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Column: Silver-screen Hoosiers evoke fond memories


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Franklin is a long way from Sunset Boulevard. However, as Hollywood prepares for another Oscar ceremony in a few weeks, the city and state can take pride in the roles they have played in motion pictures.

If there were a Mount Rushmore for movie directors, the face of Robert Wise would surely be included. Wise attended Franklin College for a year. After that he moved to Hollywood, and the rest is silver screen history. At the age of 27, he was editor of “Citizen Kane,” considered one of the greatest films ever made.

Over his long career, Wise won four Academy Awards, including best director for box office blockbusters “West Side Story” and “The Sound of Music.”

Franklin can boast of at least three movie stars. The biggest was Marjorie Main. She attended Franklin College before becoming an actress. In Hollywood she worked many years as an MGM contract player. Appearing in scores of films, she will forever be remembered as Ma Kettle in the popular “Ma and Pa Kettle” series of the 1940s and ’50s.

An actor born in Franklin may have an unfamiliar name, but his face is recognized by millions. Andrew Duggan was a very busy character actor who appeared in many movies and hundreds of television shows. Anyone who has ever watched “The Waltons,” “Cannon,” “Mash” or “Hawaii-Five-O” would recognize Duggan’s rugged countenance.

Another Franklin native left his mark on Tinseltown. Born in 1891, Max Terhune had a talent for whistling and ventriloquism, which led to a vaudeville career.

Cowboy star Gene Autry caught his act, and soon Terhune and his wooden dummy Elmer were favorites in the popular “B-Westerns” of the 1940s. Later he found work in other pictures, including “Giant,” which starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and another Hoosier, James Dean.

Hollywood camera crews have been coming to Indiana since the early days before sound movies. In 1929, silent screen star William Haines played a race driver in MGM’s “Speedway.” Opening scenes are on Monument Circle before the action moves to the racing oval.

In more modern times, the 1950 production of “Johnny Holiday” was shot almost entirely at the Indiana Boys’ School in Plainfield. The film stars William Bendix and features cameos by Hoosier Hoagy Carmichael and Gov. Henry Schricker.

One of the biggest films ever made in the state was “Some Came Running” directed by Vincente Minnelli. The all-star cast includes Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine. All of the exteriors were shot in Madison.

Longtime residents still talk about those weeks during the summer of 1957 when Hollywood took over their town.

Nearby Vevay was the setting in 1975 for “A Girl Named Sooner,” and Madison was back on the big screen in 2001 when “Madison” centered around the city’s annual hydroplane race on the Ohio River.

One of the most memorable pictures made in the state was “Breaking Away,” filmed in Bloomington and released in 1979. Dennis Quaid is featured in the film about the Little 500 bicycle race.

Another big screen hit was “Eight Men Out,” shot in Indianapolis and Evansville. The 1988 release is based on the Black Sox baseball scandal and stars Charlie Sheen, John Cusack and many local extras.

If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave an Oscar for “Best Movie of All Time About Indiana,” the trophy would most surely go to “Hoosiers.”

Shot in 1985, it is inspired by the true story of a small school’s rise to the state basketball championship. “Hoosiers” has strong ties to Johnson County. The fictional “Hickory High School” was actually the grade school building in Nineveh, which provided the center of the action. One of the starring roles was played by Brad Long of Whiteland.

Indiana deserves film credit in yet another category. If an Oscar went to “Best Performance at the Concession Stand,” our state would be high on the nominating list. Hot buttered or plain, much of the popcorn munched at the movies comes from the Hoosier State. Moviegoers snack on around 5 billion quarts per year. If popcorn were a film, Hollywood would call it “a-maizing!”

James H. Johnson is a retired teacher who lives in Greenwood. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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