Oscar winner Louis de Rochemont had
So Many Stories,
De Rochemont worked hard to build a reputation, traveling the world to shoot documentary news footage for hundreds of short topical pieces. After two Academy Awards he was able to convince a major Hollywood studio to sign a three-picture deal. The catch was, de Rochemont could shoot his pictures anywhere he chose. He chose Seacoast, NH. His trio of local films included Lost Boundaries, Whistle at Eaton Falls and and Walk East on Beacon Street. Each was shot within an hour's drive of de Rochmemont's Newington, NH home at "Blueberry Hill."
Always an "idea man," de Rochemont collected compelling human stories, especially those from Seacoast NH. In 1948, he told a Portsmouth Herald reporter about three local stories he planned to film. Just before his death three decades later, he still held out hope of making them.
Plupy Shute of Exeter
Already an amateur newsreel producer in his early teens, young de Rochemont tried to convince Plupy creator Henry Augustus Shute to sell him the film rights. The author, also a police judge in Exeter, didn't grant the rights to de Rochemont, who never lost interest in the project. It was a full half century later that the filmmaker, then in his 70s, finally got the movie rights to Plupy Shute from the author's surviving relatives.
Interviewed in 1974 four years before his death, de Rochemont was still raring to get started on the film. The fictional Plupy grew up in post-Civil War Exeter, NH. De Rochemont had no hangups about shifting the time period and was planning a more modern setting. The filmmaker told a reporter he planned to use local houses and local child actors to keep the budget in the $250,000 range. The producer said he could easily raise the necessary funds, but even after 60 years of planning the project never got off the ground.
Tycoon Frank Jones
De Rochemont announded the Frank Jones film project in February 1948 when he was at the peak of his career. His three picture agreement with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer gave him unprecedented freedom to shoot whatever and wherever he chose.
De Rochemont was attracted to the "rags-to-riches" story of Jones, who grew from a penniless immigrant to a powerful deal-maker. Besides a rich and successful brewer, Jones became a railroad magnet, an advisor to presidents, a real estate tycoon, an insurance executive and a banker. He also invested more than half a million dollars in the up and coming new telephone company. Unfortunately it was the Drawbaugh Telephone Syndicate which lost the patent war to the Bell Telephone Company. Even Frank couldn't win them all. The Frank Jones story was finally told in a detailed 1976 biography by writer Ray Brighton, but so far, "Citizen Jones" has yet to reach the silver screen.
Murder on Smuttynose Island
Smuttynose contained all the elements of a blockbuster film -- sex, scandal, money, celebrity, poverty, scenery, mystery and murder. It represented evidence to de Rochemont that the Seacoast area had an "almost inexhaustible wealth" of motion picture material. Unlike modern director Stone, de Rochemont wanted to shoot the story near where it occured. He continued to believe that real life stories shot with lesser known actors would attract large audiences.
De Rochemont was addicted to "true life" dramas, cut from the daily news as in his Academy Award winning March of Time newsreel series in the 1930s. Stone's film is adapted from a fictionalized version of the story as told in bestseller "The Weight of Water" by Anita Shreve. De Rochemont was attracted to the story, he said, not as much for the murder story, as for its aftermath. The trial of Louis Wagner became a 19th century media circus. DeRochemont saw the underlying tale of journalism gone amuck, of reporters more interested in the myth of the murder than in the facts. Too bad he missed the OJ Simpson trial. It would be interesting to compare de Rochemont's "lost" script treatment to more modern interpretation by Oliver Stone. In his booklet "Murder at Moonlight," Isles of Shoals historian Lyman Ruttledge mentions de Rochemont's lost Smuttynose screenplay. But according to de Rochemont's grandson, Shaler McKeel, the manuscript has not actually been lost for the past 30 years. McReel says he has seen a copy and in de Rochemont's 1952 version, the story was heavily modernized. Instead of Louis Wagner rowing 10 miles to the Isles of Shoals, de Rochemonts's main character was going to instead hitch-hike up the highway to a hotel in New Castle. He was to be picked up by a woman driving a sports car. In de Rochemont's retelling of Seacoast history, facts were flexible, but the truth was not.
By J. Dennis Robinson
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