In the blistering heat of the 1999 summer a film crew was in Mississippi shooting scenes for the upcoming movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou? The film starring George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson, among other stars, is set in 1937 rural Mississippi during the Great Depression. It’s a comedy, and a good one at that.
In 1999 I was publisher and editor of The Rankin Record newspaper in Flowood and a bunch of people in that neck of the woods were seeking out “extra” positions in the movie. One of my wife, Danny’s, college roommates, Debra Martin, applied for a part and she got it. If you’ve seen the movie, Debra was cast in the baptismal scene. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it and you’ll see her, although there are so many folks in that scene you have to know when, and where, to watch.
Danny and I, along with Debra’s late husband, Brad, decided to trail the buses taking the extras to the secret filming location so I might get some photographs for a spread on a Rankin County girl making it big. Well kind of big anyway. As an aside, Forest native Marianna Breland did make it big, or much bigger, as she was cast as one of Clooney’s character’s daughters in the movie.
Back to our adventure. The secret location was in the Mississippi River swamp near the Port of Vicksburg. Upon our arrival there, the crew was short of extras and signed Danny, Brad, and myself up for the shooting. I’ll say right here all I did was sit under a big circus tent all day long in costume, sweating and waiting to be called. The call never came. Danny and Brad did head down to the river bank with Debra and a 100 or so more white baptismal gown clad people and went back and forth “down to the river to pray” all day long.
Debra even got dunked in the murky, snake infested waters but let slip a word of profanity when she resurfaced and unfortunately got relegated to the cutting room floor from that part of the scene. Both Debra and Danny can be seen on the big screen, if, again, you know when to watch and where.
It doesn’t seem like that sweltering day — when we decided “extra” acting wasn’t for us — was over 20 years ago, but it was, and the movie is just as good today as it was way back then.
You are reading about that venture today because my daughter, Rachel-Johanna, and some of her friends were watching Oh Brother last week and it seems it is one of her roommate, and sorority sister, Drew’s boyfriend Neal’s favorites. Rachel-Johanna mentioned that fact to Danny and asked if we had some pictures from the movie set, which we do somewhere.
Later Danny said to me, “wouldn’t it be fun to find one of the pictures of us in costume and autograph and frame it and give it to them as a joke for Christmas.” So happens I have one of the photographs of the two of us in costume framed on my bookshelf in my office so that was a task I took care of easily — scanned, printed, frame purchased, just needed the autographs.
So I thought about how I would sign the print and the first thing that came to mind was a scene from the movie in which Turturro as Pete Hogwallop tries to warn Clooney as Everett McGill, and Nelson as Delmar O’Donnell, to not go in search of a supposedly hidden fortune.
Again watch it if you haven’t seen it, if you have you know the scene in the movie theater where Pete whispers “do not seek the treasure.” That’s when I knew how I would sign my autograph to the photo from my movie days sitting under the big tent.
Drew and Neal are both medical students and will begin their residencies next year. This year has been hard on them as it has most everyone in the world. So with that in mind, I signed, “life is short, seek the treasure.”
I say the same to all of you this holiday season and as we head toward a new year filled with hopes and dreams, and put 2020 behind us.
Life is short, seek the treasure!