By Arthur Flynn
During the 1940s, 50s and 60s many classic Broadway musicals were adapted for the screen and became blockbuster musical films. These included such films as The King and I, 7 Brothers for 7 Sisters, Singing in the Rain, The Sound of Music and An American in Paris.
One of the most popular of these films was the 1955 film Oklahoma!, based on the 1943 musical of the same name by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein 11, which in turn was based on the 1931 play Green Grow the Lilacs written by Lynn Riggs.
From when it opened on Broadway, United Artists, Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox and MGM were among the many Hollywood studios interested in the project. Ultimately, the film rights were bought by the Magna Theatre Company, a company founded by George Skouras for $1 million. Magna was initially founded to develop a new widescreen process Todd created, called ‘Todd-AO’, and ended up financing the film independently after the deal with Fox fell through. Magna invested $11 million in the film.
Oklahoma! was regarded as being such an important classic that it had to be controlled by a major director. As a result the Oscar-winning director was assigned to the project. Oklahoma was the only musical directed by the veteran Fred Zinnemann.
It was the first feature film shot in Todd-AO 70 mm widescreen process. It was simultaneously filmed in CinemaScope 35 mm.