The author takes a long-ago turn as a planter in a movie shot at Madewood.
Movie scouts. They’re the good-lookin’ guy at the high-school dance, the one you hope will choose you.
You’re on pins and needles as they approach. The carpets? Oh, no, a spot over there! A burned-out bulb in the chandelier? Quick, change it! Did Madame Clio leave a doggy present anywhere? Will they ever choose ME?
These guys (so far, no girls) all have interesting names. In beaucoup cases, Anglo-Asian. Their companies tend to have titles that suggest Native American purity: Something like Fallingwater Productions would be a likely candidate. Their e-mail addresses are impossibly cute, and you’ll probably find them on an upper floor in a highrise on Wilshire Boulevard. Oh, please choose me.
As we all learn later in life, sometimes it’s better not to be chosen.
Recently, a scout showed up unannounced and pitched a fabulous new musical to be filmed in Louisiana. Could they keep horses in our makeshift corral? Sure. Filming would be around Christmas; would the the house be decorated? I guess so: featuring two 18-foot-tall trees decked with all the trimmings.
He strolled nonchalantly through the ballroom, a quick click as his iPhone captured the chandelier and the plaster medallions that parade across the ceiling. He liked the Georgian-style bookcases in the library, and the “Steamboat Gothic” furniture in the downstairs bedroom.
Dear Diary: HE LIKES ME!
“Now it’s nothing definite, but . . . .” (Be still, my beating heart). We’ll be back in touch if we’re interested.”
Oh, no. Not the old brush-off again?
I quickly pressed for a little more information on the production and learned that it will be called “The Underground Railroad: The Musical.”
Did I hear this guy right?
Didn’t A Woman Called Moses — a 1978 TV miniseries, filmed largely at Madewood and starring Cicely Tyson as Harriet Tubman, heroine of the movement — focus on the hardships and daring of people who risked their lives to help slaves escape to the North via the Underground Railroad? Where would someone like Carol Channing (plantation owner’s wife and general busybody?) or Will Smith (charming schemer?) fit into this new take on escaping to freedom? Wouldn’t it end up being something like Sweeney Todd goes Into the Woods?
I quickly Googled the title.
“It’s the ultimate redemption movie,” wrote one promoter. Picture the negative image of the musical Show Boat, the birthplace of Old Man River. This new musical apparently intermingles several stories and has the characters run across Harriet Tubman.
“Yo, Harriet,” I imagine them exclaiming. “Great to meet you. Kids, come on over here: It’s Harriet Tubman. Can we get a daguerreotype with you?”
This would be the time, I guess, when everyone breaks into “Down By the Riverside,” one of the spirituals that the promos mention is included in the musical.
Somehow, it just don’t seem fittin’ to me to deal with such a serious matter this way; but I could be terribly wrong. Lots of prominent names are signing on to the initial concept; and it could end up being a sensitive presentation of people’s personal lives, of finding joy in the midst of repression.
I just hope there’s not a scene of gentlefolk tappin’ their feet on the ole plantation porch as a chorus of sugarcane harvesters taps to a song about the joys of workin’ in the fields from sun up to sun down.
It reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon from the 1960s. Two Colonel Sanders types are rocking on the porch as a slew of robots harvests the cane. “It’s the soft, sweet singin’ that I miss,” bemoans one to the other.
During the filming of A Woman Called Moses at Madewood, there was no sitting out on the porch. The production crew had selected Madewood because the entire East Coast, where the film was scheduled to be shot, was in blizzard mode. It was even freezing in Napoleonville, and we all shivered because anything that had to do with modern heating had to be dismantled or disguised. In several scenes, they had to blast some warmth in to dispel the fog created by our breathing.
I could only be one of the planters for a day or two because I had to return to England to defend my doctorate. My wife, Millie, and I were dating at the time, but I was being as coy as a movie scout. Apparently I left town without bidding a proper farewell; several days later I received a letter from Millie conveying to me what she had heard about the course of the production.
“It will be really embarrassing if you’re still in town and know all of this,” she concluded the letter.
I really was back in England; and, ultimately, I did choose her (or vice-versa). We’ll soon celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary, and it’s fair to say that our married life could fuel a musical on its own.
Just no tap dancing, please.