by Adriana E. Spencer
I may work in a library, but I do have a social life outside of these cold and calculating walls. Ok…not really. But I do have a goal to reach by going to school, working in a freezing cold library and babysitting for chump change on the side, and that goal is to work with movies! Exciting and sadly impossible you say? I think not! Ever since I was a little kid, I was always fascinated with film. The way a person could take over a role so easily, how the lighting and setting can give off so many different emotions, and how a story can unfold by just the smallest of actions; these little things are what made me think of being of part of the big picture. When I found out that it was possible to actually get a job in this field, I jumped at the chance to make it there. But first, one must deal with side jobs before they can get to their dream job. And that’s how I found out that Paramount Pictures was interested in making a film over Martha Berry’s life. Cool right?
It was just an ordinary day, with me only having two hours of sleep and scanning papers in the Archives section of the library. It was during this task that I found the most interesting set of letters. The first letter was sent by a Clark Howell from the Atlanta Constitution to Mrs. Inez Henry, the secretary of the Mount Berry Schools. The letter states that he enclosed a correspondence between Mr. William K. Jenkins, from Lukas & Jenkins Theatre Company, and Mr. Y. F. Freeman, vice president of Paramount Pictures Inc. The letter is not specific to what the correspondence says (as the correspondence is found in the following two letters), however it is assumed that they were discussing the possibility of creating a motion picture based on Martha Berry’s life and her work with the Berry Schools. Mr. Howell continues by saying that Miss Berry’s cooperation can help aid the school from a “publicity standpoint” and that various newspaper publications from the southeast would also benefit from the film if she agrees to the proposal. He asks Mrs. Henry to please relay this information to Miss Berry and to advise him as to what actions he should take regarding this information.
The second letter was sent from Paramount Pictures studios by Vice President Y. F. Freeman to Mr. William K. Jenkins, of the Lucas & Jenkins Theatres. This is where the correspondence begins. Mr. Freeman tells Mr. Jenkins that the company is interested in further considering a film based on Martha Berry’s life. He then goes on to ask Jenkins what Miss Berry’s opinion on the film might be and how they would go about shooting the picture. Freeman suggested that if they make the film, it would “prove to be very dramatic and interesting to the public at large.” But in order to start production, he would need full cooperation from Miss Berry. He asks Jenkins if he could look into her decision so those at Paramount can look into further matters at their studio.
The third and final letter was sent from William K. Jenkins of the Lucas & Jenkins Theatres to Major Clark Howell of the Atlanta Constitution. It seems as if this letter is out of place chronologically, as Jenkins mentions to Howell how he and Freeman are interested in created a film about Martha Berry (on the 27th of November), and Howell contacts Mrs. Henry about the situation (on the 28th of November). But then I realized that the letters were placed in order after the first letter mentioned the correspondence. The purpose of the third letter was for Mr. Jenkins to ask Major Howell if it were possible to create a picture about Miss Berry’s life and her work. His interest in Miss Berry came after he learned of her nomination as a candidate for the Variety Club Humanitarian Plaque. He felt as if it would be an interesting piece, like the film that was “done in Boy’s Town around Father Flanagan’s activities” (Flanagan was a Catholic Priest who founded the orphanage known as Boys Town, located in Boys Town, Douglas County, Nebraska). He expressed how both he and Mr. Freeman of Paramount Pictures were attracted to this idea and asked Howell to send these letters to Martha Berry and to send word of her reaction to this possible production.
After researching these letters and trying to dig up any information about this production, I have, sadly, found no leads as to whether this film was ever produced. I’ve Googled, I’ve fine-tuned my search engines, I even asked the archivist at our school, and nothing! Which leads me to believe that Martha Berry shot down Paramount Pictures and the chance to give the school a boost in recognition with no explanation whatsoever. All I have to ask is…why? Why would you shoot down the biggest opportunity to not only give recognition to your school, but also to fund it with any, and possibly all, profits you would have made by filming your life’s work?
Now I understand that at this point in time, she was older and more vulnerable to illnesses, but she still travelled. She still worked. She made every opportunity possible to help her school come together and grow. Yet, she turned away one of the greatest opportunities to aid her school financially. Paramount wasn’t just a bourgeoning production company; they were one of the big leagues. The company was on the rise and making money like crazy. Not to mention, with Paramount being such a big name, many people would have come to know about her work through the film, and maybe people would be kind enough to give donations or to send their children there to get a great education. She would have had more than enough money to help her kids with their tuition problems. She wouldn’t have to ask for donations as often as she did. She wouldn’t have had to turn away so many kids from an education because money was an issue. And people from around the USA would know about her school and her goal. She was given a gift and she wasted it.
I don’t mean to sound brash, but I just can’t wrap my head around this issue. Maybe she had her reasons as to why she didn’t want to work on the film. Maybe she was worried about what might come after the film was produced. Maybe she didn’t want her values to be lost because of the sudden popularity of her school. I will never know her reasons and I suppose that’s for the best, because everybody has a reason for doing what they do.
If there is one thing that these letters have taught me, it’s that I’ll never turn away any opportunity that comes my way. I’m a strong believer in both fate and chance, and I feel that if anything that seems even remotely like a chance that can lead me towards success I should take it. Working with movies, creating fictional worlds, developing stories, bringing characters to life; those are my dreams. And even if I end up being a paper pusher for some independent film company or a coffee girl for some snooty know-it-all directors, it doesn’t matter. It just means that I’m one step closer to getting where I want to be. Every chance I’m given, I’ll take. And that’s one thing that people shouldn’t take for granted.