Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Things To Do

June 26, 2014

Palace to screen York documentary July 25

CROSSVILLE — On Friday night, July 25, at 6 p.m., the city of Crossville will host a 100th anniversary remembrance of World War I with a screening of a new documentary about the most celebrated hero of the war, Tennessee’s own Sergeant Alvin C. York. The event will take place at the Palace Theatre located at 72 South Main Street, just three short blocks from the Tennessee Central train depot from which York departed for Camp Gordon, Georgia in 1917 — his training ground before sailing for France.

The new movie, "The Showman and the Hero," was written and produced by Crossville filmmaker Dr. John White. It is the story of Hollywood pioneer Jesse L. Lasky and his 19-year quest to make a film about Sergeant York. It is collaboration between White and York scholar 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," a movie shot on location in Appalachia and recently restored by the Museum of Modern Art. Jesse Lasky founded Paramount. His daughter, Betty Lasky, played an important role in providing archival materials for the "Stark Love" project. After the premier in Bristol, TN, at a 1930s era Paramount theater, Miss Lasky asked 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 White. “I was very excited to get the opportunity. I am a big fan of Lasky. He not only was an adventurer and a founder of the Hollywood film industry, he was a true gentleman.

"Being very familiar with his 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 19 years before talking him into authorizing the movie.”

York won fame during World War I by leading seven men in a daring attack against a line of machine gun batteries protecting the strategic Decauville Railroad depot. In recounting the action, York said, "And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful. And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a racket in all of your life. I didn't have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush... As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. There were over 30 of them in continuous action, and all I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharp shooting... All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn't want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had."

In the melee, he had run out of rifle ammunition and was forced draw his service revolver when charged by six German soldiers. Before they could reach him, he had killed all six.

When the encounter ended, York and his handful of men had captured 132 German soldiers who they marched back to American lines.

For his valor, York received nearly 50 decorations from several nations, including the Medal of Honor from his own country.

Lasky, along with Samuel Goldwyn and Cecil B. Demille, filmed the first feature length film in Hollywood in 1914. His company eventually became Paramount Pictures.

"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,” says White.

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 the Palace, after "The Showman and the Hero" is screened, there will be a panel discussion led by Dr. Birdwell. Please make reservations by contacting the Palace.

The film aired on WCTE public television in February. There are plans being discussed to use the film in the state of Tennessee’s celebration of World War I.

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