Hoodwinked by Hollywood

Body

The people of Fredericksburg and Gillespie County were thrilled when they heard that Hollywood was coming to make a movie in the spring of 1970. Their Hill Country home was among the most picturesque places on earth. It was high time the rest of the world found out about it.

Producer/director Larry Buchanan chose Gillespie County for his film, “Strawberries Need Rain,” because the German Hill Country looked like Sweden. Buchanan was a fan of iconic Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.

Director Buchanan milked the Bergman connection for all it was worth. Texas Monthly magazine called Buchanan’s film a “sensitive Bergmanesque drama.” Buchanan allegedly talked some Dallas theater owners into advertising the movie as a Bergman film in hopes that more people would see it.

Of course, most Texans, myself included, didn’t share Hollywood’s fascination with Ingmar Bergman. If John Wayne’s not in it, I’m not interested.

Larry Buchanan was known for writing, producing and directing low budget blockbusters such as “It’s Alive” (under the name Larry Cohen) and “Creatures of Destruction.” He made many films for less than $30,000 — far less than the cost of a modern day 30-second TV commercial.

The cast and crew of “Strawberries Need Rain” arrived in Fredericksburg on April 4, 1970. The biggest star of the movie was Les Tremayne  — a well-respected English radio and movie actor who previously had roles  in “The Fortune Cookie,” “Girl Happy” with Elvis Presley and Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.”

By the next afternoon, the crew had transformed the area behind the Gillespie County Courthouse into a movie set. As cameras rolled, Felix Pehl’s Old Time Band played music on the gazebo. Extras included members of the community theater group and 14 Mormon missionaries who were passing through town. Even people walking down the street got caught up in the hoopla.

The crew filmed other scenes at the Pioneer Museum, Vereins Kirche, Cross Mountain, City Cemetery, Doss and Lange’s Mill. Doss students and teachers appeared as extras.

Les Tremayne played the grim reaper. Actress Monica Gayle played a young girl with one day to live.

Trailers described the movie as “a sensitive, sensual film.” As for the plot, let’s just say the word “sensual” should have been a red flag and leave it at that.

“Strawberries Need Rain” opened at the Palace Theater in Fredericksburg on Feb. 4, 1973. Opening night was a sellout.

The crowd cheered when the movie began, but the excitement faded fast.

Just about everyone agreed it was an awful picture. The script was sophomoric. The acting was terrible. One critic said Les Tremayne looked “tired and embarrassing.”

The Fredericksburg Standard pulled no punches. “Strawberries Need Rain Not Worth Seeing,” read the headline. The only good thing about the movie was the scenery. The actors looked and acted like they “had been picked up on a street corner.”

But it was nude scenes that shocked viewers. Fredericksburg felt betrayed — hoodwinked by Hollywood.

The Standard described the “pornographic scenes” in the R-rated film as some of the “rankest ever seen by many locals.” Opinions from moviegoers ranged from “anger to outrage.”

Fredericksburg learned a tough lesson. The town would ask a lot more questions next time.

“We have an idea,” said an article in the Standard, “that the next group of movie-making folks that come to Fredericksburg will not receive the same type of cooperation extended the group that filmed this one.”

The film did spark an interesting debate. Many citizens expressed a belief that nude scenes in movies lead to promiscuous behavior, while others noted that the same folks who complained about nudity had no objections to horrific depictions of violence and bloodshed on the big screen.

One young man from Fredericksburg wrote, “I believe it is a sad reflection on the values in our society when an occasional ‘R’ rated movie is frowned upon and scandalized while a host of bloody epics go unannounced at the Saturday matinee.”

Something to think about in light of recent events.