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Posts Tagged ‘Missouri’

“I wrote my first play at an advertising agency in Chicago during lunch hours around 1957. Actually, when I went to Chicago I thought I’d be a commercial artist…until I saw what commercial art was. Then I decided I’d be a painter. I did about ten paintings. They were terrible. At the same time, I kept writing stories. Not realizing I was a writer, but writing stories. Everyone said, ‘Your dialogue is very good, but your description is horrible.’ And one story would have been better as a play. I always had this interest in theater. ‘Long about this time I decided that I didn’t want to be a terrible painter. Writing was fulfilling me more. So I started working on plays.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lanford Wilson (Talley’s Folly)
Interview with Dennis Brown/Shoptalk
Pages 8 & 9

P.S. Long before Wilson left Chicago and found Broadway and off-Broadway success in New York he was raised in various parts of Missouri (Lebanon, Springfield, Ozark). In fact, the story of Talley’s Folly is set in Lebanon where Wilson was born in 1937. (He died in 2011.)

When Dennis Brown asked Wilson how much influence Lebanon, Mo. had on his writing this was the answer he received:

“It’s going to get stronger and stronger. I am so thankful that I had the background that I did. When I was five years old in Lebanon, I had a grandmother with Indian blood who would go around picking wild green in the fields. And I still could—I don’t, but I could—pick a mess of greens. But for her, I learned the trees and the birds. I didn’t know until I came to New York that there where people who didn’t know the names of trees…The play I’m working on now [The Mound Builders] is rooted in the land….We’ve got to get back to the garden. That is the theme that is in every play of mine, and I believe it sincerely.” 
Lanford Wilson

The Mound Builders was first performed by Circle Repertory Company and won the 1975 Obie Award for Distinguished Playwriting. (There was a revival of the play in 2013 by the Signature Theatre Company.)

Dream big, start small. Remember Wilson and his being raised in a small town in Missouri and writing during his lunch breaks on his way to being a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.

Related post:
The Breakfast Club for Writers (2.0) Elmore Leonard on writing each morning before his job at an ad agency in Detroit.

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

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“So they loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly. Hills, that is. Swimmin’ pools, movie stars.”
The Ballad of Jed Clampett by Paul Henning

Yesterday the city of Beverly Hills, California celebrated its 100th anniversary.They had a concert last night at the Saban Theater where they performed works by some of the city’s famous past residents (George & Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter) and Betty White sang the Beverly Hills High School fight song.

A song they probably didn’t sing unless someone poured moonshine into the punch bowl is the most well-known song ever where the city is mentioned—the theme song of The Beverly Hillbillies.

Beverly Hills isn’t the wealthiest community in the United States, but it has a long history of being associated with rich and famous celebrities, as well as top Hollywood movers and shakers. While selling housing lots 100 years ago was difficult, there’s a reason it’s more well-known around the world than nearby Brentwood, Bel Air, and Pacific Palisades—movie, music,  and TV references.

Beverly Hills is not only iconic, it is a feeding ground for dramatic irony. Just mix something that you don’t normally associate with Beverly Hills and there’s conflict, contrast, and comedy. Three fish out of water scenarios that quickly come to mind are 1) the low rent prostitute on a shopping spree on Rodeo Drive (Pretty Women), 2) the Detroit cop with a beat up Chevy on “vacation” in California (Beverly Hills Cop), and 3) a suicidal homeless man taken in by a bored rich couple (Down and Out in Beverly Hills).

But you can’t beat the story about a man name Jed, a poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed—yet by a strange twist of fate ends up a millionaire living in Beverly Hills. The creator of The Beverly Hillbillies, Paul Henning, was actually a trained lawyer and an Oscar-nominated screenwriter (Love Come Back).

Henning was born in Independence, Missouri and raised on a farm there, and later attended Kansas City School of Law. But it was camping trips in Missouri as a youth shape that laid the groundwork for one of the longest lasting and most endearing shows in TV history.

“I’d always had a great affection for hillbillies. And I think that started when I was a Boy Scout. I went to camp in the Ozarks at a place called Nole, Missouri. It was right on the border of Arkansas and we’d take 14 mile hikes, and when you go seven miles into the woods….
Paul Henning interview on Emmy TV Legends
(And it’s obvious from Henning’s tone that he doesn’t use hillbilly in a derogatory way.)

Henning’s thoughts drifted off at that point in the interview, but what he alluded to is once you get off the beaten path you met some interesting people. And that’s no different today. Later in that interview Henning talked about taking a driving trip in 1959 through Civil War areas here in the States and coming up with the idea for The Beverly Hillbillies.

If you like hearing how stories originate, this is well worth reading:

“I remember as we were driving along the highway I said, ‘Imagine someone from that Civil War era sitting here in this car with us, going 60 miles an hour down a modern highway.’ You know, what an experience that would be—how unbeliveable that would be. And that got me to thinking about transplanting someone from an era like that into the modern-day world. And I think that’s where the idea [for The Beverly Hillbillies] came from because in my experience as a Boy Scout in the Ozarks I found there were pockets of historical places where people resisted modernization. They resisted roads being built. So this was the germ of the idea. If you could find someone from a remote, protected spot—you know, they didn’t have radio, they didn’t have television, telephone, anything—to transplant them by some means into a modern world and that was the beginning of The Beverly Hillbillies...My first thought was New York. And I thought this would mean expensive location trips and why not transplant them to Beverly Hills were you have the same sophestication—maybe more. And to make that possible they somehow had to become affluent and that’s how Jed was out shooting at some food and up from the ground came a bubbling crude. And all of a sudden they are millionaires. There had been a musical group called The Beverly Hill Billies and I didn’t know any of them personally but this title stayed with me and it seemed so apt. And I thought The Beverly Hillbillies is perfect.”
Paul Henning Interview. Archive of American Television

That simple idea turned into the TV show The Beverly Hillbillies which ran from 1962 to 1971 for a total of 274 episodes. Though not a critic’s favorite, it was the top rated show on TV in its first two seasons.  Some rural themed programs followed including Petticoat Junction and Green Acres.

And there are echoes of the story/concept/theme found more recently in the Oscar-winning Best Picture Slumdog Millionaire and on the all-time top rated non-scripted TV program Duck Dynasty. Two movies that come to mind that preceded The Beverly Hillbillies, but could be seen as kin, are Tobacco Road (1941) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940).

Just in case you’ve never seen The Beverly Hillbillies, below is the episode The Giant Jackrabbit (written by Henning and Mark Tuttle) which was the single most watch sitcom episode of its day and still ranks as one of the most watched 30-minute sitcom programs of all time.

P.S. A nice Iowa-Beverly Hills connection; The largest talent agency in the world WME with headquarters in Beverly Hills has as its co-CEO Patrick Whitsell from the rural community of Iowa Falls, Iowa (population 5,146). In fact, Whitesell and his father made news recently when they bought and restored a historic movie theater/opera house in Iowa Falls and Hugh Jackman arrived for a screening of his movie Prisoners. See the post The Iowa Falls—Hollywood Connection.

P.P.S. By the way,  the largest home is Beverly Hills is well below half the square footage as the 90,000 sq. foot house in Orlando, Florida featured in the documentary The Queen of Versailles. But in Orlando you won’t have movie stars and other Hollywood movers and shakers as neighbors. Location. Location. Location. (Though Shaq, Tiger, and Arnold Palmer have homes in the area.)

Related Posts:
“Winter’s Bone” (Debra Granik)
Screenwriting from Arkansas
Screenwriting from Missouri
The Serious Side to Gilligan’s Island

Scott W. Smith

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“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks! The world thirsts after sympathy, compassion, love.”
Don Quixote character in Camino Real 
Play written by Tennessee Williams
(The first part is engraved on Williams’ headstone.)

Tennessee Williams Gravesite

It just so happens that in the midst of this run of posts on the life and work of Tennessee Williams I drove through St. Louis, Missouri yesterday and basically had enough time to stop and take the above photo at Calvary Cemetery north of I-70.

I knew of Williams’ connection to St. Louis, but did not realize he was buried there until doing research on these recent set of posts. Danny Manus in his Script article posted yesterday, Notes from the Margins: Every Article on Screenwriting You Never Have to Read Again, may be correct when he stated that 90% of screenwriting blogs are “regurgitated bullshit,” so the way I try to set myself apart from the hundreds of screenwriting and writing blogs is to take you to places like Columbus, Mississippi where Williams was born and Calvary Cemetery where he was laid to rest.

The stake I put in the ground on January 22, 2008 (with the post Life Beyond Hollywood) was that this blog would be come from the angle of a Hollywood outsider. Of course, along the 1,684 posts I’ve quoted more than 400 Hollywood insiders, but I’ve always been concerned with writers’ origins and a sense of place. You can’t separate Chekhov from Russia, Ibsen from Norway , or Shakespeare from England. And you can’t separate Tennessee from Mississippi, or New Orleans, or St. Louis.

In fact— from the perspective of this blog—if there is a bookend to screenwriter Diablo Cody (who was the inspiration behind starting this blog just a few days after seeing Juno) it is Tennessee Williams. Like Cody, Williams graduated from the University of Iowa. Both achieved awards at the highest level for their dramatic writing (Williams a Tony and a couple of Pulitzer Prizes, and Cody an Oscar). Other commonalities between the two writers are a struggle with depression, an enjoyment of alcohol, and a mixing of the sacred and the profane.

I’m not saying that Cody is on the same plain as the hallowed Williams, just that they make a nice bookend to what this blog is about in hopes that it will help inspire you in your writing. (And to be fair to Cody, when Williams was 35-years old as Cody is now, he was known for just one major play.) As I was driving 25 hours over the last two days I also connected Williams with writers Ernest Hemingway and Pat Conroy, in that part of what shaped them as writers was a love for books at an early age as well as interesting (read highly dysfunctional) dynamics between their fathers and/or mothers.

Circling back to Williams’ gravesite, in one interview I saw he said he wanted to be buried at sea—as close to his poet hero Hart Crane as possible. Yet there he is in a Catholic Cemetary with his mother and sister buried on each side of him. Williams’ sister Rose may be the single person in his life that influenced him the most. She is the basis for Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. Perhaps the most powerful over-arching theme in Williams work is the fragileness of human life. A theme by the way, which will always have an audience.

“Oh Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger—anything that can blow your candles out! For nowadays the world is lit by lighting! Blow out your candles, Laura, and so goodbye….”
Tom in The Glass Menagerie
Written by Tennessee Williams

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P.S. I know Angelina Jolie has a tattoo on her left that are slightly modified words from Tennessee Williams; “A prayer for the wild at heart kept in cages.”
 I don’t have any tattoos, but if I got one right now I think I’d go with, “The world thirsts after sympathy, compassion, love.”

Related Posts:
The Juno—Iowa Connection
Postcard #55 (Iowa Writers’ Workshop Library) Neither Cody or Williams did any graduate work at Iowa, but the school has a deep tradition of producing writers.)
(Yawn)…Another Pulitzer Prize

Scott W. Smith 

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“Missouri was an unknown new state and needed attractions.”
Mark Twain
Autobiography

“Yes, high and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water; but everybody likes water.”
Mark Twain

DSC_3684MarkTwain

If one of Ernest Hemingway’s characters in The Green Hills of Africa is correct in that,”All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,”  then all modern American literature flows from Hannibal, Missouri.  That’s where Mark Twain spent most of his childhood and served as inspiration for Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher and other memorable characters.

And the bi-product is Missouri now has some tourist attractions.  Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to travel through Hannibal probably a dozen times, but until yesterday I never took the time to tour Mark Twain’s childhood home. Hannibal may be a proper tourist trap, but if you look beyond the prepackaged Twain memorabilia you can see a place that hasn’t changed that much in the last 100-150 years. It’s a fine stop if you’re traveling from Des Moines to St. Louis as I was yesterday. The town sits on the Mississippi River and was once a busy port during the Steamship era.

And those steamships helped fuel Twain’s imagination, and for a time he was able to live his boyhood dream of being a steamboat captain. He would eventually travel the world and write stories that would entertain the world. But much of it started in and around the house pictured above. An unusual place. A place that formed Mark Twain as a writer.

“A man’s experiences of life are a book. There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.”
Mark Twain’s notebook and The Refuge of the Derelicts

Related Posts:

Postcard #7 (Mark Twain’s Florida)
Mark Twain

Scott W. Smith

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THE HOODS OF TOMORROW! THE GUN-MOLLS OF THE FUTURE!
From the movie poster & trailer for The Delinquents (1957)

“Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
Socrates (470-399 BC)

“After toiling away in Hollywood in the late 1940s, a frustrated but determined Robert Altman returned to his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri in an effort to focus on his dream of making movies more seriously. It was here he was hired by a local production company, and over the next several years produced more than 65 projects, leading up to his first feature, The Delinquents….The old adage that it’s all about ‘who you know’ may ring true in Hollywood circles, but if your goal is to make movies that matter in the independent world, then it’s all up to you. Sure, film is a collaborative art, but you need to take that first step. So jump right in and write that script, direct that short and take that editing class. The time is now!
Jennifer M. Wood
MovieMaker magazine, Issue 65, Vol 13

P.S. The Delinquents was written and directed by Altman and starred Tom Laughlin—the man who would go on to make the Billy Jack films. Altman would go on to have a career spanning six decades only ending with his death in 2006. He would eventually be nominated for six Oscars including his work on Short Cuts, MASH, and Nashville. My personal favorite Altman film is The Player—check out this great one-shot opening:

Related Posts:

Kansas City’s Robert Altman
Robert Altman
Screenwriting from Missouri
Sacred Land, Moving Pictures
Postcard #1 (Downtown KC)
BOOM! & The Fat Lady in Kansas City

Scott W. Smith

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photo-39

At the beginning of 2012 I decided for various reasons that after blogging everyday for three years that I would take the weekends off from blogging. But that all changes today, in that I will use Saturday’s to do a repost of pervious posts. The idea came to me Thursday after I had a meeting at Disney in Celebration, Florida. In that meeting the town of Marceline, Missouri came up and it brought back a trip I took there a few years ago. Back on March 6, 2009 I wrote the post below. So with no real fanfare I bring a new wrinkle to this blog—after 1538 posts— by doing my first repost:

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Walt Disney was a little like Moses. He never made it to the promised land. Disney died a few years before his dream project, Walt Disney World, opened in Florida in 1971.

I remember going to Disney World that opening year and it was magical. Central Florida was not the sprawling place that it is today. No, for better or worse, that sprawl is the after effects of Walt Disney World. Before Disney took a rural area and transformed it into one of the top destinations in the world, Central Florida was lucky to have air conditioning and indoor plumbing.

And in those pre-Disney days in the Orlando area, other than putt-putt golf courses, go-kart rides, and Gatorland there wasn’t a whole lot of competition for a place like Disney World.

Now Orlando has plenty of theme parks, as well as places with indoor plumbing, air-conditioning, and more than its share of strip malls. Ah, the power of imagination.

There is no question that Walt Disney is a product of the Midwest, having been born in Chicago and raised in Missouri. But few realize the huge impact little  Marceline, MO had on Walt’s imagination and in effect on the world. For Marceline’s Main Street is the inspiration for Main Street USA.

signdsc_6326

When you drive down Marceline’s Main St. today it doesn’t really seem magical. There’s no indication that there is anything special about this place. It’s not one of those quaint main streets you stumble upon while traveling that makes you say, “I’d like to live here.”

But that’s the place where young Walt Disney watched the parades go by on his way to becoming the filmmaker who has won more Oscars than any one else (32).

The farm Disney lived on (and worked on at a young age) in Marceline was also no doubt  fertile ground for young Walt as observing animals played such a large part of his enduring success.

Wade Sampson at mouseplanet.com  unearthed an interview Disney did back in 1933 following the success of his newest film The Three Little Pigs:

“All this talk about my making a lot of money is bunk.  After 10 years of pretty tough sledding, I am now making a moderate profit on my products, but every dime I take in is immediately put back into the business. I’m building for the future. And my goal isn’t millions; it’s better pictures. I’m not interested in money, except for what I can do with it to advance my work. The idea of piling up a fortune for the sake of wealth seems silly to me. Work is the real adventure in life. Money is merely a means to make more work possible….The secret of success if there is any, is liking what you do. I like my work better than my play. I play polo, when I have time, and I enjoy it, but it can’t equal work!”
Walt Disney

And work in 1933, during the Great Depression, was not always easy to come by. Disney provided not only entertainment in a difficult time but also a lot of jobs.  Today Walt Disney Studios still entertains and The Walt Disney Company has annual revenues around $35 Billion.

Side note: I think it’s worth mentioning that Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri (and his inspiration for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) is only about an hour and a half away from Marceline, MO. As well as Twian’s birth place of Florida, MO.

Related Post: Walt & Walter in KC –In 2011 I did a video shoot in Kansas City that turned out to be just down the street where Disney built his first studio. I took a photo of that building which, though not in use, is still standing.

Scott W. Smith

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“I won a competition with the first (short story) I ever wrote. Which gave me an unrealistic notion of how easy this was going to be.”
Daniel Woodrell

The movie Winter’s Bone is one of those movies that hits you in the mouth. And if you’ve ever been hit hard in the mouth, you recall that nothing really prepares you for the distinct bitter taste of your own blood.

Winter’s Bone is not a date movie. Nothing really prepares you for what you’re about to see—though a good start would be reading Flannery O’Conner’s short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find. (Followed by reading Faulkner unpack the Snopes family and watching Deliverance.)

Before I actually talk about the finely crafted movie by director Debra Granik, I want to go back to the roots of the novel Winter’s Bone and its writer Daniel Woodrell. Because without those roots you could be tempted into thinking that Granik was just slumming. At first glance Granik, who was educated at Brandeis University and NYU film school, seems primed to look for art in the plight of the rural poor and downtrodden.

And that’s where Woodrell comes in. Woodrell was not only born and raised in Missouri, but today lives in the small town of West Plaines near the Missouri/Arkansas border. While I imagine the meth and poverty world depicted in Winter’s Bone is foreign to many (most?) people in Missouri, Woodrell in an interview with The Southeast Review said,  “I honestly live among some of the people I’ve written about… All of my research, as far as that goes, just comes from the world around me. I see people who live that kind of life every day.”

That’s what regional writing is all about.

Woodrell, like Flannery O’Conner, is a product of The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Since receiving his MFA he has published eight novels—and gone through his share of hard times. But in 1999, his novel Tomato Red won the PEN USA award for fiction and his novel Woe to Live On became the Ang Lee film Ride with the Devil.

In an article titled The Least Governable Region of America you’ll find this exchange between Dustin Atkinson and Woodrell in regard to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop:

DA: Did Iowa prepare you well?

DW: “Yeah. Probably did. It’s a rough racket, trying to be a writer. I have a nephew who kind of wants to be a writer, but he’s heard the stories about me and my wife (writer Kate Estill) after we got our MFAs. We lived way below the poverty level for most of our years together. It didn’t bother me. I’ve never really had money, so life was normal. And my nephew, who’s grown up very comfortably, has said, “I want to be a writer, but I don’t want to make those sacrifices.” Well, for many writers, being willing to make the sacrifices is the first requirement.”

Tomorrow we’ll look at the film Winter’s Bone, based on Woodrell’s book and which was the winner of the 2010 Sundance Grand Jury Prize.

P.S. If you’re curious, I didn’t even realize there was an Iowa connection to Winter’s Bone until after I saw the movie and thought to myself, “Who writes this stuff?”  I started digging around and discovered Woodrell. So as you can see from one of my earliest posts (over 750 posts ago) The Juno-Iowa Connection, I often haven’t had to travel very far for material.

Related posts: Screenwriting from Missouri

Scott W. Smith


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