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Last summer we made the trek to Hollywood California in search of Put-in-Bay’s most famous movie star Ann Harding (who has not one but two stars on the boulevard). We saw Grumman’s Chinese Theater, the Hollywood “walk of fame” and took the prerequisite “tour of the stars”. It was horrible, the tour I mean, the guide was a really bad comedian and we did not see one star. That’s because smart stars (though perhaps not Charlie Sheen) would not be seen in the daylight at most of those “so last year” hot spots on the tour. But America continues to flock to Hollywood because we are truly star struck. We are always optimistic that the stars will come out and we will be the lucky ones to spot a famous emerging star like Robert Pattinson (Water for Elephants, Twilight).
I have to believe that every summer when folks come to Put-in-Bay they probably think they might see a star or two as well. Why not, we are a popular summer destination and it’s a fun place to visit. Back in the 40’s and 50’s sport and movies stars would go on bus tours across the country. The route was often along Route 6, from Cleveland to Chicago. In fact the Island House Hotel and Restaurant in Port Clinton was a very popular lunch spot along the way. But few ever made it to the island then and fewer still do today.
Last summer while giving tours I did not see one famous person, though there are always rumors. The “soup Nazi” Larry Thomas made famous in Seinfeld is the most often mentioned. I know of one actress, Mary McCann, who grew up on the island and has a very successful career in New York Theater and television, but we have not had any big stars reside in Put-in-Bay lately. The last “star” of that magnitude would have been writer and playwright Shel Silverstein in the nineties.
I understand that Paul Lynde (center square on Hollywood Squares), who grow up in Mt. Vernon Ohio, was employed at the Boat House one summer, but that was before he was a “star”. I have been told that character actor Jack Murdock spent some summers on the island. A sci-fi regular he was in many films including “Rain Man” and “Big Top Pee Wee”. Most of our brushes with fame are really fleeting these days. Unless you count Mike Rowe from “Dirty Jobs” filming the two segments about our Snake Lady Kristin Stanford or MTV “Cribs” that came to the islands this spring, we are not on the Hollywood tour any more.
Truth is that the island has not been a hot spot for Hollywood ever, but perhaps back in the 20’s and 30’s especially during prohibition Put-in-Bay was a destination of choice for vaudevillian actors. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was the location, but In 1918 America’s sweetheart Mary Pickford (who?) the most popular silent screen actress ever may have spent a summer on the island. Then in the 20’s Ann Harding (who stared in over 60 Hollywood films) and her husband Harry Banister were on the island for about 9 summers. They came here because of that vaudeville connection, (or was it the wine, hmm). And in 1940 Ann came back to Put-in-Bay for a day with “Philadelphia Story” star Katharine Hepburn. But anyone younger than 40 probably does not even have a clue who these stars were.
Sadly, we are not on the Hollywood “a” list anymore, so lets do something about it. I think we should start a Film festival. Invite filmmakers and their stars to the island. We’ll call it the Bass Island Film Festival. We can be like Martha’s Vineyard, Sundance or Telluride Film Festivals and capitalize on our great location and venues. We can start with an Ann Harding retrospective. I think our crisscrossed history with the glory days of Hollywood should be the springboard to fame and the new Hollywood place to be. Imagine Katie Holmes (from Toledo), who is now separated from Tom Cruise hanging out at one of our island bistros with Oscar winning actress Halle Berry from Cleveland. It could happen but I need your help. Send me an email with your brush with fame on the island, a connection to someone famous, or be a movie mogul so that we can get this going and make the island home to the hippest new festival. I know we can do it. Drop me a line at director@leifilmsociety.org. The stars are out there.

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