Cimarron (1929)

Novel: Cimarron ()
Published/Performed: 1929

Author: Edna Ferber
Born: Aug 15, 1885 Kalamazoo, Michigan
Passed: Apr 16, 1968 New York City, NY

Film: Cimarron
Released: 1931

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About the Novel Cimarron:

Cimarron is the title of a novel published by popular historical fiction author Edna Ferber in 1929. The book was adapted into a critically acclaimed film in 1931 through RKO Pictures. In 1960, the story was again adapted for the screen to meager success by MGM. Both the novel and 1931 film have fallen out of favor due to perceived racism.

Cimarron derives its name from the Cimarron Territory. The Cimarron Territory was an unrecognized name for the No Man's Land, an unsettled area of the West and Midwest, especially lands once inhabited by Native American tribes such as the Cherokee and Sioux. In 1886 the government declared such lands open to settlement. Oklahoma at the time of the novel's opening is one such "Cimarron Territory" though, in actuality, the historical setting of the novel is somewhere in the Cherokee Outlet, also known as the Cherokee Strip and probably the city of Woodward, Oklahoma.

The novel is set in the Oklahoma of the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It follows the lives of Yancy and Sabra Cravat, beginning with Yancy's tale of his participation in the 1893 land rush. They emigrate from Wichita, Kansas to the fictional town of Osage, Oklahoma with their son, Cim, and (unknowingly) a black boy named Isaiah. The Cravats here print their newspaper, the Oklahoma Wigwam and build their fortune amongst Indian disputes, outlaws, and the discovery of oil in Oklahoma. Upon its publication, Cimarron was a sensation in America and came to epitomize an era in American history. This novel became Ferber's third successful novel and paved the way for many more historical epics penned by the author.

The character of Yancy Cravat is based on Temple Houston, last child of Texas icon Sam Houston. Temple Houston was a brilliant trial lawyer, known for his flamboyant courtroom theatrics. He was also a competent gunfighter and killed at least one man in a stand-up shootout.

The 1931 film was premiered first in New York City on January 26, 1931, to much praise, and a Los Angeles premiere followed on February 6. Three days later the film was released to theaters throughout the nation. Despite being a critical success, the high budget and ongoing Great Depression combined against the film. While it was a commercial success in line with other films of the day, RKO could not recoup their investment in the film.

The 1960 remake of Cimarron saw many changes from both the Ferber novel and especially the 1931 film. With the Civil Rights Movement gaining momentum, the script, written by Arnold Schulman, took a kinder approach to Native Americans. Schulman gave the people more dignity and recognized that they were losing land that was rightfully theirs through the 1893 land rush that was the film's centerpiece. He also introduced several minor characters, such as journalist Sam Pegler (Robert Keith) and Wes Jennings (Vic Morrow), a prominent member of Cherokee Kid's (Russ Tamblyn) gang.

In 1961 the film was nominated for Best Art Direction (art directors George W. Davis and Addison Hehr) and Best Sound, but failed to win either. Cimarron marked the end of the Ferber adaptations. While the 1931 adaptation is arguably the better and more successful of the two, the 1960 remake receives more attention and is still broadcast on television.

Note: 1992's Far and Away, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, also depicted the 1893 Oklahoma Land Race.

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Featured Cast (Names and Roles) of the Film Cimarron: