Steamboats in the Movies - MGM's Cotton Blossom, page 1


Backlot filming of 1951 SHOW BOAT with Howard Keel as Gaylord Ravenal standing on one of the curved stairways aboard the Cotton Blossom while Director George Sidney sits next to the cameraman on a crane-like apparatus suspended over the water as they prepare to shoot a scene. MGM's "waterfront" buildings (sets) in the background are familiar from Mickey Rooney's HUCKLEBERRY FINN and Glen Ford's ADVANCE TO THE REAR.


MGM Publicity still from the internet of the studio's mascot "LEO the LION" (who "roared" at the beginning of every film) escorted by his trainer on Lot 3 in Culver City at the edge of the lake where the COTTON BLOSSOM floated against the opposite shore with a hillside of oil wells in the background.

in the movies

COTTON BLOSSOM on the man-made lake on one of the MGM Culver City back lots. The color scheme is relatively subdued in this photo, not the overly gaudy "peppermint candy" red trim against white that looked a bit over the top in the Technicolor SHOW BOAT. There is no name board on the pilot house and no name painted an the port side stern either so the boat was probably being kept "neutral" until she needed to be rechristened for use in another movie. Photo courtesy of well-known, much accomplished steamboat model maker John Fryant.


COTTON BLOSSOM steamin' and smokin'. Murphy has a print of this photo in their collection and it also appears in Miles Krueger's book about Edna Ferber's novel, the celebrated productions of Jerome Kern's musical on stage and the motion picture adaptations of the novel and musical.

Show Boat: The Story of a Classic American Musical 1978 by Miles Kreuger Oxford University Press 1978

The iconic replica boats like MGM'S COTTON BLOSSOM and Universal's ENTERPRISE are more familiar to the general public than most of the genuine boats that plied the waters of the Mississippi River valley.

ShowBoatCottomBlossomMGMsetStill HALF size

Taken on MGM's Culver City back lot lake of an exterior set representing the shore line of Natchez during a break during filming of SHOW BOAT in 1951. I can make out about 16 "dress extras" - 8 African Americans and 8 "white folks" in costumes around the cotton bales on shore. The building in the background appears to have been built originally as a small town depot set and probably moved from somewhere else on the back lot to represent a steamboat landing office. There's a little set slate next to the capstan and a cunning little box office for the "Floating Palace Theatre "to the right of the swinging stage far right. The headlight mounted on the jack staff looks like it was borrowed off one of the studio's vintage locomotives.

A motion picture camera may have been mounted on the stern of the skiff in the foreground, hard to tell since it's not clear what was going on out of the picture in the lower right corner.

The man at the oars looks dead serious . . . making an expensive Hollywood musical had to be a sobering business.

Joe E. Brown - cornet

Joe E. Brown as Cap'n Andy in SHOW BOAT, "playing" the cornet in front of the fire curtain aboard the COTTON BLOSSOM.

There are 5 steamboats in vignettes on the fire curtain and one on the upright piano below the stage.

The name BETSY ANN is under the painting in the lower left but the names under the other boats are obscured or are too dark to read. Hope a better photo of the fire curtain turns up or perhaps on the DVD of the movie some more details are visible. The fire curtain itself may have been sold in the MGM auction.


Howard Keel as itinerent riverboat gambler Gaylord Ravenal with Owen McGiveney as Windy McClain, pilot of the COTTON BLOSSOM, who is selling tickets for the next show at a boot on shore. The steamboat/show boat COTTON BLOSSOM is visible in the background at center.


Nine more screen captures from SHOW BOAT.


M-G-M publicist Lionel Ascher visits the COTTON BLOSSOM during the filming of the 1951 SHOW BOAT.

From an online virtual tour of the Studio's back lots:

More Cotton Blossom - click here


All captions provided by Dave Thomson, primary contributor and historian.