‘Leave it to Beaver’, ‘The Yearling’ stars at MidSouth Nostalgia Fest

When movie actor Claude Jarman Jr. arrived in Oxford, Mississippi, in the spring of 1949 to shoot “Intruder in the Dust,” an adaptation of a William Faulkner novel, the 14-year-old received an honorary Oscar for “The Yearling”. on his resume and a naughty Hollywood gimmick at his fingertips – or so the impressionable young women at Oxford who were Jarman’s biggest fans said.

“Rumor went around town that Claude Jarman had special glasses, and with those glasses he could see through girls’ clothes,” Kaye Bryant, a lifelong Oxford resident, recalled in “When We Were Extras”, a documentary on the set of “Intruder in the dust.”

“Well, that just got all the girls in town excited,” Bryant said. “So while we were following him around the city, every time he looked in our direction, we were trying to get behind a pole or get behind someone else so he couldn’t see at through our clothes.”

Claude Jarman Jr., star of the heartbreaking 1946 film about a boy's love for his pet deer,

Jarman is heading back to Mississippi this week, but the glasses he’ll be bringing with him are for reading, not spying. Now 87, the retired actor and longtime arts activist from San Francisco is one of a dozen celebrity guests from film and TV set to appear at the annual MidSouth Nostalgia festival, taking place June 9-11 at the Whispering Woods Hotel & Conference. Olive Branch Center.

Founded in 1972, the festival would be boasting its 50th anniversary were it not for a few hiatuses over the past half-century (more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the 2020 and 2021 events to be canceled).

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Originally a celebration of the western genre, the festival has over the years broadened its reach to films and television in general, but the main focus remains the “golden age” of the cowboy in the screen. If the mission is old, the name is new: previously known as the Memphis Film Festival, the event is now called the MidSouth Nostalgia Festival, to distinguish it from the Indie Memphis Film Festival and other local film events.

A guest at the MidSouth Nostalgia Festival, stuntwoman Jeannie Epper voiced Lynda Carter in the 1970s TV series "Wonderwoman."

The festival will reunite Jarman with Karolyn Grimes (the daughter of Jimmy Stewart “Zuzu” in “It’s a Wonderful Life”), his co-star alongside John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in John Ford’s “Rio Grande” (1950) .

Other stars set to appear include “Leave It to Beaver” star Jerry Mathers; Robert Fuller, TV Hero in ‘Wagon Train’ and ‘Emergency!’ ; busy Bo Svenson, who was Buford Pusser in two “Walking Tall” sequels; Darby Hinton, who was young Israel Boone alongside Fess Parker in “Daniel Boone” on TV; stuntwoman Jeannie Epper, who doubled for Lynda Carter on “Wonder Woman”, Lindsay Wagner on “The Bionic Woman” and Tanya Roberts on “Charlie’s Angels”; and a triumvirate of sons of legends turned actors themselves: Patrick Wayne, Chris Mitchum and Robert Carradine.

"leave it to the beaver" star Jerry Mathers will be among the guests of the MidSouth Nostalgia Festival.

The stars sign autographs and appear on panels, discussing their careers. Sometimes they stop by one of the screening rooms where their films and TV episodes are shown almost non-stop during the festival. Jarman will attend a 7 p.m. screening on June 10 of “When We Were Extras,” which debuted in 2009 at a 50th anniversary celebration of “Intruder in the Dust” in Oxford; Joining Jarman to reminisce on stage will be the glasses-wary Oxford resident Bryant and TC Smith Jr., who was Jarman’s opponent at ladies’ doubles, substitutes and between strikes.

‘The Yearling’ at football games

Now a resident of Northern California, Jarman was in 5th grade at Eakin Elementary School in Nashville when he was “discovered” by MGM principal Clarence Brown, who was traveling south to find the young head of school. line of his adaptation “The Yearling”. a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings about a boy who adopts an orphaned fawn. A Technicolor production with Gregory Peck as Jarman’s father, the film was MGM’s biggest moneymaker of 1946, and Jarman received a special Oscar for his performance.

Jarman said he was a veteran of school plays with an interest in acting, so Brown — a stalwart of MGM’s glory days, celebrated for his work with Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford — became a mentor and a father figure. Brown’s film before “The Yearling” had been another animal story with a young lead, “National Velvet” starring Elizabeth Taylor; Jarman said he and Taylor were classmates in the one-room schoolhouse on the MGM studio grounds, along with other young actors such as Jane Powell and Margaret O’Brien.

Claude Jarman Jr. and John Wayne in John Ford "Rio Grande."

When he wasn’t making movies, Jarman moved back to Nashville and attended school at Montgomery Bell Academy, where he was a quarterback for the school’s high-performing football team. His celebrity status makes him a prime target for away games, and not just on the pitch.

When the undefeated Montgomery Bell team came to Memphis to play Central on October 12, 1951, The Commercial Appeal’s headline the next day reported: “Memphians Stomp Claude Jarman and I Formation.” Describing Central’s 34-6 win, the story referred to Jarman as “the young movie hero who didn’t win a football Oscar last night.” When the “movie star quarterback” fumbled, according to the story, the error was “in violation of any motion picture director’s instructions.”

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Jarman was used to scrutiny. Unlike many child actors, he almost always played big roles alongside big stars. In addition to “Rio Grande”, he was in “Roughshod” (1949), with Gloria Grahame; “The Hangman’s Knot” (1952), with Randolph Scott; “Fair Wind to Java” (1953), with Fred MacMurray; and “The Sun Rises” (1949), with Lassie.

“Intruder in the Dust”

“Intruder in the Dust” was something of a passion project for Clarence Brown. Shot on location in “Faulkner country”, Oxford and surrounding areas, the black-and-white film tackled racism and racial injustice at a time when these subjects were rarely discussed on screen. Juano Hernandez stars as Lucas Beauchamp, a strong-willed black man who is wrongly accused of killing a white man; Jarman is Chick Mallison, a teenager from a wealthy family who befriends the man, even as other townspeople gather to lynch him.

Despite the incendiary subject matter, rave reports of Hollywood’s Mississippi residency filled local newspapers during the seven weeks of production. Eventually, more than 500 locals appeared in the film, sometimes looking “embarrassed”, according to The Commercial Appeal, like “a group of high school girls walking past a fraternity house”. But since segregation was in effect, Hernandez was not allowed to stay in the same hotels as other cast and crew members; instead, he lodged in the home of a local black undertaker.

David Brian, Juano Hernandez and Claude Jarman Jr. in "Intruder in the dust."

“Faulkner was around a lot, and he and Clarence Brown kind of bonded,” Jarman said. Meanwhile, Faulkner’s daughter, Jill, “was my age, and she used to throw house parties (Faulkner’s 1840s Rowan Oak house) on the weekends, so we had used to go there. Dancing and that kind of stuff.”

“Intruder in the Dust” had its world premiere on October 11, 1949, at the Lyric Theater in Oxford, with entertainment provided by Memphis performers “Esmerldy, the hillbilly radio singer” and “Freddie Burns and the Ranch Boy’s, the hillbilly harmonizers from WHBQ.” Jarman wasn’t there because he was already working on another movie, but Brown and great actors Elizabeth Patterson and Porter Hall were there.

The following night, Brown, Patterson, and Hall came to Memphis for the film debut of Bluff City at Lowe’s Palace Downtown Cinema. Notorious local censor Lloyd T. Binford approved the film for Memphis audiences, but warned, “It doesn’t fit Southern ideals.”

The film was championed by some critics but mostly ignored by audiences. “People didn’t know that,” Jarman said. “MGM didn’t promote it. They weren’t really keen on showing this movie.” But now, “everywhere it’s shown, people are very, very moved.”

Claude Jarman Jr. received a special Oscar for his heartbreaking turn in the 1947 adaptation of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Yearling.

“I’m Still a Tennessee Boy”

Jarman ended his acting career around the same time the traditional studio system was coming to an end.

“I had good roles in those movies, it wasn’t just a passing fancy,” he said, citing friendships he made with older actors such as Maureen O’Hara and Lee Marvin.

However, “with the studios not running Hollywood anymore, it was a different environment. At MGM, they really took care of everything, but everything changed. I did my best for 10 years, but I didn’t never wanted to go out and hustle to be in movies, so as I got older I was like, ‘I don’t really want to do this.'”

But he remained active in the arts and linked to cinema: he directed the San Francisco International Film Festival from 1965 to 1980.

Jarman said he is looking forward to the MidSouth Nostalgia Festival. “I’m excited to come over there,” he said. “I’ve lived in California most of my life, but when people say, ‘Where are you from?’ I always say, ‘Tennessee.’ I’m still a Tennessee boy and I always will be. .”

MidSouth Nostalgia Festival

June 9-11, Whispering Woods Hotel & Conference Center, 7300 Hacks Cross Road, Olive Branch

Admission: $80 (three-day registration); $30 (Thursday or Friday); $20 (Saturday); free (children 12 and under).

For more information, call (501) 499-0444 or visit midsouthnostalgiafestival.com.

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