The truth about the making of ‘From Here To Eternity’ (1953)


When James Jones wrote his best-seller From Here to Eternity, he based it on his own experiences in the US Army on Hawaii just prior to the Pearl Harbor bombing. The original manuscript contained extensive use of the word ‘fuck’, which made it totally unacceptable to the Catholic group called The National Organization for Decent Literature, who blacklisted it and brought considerable pressure to bear on bookstores America-wide. Not only was it chock full of expletives, but From Here to Eternity also contained explicit homosexual scenes and dialogue which caused the hierarchy of the NODL to almost suffer group apoplexy as they moved Heaven and Earth to have it banned and/or censored. James removed all but 32 mentions of the f-word, but flatly refused to remove all the homosexuality from his book, arguing that ‘homosexuality was a natural condition of men in close quarters’. He also felt that this would be ‘unfaithful to reality he witnessed.’


Author James Jones

In his novel, James includes conversations between Privates Robert E Lee Prewitt (played by Montgomery Clift in the Movie) and Angelo Maggio (played by Frank Sinatra), about receiving oral sex from rich men. ‘I don’t like to be blowed [by a man]’, Prewitt tells Maggio, who replies, ‘Oh, all right. I admit it’s nothing like a woman. But it’s something. Besides, old Hal treats me swell. He’s always good for a touch when I’m broke. Five bucks. Ten bucks. Comes in handy the middle of the month…Only reason I let Hal blow me is because I got a good thing there.’

Best Actor: Best Supporting Actor 1953: Frank Sinatra in From Here ...

Sinatra as Private Angelo Maggio

Montgomery Clift Photos, Movie Photos -

Clift as Private Robert E Lee Prewitt

There were other issues as well. In the book Lorene (Donna Reed) was not an innocent dancehall girl, paid to ‘dance’ with servicemen at the club. She was a prostitute catering to service personnel. As for Deborah Kerr’s character, Karen, she was sterile because her husband’s many infidelities had landed her with a dose of gonorrhea. In the movie she blamed her sterility on a miscarriage. Both Reed and Kerr were cast against type and were excellent. Donna picked up a Best Supporting Actress gong. Deborah (as usual) was nominated and missed out – again. In fact, she would be nominated six times during her career without winning.

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Donna Reed as Lorene

Burt Lancaster: Sexiest Actor of His Day - Reel Life With Jane

Deborah Kerr & Burt Lancaster

Obviously, this kind of activity was never going to appear on the screen in 1953. Nor was the language. When the government ‘suggested’ that the US Postal Service might refuse to deliver such ‘salacious material’ to American publishers and bookstores, James had little choice but to remove most of the offending content if he hoped to sell his book to the public and to a studio. He never did think much of the movie because it was ‘too sanitized’ he said.

Burt Lancaster is terrific in this picture. It, therefore, comes as a surprise to learn that he was quite overawed to be acting alongside a talent such as Montgomery Clift. ‘The only time I was really afraid as an actor’, he admitted later, ‘was that first scene with Clift. It was my scene, understand: I was the sergeant, I gave the orders. He was just a private under me. Well, when we started, I couldn’t stop my knees from shaking. I thought they might have to stop because my trembling would show. I was afraid he was going to blow me right off the screen.’ He didn’t. Lancaster was Sergeant Warden. Both men were nominated for Oscars, but took votes from each other, resulting in William Holden winning the Best Actor statuette for Stalag 17.

David Greven, review of

Burt & Monty in FHTE

Initially, Sinatra and Clift hit it off on and off the set, but their friendship ended three years later. At one of Frank’s parties Ole Blue Eyes watched with revulsion as Monty made homosexual overtures to one of his entourage. Later, he had his bodyguards remove Clift from the premises. Harry Cohn most certainly did not want Monty to play Prewitt because he was, ‘no soldier, no boxer, and probably a homosexual’, he said. Director Fred Zinnemann refused to make the picture without him. Clift, who could not convincingly punch his way out of a meringue, is ‘doubled’ in the boxing scene, possibly the worst and most obvious use of a ‘double’ in the history of movies.

Fred Zinnemann - Wikiwand

Director Fred Zinnemann

Speaking of Clift (and Lancaster), Burt was offered his first role as Matthew Garth in Red River, the part that ultimately went to Clift and made him a star. Burt had only just signed to make The Killers, so was forced to reject the (arguably) better role. Then again, he got to play opposite the stunning Ava Gardner. Every cloud, it would seem, has a dirty big silver lining! Perhaps, it was for the best anyway. The star of Red River, John Wayne, was a prominent Republican who would later be actively involved in the McCarthy witch hunts. Lancaster was adamantly opposed to them. The two men would most certainly have not got along. Years later Wayne attempted to get Burt to join him in another western. Lancaster dismissed the idea out of hand.

Monty on Pinterest | Montgomery Clift, Classic Movie Stars and Tom ...

Monty’s debut in Red River

MFAH Film Burt Lancaster Centennial The Killers | Museum of Fine ...

Burt’s debut (with Ava Gardner) in 

The Killers

Nick Cravat, a short, muscular man with a beard, was Burt Lancaster’s circus pal and followed him into the movie business. Nick found it impossible to lose or even disguise his pronounced Brooklyn accent, one that was totally out of place in period pictures such as The Crimson Pirate (1952) and other Lancaster films like The Flame and the Arrow (1950), but the problem was solved by having him portray a deaf mute whenever he appeared on-screen. He would pass away in the same year as Burt – 1994. Lancaster’s wife recalled that Nick’s devotion to Burt was all-consuming, especially after his friend suffered a severe seizure that put him in hospital until February 1991. Between then and 1994 Cravat visited him at home every day, and usually ended up weeping copiously at his bedside. Mrs Lancaster had to regularly ask him to leave because he was depressing her husband. For those last three years of his life Lancaster was totally incapacitated and unable to speak yet, ironically, he would outlive Cravat by several months.

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Burt & his pal Nick in The Crimson Pirate

During the shooting of FHTE Lancaster and Deborah Kerr had an affair off-screen. The delightful Miss Kerr was not the prim and eternally proper woman she usually portrayed on screen. She enjoyed life in a refreshing, open way. When she made Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, in 1957 with Robert Mitchum, there was a turtle-chasing sequence in which she (playing a Catholic nun) was required to paddle the boat. Director John Huston kept yelling, ‘faster, go faster’ as she paddled furiously. Suddenly, the paddle snapped in two. ‘Is that fucking fast enough?’ she screamed. Mitchum and Huston adored her. Everyone did.

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Deborah in Heaven Knows Mr. Allison

The famous ‘kissing in the surf’ scene between Lancaster and Kerr was considered to be ‘hot stuff’ back in the fifties. Today, it is as tame as dishwater, but back then many projectionists snipped stills from the scene to keep as souvenirs. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) actually banned stills from their beach kiss for being ‘too erotic’. The censors insisted that Deborah’s bathing costume must have a skirt, to avoid it being too sexually provocative, The beach called Halona Cove, on the eastern side of Oahu, suffered a name change to ‘The From Here To Eternity Beach’, would you believe?

Sorry to pin this twice...but it is truly a famous kiss... Burt ...

That kiss. Shocking!

The oft repeated story, enhanced by the fictional script of The Godfather, that Sinatra only got the role of Maggio through pressure being brought to bear by his Mob connections, would appear to be fictitious. In later years Frank’s ex-wife Ava Gardner suggested to Columbia boss Harry Cohn that he use Sinatra. She was making a film for Columbia at the time. Frank’s career was at rock bottom and Cohn knew it. He also knew he could get the washed up singer/actor for peanuts, so he hired him for a token $8,000. Frank would have done it for nothing, so desperate was he to get back in the game. As history will tell us, he won an Oscar for his performance and never looked back. The story that George Reeves’ part was slashed because of his fame as TV’s Superman is just not true. Zinnemann stated later that all his scenes in the picture remained intact.

George Reeves Death

Reeves and Lancaster in FHTE

One final point of interest. Two years after the film was completed, Ernest Borgnine was in the Bronx one evening trying to get a ‘feel’ for his upcoming role in Marty, when a group of Italian-Americans accosted him, threatening his life because they were incensed that his character in FHTE, Fatso Judson, had killed Frank Sinatra’s character. Borgnine managed to convince the group that he and Sinatra were, in reality, very good friends.

Oscar-Winning Star Ernest Borgnine Dead at 95 | E! Online

Borgnine as Fatso Judson


  1. Funny thing… I was in the U.S Air Force as an NCO for four years (1968 to 1972) during the Vietnam War (including one year at tech school in Mississippi, living in close quarters in old WWII style open bay barracks) and never witnessed rampant homosexuality. In those days, being labelled queer could get you beat up and ostracized because our our forced close quarters (the heads didn’t even have stall walls). Admittedly, foul language was accepted and common, drunkenness and weekend sexual escapades happened regularly with some guys, but generally, most of my fellow airmen were good, tough men with a difficult job to do. Many were quite moral in their own way. The chapel was well attended on Sunday, much like any small town. Not everyone went, but many did. I met a lot of men, from all parts of the country, who came from very different backgrounds and beliefs, but we generally respected each other and looked out for each other. The war was our common enemy. There was a commonly accepted code of conduct that roughly reflected the larger society outside our military conclave.My father, who saw combat in the Navy during WWII (1941 to 1945) saw pretty much the same thing I did. The 1941 military portrayed in the movie “From Here To Eternity” is, in my opinion, a distortion of reality, seen through the eyes of an obviously bitter man. The movie, good performances not withstanding, is an over-rated soup opera that celebrates immorality among the troops. For me it represents the early days of Hollywood’s on-going effort to gain acceptance of lower moral standards for our society in general.

    • Thank you for your obviously sincere and candid comments. I cited the writer’s book and his attitudes, but I have no way of knowing how accurate or reliable were his statements. Frankly, I prefer to accept your views and recollections on the armed services and not his. You were there. I greatly appreciate you taking the time to set the record straight. Thanks again.

  2. That’s exactly what I was thinking of when I made my comment.
    When Hawks told Bacall she’d have to play the part the rest of her life, she was quoted as saying, “I will.” [This was from printed
    interview between Hawks and someone else. I think he was discussing
    working w/ different actors.]

    • I suppose it works both ways. a woman might fall in love with Bogie’s ‘Casablanca’ image as the mysterious, world-weary Rick, then find that the man himself wears a toupee and drinks and smokes far too much. It was Rita Hayworth who made the classic statement on this issue – ‘They go to bed with Gilda and wake up with me.’

  3. I agree w/ you about the intimacy, proximity among actors leading to
    sex, etc. Also, an actor may “fall in love” w/ the part their
    co star is playing, rather than that person; only to find out later
    that “the product is not the same as the sample”[as my father once said.] This is more complicated if marriage takes place.

    • Good point, Shiela. I recall reading that Howard Hawks believed that Bogie fell in love with Bacall’s character (Slim) in ‘To Have and Have Not’, and expected her to continue to be Slim in their marriage. Only Hawks’ opinion, of course.

  4. Interesting about Ava and Robert Taylor, but it appears that every –
    body was involved with everybody. If I want somebody, I’ll go after
    her/him, married or not. I knew almost none of this until I started
    reading your entries. Ava was warned by friend, Lana Turner to stay
    away from Frank Sinatra; ‘Honey, I’ve been there, don’t do it.’

    • Yes, it seems that MOST of these people had physical beauty and little else. When they suddenly found themselves in an environment full of other physically beautiful men and women, and compelled by their profession to often have close, intimacy with them for hours on end, the inevitable happened. Indeed, how many of us would be able to resist the continual temptation?

  5. After reading about “The Killers” here, I watched movie.
    Ava Gardner WOW! Absolutely gorgeous especially w/ chin dimple.
    I think she grew lovelier as her face matured. After learning
    more about her, I thought she was an interesting woman, worth knowing.
    Later in her life, she became friendly w/ Robert Graves.

    • When I was young there was Ava – then daylight to everyone else – although I have always adored Eleanor Parker. I think that is half the reason why I have never liked Mickey Rooney. I could not imagine any guy cheating on Ava. He would have to be a stark raving idiot. One of my favourite movies (I have lots of them) is ‘East Side, West Side’, a drama that features Ava, Stanwyck and Cyd Charrisse. It was made at the time when Ava was heavily involved with Barbara’s husband, Robert Taylor, and the confrontation between the two ladies’characters in the movie has an extra ‘zing’ to it. They did NOT like each other one little bit.

  6. Yes, why would ANY man, especially BOND, want to bed an “old lady!”
    I’ve seen VERY FEW Bond movies, but was,aware of that from movies I saw
    and previews of others.

  7. I obviously read your comment, hurriedly, about older men w/
    younger women in movies. In watching loads of movies, I don’t think
    I noticed it, although wasn’t Gable older than V. Leigh? in
    “Gone With The Wind”?

    Another subject: Seems odd to me that I’m usually only one who responds to these posts.

  8. Your take on double standard added another dimension to my thinking.
    I only know of a few examples of older women and younger men, but I’m
    probably unaware, and certainly unconcerned. We have Demi Moore –
    Ashton Kutcher [may not have worked even if he’d been older;] Lauren
    Bacall – Len Cariou [15 yrs. her jr.,] and possibly others. Age was
    the problem here. Robert Wagner much younger than his “first love”
    B. Stanwyck [4yr. romance.] During my hay day of movie going, I didn’t pay attention to the older man younger woman thing.
    Yes, people cheat all the time, so I hear, but what’s worse is that
    one partner, expects to be able to do it, other isn’t permitted.
    [Bogart’s hypocrisy and double standard in demanding sexual fidelity
    in Bacall, or he’d leave.] He comes to mind because I, like others,
    until I learned differently, believed in their “perfect love story.”
    [I read that Sinatra would become undone by Ava’s cheating.]

    Anyway to end this lengthy thing, I pass no judgment on Kerr and
    Lancaster. It led into an involved discussion.

    • Of course, there have been older woman – younger man romances, but they are not very often SCRIPTED into movies. Older men- younger womwn scenarios, however, are scripted regularly. Double standards everywhere.

  9. Yes, I know affairs, Kerr and Lancaster, happen all the time, for
    various reasons. What I hate is the hypocrisy and double standard
    involved, perhaps more on part of men more than women.[Pardon my sexism.]

    • Yes. Have you ever noticed how Hollywood scripts regularly have young women in relationships with much older men, relationships that we are supposed to just accept as quite nornal? Yet, hardly ever do we see young guys with elderly women. And if we do, it is always some predatory woman taking advantage of an innocent young guy. Perhaps, a hundred years of dirty old men ‘using’ young girls in Tinsel Town has them thinking this state of affairs is the norm.

    • They were both married at the time, Shiela. It was 1953. His marriage (to Norma Anderson) continued until 1969; Deborah’s (to Anthony Bartley) until 1960. Presumably, it was one of those ‘location affairs’ that ended when the picture ended and they went their separate ways. That kind of thing happened all the time.

    • Almost as silly as the ‘keep one foot on the floor in bedroom scenes’ ruling that was in vogue for decades. Hollywood got around that stupid restriction by having screen married couples hopping into single beds. When I was young I was always intrigued by this. I wondered why American married couples preferred single beds to a double bed. In fact, the movies convinced me for years that this was the norm in the USA.

    • Apparently, it was an afterthought. It was not intended originally. I have always loved the movie, although I have to agree with Harry Cohn – Monty Clift was a poor choice to play a soldier who just happens to be a boxing champion. I think Donna Reed could have taken him.

      • Clift was a poor choice? Baloney! He was brilliant, and his performance contributed mightily to the success of the film. Fighters come in all shapes and sizes, and he portrayed a welterweight who came straight from the ranks.
        We’re not talking about Joe Louis here. This was just regimental boxing…one
        soldier versus another. Never in the movie is it said that he’s a “champion.” I might also point out that the guy was a bugler, too…which might require a certain amount of sensitivity. In other words, all fighters aren’t mugs and Clift was exceptional in bringing a multi-layered character to the screen.

        • I like Monty Clift as an actor, Michael, but why everyone wanted him to join the boxing team is beyond me. He could not BOX! Surely he owed it to the character he played to at least learn the fundamentals. And ‘baloney’ to you, too!

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