Former Chattanoogan Bill Landry has become quite a familiar and popular personality in Knoxville as the longtime host of the “Heartland Series” on television station WBIR Channel 10.
Through the brief stories he and his crew have put together since 1984 on the traditions and treasures of Appalachia, many people in the Knoxville area believe he has become an East Tennessee institution as well.
Since the series has been produced only as periodic TV specials since 2009 – even though the old ones are still shown as reruns on newscasts – Mr.
Landry has had more time to pursue other projects. One has been to write the recently published book, “Appalachian Tales & Heartland Adventures,” which offers details on some of the stories that were part of the “Heartland Series.”
“It is kind of like the rest of the story behind the scenes,” he said of the Celtic Cat Publishing book during a recent interview. “And the rest is the history of the show.”
While the TV viewer often sees Mr. Landry tell an aspect of Appalachian life with seriousness and much sensitivity, in the book he also shows a strong sense of humor describing some of the incidents that took place behind the scenes.
For example, he said they were in the Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains one time and a man came up to a park official and asked him how much it would cost to ride an elk he had spotted. After the official told him they cannot be ridden, the man insisted. “But I will give you ten dollars to ride that elk,” he said.
Mr. Landry also discusses humorous incidents involving trying to climb challenging Mt. LeConte several times to produce stories.
The TV personality said he is also trying to put together another book that will focus in more detail on about 20 stories.
Mr. Landry has also been doing some speaking, storytelling and book-signing engagements. Most are in the Knoxville area, but he is scheduled to speak at a fundraising event in Spring City on July 6.
He welcomes other engagements when he can fit them into his schedule, and encourages people looking for a program, or simply old Chattanooga friends wanting to say hello, to contact him at email@example.com.
He has also taught speech and television at such colleges as Roane State Community College and Lincoln Memorial University.
The noted TV personality also played Atticus Finch in the Roane State production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in Harriman in 2010.
“I had forgotten how hard that was,” he said with a laugh.
His role in drama actually is the reason he went from Chattanooga to Knoxville. The former North Chattanoogan – whose area siblings are Pat Landry, Karen Loveless and Laura Frisch – was playing football at the University of Chattanooga after graduating from Notre Dame High in 1968 when he became involved in the drama program at UC/UTC under Dorothy Hackett Ward.
Among those he remembers working with were future TV star Dennis Haskins, Mac Smotherman, Bo Robinson, Arlene Rutenberg, teacher Jim Lewis and John Goehring. He was in a group called the Harlequin Riots.
Mr. Landry, who has an easily approachable manner, had taken part in “The Winter’s Tale” play while at UTC and recently returned for a 40th anniversary reproduction of it.
“We all came back and had a reunion,” he said. “We all went to see the show and went over to professor Jim Lewis’ house.”
Mr. Landry has also had to take on a new role recently of learning to deal with adversity. His wife, Becky, died in April, and he also had a heart scare that has been corrected.
As a result, he has developed a new perspective.
“I’ve learned how precious life is,” he said.
He has also learned to count his blessings.
“I’ve gotten to do everything I’ve ever wanted to do pretty much,” he said. “It’s hard for somebody like me to make a living and I’m really grateful I’ve gotten to work on so many wonderful projects and still am.”