A Boise Construction Company’s Connection to Paint Your Wagon, a 1969 Musical Starring Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin.

Do not adjust your computer monitor. Clint Eastwood was in a musical.

In 1969, the Broadway musical Paint Your Wagon, written by Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe of My Fair Lady fame, was brought to the silver screen by Paramount.  Its trailer invited moviegoers to: "Come along with Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood, and Jane Seberg as they bring the free living, free loving, California gold rush days to life  ...a lusty group of people who one day looked civilization in the eye - and spit!" Both the grizzled Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood have singing roles.

While one of Lee Marvin's gravelly numbers was a surprise hit in Britain, Clint Eastwood's "I Talk to the Trees," which was sung over a light bossa nova beat and augmented by a lonesome cowboy harmonica and lush string arrangement, was not a chart-topper.  With its poor reviews, long running time (two and a half hours), peculiar casting decisions, bloated 18 million dollar budget, and appearance at a time when the era of the Hollywood musical was drawing to a close, the film was probably destined for problems and did not become the blockbuster success that Paramount had hoped for.

An M-K-owned crane places a 75-foot tree on the set of Paint Your Wagon.  The water wheel is visible in the foreground.  The Em-Kayan, August 1968, pg. 13
Concerning the movie sets, Howard Hugh's book "Aim for the Heart" states that, "the camp looked splendid, incorporating sluices and a huge waterwheel, at a cost of 2.4 million." The sets for Paint Your Wagon were designed by Boise's own Morrison-Knudsen Company.  The Morrison-Knudsen Company (M-K) was founded in Boise in 1912 by Harry Morrison and Morris Knudsen. Some projects in the company’s long history include the Hoover Dam and Alaska’s Trans-Atlantic Pipeline.

During Paint Your Wagon, M-K improved 18 miles of roadless wilderness in order to bring almost 30 pieces of heavy construction equipment to the remote filming location.  The set design also needed to accommodate a dramatic implosion of Biblical proportions, about which the August 1968 edition of M-K’s newsletter, The Em-Kayan, says: "Paramount is putting up 102 frame buildings to create No-Name City, more than half of which are rigged to collapse during the movie's rousing but best-unrevealed finale."

A scale model of No-Name City is inspected by Production Designer John Truscott, Director Joshua Logan and Producer Alan Jay Lerner. The Em-Kayan, August 1968, pg. 12
Boise State University's Albertsons Library has a complete run of the Em-Kayan, Morrison-Knudsen's company newsletter (1942-1988).  The library’s Special Collections and Archives also holds the Morrison-Knudsen Records (including labor files), the papers of M-K Vice President of International Operations Lyman Wilbur, the papers of M-K Executive Vice President James McClary, the papers of Ann Morrison, first wife of co-founder Harry Morrison and namesake of Ann Morrison Park, Boise Redevelopment Agency documents,  and most M-K Company Reports. 

"Aim for the Heart: the Films of Clint Eastwood," by Howard Hughes (London: I.B. Tauris & Co., 2010.), is also available to the BSU community as an eBook download.

Kent Randell,
Special Collections/Archives

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful. My father, who spent more than 40 years with Morrison-Knudsen, would have been very interested to stop in and look through your collection of "The Em-Kayan" magazine. Sadly, he just passed away. I grew up reading that magazine as a child. I did not remember that the film Paint Your Wagon, had sets designed by Morrison-Knudsen, but your article refreshes my memory. Thanks for posting!