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The working titles of this film were Frontier and Reminiscences of a Cowboy. The film's title cards are presented against a background of bold blocks of color. Some of the titles are embedded in a Chicago newspaper page, while others are interspersed with animated drawings of cattle brands, stars in the sky and cows. Frank Harris (1856-1931) was an Irish-born writer who immigrated to the United States in 1869. Harris was known for his novels, short stories and studies of Shakespeare. He also wrote biographies of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, but perhaps his best known work was the multi-volumed novel My Life and Loves (1922-27).
According to a May 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item, John Huston originally owned the screen rights to Harris' semi-autobiographical novel On the Trail: My Reminiscences as a Cowboy, and was planning to star his father Walter Huston in the film. When Walter died in 1949, the project was abandoned. A January 1953 Daily Variety news item adds that the Huston production was also to star Montgomery Clift. The same news item announced that writer-producer Ranald MacDougall was assigned the Columbia project, that would also star Clift. By June 1954, a Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Peter Viertel was rewriting the script, and that Jerry Wald would produce the film with Spencer Tracy as its star. A July 1956 Los Angeles Times news item adds that Alan Ladd and Gary Cooper were mentioned for the male leads.
A February 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that a single recording written by George Duning and Dickson Hall entitled "Song of the Cowboy" was released simultaneously with the film's soundtrack. That song was not performed in the picture, however. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Editing, and directors Delmer Daves and Sam Nelson were nominated for a Screen Director's Guild Award for their work on Cowboy. An August 2000 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the WGA had restored the credit of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who co-wrote the film with Edmund H. North.