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

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5 thoughts on “Classics in the Carolinas: Burt Lancaster and Clemson University

  1. Susan Clark was a regular at Lamar’
    s bar … later Ibrahim’s Sports shop … out on 123. Ed Lauter who had a small part came into the Astro III to watch movies several times while I was working.

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  2. I was a senior at Daniel and working at the A&P grocery store at the time. Burt Lancaster came up to me and asked where he could find the cheese crackers. I showed him the crackers and walked away. I noticed everyone pointing and looking at him and I asked what are you looking at? It was Burt and I didn’t even know that I had just talked to him.

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  3. My Mother and Father were in the scene at Lamars when the red necks showed up..Also a small,very small prt outside Anderson Court House.I remember the fake phone booth put in front of old Post Office,Lancasters son riding around in VW Bug Van and shooting the outside of The Calhoun Mansion for the girls dorm where of course Bach was killed..Went premier with my little date Elouise Rankin and my parents..Susan Clark and (Producer)Ronald Keebe…Worst movie off all time!Had to be..Stephen Nichols

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  4. Comet Over Hollywood commented Cameron Mitchell was ”Driving down 123 and goes into a bar in Anderson SC.” The bar was, in fact, in Clemson (Lamar’s Bar) it is now ”The Athletic Department”. Next to Wal-Green.

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