We need to move to full love affair

Published 12:23 am Sunday, October 21, 2007

Natchez is a flirt, especially when it comes to its relationship with Hollywood. And, perhaps, it’s time to stop the eye batting and commit to the relationship.

Through the years dozens of television and film production crews have come to the Natchez area.

They’ve used our area’s uniquely preserved history to provide stunning backdrops for TV shows and silver screen moments for decades.

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Natchez’s amazingly affordable — at least by California standards — mansions have attracted several Hollywood big shots to live here for a while, or at the very least come for visits.

We’re the perfect location in some ways, away from the scrutiny of the entertainment media and the paparazzi.

From well-tanned George Hamilton who owned property here to Stuart Margolin, who starred in “The Rockford Files” television series, Natchez has had a diverse history of momentary flirts with stardom.

Hollywood’s Richard Sheehan says it’s time for the flirtation to end and for the real courting process to begin.

“Do you want the film business in town — and maybe you don’t want it?” the former owner of Hollywood National Studio said. “Somebody’s going to have to sell this thing.”

Sheehan isn’t just an outsider seeking to make a buck. He’s been visiting Natchez for years.

He also recently purchased the Northgate Shopping Center on U.S. 61 North after he sold his studio in Hollywood and needed a place to invest the proceeds.

Sheehan first came to Natchez years ago on a similar investment hunt. A friend told him to look up Sammy Cauthen when he was in town.

The friend had worked with Cauthen years before on the set of a TV show when Cauthen was wrangling the animals.

Yes, that’s correct, the man who many of us only think of as the long-time Adams County Supervisor had an interesting career as a supplier of livestock to TV and film production companies on location throughout the southeast.

Earlier this year, Cauthen traveled to Hollywood to try and get the word out about the Natchez area.

Several people, including Cauthen’s political rivals have criticized him for his “Sammy goes to Hollywood” trip.

Sheehan, an admitted friend of Cauthen’s, says that criticism is unfair.

“If you have someone who is willing to do this and has the contacts to do it, why knock him for it?” Sheehan asked.

The trip to Hollywood, Sheehan said, was only a scratch on the surface of what needs to be done, but the results of such work could provide an incredible impact to the community.

“You really have dynamite here,” he said. “It’s your settings, that coupled with this incentive,” he said, referring to an incentive program offered by the State of Mississippi.

The state will provide rebates of up to 30 percent of all local investment to qualifying film projects, but Sheehan says the program hasn’t been marketed enough yet.

“You’ve got a wonderful program,” he said. “I guarantee you that nobody knows about this thing. They might know about Natchez, but they don’t know about this incentive program.

“When a movie is made today, it’s considered kind of low-budget if it’s less than $50 million,” Sheehan said. “If you want it, you’d better step up to the plate.”

Sheehan makes an interesting argument. Natchez — and the state of Mississippi — spends very little marketing itself to Hollywood, despite what Cauthen’s opponents say.

“You can’t go to your grave with a good secret,” Sheehan said.

But, if you try hard enough, you can flirt your way to the funeral home.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.