Film crew films documentary on Jimmie Rodgers, Will Rogers aid efforts

Tuesday, May 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MERIDIAN, Miss. (AP) _ A group of Texas filmmakers is expected to use the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival here as a backdrop of a documentary on the country music pioneer's efforts to fight hunger during a 1930s famine.

Five editors and writers of ``Distant Son,'' about a famine-relief tour Rodgers and Oklahoma humorist Will Rogers sponsored in 1931, were in Meridian this past week to shoot film, visit landmarks and enjoy the festival.

Andrew Leranth, the film's executive producer and president of Austin Signal Corps Production, said the two men helped feed millions during the famine.

``This is a story that hasn't really been told yet,'' Leranth said. ``It's also very much an example of living history. Jimmie Rodgers and his influence never went away. And the influence of this tour never went away. This is the town that produced a man who helped save this country with his generosity.''

Leranth said the group hopes to have a 90- to 120-minute feature-length documentary ready to show in theaters later this year.

Rodgers, known as the ``Father of Country Music,'' recorded more than 120 songs.

Born in Meridian on Sept. 8, 1897, Rodgers was also known as the ``Singing Brakeman'' for his work on the railroad. He made his first recording in 1927.

Rodgers died of tuberculosis at the age of 35 in May 1933 in New York City. He was the first performer elected to Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame.

Leranth's group attended gatherings of The International Singing Brakeman Association and interviewed people about Rodgers' legacy.

``We have had a great trip here in Meridian and we are just ready to continue working on this project,'' he said.

Rogers, who died in an Aug. 15, 1935, Alaska plane crash with acclaimed pilot Wiley Post, authored six books, wrote 4,000 syndicated newspaper columns and many magazine articles. He stared in 71 movies during his career as a wild west show performer.

A museum dedicated to Rogers is located in Claremore, Okla.