"Hemingway" premieres in Piggott
In 1932, the New Franklin Theater hosted the world premiere of the film version of "A Farewell To Arms". Another premiere related to Ernest Hemingway occurred in the city of Piggott on Tuesday, Nov. 4, at the Piggott Community Center.
Jack Hill's documentary "Arkansas' Hemingway" debuted at 6:30 p.m. at the center. A large crowd turned out to see the film the day before it debuted on AETN.
Mayor Gerald Morris introduced Hill, who is with Tele Vision for Arkansas, and discussed the origins of the project. He said Hill called him and asked about doing a film on Arkansas and Hemingway. The process of creating the documentary began with an idea Hill had two and a half years ago.
The battle to raise the funds needed to produce the film was helped greatly by Piggott businesses. Hill said that about one-third of the funding for the project came from Piggott businesses.
Most people are unaware of Hemingway's Arkansas connection. Hill said that the documentary is a "resource that stays" and he hopes that the town will use it as a marketing tool. He told the crowd, "You're sitting on more than you think you are." He followed that up with a story about his cameraman saying how nice Piggott is. Hill said, "It's different here."
Hill said he has always made a point of asking the right question at the right time in the right way. The determination to ask the right question led to a major revelation from Jeff Wilson, the Hemingway representative at Simon and Schuster in New York. Hill said he called to ask permission to use a quote from "A Farewell to Arms". Wilson did not seem to acknowledge any recognition of the Arkansas connection to Hemingway. Hill asked him how much revenue Hemingway generates for Simon and Schuster each year; Wilson said that Simon and Schuster only own the North American rights. Each year those rights bring in around 100 million dollars.
This documentary is number 49 for Hill. He thanked the crowd for their support. "I'm really quite impressed," he said of the turnout to view the documentary. Hill said that having a live audience to sit among with one of his documentaries doesn't happen often. Usually the audience is just the camera lens for a documentary filmmaker.
The documentary begins with the birthday party for Ernest and Pauline at the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center, which was held in July, and continues through "A Celebration of Quilting" at the museum. Interviews with several Piggott residents are featured prominently throughout the film. Denver Stokes recounts peeking in the barn at Hemingway as his mother was working for the Pfeiffer family.
Interviews with the late Matilda Pfeiffer are also here as well as memories of Hemingway from the family's housekeeper, Lilly Jordan.
Hill visited with Piggott residents at the Piggott Public Library and Hardee's last month as he wrapped up filming. Memories of Piggott and Hemingway were gathered from several residents, including Dallas Patterson, Camilla Cox, Wilma Jinks, Jim Richardson, Paul O'Dell, Jack Ballard and Vernell Bradshaw. A story about Hemingway and watermelons is told by "Frosty" Smith during the segment filmed at Hardee's.
Barbara Baker's sixth grade class is featured touring the Hemingway-Pfeiffer property on a field trip with Stokes, her father, as their guide.
Also featured in the documentary are Dr. Ruth Hawkins, Dr. Catherine Calloway and Dr. Norm Stafford from Arkansas State University. Hawkins is the Director of the Delta Heritage Initiatives for Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, of which the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center is a part. Calloway said that the time in Arkansas is the missing link in Hemingway scholarship and has been ignored until now.
The film version of "A Farewell To Arms" starred Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper. Piggott can boast it held the world premiere of the film at the New Franklin Theatre (which was located where ISA Internet is now). The film was only in town for two nights. Many residents expressed doubt as to whether Hemingway went to see it.
Hill displays an issue of the Piggott Banner announcing the premiere in the documentary, and notes that the paper misspelled Hemingway's last name, with two "m"s instead of one.
Pauline and Ernest Hemingway met in Paris. They wed in 1927 and were married for 13 years. She was the second of his four wives. After they split up, she never remarried. Pauline was the mother of two of his children, Patrick and Gregory.
After the film was presented, Hill thanked the townspeople for their support and quoted a phrase from a different article in the same issue of the Piggott Banner calling the Piggott businessmen a "big-hearted lot".
Other viewing opportunities in our area include presentations on KAIT-8 in Jonesboro at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 1 and KATV, Channel 7 out of Little Rock, at 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 20. The film will also run on KTVE in El Dorado/Monroe at 5 p.m. on Nov. 8, KHBS-TV in Fort Smith at noon on Nov. 9, KHOG-TV in Fayetteville at noon on Nov. 9 and KLFI in Texarkana. The Texarkana station has not announced the airdate and time.
AETN will also air the documentary again, but the airtimes have not been announced.