It was the summer of 1963 and the Concord community was buzzing with excitement.
Landau Releasing Organization (LRO) had been looking for a location to film their latest production named “The Fool Killer.” The location needed to be suitable to the script that depicted Americana after the Civil War and they couldn’t have found a better place than Concord, Tennessee!
Thought to be based on Appalachian folklore, the dark and brooding story was taken from a 1954 novel by the same name and written by Helen Eustis. The plot of the story involves a 12-year-old Southern boy, played by Edward Albert Jr., who runs away from his foster home, wanders the countryside and meets various odd characters along the way. The primary lead role of Milo was played by Anthony Perkins.
The town of Concord with its old-time store front was exactly what the producers had in mind, but they needed cosmetic work to match the timeline era of the story. They began by removing the telephone poles from the main street in town (now Lake Ridge Drive) and placing hitching posts and watering troughs along the front of the stores. Asphalt was covered with red clay mud and the set crew drove wagons down the street, making ruts to appear as if they were made from horse and buggy. The old Concord Garage was turned into a livery stable.
The main street featured Hobbs’ store and Sharpe’s Store, the latter renamed to Dodd’s Store after one of the characters in the film. Ironically, several items, including horseshoes and much of hardware, were still in the bins beneath the wooden counter top and could be used as store stock.
The filming and ensuing activities were of great interest to the townsfolk and they were allowed to sit quietly on the railroad track that ran adjacent to Lake Ridge so as to watch the filming. All production had to take a break when an occasional train made its way through town.
As many as 200 extras were wanted for the film which created opportunities for many locals to apply and earn a nice piece of pocket change. Men with beards were encouraged to participate in a beard contest with the prize being a part as an extra. Unfortunately, these background players were simply uncredited on the list of cast. Many came from surrounding communities but three Concord people that come to mind as being featured were Thurston Raper, Roy Hardin Boyd and James Sprague. Even a local producer and author, Fleming Reeder, served as production coordinator.
In addition, the Sprague family property located on Fox Road was selected for the filming of the home of the character Dirty Jim Hellman, played by Henry Hull. The script called for Dirty Jim’s place to be that of disrepair and very unkempt and the set crew did a great job making sure the cabin met that criteria.
The making of the film was not without setbacks. The initial director, Jose Quintero, left and was replaced by Mexican director Servando Gonzales. Hal Holbrook was replaced by Henry Hull for the role of Dirty Jim. And true to East Tennessee, the film finished late due to numerous weather delays. The final cost was $1.5 million for 15 weeks of filming and “The Fool Killer” premiered at the Tennessee Theatre on April 28, 1965.
The reviews of the film were good but by far, the reviews of the people in the Concord and Knoxville communities were stellar. New York film producers remarked that they had received such courtesy during the making of this film, that they are urging the motion picture industry to send as much business as possible to this area. To date, close to 150 movies have been filmed in the Knoxville and East Tennessee region. And the indigenous residents of Concord and Farragut still make my homeplace a five-star place to live. Hollywood couldn’t have found a better place than Concord, Tennessee.
Mona Isbell Smith is a retired computer systems analyst who enjoys freelancing.