“The Conqueror,” got filmed in 1954 among the red bluffs and white dunes close to Saint George, Utah. An area handpicked by the director/producer of the film, Dick Powell.
Due to its similarity to the central Asian steppes, Dick thought it the perfect place for the sappy love story between Genghis Khan and a captive princess to play out.
With reassurances from the federal government, no one knew that the atomic testing range only 137 miles away at Yucca Flat in Nevada posed a health hazard to those in Saint George.
With a cast and crew of over 220, an astonishing 91 developed cancer shortly after the movie got shot — one of those being Dick Powell.
When Dick went to St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica on September 13, 1962, to get treated for what he thought to be an allergy, doctors discovered cancer in his neck and chest.
Seven days and several cobalt treatments later, Dick went home and returned to his studio a few days later to continue work on six television shows.
Dr. Jason Stein at the UCLA Medical Center treated Dick felt happy with his reaction to the treatment and reported a vast reduction in the size of the tumor. “Dr. Stein is pleased with my progress and told me he expects to eliminate the condition,” Dick said at the time.
A few months later Dick’s condition took a turn for the worst when he slipped into a coma on the cusp of 1963. On January 2, 1963, with his third wife, June Allyson by his side, Dick passed away during the early afternoon at the age of 58.
A People magazine article in 1980 reported that of 220 cast and crew, 91 had contracted cancer, with 46 of them dying. No bombs were tested during the filming, but the article quoted Robert Pendleton, director of radiological health at the University of Utah, saying radioactivity from previous blasts probably lodged in Snow Canyon.
In addition to director Dick Powell succumbing to cancer - the major stars in the film: John Wayne, Susan Hayward, and Agnes Moorehead all died of cancer as well. As Agnes lay dying, she told Debbie Reynolds, her best friend, “I should never have taken that part.” Her co-star on “Bewitched,” Sandra Gould recalled that Agnes ones told her that “everybody in that picture has gotten cancer and died.”
Whether it was the location of that film that killed Dick Powell or not, his final days were not happy, and Powell died way too young...