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Ads for How the West Was Won proclaimed: “24 Great Stars in the Mightiest Adventure Ever Filmed!” And with a cast of Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, Carroll Baker, Henry Fonda, Karl Malden, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Robert Preseton, John Wayne, and more, it's no wonder!
MGM also considered additional stars including Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, James Cagney, Kirk Douglas, Kim Novak, and Shirley MacLaine. Originally, Bing Crosby was to be the narrator, not Spencer Tracy.
This large spectacle of a movie had approximately 12,617 extras!
1. It was a roadshow attraction.
The movie opened in certain cities several months before it played nationwide. Those who were lucky enough to see it were treated to a special event, where seats were reserved and where they could buy special programs.
2. The raft scene was scary.
Debbie Reynolds and Carroll Baker were both scared while doing the river raft sequence. While it wasn’t filmed on an actual river (at least, their portion), the gears, which made the raft turn in the “Esther Williams” pool at the studio, were menacing, and both actresses feared that their dresses might get caught. Scenes filmed on the actual river took seven days to complete, and stunt men played the principal roles. Keep an eye on “Debbie Reynolds” when she goes overboard, and you’ll notice hairy arms!
3. Hathaway chewed Debbie out!
And it was all Gregory Peck’s fault! Peck joined the film as a favor to Irene Dunne (who told him some of the film’s proceeds would go to help charity), but like most actors, he was nervous about Cinerama. During the scene where his character approached Debbie Reynolds and Thelma Ritter, he was doing the entrance too slow, despite director Henry Hathaway’s continued reminders. So the director winked at Debbie Reynolds, exploded at her, and then winked again. The next take Peck did it perfectly.
4. An actress was cut out completely!
Originally, George Peppard’s character had a scene which was cut from the final film. In the saloon scene, Hope Lange performed a number with Peppard and Richard Widmark watching. The two men were both interested in her, but Peppard came out on top. Lange’s character was also revealed to be Henry Fonda’s daughter. In the end, however, Peppard’s disapproval of the railroad drives a wedge in his marriage, and a pregnant Lange leaves him. Years later, Peppard’s character and his son reunite. When the movie changed courses, Lange’s character was completely removed.