Classics at the Carolinas: Lunch with Mickey Rooney

Barbecue patrons still talk about the day Mickey Rooney came to town.

Rooney, who passed away Sunday at age 93, visited Shelby, NC to eat at Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge in 1997.  He was told it was the best barbecue in North Carolina.

Read the full story I wrote for The Shelby Star here: 

http://www.shelbystar.com/news/local/lunch-with-mickey-rooney-1.302034?tc=cr

 

(The Star/Jessica Pickens) Natalie Ramsey, VP of Red Bridges Barbecue, remembers when Mickey Rooney visited the restaurant in 1997. She holds a Shelby Star article that hangs in the restaurant.

(The Star/Jessica Pickens) Natalie Ramsey, VP of Red Bridges Barbecue, remembers when Mickey Rooney visited the restaurant in 1997. She holds a Shelby Star article that hangs in the restaurant.

 

Starring in 10 films with Judy Garland and winner of a Juvenile Academy Award along with Deanna Durbin, Rooney was the top box office draw of 1939.

I can’t deny that Rooney occasionally gets on my nerves in his films, but he was an important aspect of film history-starting in vaudeville, acting in silent films as a youngster and making movies into his 90s, including the 2011 Muppets film.

He had energy and could definitely sell a song.

What are your memories of Mickey Rooney? Did you have a favorite film or ever see him in person? 

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in "Love Finds Andy Hardy."

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in “Love Finds Andy Hardy.”

 

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at@HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

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Classics in the Carolinas: Remembering Alicia Rhett, India Wilkes in “Gone with the Wind”

COH Alicia Rhett2

Leslie Howard with his on-screen sister Alicia Rhett.
(Scanned from “The Filming of Gone with the Wind”)

She was a true Southern lady.

Alicia Rhett was discovered on George Cukor’s Southern search for Scarlett O’Hara for the epic film “Gone with the Wind” (1939).

Rhett was cast as Ashley Wilkes’ sister, India Wilkes, in one of the biggest films of all time.

But Rhett’s art was more important to her than stardom.

“I enjoyed it (filming) immensely. I had the time of my life there (California). But when the film ended, I was happy to come home (to Charleston),” Rhett said in an interview in “The Rise of Charleston” by W. Thomas McQueene. “I liked to paint. It was what made me most happy. I really wasn’t interested in making more movies. I was interested in my art.”

Rhett was born in 1915 in Savannah, GA.   After her father was killed in World War I, her family moved to Charleston, SC, according to McQueene’s book.

Casting the role of Scarlett O’Hara for the 1939 movie wasn’t an easy. Hundreds of actresses were considered. Director George Cukor made a trip through Southern states, believing an unknown actress may be the answer to their problem.

Director George Cukor with interviews actresses to play the role of "Scarlet O'Hara": Louisa Robert, Atlanta; Susan Fallingant, Atlanta; Alicia Rhett, Charleston. (Scanned from "The Pictorial History of Gone with the Wind")

Director George Cukor with interviews actresses to play the role of “Scarlet O’Hara”: Louisa Robert, Atlanta; Susan Fallingant, Atlanta; Alicia Rhett, Charleston.
(Scanned from “The Pictorial History of Gone with the Wind”)

Hundreds of Southern women auditioned for the role of Scarlett, Melanie and Mammy, but only six women were considered for follow up auditions, according to “The Art of Gone with the Wind: The Making of a Legend,” by Judy Cameron and Paul J. Christman.

The auditions took place in 1937 in New York and the only Southerners who won roles were Alicia Rhett from Charleston, Mary Anderson who was cast as Maybelle Merriwether from Birmingham, AL and Marcella Martin of Shreveport, LA who was cast as Cathleen Calvert. Martin’s lines were dubbed because her accent wasn’t considered Southern enough, according to the Cameron and Christmas book.

“Alicia Rhett was an amateur actress. This young woman was so good,” Ann Rutherford is quoted by Cameron and Christman. Rutherford played the role of Careen, Scarlett’s younger sister. “She wasn’t Scarlett but Selznick cast her as India Wilkes. And she was excellent.”

During the filming of "Gone with the Wind," Alicia Rhett made sketches between takes. Here with Evelyn Keyes and Ann Rutherford. (Scanned from "The Filming of Gone with the Wind" by Herb Bridges)

During the filming of “Gone with the Wind,” Alicia Rhett made sketches between takes. Here with Evelyn Keyes and Ann Rutherford.
(Scanned from “The Filming of Gone with the Wind” by Herb Bridges)

The character of India Wilkes is the sister of Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) and sister-in-law of Melanie Wilkes (Olivia De Havilland). In the film, India hates Scarlett O’Hara, because Scarlett marries the man India is in love with, Charles Hamilton. India never marries and Scarlett refers to her as an “old maid.”

Rhett was acting when Cukor found her in Charleston.

She was performing in the Oscar Wilde play “Lady Windermere’s Fan” at the Dock Street Theater. Her performance in the Wilde play had “style and élan,” said “Pictorial History of Gone with the Wind” by Gerald Gardner and Harriet Modell Gardner.

COH alicia rhett

Alicia Rhett visits with Mrs. John Woodbury from Louiseville, KY. Woodbury was the past-president-general of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The Daughters dropped by to visit the filming of the Civil War film.
(Scanned from The Filming of Gone with the Wind by Herb Bridges)

“Gone with the Wind” novel author Margaret Mitchell liked Rhett for her name, according to the Gardner book.

As Rhett performed in the epic Technicolor film about the Civil War and the Reconstruction of the South, Rhett had her own family Civil War history.

Her great-grandfather was Robert Barnwell Rhett, a secessionist politician from South Carolina, according to “A Short History of Charleston” by Robert S. Rosen.

Robert Rhett became a member of the South Carolina legislature in 1826 and resigned from the United States Senate in 1852 when South Carolina seceded from the Union.

Though she was an unknown actress, Rhett enjoyed the company of her A-list co-stars.

She said Leslie Howard, who played her on-screen brother Ashley Wilkes, was “delightful” and Clark Gable, who played Rhett Butler was “charming,” she said in an interview with McQueene.

Rhett (bottom right) in a scene with Marjorie Reynolds, Evelyn Keyes and Olivia De Havilland.

Rhett (bottom right) in a scene with Marjorie Reynolds, Evelyn Keyes and Olivia De Havilland.

Rhett kept in touch with her on-screen sister-in-law Olivia De Havilland, who played Melanie Wilkes, for many years after filming. And she said Vivien Leigh was “just as pretty in person as she was on-screen,” McQueen quoted her.

But she returned to South Carolina after filming to embrace her first love: art.

Alicia Rhett who played India Wilkes, sister of Ashley Wilkes, in "Gone with the Wind" (1939)

Alicia Rhett who played India Wilkes, sister of Ashley Wilkes, in “Gone with the Wind” (1939)

Rhett went on to be one of the most important artists in Charleston, specializing in children’s portraits and also having her work hung in the president’s office at The Citadel.

Rhett passed away on January 4, 2014 at the age of 98. She was the oldest surviving member of “Gone with the Wind.”

Still living from the cast includes Olivia De Havilland, Mickey Kuhn who played Beau Wilkes and Mary Anderson.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Classics in the Carolinas: A visit to the Ava Gardner Museum

Comet Over Hollywood is doing a mini-series of “Classics in the Carolinas.” I’ll be spotlighting classic movie related topics in South Carolina (my home state) and North Carolina (where I currently live and work).

Actress Ava Gardner in "The Killers" (1946)

Actress Ava Gardner in “The Killers” (1946)

One of the biggest stars to emerge from North Carolina is the actress once called “The Most Beautiful Animal” in the tag line for “The Barefoot Contessa.”

The only other North Carolinian whose fame could be equal is Andy Griffith of the “The Andy Griffith Show,” born in Mount Airy, NC.

Ava Gardner was born in rural Grabtown, NC on Christmas Eve in 1922. Gardner’s family was poor and she was the youngest of seven children.

Gardner made a screen test in 1941 for MGM and signed a seven year contract with the studio. But her career took off after she starred with Burt Lancaster in the 1946 film noir “The Killers.”

Gardner went in to star in “Show Boat” (1951), “Mogambo” (1953) and “The Night of the Iguana” (1964).

The Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, NC celebrates Gardner’s life and career with costumes, personal belongings and film posters that tell her story.

Ava Gardner's grave in Smithfield, NC (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Ava Gardner’s grave in Smithfield, NC (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Within a couple miles of the museum is Ava Gardner’s grave site at the Sunset Memorial Park. Though Gardner passed away in London, her wishes were to be buried with her parents, brothers and sisters in Smithfield.

On Sunday, I traveled from Shelby, NC to Smithfield, NC to visit the museum for the first time. It was seven hours round trip, but well worth the drive.

The 5,000 square-foot museum is beautifully kept and Frank Sinatra (one of Gardner’s husbands) is played as you look about.

When you first enter, you watch an 18 minute documentary on Gardner’s life. Interviewees in the documentary include actresses Arlene Dahl, Kathryn Grayson and Janet Leigh; actor and Gardner’s ex-husband Mickey Rooney; actor Howard Keel; Gardner’s maid and friend Mearene Jordan and her niece.

The documentary included such facts as:

-Clark Gable was her favorite star as a child and she loved watching Gable and Jean Harlow in “Red Dust.” Gardner went on to star in the Harlow role in “Mogambo,” the remake of  “Red Dust.” Gardner also stared three times with Grable in films-“The Hucksters,” “Mogambo” and “Lone Star.”

-Rooney remembered that he dressed as Carmen Miranda when he first met Gardner and asked for her phone number. He spoke fondly on their brief marriage. The documentary said Gardner thought their marriage would be like her parents: cooking for Rooney and having children. Rooney preferred the night life.

-During Gardner’s first screen test, the studio could not understand her Southern accent. Her test ended up being a silent test as they took different shots of her face and movements.

-“The Killers” was the first role Gardner enjoyed acting in

-While filming “Show Boat,” actress and fellow North Carolinian Kathryn Grayson said Gardner was fun to work with. Howard Keel said she was up for anything and swore as much as he did.

-Gardner worked hard to do her own singing in the musical “Show Boat” but ended up being dubbed by Annette Warren. Her co-stars were unhappy about the dubbing and she can be heard on the soundtrack.

-Howard Hughes was obsessed with Gardner and the two fought a lot. At one point she hit him over the head with an object. She said she was so mad, she would have killed him had she not been stopped.

-Frank Sinatra was the true love of her life, but they were too much alike. Janet Leigh described them in the documentary as two sticks of dynamite together.

-Gardner didn’t enjoy Hollywood. She spent several years living in Spain and lived the remainder of her life in London.

 Items that can be found in the museum:

 Childhood items:

An odd play pin that Ava (pictured on top) used as a child. It could be rolled around and had a top. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

An odd play pin that Ava (pictured on top) used as a child. It could be rolled around and had a top. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

-The family Bible

-Ava Gardner’s 1939 high school diploma

Ava's college yearbook. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Ava’s college yearbook. Ava is documented as a Campus Beauty. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Costumes:

A cape that was used in publicity shots for "Barefoot Contessa" but is not seen in the film. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A cape that was used in publicity shots for “Barefoot Contessa” but is not seen in the film. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Originally worn by Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight," this jacket was reworked for Gardner to wear in "The Great Sinner" also starring Gregory Peck and Melvyn Douglas (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Originally worn by Ingrid Bergman in “Gaslight,” this jacket was reworked for Gardner to wear in “The Great Sinner” also starring Gregory Peck and Melvyn Douglas (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Gardner wore this dress in "The Great Sinner" also starring Gregory Peck and Melvyn Douglas (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Gardner wore this dress in “The Great Sinner” also starring Gregory Peck and Melvyn Douglas (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A dress Gardner wore in "East Side, West Side" (1949) which also starred Barbara Stanwyck and James Mason. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

A dress Gardner wore in “East Side, West Side” (1949) which also starred Barbara Stanwyck and James Mason. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

A jacket Gardner wore in "Mogambo" also starring Clark Gable and Grace Kelly (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A jacket Gardner wore in “Mogambo” also starring Clark Gable and Grace Kelly (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A personal dress of Gardner's (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A personal dress of Gardner’s (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A dress Gardner wore in "Show Boat" also starring Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica Pickens)

A dress Gardner wore in “Show Boat” also starring Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica Pickens)

Left to right: Dresses from "Ride Vaquero" starring Robert Taylor and a dress from "My Forbidden Past" starring Robert Mitchum. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Left to right: Dresses from “Ride Vaquero” starring Robert Taylor and a dress from “My Forbidden Past” starring Robert Mitchum. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A costume from the film "She Went to the Races" (1945) -my personal favorite of the costumes there.  (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A costume from the film “She Went to the Races” (1945) -my personal favorite of the costumes there.
(Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A gift to Gardner from Howard Hughes. Silk was hard to come by because of World War II. In an attempt to woo Gardner, Hughes bought her this dress as an expensive and lavish gift. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A gift to Gardner from Howard Hughes. Silk was hard to come by because of World War II. In an attempt to woo Gardner, Hughes bought her this dress as an expensive and lavish gift. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Portraits of Ava Gardner: 

ResizedImage_1385490901748 ResizedImage_1385490904985

Other personal items: 

-Script and contract for “The Night of the Iguana”

A scarf that belonged to Gardner from Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1952. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

A scarf that belonged to Gardner from Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1952. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

-Awards such as the Look Achievement Award for 1948.

-A letter from Grace Kelly. Kelly and Gardner became good friends while filming “Mogambo” and Gardner even attended Kelly’s wedding in Monaco. Gardner said she always received a handwritten Christmas card from Kelly.

-Scripts from films such as “One Touch of Venus

-Bullfighter and bull figurines that she got while living in Spain.

A Tiffany's watch from director John Ford inscribed "To Ava, a Class Act, John Ford."

A Tiffany’s watch from director John Ford inscribed “To Ava, a Class Act, John Ford.”

-Several portraits of Gardner by artist Bert Pfister

-Ava Gardner’s doll collection

-Poems from Gardner’s friend and poet Robert Graves

Jewelry that belonged to Gardner. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Jewelry that belonged to Gardner. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Personal items from Gardner's London apartment. The needle point pillow talks about being an aunt. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Personal items from Gardner’s London apartment. The needle point pillow talks about being an aunt. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

-A miniature statue of Gardner from “One Touch of Venus

-Gardner enjoyed collecting China. Several glasses and plates that belonged to her were on display

Was it worth it?

Smithfield is three and a half hour away from Shelby. I was exhausted by the time I got home, but it was a worthwhile visit.

I have always been proud to be living in the same state that Gardner was born. However, even though I have seen many of her film, I never knew much about her life.

I left the Ava Gardner Museum with a new appreciation for Ava Gardner. I also left with a bottle of Ava Gardner wine from Hinnant Family Vineyards.

If you are ever in the area, I suggest a visit.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Classics in the Carolinas: Burt Lancaster and Clemson University

Comet Over Hollywood is doing a mini-series of “Classics in the Carolinas.” I’ll be spotlighting classic movie related topics in South Carolina (my home state) and North Carolina (where I currently live and work).

posterClemson University has a long history in my family.

My great-grandfather graduated from there in 1918, my paternal grandfather went there, my maternal grandfather was the Dean of Science, both my parents attended the school and so did both of my sisters.

But Clemson also has a touch of film history.

In 1973, Clemson, SC and Anderson, SC were the filming locations for the movie “The Midnight Man,” starring and co-directed by actor Burt Lancaster.

In the film, Lancaster plays ex-con Jim Slade who starts working as a night watchman at a local university, Jordan College. The film also stars Cameron Mitchell, Susan Clark and Catharine Bach has a small role.

My mother grew up in Clemson and was a junior at Daniel High School in Clemson during the filming of “The Midnight Man.”

“I remember when the news came out that they were looking at Clemson and a few other places for filming, everyone thought it was very exciting,” said Lisa Pickens, mother of Comet Over Hollywood.

Burt Lancaster filming scenes from "Midnight Man" on the campus of Clemson University. Source: Clemson archives

Burt Lancaster filming scenes from “Midnight Man” on the campus of Clemson University. Source: Clemson archives

Filming locations included areas:

-The campus of Clemson University such as inside Tillman Hall

-Driving down Highway 123 and goes into a bar in Anderson, SC

-The Anderson, SC courthouse

-Cameron Mitchell exercises in Riggs Field, which was Clemson’s second football field from 1915 to 1941 and now is the university’s soccer stadium

-Lancaster gets off the bus in front of Clemson’s post office which is now Mell Hall, Clemson’s Housing Office.

-Swimming pool scenes were filmed in Holtzendorff Hall

“A lot of people thought they should use the balcony of our house,” said Barbara Evers, writer and aunt of Comet Over Hollywood. “I don’t remember why. As far as I know, they never considered it.”

Several locals were used in the filming, including classmates of my mother, Lisa Vogel Pickens, and my uncle Henry Vogel.

“Your Mom heard they were holding auditions in the basement of the Post Office (Mell Hall). She got permission, and we went,” Evers said. “We never found the place where auditions were being held. Your Mom was sure excited, though.  She ran down the stairs of the Post Office.”

Lancaster and Mitchell in a press conference. Source: Clemson TAPS Yearbook 1972-1973

Lancaster and Mitchell in a press conference. Source: Clemson TAPS Yearbook 1972-1973

During the filming of “Midnight Man,” Lancaster was heavily drinking and getting up at 5 a.m. to start filming, according to the Kate Buford book “Burt Lancaster: An American Life.”

“I remember Burt Lancaster stayed in the penthouse of the Clemson House, Clemson’s nicest hotel which now is a dorm for students,” Pickens said. “He complained about the mattress and wanted a king size bed. Friends of my parents, the Whitlocks, let them use their king size mattress. I have no idea why they would do that.”

Filming took six weeks, according to “Burt Lancaster Excites Clemson Campus,” a Feb. 25, 1973, article from the Herald-Journal.

At the time, the Town of Clemson had approximately 5,500 people living there and the university had 9,700 students, according to the article.

Filming on the campus of Clemson University. Source: Clemson TAPS Yearbook 1972-1973

Filming on the campus of Clemson University. Source: Clemson TAPS Yearbook 1972-1973

“Boys at the dormitory window applauded at the end of the scene. Lancaster responded with a smile and then pointed out that one of the boys had a woman with him,” said the Herald-Journal article.

Unfortunately, “Midnight Man” didn’t do well. Both Evers and Pickens recall being disappointed that the film received bad reviews.

“You hope it will do well since it was filmed in your hometown, but it didn’t,” Pickens said.

Other movies filmed in the Upstate of South Carolina include the George Clooney comedy “Leatherheads” (2008), filmed in my hometown of Greenville, SC, and “Radio” (2003) filmed in Walterboro, SC.

“The Midnight Man” was shot from February 1973 until March 1973 and was released on June 10, 1974.

There was a premiere at the Astro Theater in Clemson on March 14, 1974.

“I thought it would be exciting to go to the premiere but Lancaster didn’t show up, so I didn’t go,” Pickens said. “Even in small Clemson, I never ran across the actors.”

Filming crews at Clemson University. Source: Clemson TAPS Yearbook 1972-1973

Filming crews at Clemson University. Source: Clemson TAPS Yearbook 1972-1973

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Classics in the Carolinas: Tallulah goes to college

At Byrnes Auditorium at Winthrop University, actress Tallulah Bankhead performed her one of her favorite stage role in the play “Little Foxes.”

Yes, Tallulah Bankhead performed at my alma mater in 1940.

Tallulah Bankhead wasn’t your typical Southern Belle.

Tallulah Bankhead as Regina Giddens in "The Little Foxes."

Tallulah Bankhead as Regina Giddens in “The Little Foxes.”

Born in Huntsville, AL, Bankhead’s father was William B. Bankhead-a politician from Alabama and Representative from 1917 to 1940.

But despite her prominent background, Bankhead has been described as flamboyant, wild and dabbled in alcohol and drugs such as cocaine and marijuana.

She left her Southern roots at the age of 15 to travel to New York to become an actress and made her stage debut in 1918. She later was in Hollywood films starting in the 1930s.

After acting in films alongside Gary Cooper, Robert Montgomery and Charles Laughton, Bankhead made her way back to her southern roots.

In 1939, Bankhead originated the stage role of Regina Giddens in the Lillian Hellman play “The Little Foxes.”

Based in the early 20th century in the South, Regina manipulates her daughter and estranged husband to work out a business deal with her unscrupulous cousins.

“All in all, Regina Giddens is the best role I ever had in the theater,” Bankhead wrote in her autobiography, Tallulah: My Autobiography. “So The Little Foxes is the best play I’ve had. Up to this time most of my roles had been on the light and larkish side.”

Later made into a 1941 film starring Bette Davis, “The Little Foxes” ran for 410 performances at the National Theatre on Broadway.

“The Little Foxes” brought Bankhead to Rock Hill, SC.

Tallulah Bankhead and actress Eugenia Rawls perform in "The Little Foxes"

Tallulah Bankhead and actress Eugenia Rawls perform in “The Little Foxes”

On March 4, 1940, she performed her role of Regina Giddens on the stage of the brand new Byrnes Auditorium of Winthrop College (now Winthrop University) which was an all-girls school until 1975.

“Her seductive southern drawl was an instant hit in South Carolina,” according to the book York and Western York County, SC: The Story of a Southern Eden by J. Edward Lee and Jerry Lee Wes. “After her performance, the audience gave her a standing ovation.”

Bankhead had ties to York County. Her great-great-grandfather George Bankhead moved to lived in Bullock’s Creek, York County South Carolina before moving to Alabama in 1830, according to Lee and Wes’s book.

“As a (local) reporter asked the Hollywood actress about her fast-paced life in California, Bankhead…reminded the journalist, ‘Dahling, I’m from Bullock’s Creek,’” Lee and Wes wrote.

Though Bankhead was not in the film adaptation of the play, her Broadway costars Dan Duryea, Charles Dingle, Carl Benton Reid, and Patricia Collinge starred with Bette Davis.

Knowing that Tallulah Bankhead once walked on a campus where I studied journalism, makes me feel just a little closer to the Golden Era of Hollywood.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Classic in the Carolinas: Lost silent film based on Elkin, NC

Comet Over Hollywood is doing a mini-series of “Classics in the Carolinas.” I’ll be spotlighting classic movie related topics in South Carolina (my home state) and North Carolina (where I currently live and work).

Elkin, North Carolina is a small town of roughly 4,000 people.

It also is the setting of a silent film made in 1915, and the film is currently lost.

Clara Kimball Young in "Heart of the Blueridge"

Clara Kimball Young in “Heart of the Blueridge” scanned from the book the film was based on.

The film “Heart of the Blue Ridge” is based off a book written by Waldron Baily, a former Elkin mayor.

Baily, originally from Mount Kisco, N.Y., moved to Elkin in 1896 and started Baily Manufacturing Company, according to the history book “Elkin” by Elkin native Jason Couch.

“I called it ‘my Elkin,’ because we all came to love it so,” Baily said in his autobiography published posthumously in 1958.

Baily became mayor in the late 1890s until he moved back up North in 1903, Couch said

“And I, a Yankee…was elected with only two votes over the other fellow,” Baily wrote.

Baily wrote “Heart of the Blue Ridge” book in 1915 after he left Elkin. The book was based off the Stone Mountain and Elkin areas.

The silent film based on the book was released in October 1915 starring Clara Kimball Young as Plutina, Chester Barnett as Zeke and Robert Cummings as Dan Hodges.

Unfortunately, the film is currently lost.

“Like the overwhelming majority of silent features, it likely remains lost,” said Ihsan Amanatullah of the National Film Preservation Foundation in San Francisco, C.A.

Clara Kimball Young as Plutina in "Heart of the Blueridge." Photo scanned from the movie version of the book.

Clara Kimball Young as Plutina in “Heart of the Blueridge.” Photo scanned from the movie version of the book.

Though the film is about North Carolina it was filmed in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

The story follows Zeke (Barnett) and his sweetheart Plutina (Young) and their life in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Zeke is a moonshiner who betrays other moonshiners, which angers the community; causing him to leave the mountains.

But when he hears Plutina is kidnapped, Zeke returns home to rescue her.

The film was re-released in 1917 under the name “Savage Instinct.”

“My characters were all from life with of course a fictional build-up,” Baily said. “It was made into a movie starring the beautiful Clara Kimball Young in the only rough part she ever played.”

Young was married to James Young, the director of “Heart of the Blue Ridge,” but the couple divorced in 1919.

“Heart of the Blue Ridge” was the last film Young made under the direction of her husband James Young, according to Stanford University.

Chester Barnett and Clara Kimball Young in "Heart of the Blue Ridge" scanned from the movie version of the book.

Chester Barnett and Clara Kimball Young in “Heart of the Blue Ridge” scanned from the movie version of the book.

Young was a popular star of the 1910s acting in films such as “Camille” (1915), “Eyes of Youth” (1919)—with Rudolph Valentino early in his career—and “Hearts in Exile” (1915). In 1914, she was polled more popular than Mary Pickford, according to Stanford University.

Young began in films in 1909 and her last movie was “Mr. Celebrity” in 1941 playing herself. She died in 1960 at the age of 70.

Barnett began in films in 1912 to 1920 and he died in 1947 at the age of 63.

Baily also wrote three other North Carolina based novels including “The Homeward Trail” in 1916 about Croatian Indians, “When the Cock Crows” in 1918 based on Beaufort, N.C. and “June Gold” in 1922 about Bogue Inlet.

“The story which I wrote (“Heart of the Blue Ridge”) will live on and on through the years,” Baily said.

*I originally a variation of this story wrote this in March 2012 while I was working for the Elkin Tribune in Elkin, NC.

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Classics in the Carolinas: Stanley Donen

Comet Over Hollywood is doing a mini-series of “Classics in the Carolinas.” I’ll be spotlighting classic movie related topics in South Carolina (my home state) and North Carolina (where I currently live and work).

Stanley Donen in 1950

Stanley Donen in 1950

He directed and choreographed some of the most famous musicals of the 1940s and 1950s.

And he’s from my birthplace

Stanley Donen and I were both born in Columbia, S.C.-the capital of South Carolina.

Donen was actually born on this day in 1924 and is still living.

While only three years of my life were spent in the Columbia area, Donen left the south for New York when he was a teenager.

Donen described his childhood as an unhappy one in a 1983 book by Joseph Andrew Casper.

His parents were of the Jewish faith. Though Donen did not identify with the religion, he was taunted by anti-Semitic classmates in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Due to the taunting he endured in his youth, Donen is rather bitter towards the city today.

“It was sleepy, it was awful, I hated growing up there, and I couldn’t wait to get out,” Donen said in the book Stephen M. Silverman, Dancing on the Ceiling: Stanley Donen and His Movies.

In his 2006 Turner Classic Movies Private Screenings interview with Robert Osborne, Donen described Columbia as a “small town.”

At the time, Columbia was probably a small, but now, is the largest city in South Carolina.

“My family and I were Southerners,” Donen said in Silverman’s book. “Really, really Southern, and really, really American. My mother was born in Columbia, South Carolina. My father was born in Augusta, GA, which is just over the border. His father died in Beaufort, SC, and my mother’s mother and father–that is, my maternal grandparents–are buried in the same town where they were born, Columbia, SC.”

Donen and Gene Kelly watch Michael Kidd sing in "It's Always Fair Weather"

Donen and Gene Kelly watch Michael Kidd sing in “It’s Always Fair Weather”

Donen would have been named after his grandfather, Issac, but his mother felt Issac would make for a bad life in the south, so he was named Stanley instead, according to the book.

“Columbia was a town with a wonderful group of Jewish people. It’s just that there weren’t too many of them,” said a childhood neighbor, Betty Walker in Silverman’s book. “They were really outnumbered.”

After school to escape from his unhappiness, Donen went to the movies.

“I saw Fred Astaire in ‘Flying Down to Rio’ when I was nine years old, and it changed my life,” he said in the Casper biography. “It just seemed wonderful, and my life wasn’t wonderful. The joy of dancing to music! And Fred was so amazing, and Ginger— oh, God! Ginger!”

After watching Astaire and Rogers, he started taking dance lessons in Columbia and performed at the Town Theater.

His mother encouraged him to move to New York and in 1940, at the age of 16, he found himself as a chorus boy in “Pal Joey” with Gene Kelly as the lead. Kelly asked him to be the assistant choreographer and the show’s stage manager.

In 1943, Donen went to Hollywood and helped choreograph the film “Best Foot Forward” starring Lucille Ball. Donen was the stage manager for the play on Broadway, which starred Rosemary Lane. When the film rights were bought by MGM for the play, Donen went to Hollywood along with some of the play cast which included June Allyson and Nancy Walker, according to Allyson’s autobiography.

Donen’s Hollywood choreography career continued with movies like “Cover Girl” and “Living in a Big Way.”

The first film he directed in Hollywood was “On the Town” (1948). He continued on directing some of the most famous Hollywood films including “Singin’ In the Rain” (1952), “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers” (1954) and “Charade” (1963). Stars he directed include Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Sophia Loren.

Deborah Kerr, Stanley Donen,  and Robert Mitchum

With Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum for “The Grass is Greener”

Though Donen’s life in Columbia wasn’t a happy one, he influenced one woman with her dance career. Naomi Calvert studied under Donen as well as Tim McCoy, who helped Vera-Ellen.

Calvert co-owned a reputable dance studio in Columbia called Calvert-Brodie, along with Ann Brodie, for over 30 years.

My oldest sister attended Calvert-Brodie and looking back on home videos of dance recitals, the recitals were like a mini “revue” or “follies.”

These weren’t children bouncing their hip and shaking their finger at the audience. These were themed dance recitals, such as a patriotic theme and a circus theme. They would begin with an opening number and a main number. The circus show was complete with a person on a trapeze, and the patriotic show had little girls tap dancing with drums. My oldest sister, Erin, had a tap solo.

Clearly Mr. Donen influenced her craft.

Though my father grew up in Columbia as an Army brat and we lived there as a family for six years, it isn’t the Pickens family’s favorite place either.

Though it’s the capital of the state, many people call Columbia “the arm-pit of the South.”

After all, it’s the home of the USC Gamecocks, and we are Clemson Tiger fans.

However, it’s unfortunate that Donen experienced a traumatizing youth and feels bitter towards his hometown. Anti-Semitism was just as much of an issue in the South as Civil Rights.

The end. On the set of "Indiscreet" with Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant

The end. On the set of “Indiscreet” with Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant

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From Hollywood to Raleigh: the biggest collection of Gone with the Wind memorabillia

gone with the wind

It started when James Tumblin, saw a dress from “Gone with the Wind” lying on the floor at Universal Studios in 1962.

It was the dress Scarlett O’Hara wore while riding through the shanty town in the 1939 film.

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Found on the floor about to be thrown away, this was the first item in Tumblin’s Gone with the Wind collection-Scarlett’s dress she wore in the shanty town scene

“My mother always taught me to be respectful of belongings. Even if I’m walking through K-Mart I pick up clothing that’s on the floor,” said the former Universal Studios hair and make-up department head. “I picked up the dress and realized it was a dress from ‘Gone with the Wind.’”

Tumblin asked why the dress was on the floor and was told the dress was going to be thrown away.

“I asked if I could buy it and was told $20 for the dress and a whole other rack of clothes,” he said. “I casually accepted. I knew if I was too excited they would go up on the price. The rack of clothes didn’t include other Gone with the Wind costumes but had costumes that Judy Garland wore in ‘Easter Parade.’”

After that, Tumblin began getting phone calls from people who had items from “Gone with the Wind.”

Now, Tumblin owns the largest “Gone with the Wind” collection in the world. He owns at least 300,000 pieces of film memorabilia. Part of his collection has been displayed in the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh in the Real to Reel: The Making of Gone with the Wind exhibit. The exhibit started in Aug. 2012 and was originally supposed to end in January. It has been so successful, it was extended until April 14.

The hast worn by Vivien Leigh in the barbecue scene in Gone with the Wind

The hat worn by Vivien Leigh in the barbecue scene in Gone with the Wind

Tumblin’s collection is stored at his home in Oregon. The latest item he bought was a coat worn by a Munchkin in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939).

I traveled from Shelby, N.C. with my parents to see the exhibit on Saturday, April 6.

Vivien Leigh's Academy Award for Best Actress for Gone with the Wind

Vivien Leigh’s Academy Award for Best Actress for Gone with the Wind

The exhibit included costumes worn by Viven Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Wilkes, Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes, Ona Munson as Belle Watling and Cammie King as Bonnie Blue Butler.

It also had the script used by Hattie McDaniel who played Mammy, furniture used in the film and Vivien Leigh’s Academy Award for Best Actress as Scarlett O’Hara.

While walking in, one of the museum workers told us Tumblin, the owner of the exhibit, was inside.

I kicked myself for not bringing along a reporter’s notebook and scrambled to find paper in the museum so I could interview Tumblin. I settled for the back of several museum volunteer fliers.

Tumblin was sitting on a bench with his 27-year-old son Josh when I introduced myself as a reporter for the Shelby Star. The two scooted down and let me sit with them for about a 45 minute interview.

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Owner of the collection, James Tumblin greeting visitors and answering questions at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh

“Are you going to click your heels three times and go back to Kansas?” he joked, glancing down at my bright orange flats.

Born in Denver, Colorado, Tumblin began working at Universal Studios in the late-1950s and retired in 1982.

“I wanted to make a lot of money and buy my mother a house,” he said. “I guess I was too naïve to realize rejection. But I kept going back and wore them down, and they finally gave me a job sweeping hair in the costume department.”

A muff and coat worn by Ona Munson as Belle Watling. This was costume designer Walter Plunket's favorite muff and coat. It took three years to restore it when it was found.

A muff and coat worn by Ona Munson as Belle Watling. This was costume designer Walter Plunket’s favorite muff and coat. It took three years to restore it when it was found.

Every night, he would stay and comb the wigs. One day his boss, Larry Germain, asked him if he had been combing the wigs.

“He told me that Debbie Reynolds liked the way I had combed her wig and said she wanted me to come out to her house and comb her wigs,” Tumblin said. “She paid me $200 to do it. It was the first time I rode in a limousine. They realized I had talent and that’s how it all started.”

He got along with many of the stars and it was a happy time. The only downside was when he found a favorite actor to be unpleasant.

Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Mae West are just a few people he worked with.

“Marilyn Monroe was lovely and child-like. Cary Grant was a lovely man. Garbo had already retired, but she would have me up to her apartment in New York to cut her hair,” Tumblin said. “Mae West was a hoot. She would have me up to her beach house and I did 30 wigs for her.”

Katharine Hepburn was another close friend who Tumblin frequently had as a house guest after he retired.

“She loved to drive my truck and always lectured me about my posture,” he said.

William Cameron Menzies's production painting for the burning of Atlanta scene

William Cameron Menzies’s production painting for the burning of Atlanta scene

Another friend was Doris Day. He had an ongoing joke with Day where he threw her into a swimming pool.

Movies he worked on include “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “Psycho” (1960), “The Birds” (1963), “The Sound of Music” (1964), “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (1967), “Star Wars” and “The Terminator.”

“I worked for a year and a half on Lawrence of Arabia. I hadn’t seen it for 40 years when I saw it again at a film festival,” he said. “I started crying and my son asked me what was wrong. I worked on this film for a year and a half of my life and so many of these people are gone now.”

The dissolve of the studio system didn’t affect the costume department, but Tumblin didn’t like the situation.

The original score by Max Steiner for Gone with the Wind

The original score by Max Steiner for Gone with the Wind

“It was sad to see all of these people go. I used to see Fred Astaire coming in his convertible. Doris Day and Rock Hudson had dressing rooms next to each other,” he said. “Universal was the first studio to lease out a sound studio to television with shows like ‘Leave It To Beaver.’ Universal survived while other studios died when they turned their noses up to television.”

I even found that Tumblin and I share the same favorite classic film: “Since You Went Away” (1944).

“It was a job,” he said. “What’s nice to know is that I did it well enough that people still want to see my work in films.”

Room of costumes from Gone with the Wind at the NC Museum of History

Room of costumes from Gone with the Wind at the NC Museum of History

Costume designs for Gone with the Wind by Walter Plunkett

Costume designs for Gone with the Wind by Walter Plunkett

A suit worn by Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. It was later worn by John Wayne, who at one point was the same size as Gable.

A suit worn by Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. It was later worn by John Wayne, who at one point was the same size as Gable.

Tattered Civil War uniform worn by Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes

Tattered Civil War uniform worn by Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes

Worn by Vivien Leigh in the hospital scene in Gone with the Wind

Worn by Vivien Leigh in the hospital scene in Gone with the Wind

Worn by Cammie King as Bonnie Blue Butler during the horse riding incident

Worn by Cammie King as Bonnie Blue Butler during the horse riding incident

Worn by Olivia Deviland as Melanie Wilkes during the train station scene

Worn by Olivia Deviland as Melanie Wilkes during the train station scene

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Classics in the Carolinas: Arthur Freed

Comet Over Hollywood is doing a mini-series of “Classics in the Carolinas.” I’ll be spotlighting classic movie related topics in South Carolina (my home state) and North Carolina (where I currently live and work).

Annie Get Your Gun, Bandwagon, Singin' in the Rain and Meet Me in St. Louis are just a few MGM musicals Arthur Freed produced.

Annie Get Your Gun, Bandwagon, Singin’ in the Rain and Meet Me in St. Louis are just a few MGM musicals Arthur Freed produced.

Singin in the Rain” (1952), “Show Boat” (1950) and “Meet Me in St Louis” (1944)

These are just a few of the well-known, Technicolor MGM musicals that producer Arthur Freed produced.

But before working with some of Hollywood’s most talented stars, Freed was born down south.

Freed, real name Arthur Grossman, was born in 1894 in Charleston, S.C.

His parents, sister and brothers were a musical family. Freed’s father, Max, emigrated from Budapest in the 1880s.

Max Freed sold zithers and encouraged his children’s musical talents. Arthur’s brother Walter became an organist, Sydney and Clarence had recording businesses in Hollywood, Ralph was a songwriter and Ruth also wrote several songs, according to M-G-M’s Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit by Hugh Fordin.

Nacio Herb Brown (left) and Arthur Freed (right) in 1929. The two wrote several songs together.

Nacio Herb Brown (left) and Arthur Freed (right) in 1929. The two wrote several songs together.

Though Freed was born in Charleston, he was raised in Seattle, Washington, educated in New Hampshire and started his music career as a song plugger in Chicago.

In Chicago, Minnie Marx, mother of the Marx Brothers, discovered Freed who sang and wrote material for the brothers in vaudeville shows, according to Billboard Aug. 1950.

In 1928, Freed got a job at MGM studios where he wrote songs with Nacio Herb Brown such as “Broadway Melody,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “You are My Lucky Star” and “Temptation.”

Freed began producing films in the late 1930s and became interested in helping promote Judy Garland’s career.

Judy Garland and Arthur Freed

Judy Garland and Arthur Freed

From 1939 to 1960, Arthur Freed produced 44 films. It’s safe to say I have seen every Freed production.

After working with  some of MGM’s top talents and winning an Academy Award for Best Picture for “Gigi,” Freed left the studio in 1961.

Freed died at the age of 78 in 1973 and was buried in Culver City, California.

Although Freed did not spend much of his life in Charleston, I felt it important that one of Hollywood’s most prolific producers was born in my birth state of South Carolina.

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Classics in the Carolinas: Remembering Andy Griffith

This post is a mix of remembering stars who died during 2012 and an addition to the Comet Over Hollywood mini-series, “Classics in the Carolinas”-which highlights classics movie related topics in North Carolina and South Carolina. 

 Opie’s Candy Store, Mayberry Embroidery, Floyd’s City Barber Shop, Barney’s Restaurant.

These are stores you would see as you walked in downtown Mount Airy, North Carolina while the “Andy Griffith Show” theme song echos from many of the stores.

Andy Griffith related stores in downtown Mount Airy, NC. Comet Over Hollywood photos by Jessica Pickens

Andy Griffith related stores in downtown Mount Airy, NC. Comet Over Hollywood photos by Jessica Pickens

Squad car tours are given around the town and there is even an Andy Griffith Bypass and Andy Griffith Mall. Every September the Mayberry Days festival brings fans from all over the world to the small town to celebrate the show with barbecue, musical performances and golf tournaments.

The quaint Surry County, North Carolina town was home to television icon Andy Griffith and was the model for the fictional television town of Mayberry.

Working in Elkin, NC, I lived 30 minutes away from Mount Airy, and while fans all over the world mourned the death of Griffith on July 3, 2012, I knew his death would be an even bigger deal in Surry County.

Andy Griffith is the main tourism draw in Mount Airy. In September 2011, the Mayberry Days festival brought in 70,000 visitors, I learned while writing an article at the Tribune for the 2011-2012 Surry County Directory.

“Mayberry is the hook for 90 percent of our visitors,” said tourism director, Jennifer Eisenhower. “A lot of people come here for the small town, Mayberry experience.”

Andy Griffith in the 1960s.

Andy Griffith in the 1960s.

Griffith was born in Mount Airy in 1926 and graduated from Mount Airy High School 1944.

He was popular in high school and took trombone lessons from a local reverend, remembered Mount Airy News lifestyles editor, Eleanor Powell.

After graduation, Griffith attended the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill- also the alma mater of Kay Kyser- with hopes to become a Moravian minister. However he changed his major to music, according to a UNC article by Patrick Winn.

Griffith was homesick when he first went to UNC but ended up becoming popular, acting in several Playmaker’s performances such as “The Mikado,” and joining Phi Mu Alpha music fraternity.

At Chapel Hill, Griffith met his first wife Barbara Edwards, married from 1949 to 1971.

After graduating in 1949, Griffith taught high school music in Goldsboro, NC.

Griffith worked his way up in the business while performing in plays and comedic radio monologues. He made his breakthrough performance in Hollywood with the 1957 film “A Face in the Crowd” and his television show “Andy Griffith Show” in 1960.

“The Andy Griffith Show” was said to be based on Griffith’s memories of growing up in Mount Airy, which he has both confirmed and denied throughout he years.

The television show mentions nearby “Mount Pilot”-which in reality it Pilot Mountain- and that Mayberry is north of Winston-Salem, which is all true for Mount Airy.

I remember sitting at my computer at the Elkin Tribune and seeing the news pop up about Griffith’s deaths.

All I could think was “Uh oh,” as I called my editor to tell him our front page stories would be different for the next day’s paper.

The Elkin Tribune’s sister paper was the Mount Airy News, where our newspaper was laid out and printed. I remember talking to one of the paginaters and asking how she felt about Griffith’s death and how people in the town were reacting. It seemed a huge thunder storm that came through town was a bigger deal to most of the citizens.

“It’s been pretty quiet. I don’t really care,” she said. “He didn’t treat the town well and even asked for us to pay him when he dedicated the Andy Griffith Bypass a few years ago.”

Regardless of the bitterness of locals, Griffith has brought millions of tourism dollars to the town.

“Tourism has really saved us, Andy is the hook. He is the reason people come to Mount Airy,” Tanya Jones, executive director of the Surry Arts Council, told CNN.

Visitors from Spain, Germany, Peru, India, the United Kingdom, Guatemala and Canada have all traveled to take part in the Mayberry atmosphere.

“Some months we see guests from all 50 states,” Eisenhower said. “A lot of people come here for one reason: to see all the Mayberry attractions, and they continue to come back.”

February 2012 during one of my visits to Mount Airy with the Andy Griffith statue.

February 2012 during one of my visits to Mount Airy with the Andy Griffith statue.

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