Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Big Sky ...

Back in the summer of 1901, a man named Alfred Guthrie moved his family to Montana so he could take a job as a high school principal. On his first day in the state, he was reported to have exclaimed, "standing under the big sky I feel free."

As you've probably guessed by now, that man was the father of the famous western novelist A.B. Guthrie, Jr. In 1947, the younger Guthrie had just finished his first book, and was struggling to come up with a title ... he showed a number of family documents to his editor, who discovered the quote above and knew he had a winner.

It wasn't long after The Big Sky was published that Montana's tourism people figured that they had a winner there, too ... and the phrase has been strongly associated with the state for over half a century now. I've always liked the slogan, though I confess I like it a little less now that the name has been appropriated by a destination resort catering to wealthy out-of-staters.

But so it goes. Here's a paragraph from the original novel, an evocative description of the sense of place that many of us feel about Montana.
Boone lay on his back and looked at a night sky shot with stars. They were sharp and bright as fresh-struck flames, like campfires that a traveler might sight on a far shore. Starlight was nearly as good as moonlight here on the upper river where blue days faded off into nights deeper than a man could believe. By day Boone could get himself on a hill and see forever, until the sky came down and shut off his eye. There was the sky above, blue as paint, and the brown earth rolling underneath, and himself between them with a free, wild feeling in his chest, as if they were the ceiling and floor of a home that was all his own.


  1. Probably one of my all time favorite films...Don't know how many pics I have of the Mandan replica.

  2. You know, I have a confession to make: I've read the book, but I'm not entirely sure I've ever seen the movie! One more thing to add to the Netflix queue ...

  3. Netflix doesn't have it. There's not been a DVD made from the original b/w version...I don't think. The tacky colorized version is what they show on tv. I've read that it's one of the films that was so degraded by time...we may never get to see it in original form.

    For it's day it was really done well though.

  4. Wow, that's kind of surprising. There are several great old movies I've been trying unsuccessfully to find for years, though ... kind of makes you wonder how in the world people decide which films to put on DVD.

    (One of the films in the latter category is a Canadian movie called The Grey Fox, which I think you'd really like ... you should keep an eye out for it.)

    ANyhow, I'll have to do some looking for The Big Sky. I know that has it available to watch online, at least ...

  5. I have a copy of the colorized Big Sky, but finding another is difficult. There is supposed to a version that won't work in the US...but many DVD players may have the capability...I guess. Thanks for the link, at any rate. I may find some more stuff I've been looking for.

    We saw The Grey Fox when it first came out. *S* It's another great, under-appreciated performance.

  6. If I ever find a decent B&W copy of that, I'll let you know.

    And I'm glad you liked The Grey Fox! There's no doubt in my mind that Richard Farnsworth was one of the finest Western actors there ever was. (Another really wonderful movie of his is called The Straight Story.)

  7. LOL, we finally saw and just loved The Straight Story...within this last year. I agree with you about Farnsworth...Ben Johnson was cut from the same cloth.