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Harmony Hall supplied stars for 1952 film

POSTED: December 28, 2008 5:00 a.m.
For The Times/

Hometown actors stand in front of the Ritz Theater for the premiere of "Birthright," a movie made in Hall County in 1952.

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Hall County was the site of a world premiere movie in 1952.

"Birthright" was filmed in the Harmony Hall community with residents acting in starring roles.
The February showing at the old Ritz Theater on North Bradford Street just off the downtown square preceded its debut in New York City.

The documentary treated a controversial topic at the time: venereal disease. It told a story of a young farmer who became despondent over his failing poultry farm. Depressed, he went into town and became involved with a woman who infected him with syphilis.

The story told how he searched for a cure, told his pregnant wife and avoided transferring the disease to his unborn child. The focus was on the importance of catching the disease in its early stages.

Boyce Brown, a real-life poultry farmer, was the main character. Margory Morris was his wife, and other actors from Harmony Hall included Mr. and Mrs. A.O. "Buddy" Jarrett, Howard and Alley-May Williams. Patsy Brown played a child in the movie and is one of the few surviving main characters, according to Edith Cato, longtime resident of the community. Patsy Brown married Ron Peeples and still lives in Hall County, Mrs. Cato said.

Jerry Jarrett Pennington, who now lives in Pendergrass, remembers all the movie activity at the time. Her mother and father were the parents of Boyce Brown's wife in the movie. She said she and many of those involved in the film traveled to White County to meet actress Susan Hayward during production of "I'd Climb the Highest Mountain."

Mrs. Cato lives on the site where the film was made. She remembers film crews going into local homes and chicken houses, as well as shooting scenes around Gainesville.

"It was a big show," she said. Her brother, Boyce Brown, didn't pursue acting or farming, instead becoming a captain with Eastern Airlines.

Mrs. Cato's daughter, Linda Gastley, also remembers the movie scene. Because her uncle was the main character, several years ago she tracked down a copy of the film in the Georgia Archives.

However, it was so fragile, she wasn't allowed to make a copy of it.

About a year ago, she decided to Google the movie on the Internet. She found a CD of it, but had to edit out a scene somebody had inserted. Otherwise, it's the original black-and-white "Birthright" made in Harmony Hall.

The University of Georgia and the state Health Department produced the movie to educate people about sexually transmitted diseases. The filming took place in the summer of 1950. Harmony Hall residents continued to farm crops and care for their poultry flocks in between helping shoot scenes for the movie, enduring numerous retakes and sound shots. When the filming took a break, Boyce Brown would pick watermelons for the crew and cast to refresh themselves. Much of the movie took place on the Ernest Brown farm.

Harmony Hall residents' cooperation in the venture led to honors for the community improvement club led by Arthur Fleming and Mrs. H.G. Tankersley.

Before the movie opened at the Ritz, a parade through downtown Gainesville included fire trucks, Gainesville High School's band, actors, civic clubs, local government and health department officials. Students sought autographs from the local actors as well as others in the cast and crew.

Proceeds from the nonprofit movie went to local public health and community causes.

"Birthright" was written by George Stoney with the Southern Educational Film Service. Leaders of the local health department at the time were Dr. Gregg Smith and Dr. Virginia Maley.

Others in the film included Paula Haygood, C.S. Buchanan, Claribel Jones, W.T. Gantt Jr., Jake Ellard, Edward Mangum, Major Nuckolls and Charles Westbrook. You even get glimpses of locals such as a dark-haired Dave Rankin, a twenty-something Ed Jared and a pipe-puffing Ed Nivens during a civic club scene.

Two years earlier, another health education film came out of Hall County. "Palmour Street" dealt with mental health problems. Residents in the southside community around the actual Palmour Street played major roles. It received critical acclaim from medical authorities.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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