Hollywood in the Canadian Rockies

Marilyn Monroe Nearly Drowned,’ read the headline, tucked away in the entertainment pages of the Calgary Herald for August 14th, 1953. Monroe was on location in Jasper National Park for the filming of the 20th Century Fox blockbuster western, River of No Return, when she slipped and fell in the icy waters of the Maligne River. Although pulled to safety by her co-star Robert Mitchum – and a dozen other crew members who quickly rushed to her rescue – she suffered a badly sprained ankle.

The cast and crew had caused quite a stir when they first arrived in the tiny mountain town of Jasper on the 25th of July. Two thousand people, more than the population of the town itself, were on hand to greet the train when it arrived from Vancouver. Director Otto Preminger, when first arriving on location, made a complete circle, shook his head and said, “I guess it doesn’t really matter where I point the camera. We are absolutely surrounded by scenery.”

Marilyn Monroe in the Canadian Rockies for the filming of 'River of No Return', 1953. (Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta PA3057.7)
Marilyn Monroe in the Canadian Rockies for the filming of ‘River of No Return’, 1953. (Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta PA3057.7)

1953 wasn’t Hollywood’s first foray into using the Mountain Parks as a cinematic backdrop; filmmakers already had a long love affair with Banff and Jasper dating back to the 1920’s with one of the earliest movies being Cameron of the Royal Mounted, filmed in Banff and released in December of 1921. The film was produced by Canadian Ernest Shipman. A prolific filmmaker of his day, Shipman produced 12 movies between 1919 and 1922. It was at this time however that large Hollywood interests, supported by the U.S. State Department, began exerting control over foreign markets, vertically integrating the production, distribution and exhibition of films, effectively putting independent filmmakers out of business and ending a successful decade of domestic film making in Canada. Read more