Fort Pitt Museum's new exhibit explores Cecil B. DeMille's 'Unconquered'
To commemorate the 250th anniversary of Pontiac’s Rebellion, the Fort Pitt Museum, part of the Senator John Heinz History Center museum system, will explore the story behind the siege of Pittsburgh and the star-studded 1947 Cecil B. DeMille movie that focuses on this era as part of a new exhibition, Unconquered: History Meets Hollywood at Fort Pitt.
Using rarely seen original movie props, photographs, and costumes alongside authentic 18th century artifacts and documents, the Unconquered exhibit will examine this turning point in American history and encourage visitors to compare and contrast the historical events with the Hollywood depiction.
For just over two months in the summer of 1763, Fort Pitt and Pittsburgh were attacked by American Indians participating in a broader movement known as Pontiac’s Rebellion. Angered by restrictive British policies following the French & Indian War and the increasing number of settlers crossing the Allegheny Mountains, a widespread American Indian uprising began in the late spring of 1763 throughout the Great Lakes Region.
Taking its name from the warrior leading the siege at Detroit, Pontiac’s Rebellion was successful in capturing all but a few of the British forts in the area. Fort Pitt survived the siege following a decisive victory by Col. Henry Bouquet at the Battle of Bushy Run in early August.
In 1947, the story was made famous in the epic action-romance film “Unconquered,” which was directed by Cecil B. DeMille, the Hollywood pioneer and director of more than 70 epic films including such classics as “Cleopatra” and “The Ten Commandments.”
“Unconquered” featured an ensemble cast of legendary actors and actresses, at the peak of their careers during Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” including Gary Cooper, Paulette Goddard, Boris Karloff, Lloyd Bridges, and Howard Da Silva.
The movie premiered at the Loew’s Penn Theatre (today’s Heinz Hall) and featured all of the accompanying Hollywood fanfare, including one of the largest parades in Pittsburgh history, complete with covered wagons, Seneca Indians, Pa. Governor James Duff, Mayor David Lawrence and Cecil B. DeMille.
The Unconquered: History Meets Hollywood at Fort Pitt exhibit will feature nearly two dozen items related to the movie and its premiere, including:
· Two 18th century pistols used by actor Gary Cooper that were owned by Mr. DeMille;
· Royal American Regiment uniforms worn by actors Henry Wilcoxon and Lloyd Bridges;
· Costumes worn by actors Alan Napier and Howard Da Silva;
· Several American Indian-related props, including knives and tomahawks;
· Various publicity stills, including some owned by Mr. DeMille, itineraries, and newspaper clippings from the film’s Pittsburgh premiere; and
· On loan for three weeks in August, the original bubble machine developed by William Penn Hotel engineer Ludwig Demoshek for the movie’s premiere that was later made famous by the “Lawrence Welk Show.”
In addition to original movie props and costumes, the Unconquered exhibit will also feature original materials from Pontiac’s Rebellion and the Battle of Bushy Run, including a pipe tomahawk made by local blacksmith John Frazier, Scottish swords and pistols, and never before seen documents.
The “Unconquered” movie will be shown on select weekends in the Fort Pitt Museum auditorium throughout the run of the exhibit.