Classics in the Carolinas: Kathryn Grayson

Actress, singer Kathryn Grayson

With her soprano voice and sweet, heart-shaped face, Kathryn Grayson was one of the many stars in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s constellation.

But before the singer and actress was one of the studio’s top stars, Grayson was born Zelma Kathryn Elisabeth Hedrick in Winston-Salem, N.C. Zelma was one of four children born to Charles and Lillian Hedrick. The other siblings – Bud, Hal and the youngest Millie, who were also born in North Carolina. Though Zelma was born in Winston-Salem, she spent most of her childhood in Kirkwood, Mo., near St. Louis, when her family moved due to her father’s work as a real estate contractor. Zelma aspired to be an opera singer and studied voice while she was growing up.

The family moved from Kirkwood to Texas to California. Grayson continued studying and improving her singing and was discovered in California, according to a July 1, 1944, issue of “The State,” a monthly North Carolina-focused magazine that has been published from 1933 to present, which is now titled “Our State.”

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Classics in the Carolinas: Jean Arthur in Winston-Salem

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).

Actress Jean Arthur in the 1930s

With a distinct, squeaky voice and playing determined character, actress Jean Arthur was a top leading lady of the 1930s and 1940s.

Starting her film career in 1923, she played minor roles or unremarkable characters. It wasn’t until 69 films and shorts later and signing contract with Columbia that she made her break in “The Whole Town’s Talking” (1935), co-starring Edward G. Robinson in a dual role. After this film, Arthur co-starred with Hollywood’s top leading men including John Barrymore, William Powell and Herbert Marshall. There was no doubt Arthur was a star when Frank Capra cast her in two of his films, “Mr. Deeds Goes To Town” (1936) and “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” (1939).

With 95 credits to her name, Arthur retired from acting after the film “Shane” (1953). Arthur only made two other TV or film appearance: on an episode of “Gunsmoke” in 1965 and a short-lived “The Jean Arthur Show” in 1966 which only lasted 12 episodes. She also was a guest on Merv Griffin’s talk show in 1973.

After retiring from films, Jean Arthur went the route of teaching. First, she taught at Vassar in New York and then became an acting instructor in North Carolina.

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Classics in the Carolinas: Edith Fellows

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).

Before heading to Hollywood, child star Edith Fellows lived her early years in Charlotte, NC.

Before heading to Hollywood, child star Edith Fellows lived her early years in Charlotte, NC.

With her bobbed brown hair, big eyes and a face more mature than other child stars, Edith Fellows acted with some of Hollywood’s top stars including Claudette Colbert, Bing Crosby and Melvyn Douglas.

In films such as “She Married Her Boss” (1935) or “And So They Were Married” (1936), Fellows seemed to specialize in playing brats who were reformed by the end of the film. Fellows once said she liked playing brats because she, “Couldn’t do those things at home,” according to actor Dickie Moore’s book about child stars ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.’

But before Fellows made her way to Hollywood, she spent her early years down South. Born in May 1923 in Boston, MA, her mother left Fellows and her father, Willis Fellows, when she was only a year old. Fellows’ father found a job in Charlotte, NC, and moved there with his parents. Fellows said her first recollection of living in Charlotte was having the measles on Christmas day.

While in Charlotte, Fellows started taking dance lessons at the Henderson School of Dancing located on the 200 block of South Tryon Street, according to the University of North Carolina – Charlotte archives.

The Henderson School of Dancing in Charlotte, NC on Tryon Street. (Source: UNC Charlotte archives)

The Henderson School of Dancing in Charlotte, NC on Tryon Street. (Source: UNC Charlotte archives)

“I was so pigeon-toed that I kept falling over myself,” Fellows said in an interview in the book “Growing Up on Set” by Tom and Jim Goldrup. “My grandmother took me to an orthopedics man and he suggested that she get me some dancing lessons.”

By the time she was three, Fellows was singing, dancing and reciting poetry in local productions.

“I used to sing and recite, they put me in a one woman show when I was only 3 and a half,” Fellow said in the Goldrup book.

A talent scout visited the Henderson School of Dancing and said he could get little Edith into a Hal Roach film. If Fellows’ grandmother paid $50, the talent scout could get her a screen test in Hollywood. Her dance class collected the money so she could go to California, according to a February 1986 issue of “Orange Coast Magazine.”

“It was terribly sad saying goodbye to my friends and dancing buddies. They all came to the railroad to see us off,” Fellows was quoted in Moore’s book. “Nobody asked if I wanted to go. I don’t know how I felt about it. I didn’t know what Hollywood was. My grandmother did, and because she was excited and happy, I caught her excitement without understanding why.”

However, Fellows’ father wasn’t able to go along with them to California.

“Daddy wasn’t able to go. I was standing on the observation platform at the back of the train looking for my daddy and remember crying so much because he hadn’t come,” Fellows was quoted in the Goldrup book. “…I was looking down the track and I could see a small figure on a white horse. It was my father. The train was picking up speed…and he rode alongside…”

When Fellows and her grandmother arrived in Hollywood, they found they had been conned. The address the “talent scout” gave them was an empty lot. Fellows’ grandmother was too proud to return to North Carolina and began cleaning houses. Fellows would stay with neighbors and go along with then children went to work as extras in films and Fellows got a role when the neighborhood boy had chicken pox, according to Moore’s book.

While some young stars had domineering stage mother’s, it was Fellows’ possessive and strong-willed grandmother that pushed her career.

“When I threw something at Claudette Colbert in a movie, I was really throwing at grandma,” she was quoted in Moore’s book.

During a meeting with Columbia studio head Harry Cohen and her grandmother, Cohen yelled at grandma for dressing Fellows in cheap clothing because it reflected poorly on the studio.

Edith Fellows, 14, and her grandmother in a 1937 newspaper clipping.

Edith Fellows, 14, and her grandmother in a 1937 newspaper clipping.

“I’m sitting there smiling because I’d no idea that my boss was my friend. I almost started falling in love with Harry Cohen,” Moore quoted Fellows. “…Grandma said, ‘Well, Shirley Temple’s mother gets a salary for taking care of Shirley, so I certainly think I deserve a salary for taking care of Edith.’ Cohen said, ‘You’ll get nothing and good day.’”

While Fellows felt earning money was a way to do nice things for her grandmother, she still resented how overbearing she was; not allowing Fellows to have birthday parties with children or to date boys. Grandma died in 1941 when Fellows was 18.

“Grandma’s funeral was one of the best performances I ever gave. When I found her dead one morning, it was a terrible shock, but it didn’t last too long. At the service, I kept my head down because I couldn’t cry…,” Fellows was quoted in Moore’s book. “I felt a great relief. I was almost laughing all the way to the cemetery.”

Fellows was dropped from her contract in 1940, but made plays and films through the late 1980s and early 1990s. She passed away in 2011.

In a 1980s radio interview, she was asked if she could start over and pick to go to Hollywood, would she? She first muttered “No” before saying “Yes, I guess so.”

“It did afford me wonderful opportunities to meet and work with different people,” Fellows was quoted in the Goldrup book. “That was an education in itself.”

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

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

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 tagline 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 nightlife.

-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