Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Jesse James ~ A Potpourri

This weekend Pineville Missouri is celebrating Jesse James Days, August 6-9 on the square in Pineville. Come down and enjoy all that they offer and visit with Tyrone Power, Jr. 

Last year when I researched the life of Jesse James & his gang, I read several books and used my local McDonald County Historical Society to gather information. What a treat I had in historical research. Here's a photo cover of Cindi Myers' book "The Woman Who Loved Jesse James" ~ 

What a great read ~ I enjoyed Cindi's writing and recommend you reading it! 

When I learned that Jesse & some of his men rode with Bushwhackers, that led me to read other books about the Kansas and Missouri Border Wars...

"Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy: Guerrilla Warfare in the West: 1861-1865" by Richard S. Brownlee is a great book about the Civil War & the making of the Bushwackers, I highly recommend it. 

There are other wonderfully written books about the Civil War in Missouri, the James Gang and the Border Wars...check them out! 

Here's the story that I wrote for our Historical Society newsletter. I enjoyed finding the tidbits from all of my research and decided to write about those little gems that are interesting, because there has been so much has been written about Jesse James.

Outlaw, Missouri Bandit, and Hero: 75 Years of Jesse James
Karen Utter Jennings
            Outlaw, notorious Missouri bandit, and hero; Jesse James was all that and more. Folks formed their own opinion about the young man, born in Northern Missouri and who rode through the country making history by robbing banks and trains, terrorizing the Union Forces and blazing a name for himself. Some say he was a criminal and worthless, while others call him a hero and idolize his name.
            75 years ago, during August and September in 1938, Hollywood came to McDonald County because of Jesse Woodson James. This caused one of the biggest sensations McDonald County will ever see. As I read about the filming of “Jesse James,” I found fascinating facts that I offer here in my article. These tidbits come from various newspapers, oral history from area residents and photographs.
            Henry King, movie director for 20th Century Fox Productions, chose Pineville and the outlying area as the principal location to shoot the moving picture because Pineville resembled the town of Liberty, Missouri and the courthouse that stands in the center of Pineville’s public square was crucial to the film’s storyline.
            Pineville’s mayor, F.T. Drumm, worked closely with the motion picture director and received a telegram from Henry King on August 10, 1938: “Dear Mayor: At our executive meeting yesterday the decision was rendered in favor of doing the picture at Pineville for which I am very happy. Mr. Bowman and the Art Director and staff are leaving for Pineville, August 11. The company will arrive on or about the 20th. You can acquaint those in the vicinity of Pineville with these facts but I prefer to continue this information to that locality as much as possible. Kindest regards, Henry King.”
            It was official. Hollywood descended on McDonald County.
            Stars of the movie were Tyrone Power who played the part of Jesse James; Henry Fonda was Frank James; Nancy Kelly portrayed Zee James; Randolph Scott was the U.S. Marshal; Jane Darwell played the part of Jesse’s mother; Lon Chaney, Jr. was a member of the James Gang.
            The movie company made their headquarters at Noel, where more than 150 movie people arrived there on a Sunday morning. Several private homes, cottages and tourist cabins were readied for the movie actors and members of the company. Marx Cheney, owner of the Shadow Lake Resort of Noel commented, “About the only air-conditioning we can offer is a cool Ozark Breeze.”
            Henry Fonda invented his own air conditioning by placing large cakes of dry ice outside his cabin window. He used an electric fan to blow across the ice and his cabin was cool when he ended the day’s movie shootings.
            Shadow Lake was a favorite hangout for dinner and after hour’s entertainment for the movie crew and actors. The resort town boomed when tourists arrived by the hundreds to see the movie stars and possibly get their autographs.
            The Pineville square was transformed to represent Liberty, Missouri. This was done by covering the paved streets with 400 loads of dirt and gravel, hiding the concrete walks with old-fashioned board walks, building false store fronts, adding hitching rails and water troughs, and erecting several buildings such as the U.S. Marshall’s office, a newspaper office representing the “Weekly Gazette” and building the Dixie Belle Hotel.
            Twentieth-Century Fox spent $25,000 to make those changes in Pineville.
            On August 16, 1938, more than 200 local people were hired as extras for the motion picture. Men grew their beards and women gathered the appropriate attire to “look the part.” Men, women, and children were excited to be a part of such a huge production.
            Initial scenes were filmed at the log cabin home of Albert Barnes, a Pineville barber. The Highway Patrol was stationed along the main road to stop traffic and request that motorists shut off their engines because the noise ruined the scenes.
            Mrs. Florence Crowder received $3,000 for the use of her farm that was used as Jesse and Frank James’ mother’s home. Mrs. Crowder became distressed when she had to stay away while the filming took over a month to complete. She received an extra $100 because the crowds excited her guinea hens and they made such a racket that it interfered with the sound recordings. Director King bought the guineas and had them served on the menu to the movie crew.
            Mrs. Crowder died on September 22, 1938, just days after the film’s completion. Physicians said her death was partially due to the excitement of the movie filming, not being able to live in her home while the filming took place, and being outdoors in the hot sun.
            The Southwest city train station was the scene of Union soldiers coming to court martial the county seat where Jesse and Frank were held as prisoners.  A special old model train was rebuilt with engine and cars at Ft. Smith, Arkansas, for the big scene when Jesse and his gang staged the robbery. Thousands came to watch the filming of the train hold up. Movie producers used a section of the Frisco tracks for the shooting and they employed about 250 McDonald and Newton County people as extras for the train robbery scene.
            In Pineville, one Friday night in August 1938, three men robbed the Tavern and took $300. Pineville Sheriff Bone said, “Somebody is taking this James business too seriously.” 
            Carl Mayfield of Anderson supplied 100 horses for the movie and the other horses used were Hollywood trick horses.  A photo postcard depicts a scene where Zee meets Jesse and Frank in a cave. Jesse holds the reins of a horse named Sally.
            An estimate of 10,000 people crowded into Noel and Pineville, causing traffic jams along the highway that connected the towns. People form 48 states visited McDonald County and the crowds swelled to 5,000 daily. Labor Day, 1938, the crowd topped 15,000 people. Highway Patrolmen directed the traffic flow.
             Mrs. E.J. Cookerly, Joplin, furnished over 300 zinnias and marigold flowers from her home garden for the filming of Jesse’s funeral scene. 
            Finally, after two months of filming, Hollywood departed from McDonald County.  
            When “Jesse James” hit the big screen in January 1939, Joplin’s Fox Theatre’s box office praised the movie as “the most exciting picture you’ve ever seen…acclaimed by everyone as TERRIFIC.” Opening day saw 5,000 people walk through box office. Adult tickets sold for 30 cents until 2 pm, 40 cents plus tax afterward, with children 10 cents.
            Ten days after the movie hit the big screen, people wrote to Hollywood criticizing Twentieth Century-Fox for their portrayal of Jesse James’ life in the movie. Hundreds of letters pointed out discrepancies and inaccuracies of the real life of the gang. The letters of criticism got no response from the Twentieth Century-Fox, however, for they knew controversy leads to interest and interest leads to success.
            And successful it was! Each year Pineville celebrates Jesse James Days with activities around the square. Residents gather to watch the movie to try to get a glimpse of a family member who was an “extra” in the film.
             During the summer of 1973, Director Henry King came back to Pineville to attend the annual Jesse James Days Celebration; he stayed at the Ginger Blue Lodge. During a dinner in King’s honor, Pineville Mayor Orlin Armstrong represented the people of Pineville and presented him with a plaque for outstanding service and dedication to the movie industry. Director King praised the local community the folks who helped in every way and said the movie was a success due to their cooperation and hard work.
            At the 1973 celebration, Buel Buzzard, pastor of the Christian Church, performed the marriage of Penny Harmon and Gary Pogue at an old time brush arbor wedding.
            Today Pineville continues to celebrate Jesse James Days. Visit the Historical Courthouse Museum on the square where the Jesse James Room highlights memorabilia. Folks round here still talk about the bandit and the Hollywood filming of the movie in their county.
            My father recalled stories told to him about the filming of the movie; he told me that his great-grandfather, Thomas “Bud” Johnson, was riding in the train when the movie was being filmed. He also said they had to put a wagon load of hay in front of a corner gas station to hide the gas pumps and they could not get the horse to jump off the bluff into the hole of water so they had to build a ramp and covered the ramp with branches. The horse fell off the ramp and that is why he went off bottom first into the water.
            Mr. John Wright to the McDonald County Historical Society donated the old Washington hand printing press. The hand press was used in the Jesse James movie in the Weekly Gazette Newspaper Office and printing shop. The printing press is now housed inside the Historic Courthouse Museum. 
            I have formed my opinion about Jesse James and his family. Where do your sympathies lie? If you are curious and want more information, visit the Historical Courthouse on the Pineville square museum. Because 75 years later, Jesse James’ life story lives on. 

No comments:

Post a Comment