Bob Mitchell: Ozark Jamboree films produced lots of enthusiasm

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Cassville has been able to muster her share of volunteers for events over a period of decades that have been both an experience and entertainment for the community. For one of these events, you would have to go back into the past 52 years, which was the Ozark Jamboree.

A product of the Cassville Chamber of Commerce, this event might have been infringing on another activity by name, The Ozark Jamboree, which originated in Springfield, but no one was ever called on any name conflict.

The first two years found all the enthusiasm available to produce a couple of active days throughout town and in the production of original movies whose cast might have rivaled some Hollywood extravaganzas.

Heroes and villains

As most old-time flicks were produced, both these movies had their heroes and villains. And, like what was normal in these situations, the good people always came out on top.

First of these, filmed on 8 mm, was in 1967 and titled The Saga of Little Nell with Judy Schlichtman playing the lead role. She was a small town girl who had been kidnapped. The plot was written and directed by Bob Merideth who took the large cast all over the area in an attempt to free the young girl.

Cooperating in the filming included the Missouri Arkansas Railroad and the Exeter Depot. It was here the bad guys tied their captive to the railroad tracks hoping for her demise. But the Barry County Sheriff’s Posse arrived just in time to take her off the tracks. Now this was not a danger factor since the filming of the capture on the tracks and release were filmed on separate days.

Downtown activities

There were plenty of activities in town to keep the action going, including almost hourly gun battles that could have expended more ammunition than was fired in this area during the Civil War. And, a factor in this segment of the program was that those involved had to provide their own blank shells or reload over night for the next day’s battle.

There weren’t many factors of the community omitted from this activity, as beard-growing contests found some handsome growths that had to find a barber after the event were concluded.

Most restaurants got in the act by adjusting menus to fit meal choice of years before. Plenty of checkered tablecloths were used on tables about anywhere you wanted to look.

Vendors were plentiful, which kept the attraction of commercial interest, and aggressive businesses made sure their shelves were well stocked with items.

Era costumes flourished

A major factor of the first events included the efforts to accomplish the right wardrobe for the time being covered. A western hat and a pair of jeans might suffice for the men, but that wasn’t so for the ladies. Street attire and swimming suits of bygone days were necessary, and it was obvious the ladies of the community more than met the challenge.

Wagons, horses and their transport to various shooting sites were never at a loss for the time periods of the movies, which were in production.

1968 attraction

The following year, another movie was in the works, title of which needs some explaining, it was The Still Saved Farm. Behind this title, writers Mary Back and Francis Kelley built a story of an Ozarks family losing their farm to a villain banker. The plot thickened until the family discovered and refurbished a whisky still to produce the needed revenue. Dr. Gerald Johnson was the director of this one.

Much of the Still Saved Farm was filmed on the Coby Dude Ranch west of Washburn. The Atatanacio family permitted filming along the trails of their ranch.

Their old western village replica was used to make real some of the scenes of the second movie.

As with the first event, the downtown area of Cassville was abuzz for two days about a repeat of the previous year’s programs. Country-western music was provided by a number of available local players.

For the first two years, there had to be a boss, so Lydia Pyles of Washburn who fancied herself as a producer, was in charge.

Movies shown at gym

With no facility available for showing, the Rock Gym on the R-4 campus was filled with chairs and as many electric fans as could be plugged-in without blowing fuses were used for comfort levels, which wasn’t easy in hot October weather.

Neither of the productions are lost for future generations. Cathy White, director of the Barry County Museum says they have discs of both movies for today’s viewing.

There have been a few other civic projects in the past that might have equaled the Ozark Jamborees, but they didn’t surpass the work effort.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.