The Sand Pebbles - Film Facts and Trivia

  1. The Sand Pebbles was a 4 year project for Robert Wise. His association with the film began in 1962 while he was in London. At the time, he had been working with the Mirisch organization and he was sent galley proofs of the Richard McKenna novel. Mirisch decided not to carry out the project, but left the film rights with Wise.

  2. The movie rights to the book were originally sold to United Artists for $300,000. The movie rights were later acquired by Twentieth Century-Fox when Robert Wise was given the go-ahead with the project by Darryl F. Zanuck in September 1962. The search for suitable filming locations, script and other problems would set the project back 3 years.

  3. The role of Jake Holman was originally offered to Paul Newman, who declined.

  4. Steve McQueen was paid $650,000 to star in The Sand Pebbles.

  5. The "San Pablo" was constructed in Hong Kong for $250,000 (making it the costliest prop ever built for a motion picture at the time). Wise estimated that it would have cost $1 million to construct the ship in the U.S.

  6. Principal filming on The Sand Pebbles began November 22, 1965 and completed in May 1966. Wise led a Hollywood cast and crew numbering more than one hundred to Keelung, Tam Sui and Taipei on the island of Taiwan, for initial photography. An additional location in Hong Kong followed with two months of production at the 20th Century-Fox studio in Beverly Hills, California. In August 1966, additional scenes were shot aboard the USS Texas near Houston (see #14). Due to many unforeseen problems, the film ran $3 million dollars over budget. In spite of this, Director Robert Wise delivered the final movie (scheduled for a Christmas release) on time. The film went on to gross $27 million.

  7. The film company endured an earthquake, several storms and a hotel fire. In addition they were "interested and disturbed bystanders" during a 3 day riot. The crew worked under close scrutiny and security because of the military conflict between Formosa (Taiwan) and Mainland China.

  8. The Sand Pebbles was one of Twentieth Century-Fox's first Panavision films. This signaled the end of an era as Fox transitioned over from using their CinemaScope lens. For a brief history on this period...visit The American Widescreen Museum.

  9. The role of Jake Holman won Steve McQueen his first and only Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

  10. Candice Bergen was 19 years old when shooting on The Sand Pebbles began.

  11. Upon completion of The Sand Pebbles, the San Pablo was temporarily saved from the scrap heap by an American construction firm which had a contract to rebuild bridges in Viet Nam. The San Pablo eventually changed ownership once again, relocated to Indonesia and renamed the "Nola D". Her fate is detailed in "The Demise of the San Pablo".

  12. The engine and engine-room set used in the movie were actually located on a Twentieth Century Fox studio lot (Stage 14) in Burbank and not on the San Pablo. The original engine is currently on display aboard the SS Lane Victory, Pier 94, San Pedro, CA.

  13. The China Light scenes were filmed at the 'Fox Ranch' (now the Malibu Creek State Park). Although the building survived for a while and was used for various storage, it has since been demolished. Photo taken at the Malibu Creek State Park visitor's center.

  14. The original opening scene was to have been an establishing shot of a 1925 battleship in the Shanghai harbor. Jake Holman is seen packing his sea bag, has some dialogue, salutes the OOD (Officer of the Deck) and leaves the ship. (The battleship is seen very briefly in the movie trailer). This scene was actually shot near Houston, Texas aboard the USS Texas (August 4, 1966) but was cut from the movie the day before its New York City premiere. To view the Houston Post newspaper clipping chronicling the event...Click here.

  15. The battle scene took 2 months of preparation and the 1000 foot bamboo rope which linked the junks together weighed 25 tons. Battle filming, first unit, lasted a month in Sai Kung waters. First unit work completed May 15, 1966.

  16. In November 1966, Robert Wise screened a "preview" version of The Sand Pebbles for audiences in three cities, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Dallas. The preview version was 3 hours and 20 minutes (200 minutes) long.

  17. To promote the film in New York City Twentieth Century Fox set up a publicity tour for Steve McQueen. McQueen made rare TV appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show (12/18/1966), What's My Line? (12/18/1966) and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (12/19/1966).

  18. The movie premiered on December 20, 1966 at the Rivoli in New York City. Photo of Wise and McQueen at the NYC premiere.

  19. Photo of ticket sold for the World Premiere of The Sand Pebbles at Rivoli Theater.

  20. The West Coast premiere occurred on December 28, 1966 at the Fox Wilshire in Hollywood.

  21. The original road-show running time was approximately 195 minutes. Fox began cutting the length of the film soon after its premiere without notifying Robert Wise. The "theatrical" version of the film has a running time of 182 minutes.

  22. Composer Alex North was originally slated to do the music for The Sand Pebbles. He was replaced by Jerry Goldsmith who would receive an Academy Award nomination (Best Music, Original Music Score) for The Sand Pebbles.

  23. The theme from The Sand Pebbles ("And We Were Lovers") was recorded by over 24 different artists in the 1960's. For more information on the pop single...Click here

  24. At the Changsha Mission School, the welcoming missionary's dialog was dubbed in by Edgar Bergen (Candice Bergen's famous ventriloquist father). To hear a sample...Click here

  25. Director/Producer Robert Wise has been quoted as saying that The Sand Pebbles was the most difficult picture he had ever worked on.

  26. The movie was nominated for 8 Academy, 8 Golden Globe and various Guild Awards.

  27. Hong Kong action superstar Jackie Chan was trained by American stuntmen for the "Battle at the Boom" sequence. For an excerpt of this interview...Click here.

  28. Kaori Nara Turner, wife of Sand Pebbles makeup artist Bill Turner, became an acclaimed makeup artist in her own right. For the related story published in the Mainichi Daily News in March 2002...Click here.

  29. Actor Kevin Costner would have loved the role of Jake here for interview.

  30. Actor Peter Fonda auditioned for a role in The Sand Pebbles.

Cast and crew obituaries (known at this time) in chronological order.


  1. Tommy Lee (Chien) died June 19, 1976.
  2. Steve McQueen (Jake Holman) died November 7, 1980.
  3. Barney Phillips (CPO Franks) died August 17, 1982.
  4. Simon Oakland (Staski) died August 29, 1983.
  5. Richard Loo (General Chin) died November 20, 1983.
  6. Jon Lormer (Hamilton - uncredited) died March 19, 1986.
  7. Ted Fish (CPO Wellbeck) died December 1987.
  8. Ben Wright (Englishman) died July 2, 1989.
  9. Larry Gates (Mr. Jameson) died December 14, 1996.
  10. Gil Perkins (Customer at Red Kettle Bar) died March 28, 1999.
  11. Walter Reed (Bidder at Red Kettle Bar) died August 20, 2001.
  12. Beulah Quo (Mama Chunk) died October 23, 2002.
  13. Larry Duran (uncredited) died November 27, 2002.
  14. Richard Crenna (Lt. Collins) died January 17, 2003.
  15. Marayat Andriane (Maily) died June 12, 2005
  16. Ford Rainey (Harris) died July 25, 2005.
  17. Mako (Makoto Iwamatsu) (Po-han) died July 21, 2006.
  18. Charles Robinson (Ensign Bordelles) died July 22, 2006.
  19. James Jeter (Farren) died March 4, 2007.
  20. Joe Di Reda (Red Dog Shanahan) died June 16, 2007.
  21. Frank Coghlan, Jr. (Customer at Red Kettle Bar) died September 7, 2009.
  22. Thomas (Tom) H. Middleton (Jennings) died Sept 19, 2010
  23. Sir Richard Attenborough (Frenchy) died August 24, 2014.
  24. Shepherd Sanders (Perna) died Sept 14, 2016
  25. Loren Janes (Coleman) died June 24, 2017
  26. Glenn Wilder (Waldron) died July 7, 2017
  27. Gavin MacLeod (Signalman 2nd Class Crosley) died May 29, 2021
  28. Joe Turkel (Seaman Bronson) died June 27, 2022.
  29. Stephen Ferry (Lamb) died April 8, 2018.
  1. Joseph MacDonald (Cinematographer) died May 26, 1968.
  2. Emil Kosa Jr. (Special photographic effects) died November 8, 1968.
  3. Jay Sebring (Hair designer - uncredited) died August 9, 1969.
  4. John Sturtevant (Set decoration) died September 29, 1969.
  5. William Kiernan (Set decoration) November 19, 1973
  6. David Tamkin (Orchestrator) died June 21, 1975.
  7. Ridgeway (Reggie) Callow (Assistant director) died August 5, 1981.
  8. Saul Wurtzel (Production Manager) died November 19, 1984
  9. Bernard Freericks (Sound department) died February 19, 1985.
  10. L.B. Abott (Special Photographic effects) died September 28, 1985.
  11. Ben Nye (Make-up artist) died February 9, 1986.
  12. Boris Leven (Production design) died October 11, 1986.
  13. Walter Scott (Set decoration) died February 2 1989.
  14. Lionel Newman (Conductor) died February 3, 1989.
  15. Renie (Costume design) died June 12, 1992.
  16. William (Bill) Turner (Makeup artist) died 1992.
  17. Murray Spivack (Sound department) died May 8, 1994.
  18. Maurice Zuberano (Production associate) died July 2, 1994.
  19. William Reynolds (Film Editor) died July 16, 1997.
  20. Arthur Morton (Orchestrator) died April 15, 2000.
  21. Dong Kingman (Watercolor artist - uncredited) died May 12, 2000.
  22. Charles H. Maguire (Second unit director) died June 15, 2001.
  23. Clyde Taylor (Gaffer) died January 7, 2004.
  24. Jerry Goldsmith (Composer) died July 21, 2004.
  25. Robert Wise (Director) died September 14, 2005.
  26. Gerald Endler (Special effects) died March 27, 2006
  27. Robert Anderson (screenwriter) died February 9, 2009

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