My last post covered trips to locations where two of my favorite TV shows were shot. This time, I’m going to the movies! And where I had planned to hit the towns of Roslyn and Portmeirion because of their “industry” connections, finding both history and Hollywood in Salzburg, Austria and Arrow Rock, Missouri was a pleasant surprise – and proof that, as we journey through life, it’s always good to pack a raincoat and a little bit of serendipity if we can.
Back in 1985, I put the city of Salzburg on my European backpack tour itinerary because of its connection to Mozart and, hey, because it’s also really pretty – and it sure didn’t disappoint! Salzburg was just dripping with history and music and art – trouble was it was also just plain dripping. Since it poured rain through most of my entire (albeit brief) visit, I ended up exploring one delightful Mozart-related site just long enough to dry off, only to get soaked all over again en route to the next one.
I wanted to see as much of this beautiful part of the world as I could. And while I didn’t need to climb every mountain, I did want to scale one or two for the view – if I could do it without getting as wet as if I’d forded every stream…
The practical solution was to book a Sound of Music tour! This was a bus tour that promised to show movie fans a bunch of locations in and around Salzburg where the classic musical was filmed.
From the dry comfort of my bus seat, I got to cruise to sites within Salzburg like the Mirabell Gardens and Pegasus Fountain where Maria and the von Trapp children cavorted in the film, and then out through the lush countryside to locales like Hellbrun Castle complete with a replica of the “16 Going on 17” gazebo, and Mondsee Church where the Captain and Maria were married.
In the end, I got the best of both worlds. Not only did I get to know the grand city of Amadeus’ youth, I also saw the vaunted spot where “Gretl dropped the big tomato on the pavement.” It was historic Salzburg with all the von Trappings! (Um – sorry…)
A few summers later, I fell under another spell of unexpected movie magic.
I was between jobs and, while I should have been focusing on the next “career” move, I decided first to indulge my passion for all things Mark Twain by driving from California to Missouri. This was in the middle of a hot and humid August. I was by myself. With very little savings. At the wheel of a beat-up Chevy Chevette with no A/C and parts held in place with velcro, tape and wire. Perhaps it wasn’t the wisest idea, but it didn’t matter. I was determined and I was spurred on by the first scene from my favorite movie version of Twain’s Tom Sawyer – a terrific musical adaptation from the 70’s by the Sherman Brothers (Richard M. and Robert B.).
It opens as a school bell rings and children file into a one-room country schoolhouse. Tom’s cousins dutifully leave their home and head for class, followed by Tom – until he hears the distant whistle of a Mississippi River steamboat. The boy agonizes as the relentless school bell and the siren call to adventure compete for his attention. Finally, Tom makes his choice. He tosses his books aside, yanks his shoes off and runs through town, forest and field to meet the splendid steamboat as it glides up to the landing.
That was the image I held in my mind. I was kicking off my pointy-toed work pumps and lighting out for a little adventure – to form my own impressions of Mark Twain’s Missouri!
My pilgrimage included a stop in the town of Florida to see the little cabin Twain was born in, which is now completely entombed in a big cement building. In Hannibal, I toured his boyhood home, his father’s offices and took a dinner cruise on a stormy night full of thunder, lightning and Turtle Pie (all of which were delicious!). I ventured into Mark Twain Cave, got to carry a lantern through Cameron Caves, and paid my respects at the statue of Twain that presides over the majestic Mississippi in Riverview Park.
There were amazing moments all through the journey – but it didn’t feel quite complete. Mark Twain had been the inspiration and namesake for every possible kind of establishment and commodity in Hannibal, but I still wanted a better feel for what had inspired Twain, himself. Near the beginning of the book Tom Sawyer, Twain writes of a bright summer Saturday morning: “There was a song in every heart; and if the heart was young the music issued at the lips.”
I still wanted to hear a song.
Mum and Dad had recently visited a quiet little Missouri town called Arrow Rock that looked nice in their home videos – so I decided to downshift from touring and hang out there at a bed and breakfast for a few days.
Arrow Rock has quite a history! The whole town is a National Historic Landmark as the home of artist George Caleb Bingham and a stop on the former Santa Fe and Lewis and Clark Trails. As I waited in the local visitor’s office for a guided tour to see some of this for myself, a collection of photos on the wall revealed the place had a Hollywood history as well. That musical version of Tom Sawyer I loved so much? Turns out I was in the town where it was filmed.
My guide (also my generous-souled b&b host) took me around and described how back in the day a film crew showed up, covered the streets with dirt and shot scenes all over town – along the main street, and in and around buildings and homes. It was easy to see why they chose Arrow Rock. It would have taken very few changes to bring to mind Twain’s boyhood town as it was in his day. It’s not that time has forgotten Arrow Rock – its residents are just taking care to remember.
There was only one disappointment. I was told that, sadly, the house that stood in as Tom’s home had burned down. But the charming town of Arrow Rock still held one more surprise for me – something I’d only ever seen once before.
As I continued after dusk to stroll the streets, happily recalling more and more scenes from the movie, I saw a flicker in a nearby bush – a firefly! I’d been fascinated by fireflies as a very little girl and even chased around trying to blow them out. (Thankfully, the folks just thought this was cute rather than an indication there’d be no need to build up a college fund…) Now, it was as if the town were giving me one more little magical gift.
On my month-long quest for a Mark Twain connection, it was on that summer evening stroll through Arrow Rock that I finally heard a song – and it remains in my heart today.
Eventually, I did do the responsible thing and go get another job – but I’ve never regretted having had that Missouri adventure first. And I still like on occasion to escape life’s cares and responsibilities by taking refuge in a favorite book or movie like Tom Sawyer – or better yet, by sneaking off to a spot (even a stormy one) where I know a favorite movie was made.
Yup, into every life a little rain must fall. But, once in a glorious while – even if you’re all grown up – life gives you fireflies too.
My last post included a little quiz on several other movie locations. Here are the answers:
1) Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany – It doubled for the exterior of Baron Bomburst’s castle in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
2) The Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Italy – A grim place to cross from the Doge’s Palace straight over to the prison, its role was more poetic in A Little Romance when Sir Laurence Olivier spun the tale that lovers who kissed under it at sunset would love each other forever.
3) St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England – Although I don’t think they filmed there, the steps of this church were where the old woman was meant to have set up shop and asked passersby to feed the birds in Mary Poppins. (BTW – with this film, Tom Sawyer and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang all on my list, it’s a location hat trick for the Shermans!)