Show Boat "Cotton Blossom"
As many of you know my love for classic film is only rivaled by my love of film
history and memorabilia. I was recently looking over some aerial views of the
former MGM studio back lots, when I noticed a familiar riverboat prop. The
riverboat was the "Cotton Blossom" from MGM's 1951 production of Show Boat
starring Ava Gardner, Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel. I couldn't help but
wonder if the "Cotton Blossom" had met the fate of the rest of the MGM back
lots, so I decided to find out. The "Cotton Blossom" was built in 1951 at a cost
of $125,000 the largest prop ever constructed for a motion picture, during the
filming a fire on board, said to have been caused by the boiler that supplied steam
for the calliope, caused considerable damage that cost an additional $67,000 to
repair. After use in the film Show Boat, it sat in a lake on the back lot of MGM
until after the famous Weisz MGM auction of 1970. It was purchased in 1973
for $15,000 by Texas oilman Lamar Hunt, for use in his theme park "Worlds of
fun" in Kansas City. The riverboat was disassembled and trucked from Culver
City, CA to Missouri. The "Cotton Blossom" lived out her final years as a
amusement park attraction, gift shop and restaurant. Sadly in 1995 the "The
Cotton Blossom" met the fate she was able to avoid twenty five years earlier.
The "Cotton Blossom" one of the greatest movie props ever made, which was
never intended to last beyond the original production of Show Boat was bulldozed
in order to make room for a new attraction. Although gone, her starring role in
one of the great MGM musicals Show Boat, lives on.
The "Cotton Blossom" designed by Jack Marin Smith was self-propelled by two
concealed diesel engines and underwater cables. The boat was 171 feet long
with a 34 foot beam rising 57 feet to the top of her smoke stacks. She had a
19.5 foot paddle wheel. The most expensive prop to date when constructed.
The "Cotton Blossom" was used in later films such as Desperate Search (1952)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960) Advance to the Rear (1964) and a
brief background appearance in How the West Was Won (1962)
One famous story from the filming of Show Boat accounts a situation that
erupted at the end of shooting involving Kathryn Grayson who was dating
Howard Hughes at the time. Hughes who felt he was losing Grayson to co-star
Howard Keel, out of jealously repeatedly made low dive bomb fly overs of the
riverboat set in a noisy airplane. This was during a wedding scene between
Grayson and Keel, which resulted in ruined take after take. According to Grayson
"They never used that expensive sequence."
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M-G-M STUDIOS Lot 3 - Note the lake with the river boat from "Show Boat"
Sadly, the MGM boat "Cotton Blossom" was demolished in 1995 at the
theme park Worlds of Fun in Kansas City it had been sold to in the early 70's
after the MGM auction.
The Cotton Blossom on the MGM backlot in the 70's
Show Boat is a 1951 Technicolor film based on the musical by Jerome Kern (music)
and Oscar Hammerstein II (script and lyrics) and the novel by Edna Ferber
Directed by George Sidney
Produced by Arthur Freed
Written by Oscar Hammerstein II , Edna Ferber , John Lee Mahin
Starring Kathryn Grayson , Ava Gardner , Howard Keel , Joe E. Brown ,
Gower Champion , Agnes Moorehead , William Warfield