Dorena Historical Society

Emperor of the North

emperor (1)

The New York Times has an interesting review of the new DVD of Emperor of the North (AKA Emperor of the North Pole).  The film starred Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine and was filmed on the railroad tracks in the Row River Valley.



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Lee Marvin at Culp Creek School

Lee Marvin


Lee Marvin showed up at Culp Creek School one day in 1972 to visit with the kids and play a game of ball. Lee was in town filming Emperor of the North with Ernest Borgnine.  The story goes that one of the students was afraid that he would be in trouble for staying late after school, so Mr. Marvin walked him home and told the surprised mother that he was the reason her son was not home on time.


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Hollywood on the Row

Three feature films have been filmed in the Row River Valley over the years.

Buster Keaton’s The General

The first of these was Buster Keaton’s The General. Filmed in 1926, The General was a Civil War Story and is considered Keaton’s greatest work.  The scene in which a train falls from a burning trestle was filmed just above the old Bohemia Mill site.  The engine was left in the river until World War II when it was sold for scrap.  In the meantime valley residents enjoyed jumping off of it while swimming in the river. One story told about the filming was that Buster and company were avid baseball players.  The cast and crew rode the train every day up to where they were filming in Culp Creek. They would stand on different flat cars and practice pitching and catching during the ride.  Onlookers said they never dropped the ball. The Cottage Grove Historical Society put out a book called The Day Buster Smiled that is a compilation of newspaper articles about the filming.  It is available at bookstores and museums around town.

Buster on the tracks.

Stills from The General.

The Train Wreck Scene.

The Emperor of the North Pole starring Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin was filmed on the river in the summer of 1972.  The film was directed by Robert Aldrich of The Dirty Dozen and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? fame.  The film was about the conflict between hobos and railroad men in the depression.

Ernest Borgnine on the old Number 19

Stand By Me was a Rob Reiner adaptation of the Stephen King story The Body.

The film was made in 1986 and a few of the scenes were done in the Row River Valley with the bulk of the film made on location in Brownsville.

A scene from Stand by Me

All of these films are available on Netflix and at

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