Thursday, June 29, 2017

Costner, Brando and Tom Hanks: A Cinematic History of U.S. Highway 83

Anthony Quinn and Marlon Brando

U.S. Highway 83 — cutting right down the middle of the nation and traveling 1,885 miles from the Canadian border all the way to Mexico — might seem as far away from Hollywood as it gets. The movie industry has come to Highway 83, though. Marlon Brando, Anthony Quinn, Kevin Costner, Tom Hanks and Dianne Wiest — all Academy Award winning actors — are among those who have filmed movies in the communities or lands along the Last American Highway.
Here is a cinematic history of U.S. Route 83.

Dances With Wolves. The most honored movie to be filmed near Highway 83 is undoubtedly 1990’s Dances With Wolves, the first Western to win the Academy Award for best picture since 1931. One buffalo hunting scene as well as the Fort Sedgewick scenes were filmed at the Triple U Buffalo Ranch near the Fort Pierre National Grasslands.
Those were the days before computer generated imagery took over and the buffalo hunting scene was reportedly one of the hardest to pull off, according to a June 14, 2014 article in the Capital Journal, which looked back at the 25th anniversary of the film.
Several extras and experts in the Lakota language were recruited to work on the film from the Rosebud Reservation, which also sits on Highway 83.
Dances with Wolves introduced filmmakers to the beauty of prairies and blue skies that go as far as the eye can see,” the article said.

Casey Tibbs
Born to Buck. In 1967, rodeo superstar turned Hollywood actor and stuntman Casey Tibbs needed to move a herd of horses off a nearby Indian reservation. He hit on the idea to make a documentary about the trail drive. He wanted to show audiences raised on phony TV westerns the “real West,” while using the beautiful South Dakota prairie as a backdrop. Tibbs was well known in Hollywood (He dated actress Katherine Ross for two years), but couldn’t secure funding. Using his own money he hired a film crew to follow a trail drive, according to the biography Casey Tibbs: Born to Ride by Rusty Richards. He had his pal Henry Fonda provide the narration. Tibbs doubled for Fonda and appeared with him in the move The Rounders. The trail drive ended with a rodeo sequence in Fort Pierre. The independent film did quite well financially and is still available today on DVD. The Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center in Fort Pierre is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its release this year. A documentary about Tibbs’ life, Floating Horses, is currently making the rounds at film festivals.
Independence Day. Don’t confuse this movie filmed in Anson, Texas, in 1983 with the 1996 alien invasion blockbuster. It is instead a little remembered gem from the 1980s with a cast of actors who would go on to great careers. Anson stands in for an Arizona town. The movie is a realistic study of small town life that avoids Hollywood stereotypes about those who choose to live their lives in such communities. Its characters ring true. Look quick for the Highway 83 sign in the opening credits. Several scenes were filmed on the road or along it. Anson’s charming town square is in several scenes and one of the main characters lives in an apartment overlooking the highway. Dianne Wiest would soon star in Hannah and Her Sisters, for which she won an Oscar. She was overlooked in this role as a battered housewife. For years, this movie was only available on VHS, but last year it was rereleased on DVD. Worth seeking out! 
Viva Zapata! Legendary filmmaker Elia Kazan knew he was up against the clock. He had the money to make a movie about the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, but had to get it done before the studio bosses changed their minds. This was 1952 and the McCarthy Era when movies about socialist revolutionaries were frowned upon, especially in Mexico, which wouldn’t let him film there. But he discovered Roma, Texas, where the historic 19th century buildings by the Rio Grande provided the perfect backdrop. He signed Marlon Brando to play the title character. Brando was little known to movie audiences, but during production the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire came out, and he would soon be a star. Co-star Anthony Quinn — playing Zapata’s brother — was the only major cast member who had Mexican roots.
The cast stayed in a hotel in Mission, Texas, and had to travel in an unconditioned station wagon to Roma on Highway 83 every day in full costume and makeup. The trip on 83 was even longer for two scenes filmed near another 83 town, San Ygnacio. Quinn would win a best supporting actor Oscar for his performance. Brando and screenwriter John Steinbeck were nominated.

Cast Away. Highway 83 was portrayed in the 2000 movie starring Tom Hanks. How did Highway 83 end up in a movie about a FedEx executive stranded in the middle of the Pacific? SPOILER ALERT! He gets off the island. (It’s a 17-year-old movie, don’t get mad at me!) At the end of the film he reaches a real and figurative crossroads in the Texas panhandle. The mystery woman he meets on a lonely stretch of highway identifies the road as 83 and says if he heads north, there’s a “whole lot of nothing.’” Obviously I disagree with that statement.
However, that’s not actually Highway 83. In the background, viewers can clearly see Texas Farm-to-Market signs, not federal Highway 83 signs. However, the scene was filmed in Hemphill County at the intersection of FMs 48 and 1268. Interestingly, the first book ever written about Highway 83 was by photographer Maarten Laupman and writer Rob Daniels from The Netherlands. They took that phrase and named their book, “A Whole Lot of Nothin.” Link to an article about the book HERE.

Some famous film actors who hail from towns along Highway 83 include: Matthew McConaughey and Dale Evans, both born in Uvalde, Texas. Singer/actor Kris Kristofferson was born and raised in Brownsville, Texas. And if you saw the recent animated movie Cars 3, you heard the voice of Cristela Alonzo portraying Cruz Ramirez. She is from a small town near Highway 83 in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Hidalgo. Josh Duhamel, known for the Transformers movies, was born and raised in Minot, N.D.

Stew Magnuson is the author of the Highway 83 Chronicles, a series of three books about history and life found along U.S. Route 83. The final book, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83 in Texas was released in March 2017 and follows The Last American Highway: The Dakotas, and The Last American Highway: Nebraska-Kansas-Oklahoma, edition.
All three are available ONLINE or in bookstores and gift shops along Highway 83.
For signed copies or retail opportunities contact him HERE.