Even after 50 years, memories of the movie stars and Hollywood coming to Charleston and Cleveland still light up the faces of those who were around during the making of the 20th Century Fox motion picture Wild River.
Wild River was the first major motion picture filmed entirely in Tennessee and was mostly filmed in Charleston on the Hiwassee River. More than 40 local residents were chosen for speaking roles in the movie and more than 100 were extras involved in some way. Almost everyone around Bradley County in 1959 has a story about Hollywood coming to their hometown.
A big celebration is being planned to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the release of Wild River. A Wild River Committee is working on several events including
May 22–July 3 “Wild River: Hollywood Comes to Bradley County,” a six-week long exhibit at the Museum Center at 5ive Points sponsored by Bank of Cleveland. Tickets for the exhibit can be purchased at the Museum.
June 1-3 Three-day Film Festival honoring director Elia Kazan, whose works not only include Wild River, but also movie classics like Gentlemen’s Agreement, On the Waterfront and Streetcar Named Desire – Academy Award winning pictures that will be featured at the festival. The Kazan Film Festival will be held at the Museum Center at 5ive Points and will be a free event.
June 4 Hometown Hollywood Party welcoming home local stars of the movie and previewing a documentary currently being produced by Life Care Centers of America Media Center. The documentary focuses on the making of the movie, stories that came from filming in a small town and celebrating this history. The documentary will feature many hometown faces and locations. Tickets for Hometown Hollywood are available at the Chamber of Commerce, Museum Center at 5ive Points and Callaway Antiques. Tickets to the event are $35 and include dinner and admission to the Wild River exhibit. Proceeds for this event will benefit the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society and the Museum Center at 5ive Points.
June 5 Wild River Days Festival in Charleston will be a community-wide celebration. Charleston hopes to make this festival an annual event. Saturday’s activities will include
Entertainment in Charleston Park throughout the day with the Collins Brothers Band headlining the stage at 6 p.m. Bring lawn chairs. There is plenty of room to relax and enjoy.
Dedication of the Concrete Highway (Market Street – Old Hwy 11) recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places, 2 p.m.
Food vendors and treats in the park throughout the day.
A vintage car show along Market Street “starring” cars from the 1930’s era depicted in the movie and featuring a car used in the movie. Cars will be displayed from 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Photo displays at movie locations.
Continuous showing of the movie, Wild River, throughout the day at Watson’s Chapel Zion AME.
Shuttles to Wild River Retreat for pole-operated ferry rides to Coon Denton Island (just like in the movie), hay rides offered by the Antique Tractor Club around the island and music on the front porch of one of the houses used in the movie. Shuttles and ferry rides will run noon – 5 p.m.
Hiwassee Canoe Co., a new business in Charleston, will have canoes for rent to paddle in the Hiwassee River and the waters behind the movie set.
Wild River was filmed in 1959 and released to the public May 26, 1960. Locals could catch the movie and a glimpse of hometown stars at the Star Vue Drive-in. Since then, the movie has been shown several times at the Museum Center at 5ive Points, but is not available on video or DVD. It will be shown throughout the day at the event in Charleston.
Local author David Swafford has been gathering information and collecting stories and memorabilia over the past year and a half. Mr. Swafford is writing a book featuring stories from the movie set and the impact of Hollywood coming to the small communities of Charleston and Cleveland.
“It was a big deal to have movie stars and a famous director in our town,” said Mr. Swafford. “I have heard so many funny and interesting stories about the filming that I knew I had to write them down and preserve them in some way. The more I talked about it, the more people I found who are interested in the movie too.”
Mr. Swafford has done extensive research locally as well as traveling to the National Archives in Atlanta and to University of Wesleyan University in Middleton, Ct., where Kazan’s professional documents, photographs and memorabilia are archived in a special collection. He has talked with hundreds of people, collecting photographs and stories and he has given presentations on his findings to several local groups.
Mr. Swafford is working with a group of planners on the anniversary events. Representatives from the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society, Bradley County Historical Society, Museum Center at 5ive Points, Wild River Christian Retreat, Charleston Recreation Board, Horseless Carriage Automobile Club, the county and city mayors’ offices and interested citizens.
“The events will be a great way to get everyone excited about this really great piece of hometown history,” said Mr. Swafford. “The events, documentary and my book project will help these stories carry into the future rather than be forgotten.”
For more information about the upcoming events, see the following websites www.wildrivercelebration.com, www.visitclevelandtn.com, www.cchhistoricalsociety.org and www.museumcenter.org or call the Chamber of Commerce at 472-6587.