A Marquee Show at Valley Forge

“George Washington’s Tent,” 79-HFC-482

Without context, “George Washington’s Tent” may seem a bit odd even by the standards of government filmmaking. Three minutes of a man silently writing? (You can jump to 3:10 in if you want some action.) Further, it won’t take a cinematic expert to note that this work is one long take without either close-ups or wide shots! For the correct viewing experience, you will need a large tent and some dummies of Revolutionary War soldiers.

We know about these unusual viewing circumstances thanks to the diagram below, which arrived at NARA as part of the production file for this film. In the visitor center at Valley Forge National Historical Park, viewers entered a replica of George Washington’s tent. Presumably, they filed in while the colonial gentleman at the table silently went about his business. According to the final script of the film, dummies and candle lamps also appeared at the front of the replica tent.

It is just as well that the entire film takes place indoors, for the National Park Service shot it in April in Maryland, which couldn’t have doubled well for Valley Forge in the winter. The barely-visible snowflakes which fly past the opened tent door were flakes of soap.

Among the cast, Nat Benchley plays Louis Lebègue Duportail. The brother of Jaws author Peter Benchley, Nat Benchley went on to appear in a another Maryland-made production, The Wire.

Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons

Washington’s large tent, known as a marquee, actually survives to this day. It is now in the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia and measures approximately 23 feet in length.