Thursday, January 07, 2016

January 7, 2016--On the Road: Ava Gardner Museum

One year, driving west-to-east on a back road across northern Missouri, there was a road sign that pointed toward Marceline. "The Boyhood Home of Walt Disney," it said.

"He grew up here?" Rona mused. "All I see are corn fields." Shaking her head, she said, "He grew up in a corn field?"

"Let's go and see. It's only nine miles. We're in no hurry."

As we drove, peering out the window, as if to herself, Rona said, "Nine miles of corn fields."

True, there was pretty much nothing but corn and some fields of grain. And an occasional farmhouse. Most of them battered from the weather and lack of upkeep.

"Looks pretty poor," I said. "Not much going on."

And then, down a rutted road, we were in Marceline. A proverbial one-horse town. With a single exception--downtown, if one can call a three-block main street downtown, there was a well-preserved movie theater. The Uptown Theater. Ambitiously named for such an otherwise woe-begotten place.

"Look at this," Rona said, "I wonder what's the story."

"Look. Next to the entrance there's a bronze plaque."

We pulled over and got out to take a closer look.

"No surprise," Rona said, "Walt Disney appears to have paid for its renovation and maintenance."

"And it says he came back to the Uptown in 1956 for the premier of The Great Locomotive Chase. Amazing."

"Let's see what else there is to see."

A few streets behind Main was another well-kept place also with a sign. It was in fact the boyhood home of Walt Disney. The place where at an early age he first manifested his talents. These were noted, it said, by a family friend, a retired doctor, Doc Sherwood, who gave young Walt his first commission--a crayon drawing of Doc's old horse Rupert.

The rest is history.

As we headed out, Rona said, "You know I'm not a believer, but it's as if the hand of God reached down to this place and touched Walt Disney. You don't have to grow up in Chicago or New York to be talented and successful. That can come out of anywhere. Even a seemingly forgotten place like this."

She added, "And with all this corn."

This year, earlier this week, on route to Florida, not taking many back roads this time as we wanted to get there as quickly as possible, on I 95, as we approached the Smithfield, NC exit, the road sign listed the one attraction to be seen in Smithfield--the Ava Gardner Museum, which it indicated, could be found in its downtown.

"Ava Gardner has a museum?" Rona said. "All that and Frank Sinatra too?"

"She was a great beauty. And not that bad an actress. You're too young to remember Mogambo, The Barefoot Contessa, and Bhowani Junction."

"You're right about that, but you seem to be up on your Ava Gardner."

"You had to be there. I mean back in the 1950s. And it helped if you were a lustful teenager."

"She was big enough to deserve a museum of her own? I don't know. But I suppose these days everything's showbiz. Next thing we'll know there'll be a Donald TRUMP museum in Brooklyn."

"Not a bad idea. Want to check it our?"

"Which museum are we checking out?" She was joking.

"It's only a few miles. What do we have to lose?"

And there it was again in a version of a downtown in yet another long-forgotten place.

The museum itself is sort of worth a detour. Not by Michelin standards; but considering that I 95 is a driving desert, endlessly boring with the only excitement an occasional pro-life billboard, it's worth a half hour to see Ava's movie costumes and to relive the gossip surrounding her affair and marriage to Old Blue Eyes.

And there's a Dunkin Donuts by the I 95 exit that is now serving a delicious new donut--a crunchy sour cream confection.

Now that's worth a detour! Which we did three or four time along the way.

In our hotel Tuesday night, in beautiful, historic Beaufort, SC, seven-hours north of Delray, scanning the Internet for other out-of-the-way places, I did a little googling about Smithfield and other towns where we had stayed the night or pulled off to take a brief look or get a donut or some BBQ--to check out their histories and, especially, with Ava and Walt in mind, to see who else might have been born and raised in unexpected places.

In Beaufort, for example, in addition to being the place where Harriet Tubman (soon to replace Alexander Hamilton on the 20 dollar bill?) led a Union raiding party to victory over an unsuspecting Rebel encampment at Combahee Ferry, freeing 700 slaves in the process, also born and active there were heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, actor Tom Berenger, novelist Pat Conroy (Stop Time), and Candice Glover, the American Idol season 12 winner.

In Lumberton, NC, in addition to our all time favorite breakfast place--Betty Carol's--born and active there were James Jordan, father of Michael, Dr. Johnny Hunt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and wouldn't you know it--at the opposite end of life experience--Carmen Hart, the pornographic actress.

And where Ava was born and grew up, also from Smithfield, were the successful Christian self-help author, John Townsend, a host of big league baseball and football players, and two professional wrestlers--one male, Gregory Helms, and one female, Amber O'Neal.

What a country.

The hand of God indeed.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home