First Epic Western Film Poster-Cinematic History Significance
This original window card displayed throughout Dwight, Illinois in the summer of 1923 to advertise the film that was to become the first epic scale Western, and the most popular movie of the day. Window cards were placed in store windows, barber shops, beauty salons, doctor’s offices, bakeries, on telephone poles, in and around a community.
The Covered Wagon was released by Paramount Pictures and directed by James Cruze, pre-eminent director of the day. The story is about pioneers traveling to Oregon. On their quest they experience desert heat, mountain snow, hunger, and Indian attack. Cruze’s goal was to elevate the Western, which had always been a potboiler kind of film, to epic status. To make that happen, Cruze approached the film less as a story, but more as a documentary of the original trek. Cruze shifted the film's focus towards the event itself, which began to assume epic proportions as an important moment in the country's history.
Developing the film as a semi-documentary created authenticity. The covered wagons were gathered from all over the Southwest were not replicas, but the real wagons that had brought the pioneers west. They were cherished heirlooms of the families who owned them. The producers offered the owners $2 a day and feed for their stock if they would bring the wagons for the movie. Most of the extras seen on film are the families who owned the covered wagons and were perfectly at home driving and living out of them during production.
Tim McCoy, who became one of the most famous cowboy stars, was the film’s Technical Advisor. He recruited Indians appearing in the movie. Irving Berlin was brought in to contribute to the music score. The film was a major production for its day, with a budget of $782,000. It brought in $3.5 million. Considering it cost 7 cents for a movie in 1923, this was a staggering amount. A Covered Wagon window card recently sold at auction (Heritage, July, 2016 Lot #86966) for $1,075.