In 1950 (or thereabouts), Kate’s cousin Bob McIlvaine and his wife Jane bought the Downingtown Archive, a small newspaper with a decidedly local beat. A Downingtown resident remembers “…the only world news they ever printed was VE and VJ day! Graduations, marriages, births, deaths and town happenings were eagerly awaited every Thursday. I don’t believe there was a person living in the area who didn’t get printed up in the Archive!”
Jane and Bob were diligent and creative marketers — each subscription represented a chance to win a new car. They hid a subscriber’s name in an ad somewhere in the paper each week, giving that subscriber a dollar off that merchant (result: all subscribers scanned all the ads carefully.) They ran on old photo on the front page every week, seeing which reader could be first to correctly identify the baby, or building, pictured in it.
Bob sold a story about the Archive to the Saturday Evening Post, earning enough for a shiny new Studebaker with elegant stagecoach-style yellow wheels. This so impressed my dad as a boy (one story, one shiny new Studebaker!!) that my dad immediately decided on a career in journalism.
Jane wrote a book about the Archive called “It Happens Every Thursday.” You can’t get it at
Amazon, but you can sometimes find a copy at Baldwin’s Book Barn, and every McIlvaine cousin has a copy stashed away somewhere. The movie rights were bought by Universal as a vehicle for Loretta Young, and the movie based on the book was released in 1953.
For five years, I’ve been trying to find a print of the movie. It’s not out on DVD, or VHS. I tried sending letters to Universal and to the Museum of Television and Radio, but no luck. But then Nicole Valentine gets interested, calls up her old friends at Turner, and he opines that Swank might have it, and there it is, hiding right under my nose all along.
I ordered the (one and only) print from Lois, the nice woman who sends all the movies out for the Guerilla Drive-In. At a McIlvaine family barbecue over the weekend, we threaded it up on the 16MM projector and watched it. I grabbed just a few moments of the movie. Here’s the scene where the “identify this old picture” bit backfires — Bob and Jane accidentally publish a picture of the town’s slate-gabled House of Ill Repute, and the brash madam comes in to take them to task:
That’s followed by a brief bit of Frank Capra at the end of the film, where Jane makes a rousing speech about the role of smalltown papers in God’s Great America, and shames the crusty town council. Incidentally, the movie replaces Downingtown, PA with the fictional town of Eden, California, and “McIlvaine” has been replaced with “MacAvoy.” There’s a great collection of crusty printers with a heart of gold, crusty farmers with a heart of gold, etc, plus a happy ending.
I’m not sure how much of the movie is true, and how much is kinda-sorta true (did Bob really try to seed the clouds with dry ice to bring rain?) It wouldn’t surprise me, much: Bob went on to a distinguished career as a diplomat, and Kate has fond memories of him still delivering (not receiving, mind you, delivering) Meals on Wheels in his eighties. On a bicycle.
I wonder if there’d be much interest in town in having a screening at the Chester County Historical Society Cultural Center. Is anyone outside the McIlvaine family interested in seeing the movie?
UPDATE: I just skimmed the book again, and yes: it’s all true. Cloud seeding, dry ice, torential rain just as the plane is about to take off? Check, check, check. I’d forgotten what a great book it is: “plucky, hard-working country editor” is the next genre over from “plucky, hard-working country vet”, and I especially like the closing paragraph:
Now, whenever I get discouraged, I wonder why imperfect country editors should expect more than we get from those around us. And I remember what Fisher Ames wrote. “Monarchy is like a splendid ship with all sails set. It moves majestically on, then it hits a rock and sinks forever. Democracy is like a raft. It never sinks but, damn it, your feet are always in the water.”
And, on a country weekly, damn it, your feet are always in the water. Often as not, it’s hot. But we haven’t sunk yet.