Called “Car Wash” it was said to be the latest offering of a talented and young (just 22 years old) filmmaker from southeast Georgia who is rapidly making a name for himself in the world of film and digital expression. I regret missing the film, but more than that, regret not having a chance to talk one-on-one with the producer — James Kicklighter. We conversed over the phone a couple of years ago, but never face to face.
My earnest desire will be to say to James “what’s done is done,” “no hard feelings,” and “sorry I grew up disliking your family.” In fact, I will be full of apologies when our paths do cross, which I am sure they will.
Of course, I did not know that James even existed until a couple of years ago when my phone rang and an earnest young man from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro (my home town) asked if I would entertain the idea of being in one of his documentary films. He explained that as a GSU upper level student interested in film (or video, as it is more likely today) he had been recruited to direct the new documentary on the golden age of radio, Theater of the Mind. The project was sponsored by Georgia Southern University and kicked off a decade-long celebration of radio for the Broadcast Education Association. It also was to mark the beginning of a long-term research project on radio itself.
Seeking people who had actually experienced the broadcasting of “live” radio shows, filled with unique sound effects meant to tempt and tickle the mind, in an age before television showed everything on a 21-inch flickering screen, my name had been referred to him by the Georgia Association of Broadcasters. He wanted to know if I would appear in his film and explain how we did things in those TV-less days.
THE CAST of his documentary was to include: Edith Ivey, performer in numerous Radio Soaps, including “Guiding Light”; Rosemary Rice, Grammy, Peabody and Emmy award-winning performer, from “Archie Andrews,” “When A Girl Marries” and many other titles; Michele Hilmes, director of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, home of the NBC Archives; Richard Fish, founder of The Lodestone Catalog and broadcaster on WFHB in Bloomington, Ind.; Barry Stoltze, president of American Federation of Television and Radio Artists Atlanta; and me, with a lengthy career in broadcasting.
His crew of young filmsters came to my office and we had a most enjoyable time, and James produced a very high quality film on the subject that he offered during the Macon Film Festival last year, and of which he provided DVD’s to his cast for their keeping. It is fun to hear from contemporaries about the role of audio arts in our cultural backdrop – especially when one was a participant. I especially enjoyed a discussion with James about how the project came together and what he learned from us about the age of radio, and the role of audio arts as it remains in our cultural backdrop today.
Perhaps it was irony, but Edith Ivey’s mother (Mary Nell Ivy) was a star performer on WSB Radio in the 1940s and ’50s and some of my earliest work was appearing on programs in which Mary Nell starred. At the time neither of us considered that her daughter Edith would grow up to be in major motion pictures and a wide range of modern television productions, but it is obvious she got the talent from her mother.
James Kicklighter is only 22, but the Internet Movie Database has at least six projects listed under his profile that he has either produced, directed or both. So it was good to have him in Rome and share his talents with Romans who are so appreciative of the various performing arts and hats off to Harry Musselwhite for asking him to share with us.
BUT WHAT IS all this talk about growing up disliking his family? About wanting to offer an apology for not liking his folks? If I never knew him prior to our telephone conversation, how could those opinions
Simple. As best I can tell, his folks burned down my folks’ house. And if one remembers anything from my loving and gracious late grandmother, it was that the name Kicklighter was persona non grata around our household. Grandmother Frances Mamie Moore Hall could not have been a more likeable or lovable person to guide you in life. She took great care of her own. She cooked, cleaned, taught, disciplined, and enriched all of her grandchildren, and especially me, the youngest of the clan. Grandmother’s house was as much our house as it could be. Co-located as they were, her refrigerator was hunting-ground-territory perhaps
more so than our own.
Each morning the Atlanta Journal was delivered to our doorstep (225 miles away from the capital city) and promptly laid out on her kitchen table. She taught me to read it — all of it — to respect it, question it, and to decipher what the various reporters and columnists had really meant when they put pen to paper. Though it was Atlanta’s “evening” paper, the Journal had to be trucked to Statesboro five hours overnight, thus becoming our “morning” paper. So breakfast at Grandmother’s was always a teaching lesson, and certainly bears a responsibility in developing the love of news, journalism and editorial expression found in my own life.
However, if the name Kicklighter happened to appear in any story in any way, her brows would arch, her demeanor would change, and she’d tell me that “none of them were any good.” I often emboldened myself sufficiently to address the issue and say to her, “Grandmother, this story is not necessarily about the Kicklighters who burned your house down,” and with that acknowledgement, she’d allow a change of subject and the temperature would subside sufficiently not to hardboil the morning eggs.
So the question arose, “Did the Kicklighters really burn the house down?” And, if so, why? And surely 22 year old film producer James Kicklighter, recent visitor to Rome, purveyor of quality film work, producer of about the only bona-fide film in which I ever appeared, and delightful person, had nothing to do with it.
SO, APOLOGIES, James. Your hands are clean. But as we discussed over the phone I do believe that our family history is intertwined. Here’s how.
Young and pretty Jane Gould emigrated from Ireland around 1840, and met fellow emigrant William Moore at an Irish picnic in Savannah, and they were married and settled along the edge of Bryan County, in the general area around what was to become Statesboro in Southeastern Georgia. Among their children was James Gordon Moore who was born in that fateful period (1845) which made him ripe to participate in the War Between the Northern and Southern States. James went off to battle in Virginia, in the 7th Regiment, Georgia Cavalry, Company but was captured at the Battle of Louisa County Courthouse (The Trevilian Station encounter), and promptly shipped to Elmira, New York to one of the North’s most notorious prisons — very comparable to the Andersonville Prison in the South.
After more than a year and the Southern surrender, he had to make his way back home, and according to family hand-me-down stories, he virtually walked all the way back to Georgia emaciated, half-starved and ill. At some point, a Southern train brought him to Savannah and friends along the path notified his parents that they would not likely recognize him among the hundreds of soldiers being returned. Packing up a mule and wagon, food and medicines, a straw mattress for him, they proceeded to Savannah. As a last minute decision, they invited James’ dog Fido on the 25 mile trip into the Savannah railroad yards. It had been more than two years since he said goodbye to his faithful
As they had been told, they didn’t recognize their son. Too many soldiers, too much suffering and dying, too many bandages, too much weight loss. But one member of the family had no difficulty in sniffing out his master and after a search among the hundreds lying out in the railroad yard sunshine, began to lick the face of the man he loved. Fido was the hero of the day.
IT WAS A long cooperative road back, but James returned to health, picked up on the family business of a country store, a toll bridge and farming. He built a lovely home alongside the small river, but in time problems with flooding determined that it needed to be moved. Carefully, he moved each brick and board a couple of miles to dry land next to his store, the railroad, and the community cemetery where there were several neighboring houses.
He added porches all around and it became one of the more beautiful homeplaces in the entire area. Here he and his wife raised seven children and he became a state senator dividing his time between the Capitol in Atlanta and his peaceful home in Bryan County. Asked to be the postmaster, he asked for the right to name the post office, which he did. He called it Fido, in honor of you-know-who. Though the name was changed many years later, there still exist maps with Fido shown prominently on the highway between Claxton and Savannah.
When is wife died, and he became a widower with the growing seven children, his daughter Mamie married and moved to Statesboro. The remaining large family continued to occupy the house in the community now known as Groveland. The Kicklighter family lived in a nice home virtually next door. On a windy afternoon in the spring, one of the members of the neighboring family chose to clean the yard and burn off the piles of broom straw. The wind whipped up, and burning bundles of broom straw came to rest on the fine home of the Moore family and it soon was reduced totally to ashes. The Kicklighter home was not harmed. Of course, there was no kind of fire protection in those days, so the fire burned the giant wooden house to a pile of ashes.
Now homeless, all of the children moved over to Statesboro to live with older sister Mamie until one by one they completed college, and married, or began a career. Among them, a doctor and a lawyer. The doctor entered World War I and distinguished himself with service in France in five major battles, and later became the resident doctor at West Point Academy during the 1930s. Not too long after the fire, James passed away in a Savannah hospital from an intestinal illness.
Grandmother Mamie accepted the hand that fate had offered. She became “mother” to all of the children and then “father” to see that they all got good educations (each completed college). My wife and I proudly own a well-worn set of the 1911 edition Encyclopedia Britannica that saw each one through their education. In a time before radio, television, Internet or Google, a set of high quality encyclopedias was often the ticket to a good education.
SO LET’S BE FAIR. James the film maker did not burn down my great grandfather’s beautiful home, but whenever someone from Southeast Georgia identifies themselves, my historic antennae all rise to get the facts. James acknowledged that he was from the tiny town of Bellsville that is on one side of Claxton nearly as much as Fido (now Groveland) is on the other side of Claxton. And he said he felt that the old house still standing might well have been the Kicklighter home as the family had always lived in that area.
So James, forgive me for “not liking” the Kicklighters for so many years. I suppose it is understandable that when an event such as this befell my family, they had to blame it on someone, and Grandmother Mamie, saint that she was, focused on the burners of the broom straw.
And by the way, there was one other set of circumstances that I have not mentioned which showed my grandmother’s resistance to change. Having her dad nearly die in a POW camp in Elmira, N.Y. and having much of her property taken or destroyed by Union forces during the last great misunderstanding between the North and the South, can you really blame Grandmother Mamie for growing to be 104 years old before she knew that “Damnyankee” was really two different words?
Long-time Rome radio broadcaster Mike McDougald is chairman of Georgia Public Broadcasting.