Cat Ballou: Ten Things To Know About The Movie

Cat Ballou starring Jane Fonda

Here are 10 trivia facts about Cat Ballou from 1965, which originally appeared as our Mystery Movie Quiz on our Facebook page. There are lots of pieces of behind-the-scenes information about this movie.  Please feel free to comment and add more trivia we might have missed.

1. It was named by AFI as one of the 10 best of its genre.

In 2008, Cat Ballou was ranked by the American Film Institute as being among the 10 greatest films in the “Westerns” category. If there was a category for “Comedy Westerns,” it would probably be high up on that list, too.

2. This was the director’s first feature film.

Between 1954 and 1965, Elliot Silverstein directed episodes of some very high-profile TV shows, including Omnibus, Route 66, Have Gun, Will Travel, Dr. Kildare, The Twilight Zone, The Defenders and more.  However, it wasn’t until 1965 that Silverstein made his big-screen directing debut with Cat Ballou. A few years later, he had another highly visible film, A Man Called Horse (1970), and since that time has mostly concentrated on television.  For trivia buffs, Silverstein was David Cassidy’s stepfather for a short time.

3. One of the actors starred in a hit TV series.

Although it’s true that Michael Callan appeared in dozens of TV shows through the years, it is Dwayne Hickman who is fondly remembered as being linked to one very popular series; He was the sex-obsessed title teenager in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis from 1959-1963. Earlier, he had a four-year stint as Bob Cummings’ kooky nephew in The Bob Cummings Show (1954-1959), also known as Love That Bob — but it is as Dobie that Hickman became best known.

4. One of the actors died a few months before the film’s release.

Nat King Cole’s rambling troubadour, performing alongside partner Stubby Kaye, was the singer-turned actor’s last and possibly best screen role. Cole was a well-known song stylist from the 1940s until his death from lung cancer in 1965. During that time he collected 28 gold records for such popular hits as “Ramblin’ Rose,” “Too Young,” “Sweet Lorraine,”  “Mona Lisa” and “The Christmas Song.”

Nat King Cole was also the host of an eponymous TV variety show in 1956, which he starred in for 47 episodes until the show was cancelled, at Cole’s own request. Being an African-American star of any TV series was rare in the 1950s, and cancellation was inevitable when sponsors couldn’t be found due to the racial attitudes, particuarly those of the country’s South, at that time.

5. One of the stars plays two roles.

When Jane Fonda as Cat Ballou sees her life hit every obstacle, she employs the help of two outlaws (Michael Callan, Dwayne Hickman) and–on the advice of  loyal hired hand Jackson Two-Bears (convincingly played by Tom Nardini)–sends for legendary pulp-fiction hero Kid Shelleen. It is discovered as the film progresses that Shelleen has a twin brother, the villainous gunslinger Tim Strawn. Both parts are played to perfection by Lee Marvin, who took home the Best Actor Academy Award that year. It is (as of 2011) the only Oscar ever awarded for an actor playing a dual role in a film.

Interestingly, Marvin was not the first choice for the part of Kid Shelleen and his sibling.  Kirk Douglas turned down the part, although oddly enough he eventually did play a similar dual role in 1979’s  The Man From Snowy River.  And it’s been said that Jack Palance lobbied for the part, which he desperately wanted, but it wasn’t offered.

6. A railroad is prominently featured in the story.

After her father is gunned down by the town’s locals, Cat Ballou is convinced it is the work of the railroad, in particular its head man Sir Harry Percival, charmingly played by movie veteran Reginald Denny. Cat and her gang intend to get revenge by becoming train robbers, which is done better in the planning stages than in the actual execution.

7. The movie has very little in common with the book on which it’s based.

With the exception of some of the characters and the location of Wolf City, Wyoming, Roy Chanslor’s book, “The Ballad of Cat Ballou” is very different from the Columbia Pictures movie: a tale of revenge, yes — and a very sweet love story. It seems everyone loves Cat, even Kid Shelleen, who is no boozing has-been on the written page, but a capable cowpoke. And oh, yes — the book is an entertaining,  straightforward western novel and the buffoonery is only found on the screen.

Lee Marvin and the famous drunk horse8. An animal performs an unnatural feat in the film.

The memorable scene where Lee Marvin’s horse is seen leaning against the wall, looking drunk with his legs crossed, almost didn’t make it into the movie. Because horses don’t “naturally” cross their legs, the animal’s trainer told director Silverstein that scene couldn’t be filmed. Afterward he thought that, with a few days’ work, it might be possible. When Silverstein reminded the man that time was of the essence and offered him one hour to do it, the trainer went to work and produced one of filmdom’s greatest visuals. The scene was finally realized when the horse was fed cubes of sugar while his legs were gently plied into just the right position.

When Marvin accepted his Best Actor Oscar for his performance, he started by saying, “Half of this probably belongs to a horse out in the Valley somewhere.”

9. A major Hollywood studio broke with tradition and changed its famous logo for this film.

As the film starts, the iconic and very proper Columbia Pictures “Torch Lady” quickly switches to an animated sequence — becoming a cartoon version of the film’s main character, Cat Ballou, unsheathing her six-shooters and firing them up in the air. Great fun! Incidentally, there were supposedly five other movies that used the same device. Does anyone know them?

10. The lead star was a leader in the home video exercise industry.

Thanks to Jane Fonda, the VHS and Beta home video industry got off to a great start with her top-selling videotape, The Jane Fonda Workout.  It was also the very first RCA CED videodisc — remember those? Jane’s videos were a big hit thanks to her own prowess as a savvy businesswoman and mentor to thousands…and her marriage to media mogul Ted Turner helped keep her high-profile image on the forefront for many years.

Now spend a minute with some scenes in this trailer from Cat Ballou (1965):

  • Ed Tully

    I liked the movie and have watched it several times but 90% is due to the work of Lee Marvin. Most of ther film is very uneven. I do love the line “He did it, he missed the barn!”

  • roy levering

    Absolutely!!! One of the best lines in movie history!

  • Geoffey Wynkoop

    The Other famous line…. “If I was going to be afraid of somebody, it would be the fella that bit his (Tim Strawn’s) nose off!”

  • dave millard

    As far as the logo changes, I believe “The Mouse that Roared” was one of them

  • Roland Tonn

    Regarding the “torch lady,” she also ran away from the mouse in THE MOUSE THAT ROARED . . . and then returned to her perch at the end of the movie

    • Justin

      I find my self fast forwarding with the DVD more often. Last night I hit FF 5 times wnhtciag Statement. Plot was very repetitive.Here in Baku, there are a lot of cheap copies which some people bring to the office, I’d say 2/3 of the newer films really aren’t worth wnhtciag.

  • Bill Podlecki

    The ” torch lady “lost her head for the film Straitjacket with Joan Crawford.

  • Tommy T

    I remember “Cat Ballou” very well as it was the last Jane Fonda movie I ever watched. Shortly afterward, Jane Fonda went on to commit acts of treason against the United States by making war tours for the North Vietnamese Army. While there, she was introduced to some American POW’s who surreptitiously passed her tiny scraps of paper with their names on them, in the hope she would tell their families they were alive. Instead she gave the names to the NVA officers and some of the men were beaten to death. She also took numerous propaganda pictures and made several films for the enemy during her visits to North Vietnam. She became widely known as “Hanoi Jane” for her act of treason and her movies have never been popular with most Vietnam Vets. Search “Hanoi Jane” for details and never forget a traitor.

  • Max Gantt

    Sorry Tommy, that’s just a right-wing lie and you know it.

  • speedle

    No Max, that is not a right wing lie. Everything Tommy wrote is a fact. You are obviously not old enough to have been around when it happened. It’s always nice to withhold declarative statements until one knows what one is talking about.

  • Baz

    Never let the facts interfere with a great story, hey Tommy. It’s sad that you’ve allowed this myth to maintain your bitterness. If Fonda was a traitor, why isn’t she in prison for life? The real traitors to their country were Presidents Kennedy,Johnson and Nixon whose administrations lied continually to America about its role in that war. The senseless loss of young lives in an unwinnable war was brought to an end by the likes of Fonda and the millions who turned the tide of public opinion. Haven’t you ever wondered why there are countless movies about the “good fight’ in WW2 but practically every movie about Vietnam depicts it in a negative light.

  • John Stanaway

    Jane Fonda ruffled a lot of feathers in her time, and some of the things she did are documented as either feminist upstart incidents or pr blunders in the name of opposing the war. However, it is possible that she is somewhat maligned in the supposed incidents at the North Vietnam camps. The outrageous lies of the Republican Noise Machine, and mendacious right-wing commentators are a constant source of distorting the truth. Otherwise, how could someone like John Wayne think of his career over his country and then be called a national hero.

  • Trudi Gardner

    Enough with the political spewing.
    One of the funniest Cat Ballou is Lee Marvin/Kid Shelleen’s drunken singing to a corpse (Cat’s father) surrounded by candles— “Happy Birthday to You.”

  • Clark

    What Tommy said is true. Although I was a liberal myself in the late 1960’s and I protested the war, I would never have went to Viet Nam and did what Jane did. I have even seen footage of her sitting on a VC AA laughing. All that said I still enjoy Cat Ballou, mainly because of Marvin, but even Jane did a decent job in the part, and this is the only movie besides Golden Pond, and Klute that she did that was any good.

  • george t.

    lee marvin stared in m squad a tv cop show

  • Phyllis Sanborn

    A terrific fun movie. One of my favorite parts is early in the movie at the dance. It seems that there is a long shot which follows the dancing for a long time. The best parts of the movie were the clever and bright songs performed by Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye.

  • BadGnx2

    I agree ALSO – ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!! This site is about movie stars and movies, NOT POLITICAL IDEOLOGIES OR ACTIONS. Many, many stars can be slammed for their political actions, be it Communist affiliations or Viet Nam views or a multitude of other things. It did not end NOR begin with Jane Fonda. So let’s give this subject A BREAK!!!

    “Cat Ballou” is a very good movie. Probably the best comedy/drama western since “Destry Rides Again”.
    Fonda and Marvin played against type and the result is a really good film. The supporting cast is also very good and complements the stars.
    I especially enjoyed the traveling minstrels – Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye. The use of song to advance or enhance a western would appear again in James Coburn’s “Waterhole Number Three”, in 1967.

    This movie is fast paced and satirical. Its probably the PERFECT western for people who really don’t like westerns.

  • Baz

    Stop shouting. The political comments have been expressed in a calm and measured tone – and more interesting than the movie.

  • Stephen Farris

    I loved Jane’s [and others] performance almost as much as her role in “Barberella”. Another interesting movie. We heard 3 of the liberty changes. What are the other 2?

  • Ken A

    A message from one who was a student in the early 60s…Jane was always a great actress whether you liked her politics or not. Gosh, dudes, it was over 40 years ago! Is this going to consume your life for that long? Get over it and just enjoy good performances. There are enough problems today without going back 40 years!

  • Ellen Urie

    I have never seen “Cat Ballou” but I just ordered it. I have heard about it & it looks very interesting from the film clip. I always liked Lee Marvin’s movies & it has Nat King Cole in it , too. We watched his TV show many years ago, & really enjoyed it. He had such a great voice. I remember the uproar about Jane Fonda at that time. Vets were & still are against her for that. I have enjoyed lots of her films anyway. I agree with Baz that Johnson & Nixon were responsible & could have stopped us being in that war so long. Don’t know about Kennedy. Can’t wait for the film to come!!

  • Mary

    Trudi, I must agree with you…that line with Lee Marvin’s character singing “Happy Birthday” to Cat’s dead father,and then blowing out the candles,had me in stitches!

    • Javier

      Have you nocited the news has changed its approach recently? Now it seems that it is discussed thoroughly and more in depth. Frankly it is about time we see a change.

  • Kathleen Bergeron

    I thought it was Darrell Hickman instead of his brother. No?

  • Jerry Frebowitz

    Daryl Hickman is Dwayne’s older brother but it’s Dwayne who appears in Cat Ballou.

    • Anant

      Hopefully when I make it on the cast of Big Brother 5 I’ll get to go to some of those cool peiarts that you mentioned, and who knows..we may just bump into each other! ( I’m soo jealous!) LOL

  • Leona Grainger

    I did enjoy the movie. It was really funny. Jane did do a good job, no question, but she also did a good job making this “gal” sick at her actions in Vietnam. Whether it’s over 40 years or 400 she was a disgrace to those who served.

  • Jeff C

    The movie was very funny and one of my favorites. Lee Marvin was hysterical and the music was great too, I especially liked the song in the whorehouse when Kid Shelleen is looking for his brother. I promise I won’t inflict myself on you any further.

  • susie

    I’ve always wanted the words to the song sung throughout the movie by Nat King Cole & Stubby Kaye. Does anyone know where they can be found to print???

  • Jerry Frebowitz

    For folks looking for the lyrics to The Ballad of Cat Ballou, there are many websites with lyrics. Here’s a few:

  • d2008

    What Fonda did was wrong, just like when Lindsey Graham decided he would ignore our president and caused problems for the dissenters in Iran by publicly supporting them. We should have one foreign policy. So I don’t have problems with people not liking Fonda. But I can not believe that anyone thinks the North Viets were a credible source at that time.

  • snowed in

    One of the other Torch Lady changes was “Thank God It’s Friday”. I should probably be embarrassed to know that.

    Cat Ballou was one of the few movies we had on videotape in the late 80s, so I saw it a lot. Love it.

    “Ma’am, I apologize for my disgusting condition, and I assure you I will not inflict myself on you any further.”

  • kwaggoner

    This has always been one of my favorites mainly beccause Nat King Cole was one of my favorite singers. He had the voice of an angel. My dad had a voice much like cole’s. My dad hee hawed so loud through this movie and really whooped it up over the drunk horse. I will never forget his laughter and months after the family went to the theater to see it, dad sang that song, with hs beautiful tenner voice. it holds a wonderful place in my heart at it brings so many onf memories and the movie was wonderfully funny, romantic and sad all at once

    • Robinho

      svitkeasyahemopee on February 23, 2011 if anybody has the names of the people in this clip, let us know we’re documentary filmmakers doing a film on the fear of public speaking and can’t find out who these people are!!

  • Babs

    Lee Marvin, my Favorite Actor was Great in “Cat Ballou “, favorite scene….Getting Dressed After Bath….who could forget the Matador Music in background ? would love to see outtakes of that scene !!!!



    • Thomas D. Dietzman

      I can’t hear you…could you please speak up?

  • Gary Gerani

    Fact #11: There were not one, but TWO half-hour TV pilots based on CAT BALLOU made by Columbia/Screen Gems in 1971/72. Amazingly, both shows were aired during prime-time on NBC on consecutive nights… and that’s the last anyone has ever seen of them. The first featured Lesley Ann Warren as Cat and Jack Elam as Sheleen, the second offered Jo Ann Harris as Cat and Forrest Tucker as Sheleen. Since Columbia takes good care of their TV elements, I’m sure the original negs on both are neatly stored away. As a film and TV historian, I tried to get Columbia to include these pilots in their CAT BALLOU Special Edition DVD (deaf ears; don’t waste our time). When that failed, I approached the Encore Westerns Channel, pointing out that a) they have a deal with Columbia, b) they show the CAT movie all the time, so C) wouldn’t it make sense to have a “Spend the Night with CAT BALLOU”-kind of special presentation, where the movie could be shown with the two pilots that haven’t been seen in forty years? “Great idea,” I was told by the Encore guy who picked up the phone, “But it’s not even worth mentioning here. They don’t pursue anything that they don’t think up themselves, and actually resent suggestions from the outside.” Welcome to the 21st Century, folks!

  • The Bird

    Years ago the wife and I went to the Fox here in St. Louis. We had NO idea that this night was Sneak Preview Nite. The curtains opened and we saw a animated cowgirl with guns drawin, standing on top of mountain, and so opened Cat Ballou. I turned to my wife and said, “Boy, did we pick the wrong night to come to the movies. However, it was not too long before we were laughong and having a hell of a good time. I will not forget that night.
    RC Napper

  • roger lynn

    One of the very best films ever,,Mr Marvin was just magnificent,,he so deserved his Best Actor Oscar,,,some critics felt Steiger,Burton,Olivier,Werner and even then ot nominated Sharif for Zhivago were better but marvin was the simply the best……………

  • Dana Rose

    TORCH LADY CHANGE: I believe this one predates Cat Ballou; in ZOTZ! (1962), the director is sitting in his director’s chair, points at the Lady, and says “ZOTZ!” She is played by a live actress, and replies “Zotz? What’s Zotz?” then the movie starts. At the end of the film, she appears and says, “Zotz all!” (That’s all).
    William Castle’s own personal vanity card logo was of him sitting in his director’s chair.

    But the ZOTZ while pointing a finger at the Lady is inconsistant with the screenplay premise: if the person holding the ancient coin points at the same time as saying Zotz! that person/living thing would be killed. But the Torch Lady is a Goddess, and immune, I suppose

  • Senator Pettersson

    I grew up on this movie and song in my mind to this day!

  • Maddy Marie

    “you should see them from MY side”

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  • Cindy

    I am watching this now. Wonderful, movie.