson was murdered in 1980 by a former employee, and George Adamson was killed by a gang of poachers in 1989. Elsa the lioness died from tick fever at five years of age.

Although Gerald L. C. Copley was given credit for the screenplay when the film was initially released, according to official WGA records, Copley was a pseudonym for blacklisted writer Lester Cole. The WGA changed the screenplay credit to read: "Screenplay by Lester Cole." Born Free was filmed on location in Naro Moru, Maralal, and Malindi, Kenya, and Doldol, Ethiopia. Original director Tom McGowan resigned after several months of production. The great success of Born Free resulted in a 1972 sequel, Living Free (see below) which continued the saga of Elsa's cubs.
       Joy Adamson (1910--1980) was born Friederike Viktoria Gessner in Austria where she studied psychoanalysis, archaeology, painting and medicine. Because her first husband, who was Jewish, feared the growing Nazi movement in Austria, the couple moved to Kenya, where she divorced her husband and married a botanist with whom she traveled throughout Kenya making paintings of plant life, many of which are now housed at the National Museum in Nairobi. After divorcing her second husband, she met game warden George Adamson (1906--1989) whom she married in 1944, and they settled permanently in Kenya.
       In 1956, when George was forced to kill a man-eating lion and a lioness after they attacked him, he and Joy discovered the mother was defending her three cubs. The couple's subsequent adoption of the three, raising them, then returning to the wild of the smallest, Elsa, became the basis for Joy's books, Born Free , Living Free and Forever Free . The series was extraordinarily popular and served as inspiration for many, including husband-and-wife actors Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, who played the Adamsons and founded the Born Free Foundation in support of wildlife conservation. Joy was also the founder of the World Wildlife Fund. In 1980 Joy Adamson was found dead in the Shaba Game Reserve in Northern Kenya. It was initially reported that her death was due to a lion mauling, but later, it was apparent that Adamson had been stabbed to death and a young Kenyan worker was eventually arrested, tried and convicted of the murder. At her request, George had Joy's ashes placed in the graves of Elsa and a tamed pet cheetah, Pippa, in the Meru Game Reserve. In 1989 George Adamson was murdered by bandit poachers in the Kenyan wilderness. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
17 Feb 1964
p. 1.
Daily Variety
13 Mar 1964
p. 4.
Daily Variety
3 Jul 1964
p. 8.
Daily Variety
4 Sep 1964
p. 10.
Daily Variety
17 Sep 1964
p. 2.
Daily Variety
27 Nov 1964
p. 6.
Daily Variety
19 Oct 1965
p. 7.
Daily Variety
23 Mar 1966
p. 6.
Daily Variety
15 Jun 1966
p. 5.
Daily Variety
21 Dec 1966
p. 6.
Daily Variety
23 Jan 1967
pp. 10-11.
Daily Variety
2 Feb 1967
p. 16.
Daily Variety
3 Feb 1967
p. 1.
Daily Variety
8 May 1967
p. 3.
Los Angeles Sentinel
30 Jun 1966
Section B, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
25 May 1964
Section D, p. 19.
Los Angeles Times
21 Sep 1964
Section C, p. 18.
Los Angeles Times
23 Oct 1964
Section C, p. 16.
Los Angeles Times
20 Dec 1964
Section D, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
19 Mar 1966
p. 21.
Los Angeles Times
23 Mar 1966
Section D, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
7 Apr 1966
Section C, p. 27.
Los Angeles Times
12 Apr 1966
Section C, p. 1, 7.
Los Angeles Times
31 May 1966
Section C, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
16 Jun 1966
Section C, p. 11.
New York Times
5 May 1964
p. 54.
New York Times
1 Jun 1966
p. 42.
New York Times
5 Jun 1966
p. 133.
New York Times
23 Jun 1966
p. 29.
New York Times
25 Dec 1966
p. 1D, 9D.
Variety
23 Mar 1966
p. 6.
Variety
4 Jan 1967
p. 8.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Orig dir
1st & 2nd asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Prod
Exec prod
WRITER
Writ for the screen by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam asst
Cam grip
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
MUSIC
Mus comp & cond
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod coordinator
Prod mgr
Prod supv
Prod secy
Loc mgr
Ch tech adv
Animal supv
Gaffer
Stills
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book Born Free by Joy Adamson (London, 1960).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Born Free," words and music by John Barry and Don Black.
COMPOSERS
DETAILS
Series:
Release Date:
6 April 1966
Premiere Information:
London premiere: March 1966
Los Angeles opening: 6 April 1966
Production Date:
began 31 August 1964
Copyright Claimant:
Open Road Films
Copyright Date:
31 December 1965
Copyright Number:
LP32471
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Eastmancolor, print by Pathé
Duration(in mins):
95
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

George Adamson, a senior game warden in Kenya, kills a man-eating lion and is forced to shoot the lion's mate when she attacks him. He then brings home three orphaned female lion cubs. His wife, Joy, rears the baby animals, overcoming their initial refusal to accept milk, and becomes particularly attached to the smallest, Elsa. When it is time to send the cubs to a zoo, Joy is reluctant to part with Elsa, so George sends only the other two cubs. Elsa becomes a member of the family, freely roaming through the house and the vicinity but rarely venturing into the jungle. When Elsa reaches full size, the district commissioner points out that her presence has become a major concern and suggests that she should be sent to a zoo. Joy rebels against the idea of Elsa living in confinement, and she wins 2 months to teach Elsa to fend for herself in the jungle. Since the lion is completely domesticated and has never had to kill for food or defend herself, the Adamsons have a difficult time making Elsa understand what is expected of her. In her first introduction to hunting, she is chased by a warthog. The Adamsons finally succeed in reconditioning Elsa to life in the wild, however, and at the next mating season she goes off alone into the jungle. The following year, after a trip to England, the Adamsons return to Kenya. One day Elsa appears at their camp with three of her own cubs. She spends the day with her friends and then returns to her ... +


George Adamson, a senior game warden in Kenya, kills a man-eating lion and is forced to shoot the lion's mate when she attacks him. He then brings home three orphaned female lion cubs. His wife, Joy, rears the baby animals, overcoming their initial refusal to accept milk, and becomes particularly attached to the smallest, Elsa. When it is time to send the cubs to a zoo, Joy is reluctant to part with Elsa, so George sends only the other two cubs. Elsa becomes a member of the family, freely roaming through the house and the vicinity but rarely venturing into the jungle. When Elsa reaches full size, the district commissioner points out that her presence has become a major concern and suggests that she should be sent to a zoo. Joy rebels against the idea of Elsa living in confinement, and she wins 2 months to teach Elsa to fend for herself in the jungle. Since the lion is completely domesticated and has never had to kill for food or defend herself, the Adamsons have a difficult time making Elsa understand what is expected of her. In her first introduction to hunting, she is chased by a warthog. The Adamsons finally succeed in reconditioning Elsa to life in the wild, however, and at the next mating season she goes off alone into the jungle. The following year, after a trip to England, the Adamsons return to Kenya. One day Elsa appears at their camp with three of her own cubs. She spends the day with her friends and then returns to her mate. +

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

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