Last week’s column on the seemed to have brought back a flood of memories for many who worked on tobacco in north central Connecticut a generation or more ago.
If you were among those who worked in Tobacco Valley, you might want to find a copy of the movie "Parrish," which was released to the public 50 years ago. Based on a novel of the same name by New London native Mildred Savage, which was published in 1958, much of the movie was actually filmed in Connecticut. Local scenes of tobacco farms, especially at the Thrall Farm in the Poquonock section of Windsor and parts of East Windsor, are everywhere. We even see engines from the Broad Brook Fire Department dispatched to put out a fire in a tobacco shed. We also see footage of the Mystic Seaport, the Groton Sub Base, the Congregational Church in Essex, and the old Terra Mar resort in Old Saybrook. There is also beautiful opening scene footage of the now endangered ferry near Gillette’s Castle in Hadlyme. Remember the old regional carrier Mohawk Airlines? Well, one of the early scenes of the movie shows one of their prop-jets landing at Bradley Field in Windsor Locks, carrying both Hollywood hunk Troy Donahue, who plays title character Parrish MacClean, and his mother, Ellen, played by Claudette Colbert, from Boston into tobacco country.
Mrs. MacClean has just been hired by tobacco baron Sala Post (played very well by veteran actor Dean Jagger) to tame his sultry and rebellious 20-year old daughter, Alison, played by the beautiful young actress Diane McBain. What little counseling Ellen offers to Alison proves futile, and Ellen’s emphasis soon shifts toward snagging Post’s rival: rapacious tobacco baron, Judd Raike.
Raike – played well by Karl Malden – is the bad guy of the film, always scheming with his two nitwit sons to undermine neighbors and to acquire more land from rival growers of Connecticut’s top cash crop. The attraction? The security of Raike’s $20 million dollars. She succeeds but eventually grows weary of his evil ways.
In the meantime, the presence of Ellen’s heart-throb son, Parrish, has the women in the valley swooning. Just minutes into the movie, tobacco hand Lucy spies Apollo-like Parrish in a tobacco field and quickly falls head-over-heels for him. Played by the young and sexy Connie Stevens (pre nose-job), naughty Lucy in her low-cut blouse soon seduces Parrish. Ah, but it doesn’t last. Soon, young Alison Post tries her best to win him over, but despite her considerable allure, Parrish ultimately rejects her spoiled and pouty ways. Waiting in the wings, however, is the beautiful young daughter of nasty Judd Raike – Paige.
Played well by Elizabeth Taylor look-alike Sharon Hugueny, Paige is oddly moral in a family otherwise filled with greedy, mean people.
Paige has to wait for her man, however, as Parrish pulls a hitch of sub duty in the Navy. We see a shot of him lying in a submarine bunk with an 8 x 10 glossy of his mom pasted on the wall next to his bed (rather hard to believe). Parrish emerges from the Navy a new man – more mature and ready to grow his own tobacco, having been staked to 20 acres by Sala Post. The new maturity opens his eyes to the virtues of Paige, the eventual winner of the round-robin romance contest; furthermore, Parrish staves off the evil scheming of Judd Raike and his bumbling sons and succeeds at growing his own tobacco. In a climactic confrontation with the Raike family, Parrish ducks a rock chucked at his head in a tobacco field and drubs Edgar Raike, successfully fending off a takeover. All is good in tobacco valley.
For anyone living in Connecticut during the early 1960’s, the cinematography of this movie is excellent and is sure to stir some memories. If you ever worked on tobacco, once again memories will be stirred. There is a great scene showing the operation of the revolutionary Bemis Transplanter, a machine which was towed by a tractor and made a moving trench into which two people could place young plants which were then automatically planted along with a shot of water. Talk of "wire worms" and "blue mold" and "suckering" will be familiar to tobacco workers and some of the Jamaican work songs such as "Puttin’ Tobacco in the Ground" will also resonate.
Director Delmer Daves actually came to Connecticut on an extended stay in the fall of 1959 to write the screenplay for the film. He stayed at the Bee and Thistle Inn in Old Lyme.
I put up at the Bee and Thistle, a lovely old inn at Old Lyme, when I found that the Terra Mar, Saybrook, was closing for the season. The people down there, a couple by the name of Lindsley, were wonderful. They gave me the peace and quiet I so much needed to complete the 130 pages of screenplay.
As far as the "shed" vs. "barn" debate is concerned, you shed fans out there will be heartened by one of the earliest scenes in the movie, where the following dialogue takes place between Parrish MacClean and one of the farm hands,Teet Howie, who drives them back to the farm from Bradley Field:
Parrish: I never saw barns so close together.
Teet: You don’t know much about tobacco, kid.
Parrish: Well, up around Boston we don’t grow it; we just smoke it.
Teet: That’s a riot. But them ain’t barns. They’re tobacco sheds. You can tell by those loose boards on the side that let air in.
In the photo gallery above, you’ll see some original photographs taken on set in Poquonock by Jane Donovan of Windsor, whose scrapbook of the movie was lent to me by Somers resident Jim Shewokis.
Additionally, you will find in the gallery original advertisements for the showing of the movie in Connecticut at the old Plaza Theater in Windsor and the Meadows Drive-In Theater in Hartford – once billed as the largest drive-in in the world. Also, the gallery contains a photo of Troy Donahue meeting with 75 students of the Loomis-Chaffee School in Windsor who served as extras in the movie. There is also an autographed picture of Troy Donahue in the gallery. Judging from the articles that I reviewed that tracked the production of the film in Connecticut for 24 days, it was a real treat for Nutmeggers to watch the film unfold in their own backyard.
If you wax nostalgic for Connecticut 50 years ago, or you just want a trip down memory lane back to the years when you worked in tobacco, then I would recommend renting "Parrish," which is readily available in either DVD or VHS formats. Despite the often wooden acting by Donahue and some relationships and lines that strain credulity, it is a movie worth watching.