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The Musical Goldmine of ’69: Remembering “Paint Your Wagon” on its 50th Anniversary

October 15, 2019 - 9:36 am   |   by

Paint Your Wagon is remembered as a standalone oddity in the careers of Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood.” — Matthew Kennedy, author of Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the golden anniversary of the release of Paint Your Wagon, the Oscar-nominated cinematic interpretation of the Lerner and Loewe stage musical which starred Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou, Point Blank), Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry, Unforgiven) and Jean Seberg (Pendulum, Airport).

Paint Your Wagon — directed by Joshua Logan (South Pacific, Camelot) and which also featured Harve Presnell (The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Fargo) and Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian, Fast Times at Ridgemont High) — opened 50 years ago this month. For the occasion, The Bits features an historical reference listing of the film’s major-market roadshow engagements and a Q&A with film historian Matthew Kennedy, who discusses the film’s virtues, shortcomings and legacy. [Read on here...]

THE ROADSHOW ENGAGEMENTS

What follows, for historical record and nostalgia, is a chronological reference listing of the North American first run “hard ticket” roadshow engagements of Paint Your Wagon. These were special long-running, showcase presentations in major cities prior to the film being exhibited as a general release, and they featured advanced admission pricing, reserved seating, an overture/intermission/entr’acte/exit music, and an average of only ten scheduled screenings per week. Souvenir program booklet were sold, as well.

Out of the hundreds of films released during 1969, Paint Your Wagon was among only seven given the deluxe roadshow treatment.

Many of the roadshow presentations of Paint Your Wagon were presented in 70-millimeter (blown up from anamorphic 35-millimeter) and offered a superior projection and sound experience. All of the film’s roadshow presentations are believed to have been presented with stereophonic sound (4-track for 35mm and 6-track for 70mm).

The engagements cited here represent only a fraction of the thousands of total bookings throughout the many cycles of distribution over the course of the film’s release. As well, this work does not include any general, international or re-release engagements. The duration of the cited engagements, measured in weeks, is provided to give the reader a sense of the movie’s success (or failure).

The film’s anniversary offers an opportunity to namedrop some famous and once-glorious cinemas, to provide some nostalgia for those who saw the film during this phase of its original release, and to reflect on how the film industry has evolved the manner in which event and prestige films are exhibited.

Paint Your Wagon (70 mm frame)

 

Opening date YYYY-MM-DD … City — Cinema (duration in weeks)

  • 1969-10-15 … New York, NY — State 2 (16)
  • 1969-10-22 … Los Angeles, CA — Cinerama Dome (35)
  • 1969-10-29 … Atlanta, GA — Tara (20)
  • 1969-10-29 … Boston, MA — Circle (14)
  • 1969-10-29 … Chicago (Oak Brook), IL — Cinema 150 (20)
  • 1969-10-29 … Dallas, TX — Wilshire (35)
  • 1969-10-29 … Denver, CO — Cooper (48)
  • 1969-10-29 … Fort Worth, TX — Village Opera House (20)
  • 1969-10-29 … Houston, TX — Gaylynn (19)
  • 1969-10-29 … New Orleans, LA — Cinerama (18)
  • 1969-10-29 … Philadelphia, PA — Randolph (13)
  • 1969-10-29 … Portland, OR — Paramount (30)
  • 1969-10-29 … San Francisco, CA — St. Francis (20)
  • 1969-10-29 … Washington, DC — Apex (16)
  • 1969-10-30 … Montreal, QC — Alouette (11)
  • 1969-10-30 … Toronto, ON — University (19)
  • 1969-10-30 … Vancouver, BC — Stanley (34)
  • 1969-11-05 … Buffalo, NY — Colvin (9)
  • 1969-11-05 … Cincinnati, OH — Carousel (12)
  • 1969-11-05 … Detroit, MI — Madison (13)
  • 1969-11-05 … Hartford (Newington), CT — Newington II (12)
  • 1969-11-05 … Milwaukee, WI — Wisconsin 1 (13)
  • 1969-11-05 … Minneapolis (St. Louis Park), MN — Cooper (19)
  • 1969-11-05 … New Haven (Orange), CT — Showcase 1 (19)
  • 1969-11-05 … Oklahoma City, OK — Quail Twin 1 (32)
  • 1969-11-05 … Ottawa, ON — Nelson (10)
  • 1969-11-05 … Pittsburgh, PA — Squirrel Hill (14)
  • 1969-11-05 … Rochester (Henrietta), NY — Towne 1 (12)
  • 1969-11-05 … Seattle, WA — Music Box (20)
  • 1969-11-05 … Toledo, OH — Showcase 1 (28)
  • 1969-11-11 … Salt Lake City (South Salt Lake), UT — Century 22 (33)
  • 1969-11-12 … Cleveland (South Euclid), OH — Fox Cedar-Center (11)
  • 1969-11-12 … Columbus, OH — Eastland (22)
  • 1969-11-12 … Dayton (Trotwood), OH — Salem Mall (15)
  • 1969-11-12 … Des Moines, IA — River Hills (24)
  • 1969-11-12 … Indianapolis, IN — Eastwood (18)
  • 1969-11-12 … Kansas City, MO — Capri (26)
  • 1969-11-12 … Louisville, KY — Showcase 1 (12)
  • 1969-11-12 … Omaha, NE — Indian Hills (28)
  • 1969-11-12 … Sacramento, CA — Century 21 (37)
  • 1969-11-12 … St. Louis, MO — Cinerama (16)
  • paintyourwagon newspaper ad1969-11-20 … Baltimore, MD — Town (9)
  • 1969-12-17 … Miami (Bay Harbor Islands), FL — Bay Harbor (14)
  • 1969-12-17 … Richmond, VA — Willow Lawn (13)
  • 1969-12-18 … Honolulu, HI — Queen (10)
  • 1969-12-18 … Orlando, FL — Beacham (9)
  • 1969-12-19 … Albany (Colonie), NY — Fox Colonie (8+)
  • 1969-12-19 … St. Petersburg, FL — Gateway Mall (14)
  • 1969-12-19 … Syracuse, NY — Genesee (13)
  • 1969-12-23 … Austin, TX — Americana (10)
  • 1969-12-25 … Akron (Cuyahoga Falls), OH — Falls (8)
  • 1969-12-25 … Albuquerque, NM — Sunshine (12)
  • 1969-12-25 … Calgary, AB — Calgary Place 2 (19)
  • 1969-12-25 … Charlotte, NC — Carolina (11)
  • 1969-12-25 … Edmonton, AB — Garneau (16)
  • 1969-12-25 … Jacksonville, FL — Florida (11)
  • 1969-12-25 … Knoxville, TN — Park (10)
  • 1969-12-25 … London, ON — Park (6)
  • 1969-12-25 … Lubbock, TX — Winchester (13)
  • 1969-12-25 … Memphis, TN — Memphian (22)
  • 1969-12-25 … Nashville, TN — Belle Meade (13)
  • 1969-12-25 … Norfolk, VA — Garden (8+)
  • 1969-12-25 … Phoenix, AZ — Cine Capri (29)
  • 1969-12-25 … Providence, RI — Elmwood (8+)
  • 1969-12-25 … San Antonio, TX — Fox Twin 2 (13)
  • 1969-12-25 … San Diego, CA — Cinema 21 (39)
  • 1969-12-25 … Tulsa, OK — Fox (8+)
  • 1969-12-25 … Wichita, KS — Sunset (14)
  • 1969-12-25 … Windsor, ON — Park (6)
  • 1969-12-25 … Winnipeg, MB — Gaiety (8)
  • 1970-01-15 … Montreal, QC — Kent (m/o from Alouette, 2 [13])
  • 1970-01-28 … Birmingham, AL — Eastwood Mall (8+)
  • 1970-01-28 … Springfield (West Springfield), MA — Showcase 1 (11)
  • 1970-01-28 … Syosset, NY — Syosset (8+)
  • 1970-01-28 … Upper Montclair, NJ — Bellevue (8)
  • 1970-01-28 … Worcester, MA — Showcase 1 (8+)
  • 1970-02-04 … Corpus Christi, TX — Deux Cine II (6)
  • 1970-02-04 … Little Rock, AR — Cinema 150 (7)
  • 1970-02-04 … Tucson, AZ — El Dorado (13)
  • 1970-02-10 … San Jose, CA — Century 23 (56)
  • 1970-02-11 … Moline (Milan), IL — Showcase 1 (14)
  • 1970-02-12 … Greenville, SC — Astro II (6)
  • 1970-02-20 … Raleigh, NC — Colony (8+)
  • 1970-03-11 … Toronto, ON — Nortown (m/o from University, 5 [24])
  • 1970-03-17 … Pleasant Hill, CA — Century 21 (21)
  • 1970-03-24 … Las Vegas, NV — Boulevard (12)
  • 1970-04-29 … Des Moines, IA — Riviera (m/o from River Hills, 5 [29])
  • 1970-08-14 … Oakland, CA — Century 21 (19)

Paint Your Wagon roadshow program

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THE Q&A

Matthew Kennedy is the author of Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s (Oxford University Press, 2014). He is a writer, film historian, and anthropologist living in Oakland, and his other books include Joan Blondell: A Life between Takes (University Press of Mississippi, 2007), Edmund Goulding’s Dark Victory: Hollywood’s Genius Bad Boy (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004), and Marie Dressler: A Biography (McFarland, 1999). His articles have appeared in the program books of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival. He is film and book critic for the respected Bright Lights Film Journal and has hosted retrospectives based on his books at the Pacific Film Archive, UCLA Film Archive, and the Museum of Modern Art. You can find him on Facebook at: MatthewKennedyBooks

Matthew Kennedy

Kennedy kindly spoke to The Bits about the appeal and legacy of Paint Your Wagon.

Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): How do you think Paint Your Wagon should be remembered on its golden anniversary?

Matthew Kennedy: I’m not sure how it should be remembered, but I believe it will be remembered as a standalone oddity in the careers of Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood. It’s a western set in the California gold fields of the 1850s… and it’s a musical. Need I add it was the only musical in either of their careers?

Coate: What do you remember about the first time you saw Paint Your Wagon?

Kennedy: It played the Showcase Theater in my hometown, Redding, California. The Showcase featured the plum movies of the day, or at least the most highly anticipated. I remember music filling the mid-sized theater in fairly high volume. As a kid, I liked the rousing numbers, the gorgeous wilderness locations, and so much lusty, robust goings-on. An entire built city collapses on cue. In an age far before CGI, that was a memorable justification for on-screen mayhem.

Coate: In what way is Paint Your Wagon a significant motion picture?

Kennedy: Paint Your Wagon has a place in history for many of the wrong reasons. It was the last film directed by Joshua Logan, who was suffering from bipolar disorder during the production. It was the only film produced by Alan Jay Lerner, the brilliant lyricist of My Fair Lady, Gigi, Camelot, and, you guessed it, Paint Your Wagon. It had an arduous, protracted filming in the wilds of Oregon that generated bad press before it opened. It lost a lot of money for Paramount, and led to the extinction of the roadshow format.

Coate: Which are the standout songs?

Kennedy: Paint Your Wagon has some beauties — the rousing I’m on My Way and There’s a Coach Comin’ In, and three affecting odes to loneliness: They Call the Wind Maria, I Talk to the Trees, and Wand’rin’ Star.

Paint Your Wagon roadshow ticket

Coate: Much has been made of the casting of the lead roles. Can you discuss said aspect of the film?

Kennedy: Casting of Paint Your Wagon fell into standard practice of late 1960s musicals, with the priority being movie stars over musical aptitude. Lee Marvin as a grizzled prospector sounds perfect on paper, but of his assigned songs, he only nails Wand’rin’ Star. The song was actually a minor hit. Eastwood was another fine choice — if he didn’t have to sing. He pulls off I Talk to the Trees, but just barely. Beautiful but troubled Jean Seberg captured the spirit necessary to fend off so many men in the Wild West, but her performance is rather dour and her songs were dubbed.

Coate: How do you think the film compares to the original stage production?

Kennedy: Though many of the songs remained, the film otherwise has very little resemblance to the 1951 original Broadway production. On stage Marvin’s character has a daughter who falls in love with a Mexican prospector. In the film’s patchwork quilt of a screenplay by Lerner and Paddy Chayefsky, Marvin, Eastwood, and Seberg form a polyandrous marriage. Even after the Summer of Love and Woodstock, that was unacceptable for a resolution. The film ends with the heterosexual and age appropriate Seberg and Eastwood matched, with Marvin trudging off to follow his wand’rin’ star.

Coate: In what way was Joshua Logan an ideal choice to direct?

Kennedy: He triumphed directing the musicals Annie Get Your Gun and South Pacific on Broadway. In Hollywood he made successes of the dramas Picnic, Bus Stop, Sayonara, and Fanny, adapted from a stage musical he directed. His screen version of South Pacific was poorly received by critics but made a lot of money for Fox. His screen version of Camelot was poorly received by critics but lost a lot of money for Warner Bros.

Coate: Where do you think Paint Your Wagon ranks among 1960s musicals?

Kennedy: It hardly belongs in the company of The Music Man, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Funny Girl, or Oliver!, but neither does it suffer from The Happiest Millionaire’s false gaiety, Doctor Dolittle’s appalling production designs, or Sweet Charity’s insufferably cloying performance from Shirley MacLaine.

Coate: Where do you think Paint Your Wagon ranks among the works of Lerner and Loewe?

Kennedy: I’m not familiar with the score of The Little Prince, their last film, and a box office failure. I prefer the scores for My Fair Lady and Gigi over Brigadoon, Camelot, and Paint Your Wagon, though each has plenty of merit.

Coate: What is the legacy of Paint Your Wagon?

Kennedy: It inspired a very funny episode of The Simpsons.

Coate: Thank you, Matthew, for sharing your thoughts about Paint Your Wagon on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.

Paint Your Wagon cast photo

IMAGES

Selected images copyright/courtesy Herbert Born collection, Alan Jay Lerner Productions, Malpaso, Robert Morrow collection, Paramount Pictures, Paramount Home Entertainment.

 

SPECIAL THANKS

Herbert Born, Raymond Caple, Matthew Kennedy, Bill Kretzel, Mark Lensenmayer, Stan Malone, Robert Morrow, Jim Perry, Joel Weide, Vince Young, and an extra special thank-you to all of the librarians who helped with this project.

- Michael Coate

Michael Coate can be reached via e-mail through this link. (You can also follow Michael on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

Paint Your Wagon (DVD)