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When The Yearling was released in theaters in 1946, it had completely different cast and crew in the credits from those who originally began production on the film in 1940. MGM chose to adapt the 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings to the screen and make it one of its most important projects of its day. Little did they know its production would be so troubled. Marc Connelly was hired to adapt the novel into a screenplay, and Sidney Franklin was chosen to produce. Franklin was known for being a perfectionist, and it came as no surprise when he decided to shoot on location in Florida, where the story takes place, rather than in the Hollywood studio. MGM cast Spencer Tracy as Pa Baxter, and an extensive talent search began in the southeast for the boy who would play Jody Baxter. A boy from Atlanta, Georgia, named Gene Eckman was finally cast as the young boy.
Shooting began in 1941, with Victor Fleming as director. After only three weeks, the cast and crew returned to Hollywood. Rumors abounded of differences in temperament among the people working on the film, and MGM then announced that King Vidor would replace Fleming as director. The studio soon realized that the film wasn't going to work if they continued as planned. The animals that had been trained for the film were growing too quickly, so new animals would have to be trained. Eckman's Southern accent didn't mesh well with Tracy's manner of speaking and he was hard to understand. Soon, the project was shelved, but in 1944 it was brought back into the forefront of the studio's productions. (The film had sat on the backburner for a few years because Hollywood's war films were so popular that the producers didn't think a film about animals would fare well.)
When production resumed, Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman had been cast as Ma and Pa Baxter. Shooting began once again in Florida with Clarence Brown as director, and it soon became apparent that Eckman had grown too old for his role as Jody. Another talent search was launched, and Brown discovered Claude Jarman, Jr. in his Nashville, Tennessee elementary school. The unpredictable and sometimes harsh climate of Florida plagued the shoot for its duration, but filming finally wrapped in February of 1946. The film was released in Los Angeles at the end of that same year so it could qualify for that year's Academy Awards. It turned out to be well worth all the problems everyone had endured over the past few years; the film received a total of six Oscar nominations. Peck and Wyman were nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress, and Claude Jarman, Jr. was given an honorary Oscar for "outstanding child actor of 1946". Oscars were won for art direction and set decoration, and for Technicolor photography.
In addition to being a critical success, The Yearling was a huge commercial success, grossing over $5.2 million nationally. People of all ages can appreciate this coming-of-age film about a boy who learns to deal with love and loss, through a special friendship with a pet deer.
Director: Clarence Brown
Producer: Sidney Franklin
Screenwriting: Paul Osborn
Cinematography: Charles Rosher, Leonard Smith, Arthur E. Arling
Editor: Harold F. Kress
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse
Music: Herbert Stothart
Cast: Gregory Peck (Pa Baxter), Jane Wyman (Ma Baxter), Claude Jarman, Jr. (Jody Baxter), Chill Wills (Buck Forrester), Clem Bevans (Pa Forrester), Margaret Wycherly (Ma Forrester).
C-129m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Sarah Heiman