Hollywood has poor sense of history

Hollywood has poor sense of history by Bob Karolevitz I wasn�t going to write about the Lewis and Clark Expedition because everyone else did � or will.

However, I changed my mind after I heard a speaker at the South Dakota State Historical Society�s annual meeting in Pierre.

He told about the movie, The Far Horizons, which was being shown as part of the two-day conference we were attending. Phyllis and I were going to pass up the Paramount Pictures film � that is, until he verbally lambasted it as the worst, by far, he had ever seen.

He called it all sorts of bad names, and, believe me, that got our curiosity up. We just HAD to see something as gosh-awful as he described it.

And he was right!

The Far Horizons was Hollywood�s 1955 version of the Lewis and Clark adventure. It starred Fred MacMurray as Capt. Meriwether Lewis, Donna Reed in dusky makeup as Sacagawea and a youthful Charlton Heston as Capt. William Clark.

After that, any relationship with the truth went out the window.

Donna Reed, in Hollywood finery, made the trip without an infant on her back. Her love affair with Captain Clark was some screenwriter�s attempt to liven up the story.

They even got her back to Washington, DC, where she met a lousy rendition of President Jefferson and competed with a �white woman�s� love for Captain Clark. In the final scene she goes back � again in Hollywoodian finery � to her Shoshoni people in a liveried coach.

Of course, the Indians all spoke impeccable English, and many were obviously Hollywood �extras.�

The conference speaker was right. It was a terrible, terrible movie!

The history, according to Hollywood, included Indian attacks (which didn�t happen), the death and burial of expedition members (which didn�t happen, except maybe for Sgt. Charles Floyd who died of a ruptured appendix near present-day Sioux City) and bitter confrontations between Lewis and Clark over Sacagawea (which also never occurred).

The audience � made up of Lewis and Clark afficionados � hooted and howled at the Hollywood depiction of the �facts.�

In my own case, we once had a movie option for our book, Flight of Eagles. It is the documented story of American airmen � the Kosciuszko Squadron � who flew for the Poles in the Polish-Russian War of 1919-1920.

There was no boy-girl romance involved in that war-time saga, but the Hollywood screenwriters wanted to jazz up the story. The family of the main character � who would have been falsely pictured by the fiction � turned it down.

And I�m glad!

Oh, we would have seen our book on the silver screen and there probably would have been bucks in our pockets � but it would have been about as true to history as The Far Horizons.

For the Lewis and Clark movie there obviously were no historian consultants involved. If there were, they should hide themselves in shame.

One thing we learned at the conference is that the lay people who have studied the Corps of Discovery know the intimate details of the expedition: the medicines which the captains carried, the wanderings of Pvt. George Shannon, the beached whale on the Pacific coast, the breed of the dog Seaman, etc., etc.

As Abe Lincoln supposedly said, you can fool all the people some of the time; but fooling the Lewis and Clark zealots with The Far Horizons is not one of the ways.

� 2003 Robert F. Karolevitz

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