Paint Your Wagon is a 1951 Broadway musical comedy, with book and lyrics by Alan J. Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, set in a mining camp in Gold Rush-era California. The original production starred James Barton, Olga San Juan, Tony Bavaar, James Mitchell, and Gemze de Lappe, with dances and musical ensembles by Agnes De Mille. The hit songs included "Wand'rin' Star", "I Talk to the Trees" and "They Call the Wind Maria".
Act I set in the California Wilderness in May of 1853. When crusty old miner Ben Rumson is conducting a make-shift funeral for a friend, his 16-year-old daughter Jennifer discovers gold dust. Ben claims the land and prospects start flocking to the brand new town of Rumson ("I'm On My Way"). Two months later Rumson has a population of 400, all of whom are men except for Jennifer. Prospector Jake Whippany is waiting to save enough money to send for Cherry and her Fandango girls ("Rumson"), while Jennifer senses the tension building in town ("What's Going On Here?"). Julio Valveras, a handsome young miner forced to live and work outside of town because he is Mexican comes to town with dirty laundry and runs into Jennifer, who volunteers to do his laundry. They also talk to each other ("I Talk to the Trees"). Steve Bulmarck and the other men ponder the lonely nomadic life they lead in the Celtic song ("They Call the Wind Mariah").
Two months later the men want Ben to send Jennifer away, and he wishes her mother was still alive to help him ("I Still See Elisa"). Jennifer is in love with Julio ("How Can I Wait?"), and when Ben sees Jennifer dancing with Julio's clothes and decides to send her East on the next stage. Jacob Woodling, a Mormon man with two wives, Sarah and Elizabeth, arrives in Rumson the men demand Jacob sell one of his wives. To his surprise, Ben finds himself wooing Elizabeth ("In Between") and wins her for $500 ("Whoop-Ti-Yay"). Jennifer is disgusted by her father's actions and runs away, telling Julio that she will be reunited with him in a year's time ("Carino Mio"). Cherry and her Fandango girls arrive ("There's a Coach Comin' In"). Julio learns his claim is running dry which means he has to move on to make a living and that he will not be there to greet Jennifer when she returns.
Act II a year later in October. The miners celebrate the high times in Rumson now that the Fandango girls are around ("Hand Me Down That Can o' Beans"). Edgar Crocker, a miner who has saved his money, falls for Elizabeth and she responds, although Ben does not notice since he thinks Raymond Janney is in love with her (he is). Another miner, Mike Mooney, tells Julio about a lake that has gold dust on the bottom and he considers looking for it ("Another Autumn"). Jennifer returns in December, having learned civilized ways back East ("All for Him"). Ben tells his daughter that he will soon be moving on since he was not meant to stay in one place for long ("Wand'rin' Star"). The next day as Cherry and the girls are packing to leave they tell her about Julio leaving to find the lake with a bottom of gold. Raymond Janney offers to buy Elizabeth from Ben for $3,000, but she runs off with Edgar Crocker.
Word comes of another strike 40 miles south of Rumson and the rest of the town packs up to leave except for Jennifer, who is waiting for Julio to return, and Ben, who suddenly realizes that Rumson is indeed his town. Late in April, Julio appears, a broken man. Ben welcomes him and Julio is amazed to see Jennifer is there. As they move toward each other, the wagons filled with people move on.
Paint Your Wagon was made into a big-budget movie in 1969, adapted by Paddy Chayefsky who provided a significantly changed storyline: "Rumson" is now simply called "No Name City". Ben Rumson has no daughter. The former "Julio" is now an American (Clint Eastwood), and Ben's (Lee Marvin) partner in the gold claim, literally nicknamed "Partner", whose real name is only revealed at the end of the film as "Sylvester". Since Ben and Partner share everything 50-50, when Ben "claims" Elizabeth (Jean Seberg) and she falls in love with Partner, they decide that if a Mormon man can have two wives a wife can have two husbands. At the end of the film, when Ben abandons his dried-up gold claim at No Name City, he also abandons his "claim" on Elizabeth, leaving her with Partner as he moves on.
Eastwood and Marvin did their own singing while Seberg's songs were dubbed. Harve Presnell and the chorus delivered a stirring rendition of "They Call the Wind Maria". The early incarnation of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had a cameo in the song "Hand Me Down That Can o' Beans". Some songs were dropped and some were added, and some others were used in somewhat or substantially different contexts.
The film was made near Baker City, Oregon, with Joshua Logan directing.
The film was released at a time when movie musicals were going out of style, especially with younger audiences. Its overblown budget became notorious in the press and it was a box office flop. The Turner Classic Movies cable station airs it from time to time in the letterbox format.
Clint Eastwood was frustrated by the long delays that were caused by the making of the movie. It was this experience on Paint Your Wagon, coupled by the fact that he had just started his own production company Malpaso (1968's Hang 'Em High and Coogan's Bluff were its first releases) that helped motivate him to have more control of his career, eventually becoming a director. Considering the financial success, critical acclaim, and awards he has received over the years for his films as a director, one could argue that this was a valuable experience for him.