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Posts Tagged ‘Mason City’

Ya got trouble, my friend, right here,
I say, trouble right here in River City.
Ya Got Trouble. lyrics from The Music Man

There’s an Iowa kind of special
Chip-on-the-shoulder attitude.
Iowa Stubborn, lyrics from The Music Man

This weekend I went to see the Cedar Falls Community Theatre production of The Music Man. I had watched the movie before but had never seen the play. It was an overall great experience.

The story takes place in fictitious River City, Iowa which was inspired by Mason City, Iowa where the author of The Music Man, Meredith Willson, was raised. The Music Man first opened on Broadway in 1957 and won five Tony Awards and went on to be performed 1,375 times on its first Broadway run. (There have been two revivals of the play on Broadway, 1980 & 2000.) The film premiered in Mason City and today if you go there you can tour Willson’s boyhood home and visit The Music Man Square museum which celebrates Mason City’s musical tradition.

(As a sidenote, Mason City had a part in what Don McLean called “the day the music died.” In 1959, Buddy Holly and three others took off from the Mason City airport and shortly afterwards during a snow storm their plane crashed in a field eight miles away killing all four.)

Willson was actually nominated for two Oscar awards in his career, though neither were for his work on The Music Man, but rather for The Little Foxes (Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture) and the classic Chaplin film, The Great Dictator (Best Music, Original Score.) In 1958, the music from The Music Man beat out West Side Story to win a Grammy  Award (Best Original Cast Album).

The original play The Music Man starred Robert Preston as con man Professor Harold Hill. He won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical and also starred in the 1962 movie. The local production here starred Gary Kroeger who was a writer/performer on Saturday Night Live between 1982-1985. I agree with the people who saw the play and know Kroeger (who lives here now)— it was a role made for him. Some people even remember when he had the lead in the same play back when he went to high school here. His co-star in the play is Kristin Teig Torres, who can be seen on the demo reel at RiverRun.tv from a project we shot a couple years ago.

And while I’ve been to plays in large theaters in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles there is something special to walking eight blocks from your home to downtown Cedar Falls to have dinner, and then watch a play in a restored 100 year old theatre. It’s nice to sit close enough to see the faces of actors you know who are performing words and songs written by someone who was raised an hour and a half away, knowing that that play has been performed and entertained people all over the world for more than 50 years.

So before the Field of Dreams, The Bridges of Madison Country, and Sleeping with the Enemy there was The Music Man to pave the way for future stories set in the quintessential heartland.

By the way, Nancy Price, who wrote the novel Sleeping with the Enemy, was at the performance Friday night which added a little extra reminder that every once in a while something other than corn comes out of the state of Iowa.

So wherever you live check out the community theater in your area. There’s magic and talent in community theaters all over this country. (I hear even Charlie Sheen is getting into the community theatre spirit by volunteering his time to work with a quaint small town in Colorado.) I think as films become less and less expensive to make you will not only see a growing regional film movement, but one that is the equivalent of community theater. Keep in mind that our local community theater raised $1.2 million to renovate a historic theater a few years ago, so there are people and businesses ready and willing to invest in the local arts community.

Oh, and speaking of The Music Man, remember a little kid named Ronny who played Winthrop Paroo in the 1962 movie? Hard to forget him singing, “O the wells Fargo wagon is a’comin’ down the road, O please let be for me.” He went on to act in a few more productions such as The Andy Griffith Show, American Graffiti and Happy Days. These days that young Oklahoma-born actor  is more well-known as the director Ron Howard.

On Saturday in Chicago he’ll be honored for a Career Achievement Award at the Chicago International Film Festival. And what a career it’s been—Apollo 13, Cocoon, Parenthood,  Splash, Frost/Nixon (Oscar Nomination), and two-Oscars wins for A Beautiful Mind (Best Director, Best Picture).

* The Music Man photo taken by Bill Sikula. More shots at www.facebook.com/osterregent

Scott W. Smith


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Driving from Minneapolis to Cedar Falls feels like a long commute because the three and a half hour drive literally involves heading south on Interstate 35 and making one turn. It’s a pretty mellow drive. There’s not much worth looking forward to once you’ve made the slight detour to visit the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota, the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa (where Buddy Holly played his last concert),and  The Music Man Square in Mason City (A museum dedicated to hometown writer Meredith Willson who wrote The Music Man).

There are a couple casinos along the way but they personally bore me. I am still fascinated by the hundreds of wind turbines scattered along the way, but my point is you have work a little to break up the drive a little if you take the Interstate. This past weekend I stopped at a discount bookstore and ended up picking up The First Time I Got Paid for It, Writers’ Tales from the Hollywood Trenches. It was edited by Peter Lefcourt and Laura J. Shapiro and has various stories by writers such as Cameron Crowe, Robin Swicord, and Gary Ross telling their stories of making their first bucks from writing.

The forward by William Goldman alone is worth the $1.99 I paid for the book. Here’s an excerpt:

“I was eighteen and an aunt gave me a copy of Mixed Company, a book of his (Irwin Shaw) collected stories. I’d never read a word by him, never heard his name. But I remember the lead story in the book was The Girls in Their Summer Dresses. About a guy who looked at women.

Followed by The Eighty Yard Run… Well, The Eighty Yard Run is about a football player. Shit, I remember thinking, you can do that? You can write about stuff I care about?…At eighteen, I began writing stories. Not a whole lot of acclaim. I took a creative writing class at Oberlin.  Everyone took it because it was a gut course. I wanted a career. Everyone got A’s and B’s, I got the only C…. I have, somewhere, hundreds of rejection slips…My confidence is not building through theses years. I hope you get that.”
William Goldman
Two-time Oscar Winner
Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid
All the President’s Men

It’s good to hear those kind of stories.

By the way, the first time I got paid to write anything was when I was a 19-year-old staff writer/photographer  for the Sanford Evening Herald and Sam Cook, the sports editor, paid me 10 cents a word (and a little extra for photos). That may not seem like much but those dimes add up, you know? (And it’s more than I’m paid for writing this blog.) And at 19 I also discovered Irwin Shaw’s The Eighty Yard Run. Still dreaming of an Oscar.

Update 9/30/09: I tracked Sam Cook down via the internet and found out he is now an award-winning columnist for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Florida where he specializes in stirring up trouble reporting on the local government. I sent him an email and he called me today and we spoke for the first time in a long time.

Scott W. Smith

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But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep.
I couldn’t take one more step.

                                                            Don McLean
                                                            American Pie 

 

In my office I have just one album framed on my office wall and it is Don McLean’s Amerian Pie. I knew there was something special about the title song the first time I heard it when I was ten-years-old. What I didn’t really know then was that “the day the music died” was a reference to Buddy Holly’s plane crash. As a teenager I would learn of the details, but not until three decades later when I moved to Iowa did I realize he died in a cornfield eight miles from the Mason City, Iowa airport he departed from. 

Fifty years ago today is the day the music died. Buddy Holly died in that plane crash along with musicians Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and a young pilot named Roger Peterson. Peterson’s plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza, an urban legend has it was named  “Miss American Pie,” but McLean has said he coined the phrase. The musicians were on a quick winter tour and had just played The Surfball Room in Clear Lake, Iowa and were on their way to Moorehead, Minnesota. Just a few days prior to the plane crash a young teenager from Hibbing, Minnesota named Robert Zimmerman stood a few feet from Holly in a concert in Duluth.

Zimmerman would later change his name to Bob Dylan and has often spoken about how Holly’s music influenced him. And the list of others who say basically the same thing is long including Bruce Springsteen and the Beatles. In fact, there is a direct connection to the Beatles being called the Beatles because of Buddy Holly’s band being called the Crickets. 

One of the main things that fascinates me about Holly is how this 22-year-old could have such an impact on the world of music in such a short time. He was a kid from Lubbock, Texas who had only been on the touring music scene for 18-months and was playing in places like Fargo, North Dakota, Duluth, Minnesota, and Waterloo, Iowa… sometimes in the middle of winter. 

And from there he went on to be named #13 by Rolling Stone magazine on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. And it all began in Lubbock. Music has a long history of seeing talented people rise up from places like Tupelo and Liverpool. The drum I keep pounding on this blog is this is going to happen more and more in filmmaking with the digital revolution. So when you hear Peggy Sue or American Pie today keep dreaming, and keep writing wherever you are.

I set out one night in June
Stoned by the glow of the Texas moon
Humming an old Buddy Holly tune called Peggy Sue 
With my favorite jeans
And a cheap guitar
I ran off chasing a distant star
If Buddy Holly could make it that far
I figured I could to
                                           Mac Davis
                                           Happiness is Lubbock, Texas (In My Rearview Mirror)

By the way, if you’ve never seen the movie The Buddy Holly Story, then forget everything you know about Gary Busey and check that movie out. (Busey was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Buddy Holly. The film was written by a first time screenwriter Robert Gittler who died the year the movie was released, 1978.) 

And for the real thing here is a clip I found on You Tube:

If you’re ever passing through Iowa and want to pay tribute to Buddy Holly RoadsideAmerica.com has directions to crash site.

 

Copyright 2009 Scott W. Smith

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