Marilyn and Me, John Stephens on filming Bus Stop in Sun Valley

The Valley Sun introduces a new series from guest blogger Jennifer Tuohy. In Stories from the Staff, she highlights the stories of former employees, talking about their time at Sun Valley and where their Sun Valley experience has led them. In this two-part opener she profiles John M. Stephens, a famed cinematographer who worked as a photographer for Sun Valley from 1955 to 1959. His groundbreaking career included such movie classics as Grand Prix, South Pacific, Titanic, ET, Field of Dreams and Indiana Jones.

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John M. Stephens, the famed cinematographer who got his start in Sun Valley.

One evening in 1956 a 24 year-old kid found himself sitting in The Ram drinking with the cast and crew of a big Hollywood motion picture. One of his companions, chatting and laughing along with the grips, gaffers and cameramen of Bus Stop, was Marilyn Monroe.

Since the moment The Lodge opened its doors in 1936, Sun Valley has welcomed countless Hollywood stars. But stories of the ski resort launching Hollywood careers are few and far between. For the young John M. Stephens, sitting in The Ram that night was not only a dream come true, it was the start of a long, glittering and hugely successful career as a celebrated cinematographer. And it all began in Sun Valley.

A few months earlier, Stephens had been just another kid fresh off a Navy ship looking for a job. He knew what he wanted to do, he wanted to shoot pictures. The Navy had given him a valuable skill, the ability to shoot pictures in extreme, hair-raising conditions. So far, he had been able to apply that skill to the sport of skiing – photographing his pal Doug Pfeiffer at the ski resort he founded in Southern California, Snow Summit. But it wasn’t Hollywood.

After being unceremoniously booted out of the Motion Picture Cameraman Union office, with the words “You’ll never work in this town” ringing in his ears, he joined Pfeiffer on a trip to Sun Valley, Idaho, where the skiing legend wanted to shoot pictures for his new book Skiing With Pfeiffer.

“I went up there with him,” said Stephens, now 80, from his home in Laguna Niguel. “And while Doug went off skiing I went to the publicity department.” He met with Sun Valley’s publicity guru Dorice Taylor and showed her his book of ski action photography. Within hours he was hired.

“They gave me a room in the basement of The Lodge and tried me out that winter.” he said. “I took a lot of  publicity pictures of the socialites that came up, Hollywood people, shooting pictures to send to hometown papers. I’d follow guests around and do a ski action book for them of their vacation. Skiing all the time with a camera.”

Stephens spent a spell in the Sun Valley hospital after breaking his leg during one of the 3 winters he spent photographing for the resort.

After a few weeks of shooting the likes of Gary Cooper, Leif Odmark and Sigi Engl on skis, opportunity came barreling over the mountain. “When the production crew for Bus Stop came up to Sun Valley to shoot, I was sent up to North Fork to take publicity shots of the production,” Stephens said. “I took a lot of pictures of Marilyn up there around Galena Summit and at the North Fork gas station. One day an assistant cameraman took sick and they asked me if I’d help them out for a few days. Dorice said it was okay, as long as I could still shoot pictures for Sun Valley, so I ended up working for them as a cameraman, holding the slate.”

Stephens captured this iconic image of Marilyn Monroe while she was shooting Bus Stop in Sun Valley. "We got to be friends on the set," he said. "She'd come up to talk to me, she was very friendly and very nice."

While the job wasn’t particularly glamorous, it opened up the closed world of the Hollywood studio system to Stephens. The crew took him under their wing, showing him how to operate the equipment and teaching him the basics of a cameraman’s job.

When another production crew rolled into town a few weeks later, Stephens was ready for them. They were looking for someone skilled and fit enough to ski with a new 70mm widescreen camera that weighed 25 lb, to shoot a promotional film for the first widescreen picture of its kind, Oklahoma. The shots of skiing in Sun Valley feature Trail Creek Cabin, Lookout and some excellent slope and tree skiing down Baldy in the 50s, all filmed by Stephens.

http://youtu.be/vyNMjDY-QZc

The first 4 minutes of this clip from The Miracle of Todd AO show off Spring Skiing in Sun Valley in 1956, all shot by John Stephens during his first full-time Hollywood gig. Right around minute 3 you can see the shadow of the 25lb camera rig Stephens was skiing down Bald Mountain with, in some cases, backwards. (Video not displaying? Click here.)

With two Hollywood flicks under his belt, he headed back to the union office and walked out with his coveted card. His next stop was to look up his Bus Stop friends at 20th Century Fox. They introduced him to the head cameraman who hired Stephens as 2nd assistant cameraman on South Pacific.

He went back to Sun Valley for two more winters following his Hollywood breakthrough, and today he says he owes it all to the little mountain town. “It was in Sun Valley that it all got going, Got me into the union and started a career that has been spectacular,” Stephens said.

One of Stephens' skiing action shots for Sun Valley.

“John Stephens has gone where the action is,” said the Society of Operating Cameramen in 1994 when it gave him the Technical Achievement Award for developing the first remotely controlled pan and tilt head camera on the Oscar-winning Grand Prix. “A top second unit cameraman and director he has photographed some of the most exciting images ever recorded on film. From breaking new ground on Grand Prix to the exciting bicycle chase in Steven Spielberg’s ET, John has photographed the action from virtually every kind of vehicle, from lear jets to helicopters. (He has survived three helicopter crashes).”

The summer after his final Sun Valley ski season, he was hired to work on Lets Make Love. On his first day on set he was standing behind the camera when a pair of hands slipped over his eyes. “Well, well,” an unmistakable voice said into his ear. “Now what are you doing here?” It was Marilyn.

Jennifer Tuohy

In Part 2 of Stories from the Staff Jennifer talks to Stephens about his extraordinary career post-Sun Valley and what it was that brought him back here 30 years ago. Among other tidbits, he discusses stepping in at the last minute to help on James Cameron’s Titanic, working with Steven Spielberg and developing that groundbreaking cinematography in Grand Prix. Read the post here.

Sun Valley Movie History: The perfect location

In the second in the Sun Valley Movie History series celebrating the Sun Valley Film Festival, guest blogger Jennifer Tuohy compiles a list of movies shot in Sun Valley. The festival opens tomorrow, for more on the event, which runs through March 17, visit sunvalleyfilmfestival.org.

Arguably the most famous movie star to shoot a film in Sun Valley, Marilyn Monroe is pictured here at the North Fork store just north of Sun Valley, where she filmed scenes for Bus Stop.

From standing in as the mountains of Europe to being celebrated as a character in its own right, Sun Valley’s role as a favorite Hollywood shooting location often had as much to do with the stars’ and producers’ wish to ski there as it did its suitability for filming. Following the opening in December 1936, a total of  32 Hollywood movies have been shot in and around Sun Valley. Over 300 have been shot across the great state of Idaho (for that list click here), but for the sake of my sanity I focused the following chronological list solely on Hollywood movies shot in Sun Valley and its surrounding mountains. I also chose to excluded TV specials (such as Lucy Goes to Sun Valley and Raquel Welch’s variety show), promotional videos, documentaries, and independent movies shot in the southern Wood River Valley. I also left out the unique genre of Ski Films, which is a whole blog in itself – for another day perhaps. The resulting list reflects the birth, intense early passion, slow burn phase, and eventual break up of Sun Valley’s relationship with Hollywood location scouts (Shredder? Really?). Hey Hollywood, maybe it’s time to make up and give it another shot?
Jennifer Tuohy

Filmography links and data courtesy of
The Internet Movie Database
 

Movies Made in Sun Valley

1937 I Met Him in Paris
Claudette Colbert, Robert Young, Melvyn Douglas. Dir:  Wesley Ruggles
The first Hollywood flick to be shot in the newly-christened Sun Valley-area was filmed at Baker Creek in the Smoky Mountains, where a Swiss village, complete with its own grand lodge, was created. Filming began as soon as Sun Valley Lodge opened, with the stars staying in Sun Valley and the crew finding lesser accommodations in the town of Ketchum. (For more on I Met Him In Paris’ Sun Valley connection click here.)

1939 Stanley and Livingston
Spencer Tracey, Walter Brennan, Nancy Kelly, Richard Greene Dir: Henry King, Otto Brower
The head of Twentieth Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck (also responsible for Sun Valley Serenade), was a frequent guest at Sun Valley. He arranged for the opening sequences of this movie to be shot in the Boulder Mountains just north of town.

1938 Everything Happens at Night
Sonja Henie, Ray Milland, Robert Cummings Dir: Irving Cummings
Scenic shots of the area were used in this Swiss-set comedy/drama. Ice-skating star Sonja Henie wasn’t to come to Sun Valley until her next Hollywood movie in 1941.

1940 The Mortal Storm
Margaret Sullivan, James Stewart, Robert Yong Dir: Frank Borzage
Sun Valley’s mountains stood in for those of Austria in this WWII film.

1941 Sun Valley Serenade
Glen Miller, Sonja Henie, John Payne Dir: H. Bruce Humberstone

This clip featuring the signature song of the movie, “It Happened in Sun Valley,” and showcases Sun Valley Lodge in all its 1940s glory. (Video not displaying? Click here.) While the principle sets for the movie were filmed in Hollywood, the skiing and scenery was all Sun Valley, earning this crowd-pleasing flick almost daily showings at the Sun Valley Opera House, straight through to today.

1941 A Woman’s Face
Joan Crawford, Melvyn Douglas Dir: George Cukor
Sun Valley just provided the snow for this melodrama.

1942 Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood No. 3
Hedda Hopper, Anna Boettiger, Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, Martha Gelhorn, Ernest Hemingway Dir: Herbert Moulton
“Newsreel-style accounts of the Hollywood Dog Training School where Carl Spitz trains stars’ pets and dogs for films; a hunting party in Idaho with Ernest Hemingway hosting Gary Cooper, Anna Boettiger, poet Christopher LaFarge, and others.”

1942 Northern Pursuit
Errol Flynn, Julie Bishop, Helmut Dantine Dir: Raoul Walsh
“A Canadian Mountie of German descent feigns disaffection with his homeland in hopes of infiltrating and thwarting a Nazi sabotage plot.” The landscape around Sun Valley stands in for the Arctic. Watch the trailer here.

1946 An Old Chinese Proverb: One Picture is Worth Ten Thousand Words (Short Film)
Bob Burns, Ken Carpenter, Jerry Fairbanks

1950 Duchess of Idaho
Esther Williams, Van Johnson, John Lund Dir: Robert Z. Leonard

This trailer for Duchess showcases Sun Valley Lodge and a snippet of Connie Haines singing the praises of Idaho. (Video not playing? Click here.)

1949 Mrs. Mike
Dick Powell, Evelyn Keyes, J.M. Kerrigan Dir: Louis King
A Canadian Mountie marries a Boston-bred heiress, uniquely unprepared for the hardships of life in the Great White North. Mrs. Mike nonetheless perseveres through minor inconveniences and major tragedies. Based on a true story and a bestselling book. Sun Valley pretends to be the “Great White North” in this biopic.

1948 That Wonderful Urge
Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, Reginald Gardiner Dir: Robert B. Sinclair
“When an heiress finds out that the friendly young man she’s met at Sun Valley is really an investigative reporter, she ruins his career by falsely claiming they’re married.” Another Darryl F. Zanuck movie, shot in his favorite ski locale.

1952 The Wild North
Stewart Granger, Wendell Corey, Cyd Charisse Dir: Andrew Marton
Filmed in the Boulder Mountains, along Trail Creek and on Galena Summit.

1952 The Big Sky
Kirk Douglas, Dewey Martin, Elizabeth Threatt Dir: Howard Hawks
Rock Hudson, Marcia Henderson, Steve Cochran Dir: Joseph Pevney
“In a small village in the icy wilderness of Alaska Captain Peter Keith has to defend himself against two especially mean villains, who are after his wife Dolores and a boatload of precious hides.” Background shooting took place in the mountains around Sun Valley.

1953 How to Marry A Millionaire
Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable Dir: Jean Negulesco

Sun Valley stands in for Maine in minute 2 of this trailer. (Video not playing? Click here.)

1954 Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Howard Keel, Jane Powell, Jeff Richards Dir: Stanley Donen
An avalanche scene in the movie was shot at Corral Creek Canyon near Sun Valley.

1955 The Tall Men
Clark Gable, Jane Russell, Robert Ryan Dir: Raoul Walsh
Once again, Sun Valley provided the scenic snow shots for this flick.

1955 Storm Fear
Jean Wallace, Cornel Wilde, Dan Duryea Dir: Cornel Wilde
The movie was shot on location in Sun Valley.

1956 The Miracle of Todd-AO
“A short film demonstrating the new 70mm widescreen Todd-AO system. After a prologue that shows all that the eye can see through the Todd-AO wide angle lens, we take a ride in a roller-coaster, fly over the canyons of the Grand Teton Mountains, ski in Sun Valley, and follow a motorcycle chase through the San Francisco.” Catch scenic shots of the Sawtooths and the Wood River Valley in this clip.

1956 Bus Stop
Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray, Arthur O’Connell Dir: Joshua Logan
“A naive but stubborn cowboy falls in love with a saloon singer and tries to take her away against her will to get married and live on his ranch in Montana.” The scenes of the couple stranded at a bus stop in a blizzard were shot at the North Fork store, north of Sun Valley, which still stands. Watch the trailer here.

1957 Ten North Frederick
Gary Cooper, Diane Varsi, Suzy Parker Dir: Philip Dunne
Location shots only for Sun Valley in this Cooper vehicle.

1965 Ski Party
Frankie Avalon, Dwayne Hickman, Deborah Walley Dir: Alan Rafkin

Great shots of Baldy and Dollar mountains to be found in the trailer for this raucous ski flick. (Click here for the video.)

1977 The Deadly Triangle (TV movie)
Dale Robinette, Taylor Lacher, Geoffrey Lewis Dir: Charles S. Dubin
“A former Olympic ski champion, now the sheriff of a ski-resort town, investigates the murder of the member of a skiing team that came to the resort to train.” Filmed entirely in Sun Valley.

1978 Crisis in Sun Valley (TV movie)
Dale Robinette, Taylor Lacher, Bo Hopkins Dir: Paul Stanley
“Semi-follow up to “The Deadly Triangle” dealing with a sheriff and his deputy in a sleepy ski town involved with a group of urbanites planning a dangerous mountain climb as well as investigating sabotage in a condominium development.” Filmed entirely in Sun Valley

1980 Swan Song (TV movie)
David Soul, Bo Brundin, Jill Eikenberry Dir: Jerry London
“A champion skier who pulled out of the Olympic games because of a mysterious illness decides to make a comeback.”

1980 Powder Heads
David Ferry, Catherine Mary Stewart, William Samples Dir: John Anderson, Michael French
Filmed in Sun Valley, Edmonton and Jasper.

1985 Pale Rider
Clint Eastwood, Michael Moriarty, Carrie Snodgress Dir: Clint Eastwood

Pale Rider revived the both classic Western and Hollywood’s romance with the majestic mountains surrounding Sun Valley. The film crew constructed an entire mining village in the Boulder Mountains, and the opening credits capture the drama of the Sawtooth Mountains. (Video not displaying? Click here)

1996 Champions on Ice
Scott Hamilton, Nicole Bobek, Surya Bonaly Dir: Paul Miller

2001 Hemingway, The Hunter of Death
Albert Finney, Paul Guilfoyle, Fele Martinez Dir: Sergio Dow
“During the Kenyan struggle for independence from the British in the late 1950′s, a scientific safari led by Ernest Hemingway undertakes the ascent of Mount Kenya.” Filmed on location in Sun Valley and Kenya.

2001 Town & Country
Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Nastassja Kinski Dir: Peter Chelsom
The last big budget movie to be made in Sun Valley  provides plenty of glimpses of town and slopes. Unfortunately, when the crews arrived there was no snow on the ground and several scenes were filmed with manmade snow. As luck would have it, a foot of the real white stuff arrived the next day, so some of the scenes were re-shot using the “natural” background. But the movie was cursed with bad luck from the get-go and went on to be one of the biggest box office disasters of all time.

2003 Shredder
Scott Weinger, Lindsey McKeon, Juleach Weikel Dir: Greg Hudson
The Tamarack Lodge on Sun Valley Road in Ketchum provides some interior scenes in this ski horror flick set in Kellog, Idaho.

Read the first post in the Sun Valley Movie History series “The Hollywood Connection” here. Coming next, a look at Sun Valley’s Hollywood Godfather, David O. Selznick.