50 Years Ago: Hollywood Comes To Boise For Jeremiah Johnson Premiere
On December 2, 1972, the Boise intersection of 7th and Main looked more like the Los Angeles intersection of Hollywood and Highland. Two of Hollywood's elite, actor Robert Redford and director Sydney Pollack arrived at the Ada Theater to attend the American Premiere of their film "Jeremiah Johnson."
Most American movie premieres are at Grauman's Chinese Theater, The El Capitan, or Grauman's Egyptian Theater. It is almost unheard of to premiere a major studio movie anywhere outside Hollywood. So, why was the "Jeremiah Johnson" premiere held in Boise? The story is fascinating.
What is "Jeremiah Johnson" about?
"Jeremiah Johnson" was initially supposed to be a biopic of the real-life mountain man with the same name. Warner Brothers acquired the rights to the Johnson biography Crow Killer by Raymond W. Thorp, Jr. and Robert Bunker. Casting was difficult. The role of Jeremiah Johnson was turned down by two actors, one being Clint Eastwood, who decided to do "Dirty Harry" instead. Eventually, they landed on Robert Redford, who talked his friend Sydney Pollack into directing it.
Late in the filming process, Boise Foothills resident Opal Fisher heard about the film and thought that much of the plot resembled her late husband's 1965 novel, Mountain Man. Opal was the widow of Idaho author Vardis Fisher. According to Alessandro Meregalia, Archivist/Librarian and Associate Professor at Boise State University, she was a "force to be reckoned with." She contacted the studio and Sydney Pollack and allowed them to make things right before accusing them of plagiarism. They ultimately agreed on a $5,000 licensing fee.
Why was the American Premiere of "Jeremiah Johnson" held in Boise, Idaho?
Warner Brothers wanted the American premiere in Hollywood. Robert Redford wanted it in Utah, but Opal insisted it happen in Idaho. The correspondence is played out in back-and-forth letters that now reside in the Boise State University Special Collections and Archives. Once it was determined that the premiere would happen in Idaho, the Ada Theater was the obvious choice. The theater opened as it is known today, The Egyptian Theater, in 1927. Tickets for the event were $25.
Vardis Fisher's Mountain Man was reissued to coincide with the movie's release featuring a cover photo of Robert Redford and selling over 500,000 copies.
Where was "Jeremiah Johnson" filmed?
The movie was filmed in Sundance, Utah, and was the first western to be shown at Cannes. It still performs well on modern-day platforms like Rotten Tomatoes, where it currently holds a 95% on the Tomatometer and an 89% audience score.
Who was in "Jeremiah Johnson?"
The movie launched the career of screenwriter John Milius, who went on to write "Apocalypse Now "and many others. It was the first critically acclaimed performance by Robert Redford. It also introduced us to an uncredited 13-year-old actress Tanya Tucker, who would later become a Grammy award-winning country star.
Director Sydney Pollack would go on to direct major hits like "The Way We Were," "Tootsie," and "The Firm." He won Best Director for "Out Of Africa" at the 1985 Academy Awards.