See Melrose come to life in movie

Published 1:22am Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Way back almost 20 years ago when I first started work for the National Park Service as an entry-level museum technician, dusting original furniture and vacuuming floors at Melrose, I would wonder about the real people from the 1800s whose joy-filled or tragic lives played out in those beautiful spaces. What was it like?

On Saturday afternoon, we can get a glimpse of what that might have looked like as we gather in the Natchez Visitor Reception Center theater at 640 South Canal St. for the fifth installment in our “Hollywood Comes to Natchez” series of Civil-War related movies filmed in the Natchez area.

The film will begin at 4 p.m., preceded by remarks from the renowned Professor Jim Wiggins of Copiah-Lincoln Community College at 3 p.m.

The theatre only seats 75, so people should come early to get a seat. The event should end by about 6 p.m. so attendees can enjoy Second Saturday evening festivities downtown.

This week we will view portions of a 1980s miniseries based on Lonnie Coleman’s “Beulah Land” books that were set in Georgia but filmed in Natchez following the beautiful renovations of John and Betty Callon at Melrose in the late 1970s. When I first rented this miniseries, it was thrilling to see people in period dress dancing on that fabulous floorcloth in the hall — especially after learning of all the protections in place for the original.

In spite of the Old South dazzle, the film also addresses grittier themes of enslavement and war. Other film shots in the Natchez area include scenes Under-the-Hill and in cotton fields on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River. Many local extras include cadets from Chamberlain-Hunt Academy.

The performers in this epic romantic tale include Lesley Ann Warren, Michael Sarrazin (“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”), Eddie Albert (“Green Acres”), Hope Lange (“Peyton Place”), Don Johnson (“Miami Vice”), Meredith Baxter Birney (“Family Ties”), Jonathan Frakes (“Star Trek Next Generation”), and Madeline Stowe (“The Last of the Mohicans”).

I hate to spoil the story for you, but things don’t go so well for Melrose in the second half of the production (or rather, for the Georgia plantation it is supposed to represent).

It was very hard for me as a curator to watch General Sherman’s Yankee troops throw the furniture out the window and burn the house down!

This will be the last Natchez Civil War movie for 2012 — we will take December off, then return in January with a post-Civil War movie also largely filmed at Melrose — featuring boxer Muhammed Ali!

That will lead us up to February, with one more film and our Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, “Fiction, Fact, and Film: The Civil War’s Imprint on Southern Culture,” cosponsored by Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Natchez National Historical Park and Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Information about the film series is available at www.colin.edu/nlcc/film-series, by calling 601-446-1289, or by e-mailing NLCC@colin.edu.

Kathleen Jenkins is superintendent of Natchez National Historical Park.