North to Alaska

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North to Alaska
North To Alaska 1960.jpg
1960 movie poster
Directed by Henry Hathaway
Produced by Henry Hathaway
John Lee Mahin (uncredited)
Charles Feldman (uncredited)
Written by John Lee Mahin
Martin Rackin
Claude Binyon
Wendell Mayes (uncredited)
Ben Hecht (uncredited)
Based on Birthday Gift
1939 play
by Ladislas Fodor from an idea by John Kafka[1]
Starring John Wayne
Stewart Granger
Ernie Kovacs
Music by Lionel Newman
Cinematography Leon Shamroy
Edited by Dorothy Spencer
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • November 13, 1960 (1960-11-13)
Running time
122 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.8 million[2]
Box office $5 million (US/ Canada rentals) [3][4]
1,994,920 admissions (France)[5]

North to Alaska is a 1960 comedic Western/Northern film directed by Henry Hathaway and John Wayne (uncredited). The picture stars Wayne along with Stewart Granger, Ernie Kovacs, Fabian, and Capucine. The script is based on the play Birthday Gift by Ladislas Fodor and is set during the Nome gold rush.[6]

The movie featured Johnny Horton's song "North to Alaska", sung during the opening titles, setting up an introduction to the story.


In 1901, after finding gold in Nome, Alaska, George Pratt (Stewart Granger) sends partner Sam McCord (John Wayne) to Seattle, Washington to bring back his fiancée, Jenny Lamont (Lilyan Chauvin), a French girl whom Sam has never met.

Finding that George's girl has already married another man, Sam brings back prostitute "Angel" (Capucine) as a substitute. There is a misunderstanding: she thinks Sam wants her for himself and becomes enamored with him on the boat trip to Alaska, during which he treats her like a respectable lady.

An angry George rejects the girl outright, though his younger brother Billy (Fabian) is definitely interested. Meanwhile, conman and saloon owner Frankie Cannon (Ernie Kovacs) tries to steal their gold claim.

In time, George takes a liking to Angel and is willing to marry her. But once he realizes that she has fallen for his partner, he does everything in his power to coax Sam into admitting that he, too, is in love.

Meanwhile, the men discover Cannon's scam after he cons an illiterate drunk named Peter Boggs into filing a claim for their discovery, so they try to reclaim their right in the court. An all-out brawl in the town's muddy streets brings it all to an end. Angel decides to leave but is convinced to stay once Sam yells out publicly: "Because I love you!"




Ernie Kovacs

Alaska was admitted to the Union as the 49th state in 1959 and was much in the news at the time. In early 1959 it was announced 20th Century Fox would make The Alaskans starring John Wayne and written by Martin Rackin and John Lee Mahin (the three men had just made The Horse Soldiers together).[7][8] The film was the first in a three-movie contract for Wayne with 20th Century Fox.

The first choice of director by Wayne was Henry Hathaway. He had a commitment to direct Woman Obsessed and was replaced by Richard Fleischer, who had a contract with 20th Century Fox and had just made the successful Compulsion (1959). Fleischer was enthusiastic about making a John Wayne film but did not like the story. He says a prime force behind the film was the agent Charles Feldman, who represented Adler, Wayne, Rackin and Mahin, and whose girlfriend Capucine was to play the female lead. Adler insisted Fleischer make the film as John Wayne had committed without reading a script and might pull out if the director pulled out. Fleischer says he got out of the film by saying he did not want to work with Capucine.[9] Hathaway became available and his appointment was announced in March 1959.[10] Spyros Skouras wanted the budget of the film reduced; that Hathaway did by reducing location shots.[11]

The movie spent a long time in pre-production (during which it was also known as Go North[12]) and was delayed by the writers strike and Wayne's involvement in making The Alamo (1960), a passion project of his that ended up costing the actor millions of his own money.[13] Shooting on North to Alaska did not start until May 1960.

Gary Crosby was reportedly cast as Granger's brother until replaced by Fabian.[14]


Most of the film was shot in Point Mugu, California.[15] The Wayne and Granger "honeymoon" cabin scenes were filmed along steaming Hot Creek near volcanic Mammoth Mountain. Mt. Morrison appears in the background of many views.

Production started without a completed script and the movie wound up being heavily improvised. John Wayne said during the shoot:

I went to see Buddy (Buddy Adler, studio head at Fox) and Skouros (Spyros Skouros, president of Fox) and told them we didn't even have a finished script. They're supposed to have been preparing this thing for a year, but Adler tells me he'll whip it into shape personally in a few days. Then he takes off for London and Skouras heads for New York. Henry is a fine director, but he shouldn't have to be making up scenes... Of course Marty Rackin and John Mahin, who were supposed to produce and who worked on the script, left the picture to do television. Then the writers strike came along. I guess the studio thought the strike would be ended before we started the picture. All I know is, I'd go broke if I tried this in an independent production.[16]

"This is great," Ernie Kovacs told a journalist as he lounged by a pool. "I've been here since 9 this morning and we're behind schedule, so I haven't even put on my costume. I didn't do anything during the actors' strike and now I'm back at work and I'm still not doing anything. It's a great way to make a living."[16] Fabian enjoyed working with John Wayne. "What you saw is what you got," recalled the singer. "He was incredible. He was very nice to me.”[17]

Theme song[edit]

The theme song's lyrics during the opening titles provide a back story for the point where the film begins: Sam McCord left Seattle in 1892 with George and Billy Pratt, "crossed the Yukon river" and "found the bonanza gold below that old white mountain just a little southeast of Nome." By "1901" Sam was known as "a mighty man," and his partner George then tells him, "I'd trade all the gold that's buried in this land for one small band of gold to place on sweet little Jenny's hand." George feels that Jenny is his "true love," and he declares he will "build for my Jenny a honeymoon home" below the same mountain where gold was discovered. An instrumental of the song is also played at the saloon on a piano when Sam and Angel arrive in Nome.

The song lyrics were written by Mike Phillips, and it was released on 22 August 1960 . It proved to be a success when it topped the Billboard country charts for five weeks in Jan./Feb. 1961 and crossed over to peak at #4 on the pop charts. However, Horton didn't live to see its success, as he died in a traffic collision 5 November 1960 (eight days before the film release), and his death may have contributed to the song's success. Horton sang other tie-in songs, the most famous being the song for Sink the Bismarck!. Horton had previously topped the country charts with his song "When It's Springtime in Alaska" in 1959 and with his monster hit of the same year, The Battle of New Orleans.


The film was popular at the box office.

Fabian's performance won him the "Uncrossed Heart" award for least Promising Actor of 1960 in Harvard Lampoon's Annual Movie awards.[18]

Comic book adaption[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Yale Finding Aid Database : Guide to the Edmond Pauker Papers".
  2. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p. 253
  3. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
  4. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p. 229
  5. ^ Box office information for Stewart Granger films in France at Box Office Story
  6. ^ TCM, North to Alaska, retrieved 2011-11-04
  7. ^ Option of $1 Puts Pair in Business: Rackin, Mahdin Parlay It Into $5 Million 'Horse Soldiers' Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 09 Feb 1959: C11.
  8. ^ Pryor, Thomas M. (22 Jan 1959). "FOX LISTS 34 FILMS IN RECORD BUDGET: Studio to Invest 66 Million in 1959 -- Musicians Unit Files Unfairness Charge". New York Times. p. 27.
  9. ^ Fleischer, Richard Just Tell Me When to Cry 1993 Carroll and Graf p 16-24
  10. ^ BRITON TO WRITE U. S. MOVIE SCRIPT: Bridget Boland Assigned to 'Devil at Four O'Clock' -Hathaway Gets Job By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 18 Mar 1959: 46.
  11. ^ p. 236 Davis, Ronald L. Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne, University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.
  12. ^ Kovacs Latest Star Due to 'Go North': Mrs. Sessue 'Introduced'; 'Armored Commitand' Alerted Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 02 May 1960: C11.
  13. ^ David Steritt, "North to Alaska", Turner Classic Movies accessed 9 July 2014
  14. ^ "All the Actors in Tony Crawley's Casting Calls".
  15. ^ Roberts, Randy & Olson, James Stewart. John Wayne: American, University of Nebraska Press, 1997, p. 481.
  16. ^ a b SCRIPTLESS IN 'NOME', CALIFORNIA: Lack of Scenario Is No Bar to the Shooting of 'Go North' By THOMAS McDONALD. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 19 June 1960: X7.
  17. ^ Jack Neary, "Interview with Fabian" Archived 2014-02-01 at the Wayback Machine. accessed 18 January 2014
  18. ^ Harvard Lampoon Calls 'Butterfield 8' the Worst Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 29 Mar 1961: 26.
  19. ^ "Dell Four Color #1155". Grand Comics Database.
  20. ^ Dell Four Color #1155 at the Comic Book DB

External links[edit]