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The opening cast credits differ in order from the end credits. Spencer Tracy, Gene Tierney, Van Johnson and Leo Genn are all listed below the opening title, followed, in order, by Dawn Addams, Lloyd Bridges, Barry Jones, John Dehner, Tommy Ivo, Lowell Gilmore and Noel Drayton. The end credits begin with Gilmore "as `Edward Winslow'," and end with Tracy "as `Capt. Christopher Jones'." A written prologue begins with the words: "The history of mankind is the record of those who dared to adventure into unknown realms" and ends with a dedication to "the immortal men and women who dared to undertake the Plymouth Adventure and so brought to a continent the seed that grew into the United States of America."
According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Bronislau Kaper was initially set to score the film, Peter Lawford was at one time cast, and Tierney was borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox. According to a May 1, 1950 MGM News press release, Deborah Kerr was to be the female lead of the film and William A. Wellman was to direct. News items also note that portions of the film were shot on the ship the Queen Juliana. A March 7, 1952 Hollywood Reporter news items indicated that Philip Friend was testing for the role that was to have been played by Peter Lawford, but Friend was not in the released film. According to various Hollywood Reporter news items, actors Bob Wilkinson, Owen Pritchard, Jeffrey Pritchard, Paul Salata, Bruce Carruthers and Jack Dwyer were cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
According to a Variety article on November 26, 1952, when the film opened, descendants of those who sailed to North America on the original Mayflower complained about the way their ancestors were portrayed. Former congressman Maurice Thatcher, Deputy Governor General of the National Society of Mayflower Descendants, took particular exception to the portrayal of "Dorothy Bradford," who was, according to Thatcher "eminently respectable" and not involved in any scandal as shown in the film. Thatcher claimed that the film altered the facts of incidents that happened to Priscilla Mullins to make it appear that they happened to Bradford because Bradford drowned, leaving no descendants, whereas Mullins' descendants "raised the roof" when they learned about incidents that were to be dramatized on the screen. Another Variety article described similar complaints by Mayflower descendants after a special screening of the film for the Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Society of Mayflower Descendants. Following the screening, the 300-member chapter passed a resolution denouncing "the contamination of the reputation of Dorothy Bradford."
As loosely depicted in the film, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England on September 21, 1620. The ship carried 102 passengers and a crew of 21 (some sources list the combined total at 135) on the voyage to North America. The ship arrived at what became Provincetown, MA on November 21, 1620. On that day, forty-one of the male passengers signed The Mayflower Compact, a document that was intended to formulate just and equal laws by which the new colony would be governed. A replica of the original ship, called Mayflower II, set sail from Plymouth, England on April 20, 1957 and docked in Plymouth, MA on June 13, 1957 at the site of the colony established by the Pilgrims, Plimoth Plantation. The ship was a gift from the people of Britain to the United States.
According to a 1952 article in American Cinematographer, about twenty-five percent of the shots of the Mayflower were actually studio-made miniatures. The article also noted that, under the auspices of A. Arnold "Buddy" Gillespie, head of M-G-M's Special Effects department, Miniatures Department head Don Jahraus and processor Carroll Shepphird, miniatures were constructed and shot in Ansco Color by Max Fabian. The film won an Oscar for Special Effects and, according to Motion Picture Almanac, it was one of the top twenty highest-grossing films of the year.