Marist Advises Producers on George Clooney’s “The Boys in the Boat” Film
December 19, 2023 — “The Boys in the Boat,” a film directed by George Clooney and set for wide release on Christmas Day, transports audiences to an era when the Hudson River, bordering the Marist campus, drew the best collegiate rowers from across the nation to compete for the national championship.
Adapted from the best-selling book of the same name, the film recounts the remarkable true story of the University of Washington rowing team securing an Olympic gold medal in 1936 in Berlin after their triumph in Poughkeepsie.
Crafting a feature film set in the 1930s demands meticulous attention to detail, a task which included the expertise of archivists and historians here at Marist. The College’s Archives and Special Collections house an in-depth Poughkeepsie Regatta Collection, an archive that’s so unique that those working on the film reached out to them. The collection includes documents, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and programs associated with the Poughkeepsie Regatta — once known as the national championship for collegiate rowing.
“The Boys in the Boat,” 1936 Olympic and Poughkeepsie Regatta champions, from the University of Washington, part of Marist’s Poughkeepsie Regatta Collection. Photo by Nelson Echeverria/Marist College.
“We were delighted to hear from the producers and set designers of the film,” said John Ansley, Director of Archives and Special Collections. “It’s a story we know very well, and we believe we have more materials than anyone that could assist them in painting an accurate picture of what everything looked like during the regatta in 1936.”
The Intercollegiate Rowing Association’s National Championship Regatta (IRA), held since 1895, took place in Poughkeepsie through 1949, a period when the city was recognized as the “Rowing Capital of the World.”
For authenticity, the film’s costume and production design teams sought guidance from these Marist-based experts, covering aspects from the appearance of rowers in 1936. Details like costume design, boats (also known as “shells”), oars, and smaller items such as train tickets were key to the film.
“We house the most comprehensive and unique collection of materials documenting the great history of the Poughkeepsie Regatta,” said Elizabeth Clarke, Research Services Librarian. “This archive stands as a testament to the event's significance and its enduring impact on the community and beyond.”
The Marist team, comprising of Ansley, Clarke, and Ann Sandri, Library Assistant, was approached by the film’s production designer for the first time in 2021. The designer expressed specific interest in the images Marist has curated from the 1936 Poughkeepsie Regatta.
Marist’s Poughkeepsie Regatta Collection inside the Archives and Special Collections. Photo by Nelson Echeverria/Marist College.
“The regatta was more than a mere rowing competition,” said Sandri. “It captivated the area, with up to 100,000 attendees at its peak. Notable figures, including Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, attended, making it a cherished tradition that transcended the waters of Poughkeepsie.”
Subsequent inquiries regarding the crew's equipment prompted exploration of the colors on the oars and styles of boats used during the era. Through extensive research predominantly utilizing the library's newspaper resources, the group from Marist confirmed that all but two schools utilized shells from the same company — Pocock. The team also showed images showcasing team colors on oars and shells.
Several months later, the film’s costume designer contacted the Marist team with questions about the crew's uniforms and whether they wore them during races. By studying images in the collection, they were able to show that some teams wore uniforms while others did not, possibly due to personal or team preferences.
Marist’s Poughkeepsie Regatta Collection. Photo by Nelson Echeverria/Marist College.
Since expanding the Poughkeepsie Regatta collection, the most extensive on the subject, the Marist archive team has also been contacted by the creators of the PBS documentary on the Boys in the Boat, descendants of rowers, other universities, and rowing enthusiasts of all ages.
“This collection will continue to grow as we conduct further research and acquire additional materials,” Ansley said. “It’s been a lot of fun for us.”
Inside the Marist College Archives and Special Collections
Found in the James A. Cannavino Library, the Archives and Special Collections house an array of research and primary resource materials. This includes letters from historical figures like Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, and James Madison, rare books, and the first film footage of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Students and researchers worldwide have utilized the collections to produce scholarly articles, books, museum exhibits, and documentaries. Internationally significant collections can be found in person or online.