THREE OAKS — It wasn’t the Ghost of Christmas Past but vivid memories from Three Oaks’ past that prompted the Christmas carols heard in Three Oaks on Saturday, Aug. 12.
“Prancer,” the 1989 classic Christmas movie that brought the streets of Three Oaks and many of its residents to the big screen, was once again shown on the big screen. This time it was an inflatable screen in Dewey Canon Park. The screening followed a reception in Village Hall for those who participated in the filming or simply had memories to share about Three Oaks’ brush with Hollywood.
Held in conjunction with the village’s 150 Celebration, the Prancer evening was coordinated by Joan Brown and Debbie Drier Weber. Refreshments included Prancer-labeled wine, Christmas decorated pastries and candies wrapped with scenes from the movie. Director John Hancock attended and Ida Fox brought her scrapbook for all to enjoy.
At the park before the screening, Weber conducted a Prancer trivia quiz with prizes and shared the microphone with audience members to recall the filming during the mild winter of 1989 and their encounters with the crew and cast, which included Sam Elliott and his actress wife Katherine Ross, Cloris Leachman and Abe Vigoda.
“I have two favorite memories of Prancer. The first was when I was asked if the porch of my home could be used to deliver a copy of the newspaper with an editorial telling about Jessica’s secret. Of course I said yes,” Weber told the audience and also recalled the line spoken by the actor who played her father (Edward Drier), “I saved his (Prancer’s) life. Now he’s my best salesman.”
Faye Elferdink Sittig told the audience she was teaching second grade in Lebanon, Tenn., when “Prancer” came out. She read the book to her class and got permission from the principal to show the movie, with popcorn, on a Friday afternoon. She also announced to the congregation at the Lebanon First United Methodist Church that the movie had been filmed in her hometown and urged them to see the movie.
“I soon had people around town flag me down to say they had seen ‘my movie,’” Sittig said.
A booklet of all the Prancer memories has been compiled by Brown and will be included in the time capsule to be buried during the Sesquicentennial closing ceremonies on Saturday, Sept. 16. Brown also is working on an extensive ledger, with many pictures, detailing the history of Three Oaks families to be included in the time capsule (see below). Copies of both will be kept at The Region of Three Oaks Museum and Three Oaks Public Library.
Although plagued by soundtrack problems, the evening was perfect for an outdoor viewing on the Three Oaks Art & Education Center’s outdoor stage. Brown, who didn’t live in Three Oaks at the time of the filming, said she always wanted to watch the movie with those who were in it.
“I remember being in town visiting family in the spring of 1989, and while driving down Elm Street asked if ‘you-all ever taking down your Christmas decorations?’ My sister-in-law said, ‘Those aren’t ours (Three Oaks’). They are filming a movie here.’ And so began my fascination with ‘Prancer!’ I watch the movie closely, every year, looking for memories that have been shared with me,” Brown said.
Garry Lange, who at the time worked at Drier’s Meat Market which is shown in the film, has several memories, including his secret spot for watching the filming from behind the decorative grille covering the air vent over the meat counter. He also recalls the black, taped “X” on the floor that was pointed out to visitors for years after as “Sam’s (Elliot) spot.”
Marie Freehling, who owned Marie’s Restaurant at the time, remembers “a very exciting time in Three Oaks. Everyone was talking about the movie and who was going to be in it … People were coming from surrounding towns to see Sam Elliott,” she said, adding that Elliot did come to her restaurant and posed for pictures and signed autographs.
Patrick Mathewson remembers his kids getting Elliott’s autograph on their jacket and Julie Sittig is still proud of her laminated autographs of the films’ stars and remembers, “My speaking part was, ‘Oh my God, someone could have been hurt,’” which she said after Prancer fell onto the street.
“In those days, I was a teller at the Bank of Three Oaks, where the Library is today. One day, Police Chief Frank Nekvasil walked in and as he came up the steps said, ‘Ladies, I have a present for you.’ When he got to the top of the steps and stepped aside – there was Sam Elliott,” wrote Marcia Hausmann Dinges.
In addition to the memories of spotting the Hollywood stars, posing for pictures and getting their autographs, many had more “being the scenes” type memories.
Phyllis Peterson Payne wrote about seeing the scene when Prancer is being driven to Antler Hill. “The driver is the head deer trainer. Alyson is ‘Jessica,’ and deer trainers are laying in the bed of the truck, holding Prancer with ropes attached to his (or her) legs.”
Cheryl Kersey was “fascinated to learn they used mashed potato flakes for fake snow.” Pat Decker recalls, “After filming all day, actors would go to The Village Pump for refreshments and food.”
The side of Jim Wisner’s building, across the street from the United Methodist Church which is prominently featured, was repainted from purple to gray at the film crew’s request. “The gray peeled before the crew left town that year and the building never appears in the film anywhere. They did pay us to repaint,” Wisner said.
Cathy Osborn remembers being in the church scene. “I was sitting behind ‘Jessica.’ They made me change my pretty blouse and put on an ugly sweater.”
Sue Fox I was in the front row in the church choir scene. “That scene was shot over and over again. We were paid $75 and meals. I remember how good the food was that they prepared in a large trailer and served to us in the church dining hall.
“My mother, Carmen Fox, drove her car, a gold Plymouth, around the block over and over for the filming of the outdoor church scene. At one point, she stopped at the drug store to get Tums – she had been going around in circles so long,” Fox said.
“When they were filming, my mom rear-ended my Dad as she was following him home from work because she was distracted watching them filming,” Amber Schroeder wrote.
Chrissy Shannon remembers playing darts with Sam Elliott and his wife Katherine Ross at McGuire’s after his bodyguard overheard her describe Elliott as being “too grubby to be a movie star.”
Lola Hampton wrote about a new Prancer memory during a visit to New Carlisle created just last November. “As we were leaving New Carlisle … I just happened to look up at a house on the hill and screamed ‘That’s the Prancer house … turn around!!!!!’ Although I knew the house Cloris Leachman lived in (in the movie) and that Jessica decorated with Christmas lights was not in Three Oaks, I did not know where it was.”
Perhaps the most life-changing memory was shared by Karen Beard.
“I remember that my husband, Ned Burke, used the film to ‘sell’ me on moving to Three Oaks. He assured me that Three Oaks was a cool, sophisticated place, since they shot a movie here — Prancer.”
“Real people telling real Three Oaks stories about how they came to Three Oaks, where they came from, where they lived and worked when they got here and family stories,” is how Brown described the family history book she is compiling for the 150 Sesquicentennial Committee.
The book begins with the Mathias Rist Family in 1852 and ends with the Dustin Blaszyk Family in 2012.
“It is so important to chronicle our history from the earliest pioneers who cleared the land and built the roads to those who followed, opening shops and seeking employment in the factories, on to modern times with our shops, galleries and industry, and new friends who bring diversity. The history of the last 50 years is just as important,” Brown said.
The ledger will be displayed at The Region of Three Oaks Museum and the Three Oaks Township Public Library throughout the Sesquicentennial year and both will keep an archived copy.
For more information or to make a submission, please send an email to email@example.com or call (269) 426-1912.