Lee Marvin (Ben Rumson) drank real alcohol throughout the production, even though the director fought him about it. In most pictures the actors drink tea for whiskey and water for vodka. Marvin would only work if he got real liquor.
Lee Marvin was set to star in The Wild Bunch (1969), a project that he helped put together with stuntman Roy N. Sickner, when Paramount offered him $1 million plus a percentage to star in this picture.
Released at a time when musicals were rapidly going out of fashion, the film was notoriously over budget and behind schedule, opening to mostly negative reviews. It was not the huge box-office success that the producers had hoped it would be. Clint Eastwood's experiences on this film inspired him to form his own production company (Malpaso), saying that working on this picture had shown him how NOT to make a movie.
The play was produced on Broadway in 1951, and was one of the two properties Louis B. Mayer took with him after being ousted from MGM. Advancing age, and the fact that Mayer had been removed from actual film production for 30+ years, rendered him unable to get it underway as a film.
Clint Eastwood and Jean Seberg had an affair during filming in Baker County, Oregon, which drew the attention of tabloids - and Seberg's estranged husband, French director and novelist Romain Gary. He arrived on set planning to kill Eastwood, who fled into the woods. Jerry Pam, a publicist for both stars at the time, told Seberg biographer David Richards in 1981: "Once they got back to Paramount, it was as if Clint didn't know who she was. Jean couldn't believe that he could be that indifferent to her, after everything that had gone on in Baker. She was a very vulnerable woman, and it was a terrible trauma for her." At the same time Eastwood was having yet another affair with one of the film's extras. The extra (who wishes to be kept anonymous) told Seberg biographer Garry McGee in 2008: "We had an affair for two years. Since I was involved with Clint at the time, he pulled a few strings and got me work on the film." When asked if Seberg knew about Eastwood's other involvement, the woman said, "No. She had no idea." Eastwood kept mum on the subject for years, but in 2013 he uncharacteristically agreed to talk about Seberg for a French documentary. While the extent of their involvement was not discussed, Eastwood did admit: "I'd say she's important in my life, yes."
Following The Sound of Music (1965)'s lead, Joshua Logan decided to shoot on location. He commissioned a huge mining town in the middle of Oregon's Cascade Mountains, which was painstakingly constructed over seven months. This caused the film to run wildly overbudget before filming even began. The location caused logistical nightmares: cast and crew slept in tents on location, constantly running low on filming supplies, food and other amenities. The stars were taken to and from the location by helicopter.
The shoot attracted local vagrants and hippies, who stole food and supplies from the set. Logan cast them as extras, though they refused his instructions to cut their hair or wear period clothing. Eventually the extras organized a makeshift union, demanding $25 a day payments and commissary bags full of food for fellow hippies. Joshua Logan, aggravated by an overlong shoot and lacking replacements, gave into their demands.
Alan Jay Lerner micromanaged the production, overseeing filming and constantly countermanding Logan's decisions. This drove Joshua Logan, who suffered from bipolar disorder, to despair; he confided in film critic Rex Reed, "I don't know what the hell I'm doing here."
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
This film version bears little resemblance to the Broadway musical on which it is ostensibly based. After the success of several musical films in the 1960s, most notably The Sound of Music (1965), producers went looking for other projects to make, and "Paint Your Wagon" made the list. The original plot, about an inter-ethnic love story, was discarded as being too dated. The only elements retained from the original included the title, the gold rush setting and about half the songs. In the play, Elizabeth has a very minor role, Pardner does not even appear, and Ben Rumson dies at the end.