Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Authentic Arkansas: Mr. Clean Stars in Made-in-Arkansas Movie

Authentic Arkansas is a series written by the staff of the Arkansas State Archives that explores the state’s cultural heritage through unique documents and artifacts.

Arkansas isn’t known as a mecca for the film industry, but the state has produced a number of stars throughout its history: Billy Bob Thornton, Mary Steenburgen and Alan Ladd, to name a few, and has been the location for the filming of several movies, including “Mud,” “A Face in the Crowd,” “A Painted House,” “The Blue and the Gray” and “White Lightning.”

Arkansas also served as the location for a lesser-known western, “The Terror at Black Falls.” Richard Sarafian brought his self-penned western film to Arkansas in 1959. Sarafian had only worked in the industry for a few years, mostly as a television director, but he wanted to make a movie about vengeance in the Old West. His story focused on a young man who was lynched for horse theft, the subsequent revenge by the young man’s father, played by Peter Makamos, and the father’s demands to meet the town’s sheriff, played by House Peters.

Sarafian’s production company, Meridian Productions, had scouted the country for a suitable place that could double as the Old West, searching the Midwest and upper South until finally settling on the small town of Scotland in north-central Arkansas.

Scotland had a population of only 150 with a downtown area that, with some changes, could pass for a western town, so at the end of May 1959, film crews began the town’s transformation. All modern touches were hidden, gasoline pumps removed, and asbestos siding replaced with clapboard siding. The crew even brought in hay stacks to drape over modern appliances that could not be as easily removed and workers hung old-fashioned signs around town to add a little authenticity. 

Although cast and crew hoped the movie would be a smash hit when it was released in 1962, it had a short run and few people saw it. Eventually, the film was lost and the copyright expired. Luckily, film historians discovered the movie and restored the film. Today it can be watched online at http://www.westernmania.com/watch.php?id=38#.WxgaYSBOmUk.

While none of the actors are widely known, Peters would become known for his face, if not for his name. The year before filming began on the movie, Peters’ agent asked him if he would like to become a pitchman in commercials. Peters wasn’t sure about doing it, but with the promise of an easy $100, he shaved his head and donned a golden earring. From that moment on, Peters was a magic genie named Mr. Clean, and would be known as such until his death in 2008.

Before Peters died, he had a long running correspondence with Scotland historian, Mary Jean Hall. Through their years of communication, he sent her material from the film and his career, including scripts, posters, stills and other memorabilia. Hall donated the material to the Arkansas State Archives (ASA) in 2017. The artifacts are a treasure trove for those who wish to study film production as the collection offers a rare glimpse of behind-the-scenes film-making.

A portion of these items can be viewed in a mini-exhibit in ASA’s lobby, Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.