Richard Hyatt: Hollywood's love affair with Benning

hyatt31906@knology.netOctober 12, 2012 

John Wayne wore a Green Beret. Mel Gibson ate a Ranger Burger. Jerry Lewis made a mockery out of the jump towers. James Garner and Barbara Eden came here to make films they’d like to forget.

Building on Fort Benning's long relationship with the big screen, a film crew is making plans to shoot a realistic documentary at the ageless installation that will mark the 100th anniversary of World War I.

"Over There: Doughboys in the Great War" will air on public television in 2017. It is a co-production of the National Infantry Foundation and Livingbattlefield, an independent filmmaker that produced "The American Road to Victory," an acclaimed PBS series on World War II.

Before the first film crew came to town, Fort Benning was a popular point of reference in movies about the military, particularly during World War II -- a gimmick that carried over to television.

When the pilot for M*A*S*H was made in 1972, it was noted that Nurse Margaret Houlihan -- better known as "Hot Lips" -- passed through here on her way to Korea. More recently, it has been mentioned on pop culture favorites such as "X-Files," "Stargate SG-1," "24," "The Walking Dead" and "Glee."

The first movie filmed on post was "Jumping Jacks," a 1952 farce that starred Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis -- at their peak as a legendary comedy duo. The two clowns were even made honorary parachutists.

John Wayne didn't come here for laughs. The Hollywood icon filmed "The Green Berets." The 1968 movie was the first to tell the story of the Army's Special Forces in Vietnam and was filmed on post and at an old mansion on Hilton Avenue.

There was nothing iconic about "Tank" or "Your Mother Wears Combat Boots," shot here in 1983 and 1989. The affable Garner couldn't save "Tank," and Eden's made-for-TV flick needed more than a genie in a bottle to rescue it from bad reviews.

Released in 2002, "We Were Soldiers" was the most successful of all the films shot at Benning. It depicts a horrific battle in Vietnam but also captures the essence of the grief and fears of wives and children back home in Columbus.

Gibson portrayed Hal Moore, a retired Army lieutenant general now living in East Alabama. Sam Elliott played Command Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley, who died in Columbus on Wednesday at the age of 92. Elliott also recorded dramatic voiceovers that are heard throughout the National Infantry Museum.

Work on the four-part PBS documentary begins this spring and producers hope the bloody, muddy trenches of Europe that made World War I so ugly can be recreated on an Army installation that was born during that same era.

While you're waiting, pick up a used copy of "Your Mother Wears Combat Boots" -- though at $3.19 it is still overpriced

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Write him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

Ledger-Enquirer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service