On Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. a new documentary about the making of the 1941 movie "Sergeant York" premiers at the Cookeville Performing Arts Center. This is a sneak peak of the film before it airs on WCTE public television.
The film, "The Showman and the Hero," is about the producer, Jesse L. Lasky, and the World War I hero, Sergeant Alvin C. York of Pall Mall, Tennessee. It is a collaboration between Crossville filmmaker Dr. John White and historian Dr. Michael Birdwell of Tennessee Tech.
The project originated four years ago when Dr. White premiered his film "Lost Masterpiece" about the 1927 Paramount movie "Stark Love." Betty Lasky, the daughter of Paramount founder Jesse L. Lasky, had played an important role in providing archival materials for the project. After the premier, Miss Lasky asked Dr. White if he would be interested in making a movie about her father.
“I was driving down the road talking to her on my cell phone when she asked me and I almost wrecked,” says Dr. White. “I was very excited to get the opportunity. I am a big fan of Lasky. He not only was a founder of the Hollywood film industry, he was an adventurer and a true gentleman.
“Being very familiar with Lasky’s story, I told Betty that I wanted to center the film around the making of 'Sergeant York' — this wild experience exemplifies what Jesse Lasky was all about. He pursued Alvin C. York nineteen years before talking him into authorizing the movie.
“I knew less about York so I did some research and found that the Alvin C. York expert was Dr. Birdwell of Tennessee Tech. I contacted him and found he not only was a fine scholar but a great team player. His help was absolutely invaluable.”
Other important contributors to the project were John Cooper of Nashville (son of York’s friend Governor Prentice Cooper), and Emmy Award-winning filmmakers Don Hooper and Craig Tollis.
At CPAC, after "The Showman and the Hero" is screened, there will be a panel discussion led by Dr. Birdwell. This event is free to the public. Please make reservations by contacting Steve Gwilt at email@example.com or by calling (931) 528-1313.
The film airs on WCTE Feb. 14 at 8:30 p.m. and Feb. 27 at 9 p.m.