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First-time author James Jones took the title for his novel From Here to Eternity from a line of the "Whiffenpoof Song" whose lyrics were inspired, in part, by a Rudyard Kipling poem entitled "Gentlemen-Rankers," published in his Barrack-Room Ballads (1892). The song's lyric reads, "Gentlemen-rankers out on the spree, Damned from here to Eternity, God ha' mercy on such as we, Baa! Yah! Baa!" According to an article in the NYT Book Review, before the novel's publication, every Hollywood studio turned down the opportunity to purchase Jones's graphic portrayal of peace-time Army life. The article also states that Columbia purchased the novel within a week after its release for $85,000. A March 5, 1951 Daily Variety news item announced that the film would star Broderick Crawford, Glenn Ford and John Derek. A later Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Montgomery Clift was the first major star hired for the film.
Although an Los Angeles Examiner article stated that author Jones would not be working on the film adaptation, a late March 1951 news item in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column mentioned that he was working on the screenplay. An April 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item indicated that Jones would write the screenplay and S. Sylvan Simon would produce and direct. Simon died on May 18, 1951 and his contribution to the production, if any, has not been determined. Later Hollywood Reporter news items announced that director Vincent Sherman would be assigned to the film and that studio head Harry Cohn would produce the picture.
The following casting and pre-production information was gathered from a modern interview with writer Daniel Taradash located at the AMPAS Library: producer Buddy Adler always intended to cast Burt Lancaster as "Sgt. Milton Warden" and a deal was struck with Hal Wallis and Paramount to borrow Lancaster for $150,000. Cohn wanted Aldo Ray for "Robert E. Lee Prewitt" and tested him with contract player Donna Reed, which brought her to attention for the role of "Alma." Until then, only Roberta Haines had been under consideration for the role. Taradash also stated that Joan Crawford was greatly interested in the role of Karen and had serious discussions with director Fred Zinnemann, but her demands for certain cameramen and makeup artists discouraged Columbia from pursuing her further.
Deborah Kerr's agent suggested her the part of Karen, and the filmmakers considered the casting of Kerr, who was primarily known for playing cool, sophisticated roles, to be unusual enough to be successful. Eli Wallach was the preferred candidate for the role of "Angelo Maggio," but despite a powerful screen test, Wallach's demand for twice the standard fee eliminated him from the running. Frank Sinatra petitioned strenuously for the part of Maggio and the filmmakers agreed that Sinatra's skinny build projected a particular helplessness that secured him the part. Sinatra's flagging film and singing career was revitalized by the great success of the film and his subsequent Academy Award.
At Cohn's insistence, Taradash brought the unwieldly 800 plus page novel down to a 150 page screenplay. A myriad of characters and relationships were dropped, as well as taboo incidents of excessive brutality, homosexuality and suicide. Other changes included deleting Prew's three-month stint in the stockade and having Karen leave Holmes permanently. The greatest change, however, concerned Maggio, who does not die, but endures near sadistic physical abuse to convincingly feign insanity to receive a "section 8" court martial and Dishonorable Discharge.
According to information on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the Breen office expressed concerns about Warden and Karen's adulterous relationship, yet the filmmakers altered very little of the portrayal. Many other recommendations from the PCA, mostly concerning sexual situations, were flatly ignored, but the script, to which Zinnemann adhered, nevertheless received PCA approval before filming and an MPAA certificate after completion. According to Variety and Hollywood Reporter news items, after its release, the film was banned by the Navy from being shown on ships and shore installations for being "derogatory to a sister service." The Army, however, approved the film for camp screenings and the Catholic Legion of Decency gave the film a "B" rating rather than condemning it.
In a December 1953 letter in the Fred Zinnemann collection in the AMPAS Library, Zinnemann wrote Cohn expressing anxiety over the film's European release, which he feared would be affected by the volatile worldwide political situation. Zinnemann wrote, "The anti-American feeling is very strong and very widespread and it seems quite clear that the Communists are prepared to exploit any item they can get hold of in order to increase hostility to America." The letter continues, in part, "In this situation, with world shaking decisions in the making, it would seem to me a frightful blunder to release From Here to Eternity in any country-whether Europe or Asia-which has a large body of opposition to the United States....I was so concerned about all this that ...the idea of [of attaching] a foreward [to the film] which would state, without apologizing, that our film deals with pre-war America...is urgently necessary..." Cohn responded immediatly, admitting he knew very little of efforts by foreign countries opposed to the United States to use American motion pictures as propaganda. He also noted, "You doubtless know that in the foreign countries where "Eternity" has opened, the business has been very big." There is no indication that any further action was taken regarding Zinnemann's recommendations.
The film was filmed partially on location on the island of Oahu at Schofield Barracks. The scene on the beach in which Warden and Karen kiss in the sand as waves crash over them has become one of the most recognizable film moments in popular culture.
From Here to Eternity went on to win a Best Picture Academy Award, as well as awards for Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Frank Sinatra), Best Supporting Actress (Donna Reed), Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography (Black and White), Best Sound Recording and Best Film Editing. The film received two nominations for Best Actor (for Montgomery Clift and Burt Lancaster), and nominations for Best Scoring and Best Costume Design. In May 1953, Sinatra recorded a song entitled "From Here to Eternity," with words by Robert Wells and music by Fred Karger, "inspired" by the movie's score, but which had no other connection to the film. A news item in Los Angeles Times in March 1954 revealed that a Brooklyn postal clerk, Angelo Maggio, who had served with James Jones in the Army in Hawaii, filed a criminal action suit against Columbia, Jones and Charles Scribner & Sons publishing house, claiming the use of his name in the book and the film had made him the subject of ridicule. The disposition of the suit has not been determined.
In February 1979, a made-for-television, three-part mini-series was broacast on NBC, starring William Devane as Warden, Natalie Wood as Karen and Kim Basinger as Alma. The telefilm inspired a short-lived series that ran on NBC from March to August 1980, with Barbara Hershey replacing Wood. The scene in which George Reeves as "Sgt. Maylon Stark," appeared with Lancaster was included in Allen Coulter's 2006 Focus Features release Hollywoodland, but digitally altered to replace Reeves with Ben Afleck, who portrayed Reeves in the 2006 film inspired by the actor's 1959 death.