Warner Bros'. Jim Thorpe – All American was released to movie theaters in 1951. Burt Lancaster garners the title role, playing the legendary native American athlete. Here are 21 Jim Thorpe – All American super movie trivia items and interesting film facts...
1. Jim Thorpe – All American is partially based on the autobiography of the same name penned by James Francis Thorpe and Russell J. Birdwell. Producers also used the story "Bright Path" by Douglas Morrow and Vincent X. Flaherty as additional source material.
2. MGM had originally purchased the screen rights to Jim Thorpe's life story. The rights were thensold to Los Angeles Examiner sportswriter Vincent X. Flaherty after the studio had failed to reach an agreement with Thorpe's wife, who had power of attorney for her husband. Warner Bros. then bought the film rights from Flaherty in a deal which reportedly netted Jim Thorpe a payday of $25,000.
3. Jim Thorpe, who died of a heart attack at age 64 on March 28, 1953, served as a technical advisor on the film.
4. Jim Thorpe – All American was written for the screen by Douglas Morrow, Everett Freeman and Frank Davis. Directing the film was Michael Curtiz (1886-1962), who had won an Oscar for the 1943 Humphrey Bogart/Ingrid Bergman classic Casablanca.
5. Although Burt Lancaster eventually won the title role, Kirk Douglas had also been under consideration to play Jim Thorpe. Both actors were excellent athletes in their own right. Lancaster had been a circus acrobat while Douglas had been a champion collegiate wrestler at St. Lawrence University.
6. Jim Thorpe – All American features an outstanding supporting cast, including Charles Bickford (Glenn S. "Pop" Warner), Steve Cochran (Pete Allendine), Phyllis Thaxter (Margaret Miller), Dick Wesson (Ed Guyac), Jack Big Head (Little Boy Who Walk Like Bear), Sonny Chorre (Wally Denny), Al Mejia (Louis Tewanema), Hubie Kerns (Tom Ashenbrunner), Holly Bane (Ed Lacey), Jimmy Hawkins (Jimmy), Nestor Paiva (Hiram Thorpe), Roy Gordon (John McGraw), Max Terhune (Farmer), Jimmy Moss (Jim Thorpe Jr.) and Billy Gray (Young Jim Thorpe). Gray had later found fame on television, playing Bud Anderson on the long-running sitcom Father Knows Best (1954-62).
7. Burt Lancaster embarked on a training regimen in order to prepare for his starring role, eventually getting down to a lean, muscular 175 pounds. Supervising the program were USC track coach Jess Hill, UCLA football coach Bill Spaulding and former professional boxer Mushy Callahan. It was Callahan who had also prepared Kirk Douglas for his role as fighter Midge Kelly in Champion (1949).
8. Jim Thorpe – All American was primarily filmed at Bacone College near Muskogee, Oklahoma, and at the majestic Los Angeles Coliseum. Filming began on August 25, 1950, and lasted about a month.
9. Producers used archival footage from both the 1912 and 1932 Summer Olympics, which had been held in Stockholm and Los Angeles, respectively.
10. In order to reflect the real Jim Thorpe's prominent Sac and Fox Indian heritage, Burt Lancaster's hair was dyed black and his skin cosmetically darkened. Thorpe himself liked the transition, later joking on the set, "I don't think I was ever that handsome."
11. Burt Lancaster was 36-years-old when Jim Thorpe – All American was filmed. He proved to be an able student, with the real Jim Thorpe and four other coaches teaching him how to drop kick a football. Lancaster also proved his mettle in the many sports scene, often doing his own stunt work and even going toe-to-toe with much younger players from UCLA and USC during the rugged football scenes.
12. The real Jim Thorpe and director Michael Curtiz had first met in 1912 at the Summer Olympic Games in Stockholm. Thorpe had been a member of the American track and field team and Curtiz had been a fencer for his native Hungary.
13. Michael Curtizwasn't all that familiar with American football. While filming one gridiron scene, Curtiz asked, "Where are all the men?" When duly informed that each side had the requisite eleven players, Curtiz shook his head and replied, "That's not enough. Double it."
14. At the time of filming, Jim Thorpe's life had pretty much deteriorated, with the fabled athlete on his third marriage and in dire financial straits. Said Burt Lancaster of Thorpe: "As he realized in later life, his downfall as an athlete was largely brought on by weaknesses in his own nature: a feeling that the world was against him, unreasonable stubbornness, and the failure to understand the necessity of working as a member of a team."
15. Jim Thorpe was no stranger to Hollywood in 1950. He had worked in Tinseltown for years, most notably as an extra in RKO's classic King Kong (1933). Thorpe became something of a Hollywood legend after he decked a rowdy Errol Flynn at a bar, sending the obnoxious actor crashing to the floor. Present during the incident were several veteran stuntmen, who later stated that it was one of the most fearsome punches they had ever witnessed.
16. Jim Thorpe – All American is narrated by Charles Bickford, who plays Glenn S. "Pop" Warner, Jim Thorpe's coach at Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. The movie gets off to a rousing start, with a young Jim Thorpe ditching school and running 12 miles home, arriving before his father Hiram Thorpe (Nestor Paiva) in the family truck.
17. Memorable scene: Pop Warner shows up with only two athletes for a track meet: Jim Thorpe and Little Boy. That's all he needed, as Thorpe and Little Boy proceed to trounce the competition, winning the meet for Carlisle.
18. Jim Thorpe – All American debuted on August 24, 1951. Reported A.H. Weiler in The New York Times (8/25/51): "[Burt Lancaster] is equipped physically and, what is more important, professionally, for the job of depicting the storied athlete. Mr. Lancaster looks as though he might place in the Olympics, if not win."
19. Jim Thorpe – All American was released overseas under the title Man of Bronze. The movie came to Sweden – the site of Jim Thorpe's amazing 1912 Olympic gold medal wins in both the decathlon and the pentathlon – on February 18, 1952. "You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world," King Gustav V of Sweden had proclaimed of Thorpe at the Games. One year later, Thorpe had his medals stripped after it was learned that he had violated his amateur status by playing semipro baseball one summer.
20. Like many sports biopics of the era, Jim Thorpe – All American is more Hollywood fiction than actual fact. Thorpe's three marriages and six children, for instance, are neatly compressed into one marriage and one child.
21. Deceased cast members include Burt Lancaster (1913-1994), Charles Bickford (1891-1967), Steve Cochran (1917-1965), Dick Wesson (1922-1996), Jack Big Head (1930-1993), Sonny Chorre (1914-1987) and Hubie Kerns (1920-1999).
- *The New York Times
- *The Internet Movie Database
- *Turner Classic Movies
Copyright © 2013 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.