Hollywood discovered Albany many decades before Sherwood Baptist Church and Sherwood Pictures began making the movies in 2002 that have since helped put Albany on the map. One of the first films made in Albany was in 1927, titled “Pardners”, it was a film produced by the American Forestry Association and dealt with forestry preservation. Little is known about the plot of the film or the actors that appeared in it. It was only shown regionally throughout the south.
In 1939-1940 Paramount Pictures came to Albany to make a film about two young boys and their beloved bird dog. “The Biscuit Eater”, which starred Cordell Hickman and Bill Lee, actually made its world premiere here at The Albany Theater.
The Hollywood stars as well as locals showed up at the theater with their own dogs in tow. Fake fire hydrants had been set up at the curb in front of the theater with signs attached saying “restrooms”. The dogs were treated like honored guests at the theater and were fed treats of hot dogs, steak bones and more.
Life Magazine covered the festivities which included a parade, a huge party at the old Radium Springs Casino and Young Billy Lee even threw out the first pitch at a Cardinals baseball game here. Famous Hollywood stars like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour and others, while not attending the opening themselves, sent their own canine pets to Albany for the parade. The dogs were driven around in lavish convertibles as if they were stars too. This all happened in April of 1940, only 2 months after the massive tornado had nearly destroyed downtown Albany and had heavily damaged the Albany Theater as well.
Filmmaker George C. Stoney visited Albany in 1953 and made a documentary called, “All My Babies”. The film was about an African-American mid-wife named Mary Frances Hill Coley. Coley had delivered over 3,000 babies by that time. The film starred real local Albanians, not actors. The educational film was used to train mid-wives. In 2002, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Decades later a documentary about the filming of All My Babies was made; filmmakers interviewed some of the people that had been delivered by Mrs. Coley and some of her patients.
By 1956, Hollywood had decided the earlier success of “The Biscuit Eater” deemed Albany a good location to make yet another movie about a boy and his dog. “Good-bye My Lady” starred Brandon De Wilde, Walter Brennan, Phil Harris and a then unknown actor named Sidney Poitier.
Albanian David “Skeet” Hard was a stand-in for young Brandon de Wilde. Hard received $10 a day as a stand-in. Hard recalled, “I was the stand-in for Brandon throughout the movie and rode with him, Walter Brennan and Phil Harris in a limo to the set every day. It was during the school year and we had a tutor on the set each day to give us school. Walter would entertain us all the time as he was quite funny as was Phil Harris.” Hard continued, “Brandon and I went to the Premiere in Albany together with his parents. He was a neat guy.” The premiere of “Good-bye My Lady” also included a parade in downtown Albany. De Wilde got so attached to the Basenji dog in the film, the producers gave him the dog after filming was completed.
Albany has a long past with Hollywood and which has continued with the involvement of Sherwood Pictures and with other filmmakers. Kevin Costner made some of the scenes in the film called “The War” near the Albany area in 1994. Rebecca Schanberg (daughter of Sydney Schanberg, author of “The Killing Fields”) of the Kindling Group filmed the documentary “Do No Harm” in Albany a few years ago. The story centered on the case of Dr. John Bagnato and CPA Charles Rehberg and their involvement with the so called “Phoebe Factoids.” Most recently Disney filmed part of, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” starring Jennifer Garner, here in Albany.
Betty Rehberg is the historian for the Albany Journal and maintains a group on Facebook called Vintage Albany Georgia.