‘Raintree County Memories’
In 1948, after 6 years of trying to write his family genealogy, Ross Lockridge Jr. decided to turn his book into half-truth, half-fiction and began his quest to write the great American novel
‘Raintree County Memories’ is a new book by Henry County native Mark Sean Orr. Orr’s roots in Henry County are deep, going back as early as 1821 when his 4th great grandfather Daniel Jackson settled along Blue River near Spiceland, Indiana. His interest in his ancestry and love of central Indiana led him to discover the novel ‘Raintree County’ by Hoosier author Ross Lockridge Jr. Ross’s mother Elsie Shockley Lockridge was born and raised in Henry County. Her father taught school in Straughn and his father was the county doctor.
In 1948, after 6 years of trying to write his family genealogy, Ross Lockridge Jr. decided to turn his book into half-truth, half-fiction and began his quest to write the great American novel. What followed was a fascinating (and scandalous at the time) book of epic proportion! It was 1060 pages about the Shawnessy family of Raintree County. The Shawnessy’s were based almost entirely on Lockridge’s Shockley family ancestors.
The book was a BOMC selection and immediately optioned by MGM to make a film, starring such actors as Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Taylor, Nigel Patrick, DeForest Kelley, Rhys Williams, Russell Collins, Myrna Hansen, Walter Abel, Agnes Moorehead and more. It was the biggest assemblage of movie stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood in one movie, before or since. Sadly Lockridge committed suicide in 1948 just after his book received world-wide acclaim. The movie would be made almost a decade later, being filmed in 1956 and premiered in 1957.
Orr’s book Raintree County Memories is a look back at the author, his novel, the movie, the actors and the real life people and places of Henry County, Indiana. Henry County was originally the place selected for the movie’s filming and it was huge news for the county. But after surveying the area by helicopter, the movies producers decided that there were too many telephone lines and Henry County no longer looked like the Henry County of the mid 19th century. So the decision was made to film almost the entirety of the movie in Danville, Kentucky. Still, Lockridge made several trips to Henry County to research his family history for the novel.
Orr’s new book has first-hand accounts by several actors/extras who were in the movie 55 years ago this year! Included in the book are recollections by actors Christopher Riordan, Michael Dante, Ron Chilton (who was also the stand-in for Montgomery Clift), Elizabeth Kernen (stand-in for Elizabeth Taylor), VirginiaBauman (stand in for Eva Marie Saint) and more. It also has vintage photographs of the stars of the film during the making of the movie that summer in Danville.
Also included is a history of relevant places in Henry County and a genealogical study of the Shockley and Lockridge families, and photographs taken by Orr of what beautiful Henry County looks like today.
The book is currently available at Blurb.Com online in softcover, hardback, Image Wrap and as an eBook for Apple devices such as iPad and iPhone. The book is 120 pages with over 140 photographs, many of them small copies of polaroid’s taken in 1956.
Orr’s hope is to revive interest in the novel, the great Hoosier author Ross Lockridge Jr., the filming in Danville, Kentucky which lasted so long that the stars names were in the Danville phone book, and the history of Henry County and Indiana. In this hope, Orr is not alone. Many of the original actors and stand ins from the movie would love to see the movie remade, and some would like to be in the movie once again! Former New Castle Mayor Jim Small has the goal of seeing the movie remade, in Henry County this time, by the year 2014.
Another goal is to have a large publishing house take an interest in this book of wonderful Henry County and Hollywood history and mass produce the book. Hopefully those who are old enough to remember the novel, the movie and the stars will be taken back in time and enjoy the memories, and those who are too young to remember the Raintree will have an interest in this wonderful tale by a Hoosier author and the movie that followed. In journeying back to Raintree County with his mother, the author was overcome by the historical significance not only to him but to his mother. One of the great lines from Ross and one that I feel aptly describes the Raintree goes as follows:
“Out of your mother’s girlhood you have torn this fragment and got it back.”
Orr’s hope is that his book will revive that nostalgic feeling in others about the magical Raintree planted in Henry County by Johnny Appleseed, of which is said that the person who finds it finds fulfillment and happiness, and also hopes that it will inspire others to dig into their history and discover their family heritage.
Mark Orr is a photographer living in New Castle,Indiana, the same town known in the novel Raintree County as Freehaven and where the exact same Courthouse (as seen in the original novel on poage 5) still stands today, built in 1864. Where “the clock in the Court House Tower is always fixed at nine o’clock, and it is summer and the days are long.”~ Ross Lockridge Jr.”
Orr has published 5 books of history and photography including collaborations with many great photographers from around the world in his three volumes of “21st century Photography”. He has written two book about Indiana history; “A Midwest Pictorial” and “The Road Home”. Orr’s work has been published in several magazines including Indiana Historical Landmarks, Outdoor Indiana, My Indiana Home and Bluecanvas. His work has been exhibited at various galleries and museums including the Anderson Center for the Arts, Henry County Arts Center, Henry County Historical Society and Museum and the Minnetrista Museum and gallery in Muncie, Indiana. His work has been used in the Steven Spielberg produced Showtime series “United States of Tara” and has also been used as album covers and album artwork.
The proposed release date for this self-published print on demand book is July 4th…Independence Day, as it is an important day in the novel and movie.
About the book…Here are some of the reviews from the back cover”
“I read Raintree County Memories eagerly and with pleasure. You have unearthed many Shockley materials I didn’t know about and your own photographs are wonderfully evocative”
Larry Lockridge – Professor of English, New York University, author of “Shade of the Raintree: The Life and Death of Ross Lockridge, Jr.” (Viking, 1994).
“I think you have done a marvelous job. I have decided to stick around a while for a re-make of the Raintree County.
I have done other films but Raintree Countywas my shining star. Thanks for keeping it glowing”
Elizabeth Kernen – Actress and stand-in for Elizabeth Taylor
“Mark’s artistic vision has beautifully captured his heartfelt feeling for the land and people he loves”.
“You should take great pride and satisfaction in your book. It’s a beautiful testament to so many people, places, and events; truly a tribute the legend of the “Raintree.”
Ron Chilton -Actor and stand-in for Montgomery Clift
‘This book is a treasure. Not just because I worked on the film; but because of the author’s great love and respect for all things, and people, related to “Raintree County.”
Christopher Riordan- actor in dozens of movies besides Raintree and a multitude of TV shows.
“Mark Orr has produced a real labor of love. Fans of Lockridge’s novel, and of the classic movie that resulted from it, will find new and intriguing details in the stories and images that Orr has collected for this book.”
Eric Sandweiss-Carmony Associate Professor of History, Indiana University
Editor, Indiana Magazine of History
The photographs are timeless in their depiction of a life past and yet ever present. Mark’s interconnection and love of this place is an infinite celebration, photograph after photograph.
Shelby Lee Adams – Photographer, 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship, author of ‘Salt & Truth”
Story & Images Courtesy of Mr. Mark S. Orr