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Posts Tagged ‘Cedar Falls’

Author Robert Waller died today and since this blog originated in Cedar Falls, Iowa—where Waller wrote The New York Times best-seller The Bridges of Madison County—I think it’s fitting to give a nod to Bridges & Waller. Here’s the spark of the idea that became a book that sold over 12 million copies in the ’90s, and eventually became a movie with the same title starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. (The 1995 movie version made $182 at the worldwide box office.)

In the summer of 1990, Robert James Waller—then a 50-year-old economics professor and sometime folk musician—was on his way home to Cedar Falls after a day of photographing the old covered bridges of Madison Country, southwest of Des Moines.

Driving through the heat, Waller says he began to heat a line from a song he’d been working on recently, ‘an old bossa nova tune,’ about a woman named Francesca. He got a wondering about her. What if Francesca lived in Iowa? And what if she met a man, a man named—Robert? Robert Kincaid. Back home, Waller began to write his first novel, which would become, by early this year, the best-selling work of fiction is the United States. He says he didn’t stop writing, except to eat and sleep, for 14 days. ‘I never wanted it to end.’
True Life: The Best-Seller From Nowehere by William Souder
Washington Post Service

Bridges leapt to the top of the best-seller lists and stayed there, eventually outselling Gone With the Wind. It took root on The New York Times’s list and remained there for three years, becoming, as Entertainment Weekly put it, ‘The Book That Would Not Die.’”
William  Grimes
New York Times/March 10, 2017

Iowa never looked better than it did when photographed by cinematographer Jack N. Green and his crew for The Bridges of Madison County. It received an ASC nomination.

Scott W. Smith

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“Today, on Veterans Day, we honor those who served our country. You who once wore the uniform of our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard, we owe you our thanks, we owe you our respect, and we owe you our freedom.”
President Obama
Veterans Day Ceremony 11/11/16

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©2007 Scott W. Smith

Today is Veterans Day in the United States, a time to “honor American veterans of all wars.” I took this photo several years ago in Cedar Falls, Iowa on one of those perfect blue sky, windy days at AMVETS Post 49.

Here are some thoughts of former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink responding to a question about if he had any considerations on being a “pawn” in the U.S. military. (To hear the full question and answer listen to The Tim Ferriss Show podcast #187.):

“The fact of the matter is I’m actually honored to have served as a so-called ‘pawn’ in that system. America is far from perfect. We have committed some horrors in our history. Even today we make mistakes in the world. But when you travel the world and you see how much of the rest of the world lives—how much they live in disarray. And you see the oppression, and you see the poverty, and you see the corruption, and see the abject violations of basic human rights, then you realize how blessed, or lucky, or maybe even spoiled we are to live in America.

“Let’s just start with potable tap water. Drinking water. In America we just have that everywhere. Any home, any apartment, even the prisons you turn on the tap and you get good, clean, disease-free drinking water. That is not the norm in the rest of the world. And on top of that we have power, got electricity going in just about every home. That means just about every home has heat in the winter time, and they have air-conditioning in the summer time.”

“Let’s take that just a little further, what about access to the internet. Access to the internet here is widespread. Something like 70% of adults have a smart phone. Seventy percent…. Seventy percent. So you can gain access to knowledge here unlike any other time in human history. And our healthcare system—I know it’s not perfect, but I’ll tell you what, if you view our healthcare system from a third world hospital which often don’t even have the simplest of medical gear, you’d realize it’s not perfect but it’s pretty damn good.”

“And beyond that let’s look at the food that’s available.  Never mind starvation and malnutrition, our issue in America is actually too much food. And much of the world still has people literally people starving to death. And America offers an amazing opportunity to build, and to create, and to be what you want to be and to be who you want to be. And unlike anywhere else in the world, the ability to pursue happiness. And all those things, all of it, is possible because of the unbridled individual freedom that America offers.”

“And you know what else? It’s also possible because of industry, because of the incredible corporations, and businesses, and individuals. Because of people that took advantage of that freedom and worked their asses off to build this nation. So to have been a pawn in that, to have done my small share of work to allow this beacon of light and of hope and of freedom to continue—I’m honored to have had the chance [to serve in the Navy]. Would I do it all over again? You’re damn right I would, without question.”
Jocko Willink  (@jockowillink)

Scott W. Smith

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“There’s Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris, and Cedar Falls. That’s the company you’re keeping.”
President Barack Obama speaking in Cedar Falls January 14, 2015

If you followed this blog for long you may know that I started writing it in January 2008 while living in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Well, earlier this week President Obama was in Cedar Falls to talk about this town of just 40,000 people being a gigabit city with an Internet network as fast as some of the best networks in the world.

Below is Wednesday’s talk featuring an introduction of the President by Marc Reifenrath—a former business partner of mine while I lived in Iowa. I’m not sure if President Obama will bring up his visit to Cedar Falls in his State of the Union address on January 20, but there are big things happening in unlikely places.

Scott W. Smith

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And I wish we could sit upon a bed in some motel
And listen to the stories it could tell
John B. Sebastian/Stories We Could Tell

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When artists, speakers, and musicians come to Cedar Falls they often stay at The Blackhawk Hotel.  Over the years Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane have stayed at the historic hotel.  And just a few days ago singer Brandi Carlile was a guest.

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Architect Dan Tindell and his wife Kathy bought the hotel a decade ago almost on a whim. And they took to restoring it as a passion project that has turned into a profitable business venture, as well as an anchor building for downtown Cedar Falls. (May all your passion projects go as well.)

I’m sure the hotel has many stories to tell in its 100 year plus history, but one of my favorite ones is film related.

“After graduating from college Wally Shawn went off on his own to write nightmarish little plays. For years, he couldn’t write unless he was in some exotic locale far from home. He wrote his first play on a trip to Italy, the second in Ireland, the third and fourth during an off-season visit to the tiny West Indian island of Bequia. When he could no longer afford to go abroad, he sold one percent of his future earnings as a playwright to six of his friends (one was screenwriter Jacob Brackman), which gave him enough to spend a few months holed up in a four-dollar-a-night hotel in Cedar Falls, Iowa, writing his fifth play — all of this happening, incidentally, before a single word of his had been spoken by a professional actor.”
The Secret Life of Wally Shawn by Don Shewey
Esquire, 1983

That four-dollar-a-night hotel was The Blackhawk Hotel decades before its restoration. And before Wally Shawn ever spoke that single word that he is most known for today—”inconceivable.” In fact, that word from The Princess Bride written by William Goldman has to be up there in repeated movie lines.

If Shawn visited The Blackhawk Hotel today I imagine he’d be surprised at the transformation of the former $4 a night hotel. And you may be surprised to know that Shawn is a screenwriter.  Along with being an Obie Award-winning playwright his first produced feature film (co-written with Andre Gregory) was My Dinner with Andre (1981) and currently in post-production is Fear of Falling which is his adaption of Ibsen’s The Master Builder.

But it’s okay if you know him more as the voice of Rex from the Toy Story films. There are people in Cedar Falls that still remember Shawn as a young man who lived at The Blackhawk and played in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony and dated a professor at the University of Iowa.

I’ve been staying at The Blackhawk myself the last few days working on various projects and taking some photos for their website as well. I took the top photo many years ago around Christmas time and here’s a more recent shot of what the hotel looks like these days.

Black Hawk Hotel

Seems like a fitting end to this post is Brandi Carlile’s video The Story.

Scott W. Smith

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“GIVE MY CREATION LIFE!”
Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) in Young Frankenstein
(And the plea of screenwriters throughout the world)

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Yesterday I went to see Young Frankenstein  at the historic Oster Regent Theater in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  It was a good turnout for the 1974 film directed by Mel Brooks. The theater opened in 1910 as the Cotton Theater and is now home to the Cedar Falls Community Theater, as well has a venue for musical groups and occasionally old films.

Last month a bronze statue of Merle Blair standing behind a movie camera was unveiled. According to Melody Parker at the Waterloo Courier , “For many years, Merle Blair owned the Regent Theatre when it was a movie theater. Eventually Merle and Winifred Flair and the Beck Trust of Mason City gave the building as a gift to the Cedar Falls Community Theatre.” The sculpture of Blair was created by Loveland, Colorado artist Thelma Weresh.

A nice Iowa tie into showing Young Frankenstein the week of Halloween is that Gene Wilder (who co-wrote the script with Brooks and stars as Dr. Frankenstein) went to school at the University of Iowa and Oscar-winner Cloris Leachman (who plays Frau Blücher in the movie) was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa.

P.S. As I’ve pointed out before, two movies have their roots in Cedar Falls. Both Robert Waller (The Bridges of Madison County) and Nancy Price (Sleeping with the Enemy) wrote their novels in Cedar Falls. And this blog started back in 2008 just a few blocks from the Oster Regent Theater.

Related Posts:
BOOM! and the Fat Lady from Kansas City (Gene Wilder quotes)
Sleeping with the Enemy Nancy Price quote 
Postcard #39 (UNI) Robert Waller quote

Scott W. Smith

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Okay, it’s not really a photo of Brandi Carlile because I’m not sure if I can show any photos /video I took tonight of the Brandi Carlile concert tonight at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Artist Center where she performed with “the twins” (brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth) and the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony. (The purpose of the photo/video shoot was archival in nature.) It was a super concert with a blend of folk, country, and rock. She ended the concert with a remarkable cover of the Leonard Cohen/Bob Dylan song Hallelujah. Few concerts (or movies) end as satisfying.

Here’s the version Carlile recorded with the Seattle Symphony.

Last year Carlile performed with the Seattle Symphony and guest conductor Jason Weinberger—the same conductor of tonights concert in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Carlile was born in Ravensdale, Washington and lives in the greater Seattle area. While her music has been features in movies and TV programs, perhaps a better movie movie connection to today’s post is that one of Carlile’s influences was Pasty Cline. If you are unfamiliar with Cline’s music and life check out Sweet Dreams (1985) written by Robert Getchell and directed by Karel Reisz. And one super performance by Jessica Lange as Cline.

Scott W. Smith

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A few mountaintop experiences in my life include seeing one full solar eclipse in Salzburg, winning two Regional Emmy’s in Minneapolis, and scoring three touchdowns in a high school football game in Florida. That’s an eclectic mix, and there have been others of course, but those came to my mind Saturday night as I was brought up on stage after the debut of The Planets: Re-Imagined featuring the artwork of Gary Kelley, the music of Holst performed by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony and a choral group from the University of Northern Iowa. All brought together under the direction of conductor Jason Weinberger.

My role was to create the video along with Kelley which was projected in high-definition on the 30 foot wide-screen just above the orchestra at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Standing on stage and looking up at more than 1,200 people applauding something you worked on is an amazing experience by itself.

The concert was a great experience and I hope in the coming years The Planets: Re-Imagined finds its way into concert halls throughout the United States and even around the world. Jason Weinberger is not only the conductor of the WCFSO but the its artistic director and CEO as well. Raised in Santa Monica and educated at Yale and Peabody, Weinberger has quite a vision and hope for the future of symphony music and education.

It was a special night and I was thrilled to be connected with so many talented people.

Below are some photos of the concert (and a rehearsal and pre-concert talk) taken by Noah Henscheid a photographer from St. Paul, Minnesota.

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P.S. If you’re unfamiliar with Gary Kelley’s work, there’s a good chance you’ve  at least seen his art—if you’ve ever been to a Barnes & Noble book store.  Since there’s about to be a revival of author F. Scott Fitzgerald due to the release of the movie The Great Gatsby next month, here’s a photo I took at a Barnes & Noble/Starbucks of Fitzgerald that is part of the mural of writers that Kelley painted. (Actually taken in the Twin Cities not far from where Fitzgerald was born and raised.) Kelley is repped by Richard Solomon in NYC.

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Scott W. Smith

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