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Keith Norrington 04-18-2007 08:07 AM

Cottom Blossom - MGM "Showboat"
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I came across this postcard of the COTTON BLOSSOM, which MGM built at a cost of $125,000 for the 1951 movie production of "Showboat", starring Ava Gardner, Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel. The lake used in Tarzan movies portrayed the Mississippi River and the port of Natchez! 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.

Of course, we riverboat buffs and buffettes all know that TRUE showboats were not self-propelled vessels and were theatres constructed on barges and pushed by sternwheel towboats. Nonetheless, "Showboat" is a good movie and I always enjoy watching it.

The COTTON BLOSSOM was used in subsequent movies before being sold in 1973 for $15,000 to the Worlds of Fun Amusement Park at Kansas City. The boat was then dismantled and shipped to Missouri where it became a prime attraction and visitor favorite, featuring shows with dixieland bands, a gift shop and cafe. In 1995, to make space for new rides, the boat was closed and demolished by bulldozers.

David Dewey 04-18-2007 12:10 PM

In the Summer of 1974, I took a tour of the MGM studios, and there was a steamboat in a lagoon then. There was also a "steam" train--which I now believe is back in Nevada City, CA (at least the locomotive) where it originated from the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad (Also known as the "Never Come, Never Go--it is said that a passenger complained to the conductor, "When are we going to get to Nevada City, my baby is due!" His response was, "Madam, you shouldn't have gotten on the train in this condition" Her reply, "I wasn't IN this condition when I boarded in Colfax!"
(For those not familiar with the layout of the land, you can drive today (very near the old right-of-way) between the two towns in 45 minutes).
Anyways, back to steamboatin'--I wonder if this was the same boat--my memory is vauge, but I thought the guide said something about "Showboat." The big deal at that time was going through Moses' parted waters.
David D.

Keith Norrington 04-18-2007 01:40 PM

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David, The COTTON BLOSSOM was at Worlds of Fun by 1974. A "steamboat buff" friend of mine, who was an animator for Disney, said there was another sternwheeler on the MGM lot that had been used in the 1959 television series "Riverboat", starring Burt Reynolds and Darren McGavin. The boat, named the ENTERPRISE (which was also used in other other movies) finally rotted down and was scrapped. Episodes of "Riverboat" are available on both VHS and DVD on Ebay.

R. Dale Flick 04-18-2007 02:44 PM

Hi, Keith & David:
Thanks for your two informative postings on the history and fate of the COTTON BLOSSOM in the movie SHOWBOAT etc. I'd always wondered what happened to it and you two have nailed it. The movie back then was a block buster 'biggie' and I recall being hauled to the classic ALBEE theater here on Fountain Square to see it with my parents and sister. The big theater organ was still being played and I recall it but don't remember what selections were rendered.

S&D attendees viewed a clip showing the present MAJESTIC showboat here being floated in her new steel hull down at TUCKER MARINE on Kellogg Ave. [*Cap'n Bill Judd may remember the year it was done.] I saw the hull being welded but not the 'float in' of the boat itself. It was a miserably cold day with snow when the two were matched. I'd dare risk an opinion that showboats as we know them are a totally American phenomenon and creation. If any such vessels existed in Europe Carmen and Franz may have an insight. I attended productions here on the MAJESTIC years back but, truthfully, it gave me a case of the willies when the nearby DELA QUEEN steamed away from the GREENE LINE wharfboat. She was so close you could see in the dining room windows where people were staring back and smell the food from her cook house. Then came the not-so-gentle rock and swell as the DQ turned, rounded out and headed down under the Suspension Bridge.

R. Dale Flick

PS> Can any of you recall the name of the black man with the rich, deep voice in SHOWBOAT who sang 'Old Man River?' I can't.

inactive user 02 04-18-2007 02:51 PM


He was Paul Robeson (sp?).


Bruce MacCullagh 04-18-2007 02:59 PM

Showboat 1951 Joe was William Warfield

others were
Paul Robeson 1936
Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry - 1929 (Credited as "Stepin Fetchit")

Keith Norrington 04-18-2007 03:13 PM

Thanks Bruce! The 1936 version of "Showboat" is also available on VHS and features Hattie McDaniel ("Mammy" in [I]Gone With the Wind[/I]) as the cook (and wife of Joe) on the towboat that pushes the COTTON BLOSSOM.

About 10 years ago we had the Broadway production of "Showboat" here in Louisville at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. The scenery was fabulous, with the shimmering river, "steam" from the calliope, etc. It simply took my breath away and I had to go see it twice to be sure I hadn't missed anything! When "Old Man River" was sung, I got a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. My companion said, "This riverboat stuff really DOES have an effect on YOU doesn't it?!" What a question to ask ME!

Keith Norrington 04-18-2007 03:30 PM

Dale: I think it was 1968 or '69 when the MAJESTIC got her new steel hull at Tucker Marine. It didn't come any too soon, as that old wooden hull, dating from 1923, was decrepit. Capt. Roddy Hammett said that someone came running over to the DQ one night and asked if they could borrow a bilge pump because the showboat was sinking! Roddy explained that everything on the DQ was steam, but he went over to see what he could do. He saw several actors down in the hold, frantically bailing water. Help came from somewhere and the MAJESTIC was saved, but the new owners knew they were living on borrowed time and the new steel hull was installed soon thereafter.

When the MAJESTIC and ATTABOY (renamed I.U.) spent their last years (1965-66) under the ownership of Indiana University tied up at Jeffersonville, Jeffboat kindly kept watch over the old showboat and her towboat, which already had a steel hull. During periods of very high water when there was a lot of drift in the river, they would move the boats upstream and place barges around them for protection.

Judy Patsch and I were given a memorable "hull to pilothouse" tour of the MAJESTIC about ten years ago by assistant production manager Denny Reed. Since that time, the showboat was taken upriver for extensive hull work. A lot of other restoration work has been done recently as well. A video on the MAJESTIC's history is available for purchase, as is the wonderful book, [I]Cargo of Memories, [/I] written by the late Catherine Reynolds King, daughter of Capt. T.J. Reynolds.

Actor Kevin Kline, who has appeared in various recent movies, is an IU graduate and spent time on the MAJESTIC. He especially recalls stoking the boiler to provide steam for the calliope!

For more about life on a traveling showboat, don't forget that the next program in my "River Ramblings" series at the Howard Steamboat Museum will be on Saturday, August 25th at 3:00 PM EDT, featuring our own Pat Carr, who lived on the MAJESTIC as a Hiram College student in 1958. Pat's program, entitled "Footlights Afloat", will feature home movies, photos and LOTS of great stories as only Pat can tell them! Y'all come!

inactive user 02 04-18-2007 03:33 PM


I too was at one of the Louisville performances. Believe it or not, I was "hired" as the stand in for the calliope player should they need one. My father had something to do with this, I am sure!

Unfortunately, I never got to take hand to the Tangley Calliaphone aboard the unbelieveable mock up of the COTTON BLOSSOM that graced the stage of the Kentucky Center for the Arts.

Those instruments (for there were 2 of them) for the road show of "Showboat" were unique one-off calliopes built by Dave Miner of Miner Manufacturing Co. He built them to be quiet enough to mimick the sound of a steam calliope while inside a theatre. They operated on 1/4 pound of air supplied by a tiny vaccum moter sized blower. The "steam" was powder which was admitted into the blower unit for the calliope. This "steam" was quite messy and the actors had to pay great attention to be sure not to get anywhere around it for it showed on clithing quite well. They were also made to look like a steam calliope in that the whistles were mounted on a small air chamber painted black and rounded on the sides to look as if the whistles were mounted on a steel pipe manifold (like a traditional steam calliope). You had see this contraption from the keyboard to realize this was actually a shallow pipe chest like on a pipe organ modified for a look.

More than you wanted to know about that subject, huh?


Bruce MacCullagh 04-18-2007 03:50 PM

[QUOTE=Travis Vasconcelos;5091]
More than you wanted to know about that subject, huh?
Never too much information on that subject.

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