Just the other week the Academy Award show was on, but I don’t watch it since my wife and I no longer go to the flicks. We’ll wait until the shows appear on regular television, which probably means there are some films that I won’t see unless I check them out of the library. Like most large city library systems, they now are the new Blockbuster (a former Florida enterprise).
I thought it might be fun to make my own film awards of a somewhat historical nature –just honoring films made in Florida that reflected some aspect of Florida culture and society.
The Bob Leonard Landmark Award – Norman Studios
When people vacation in Los Angeles, if they like movies, they have to go see the famous Hollywood sign. Actually it started as the real estate ad “Hollywoodland” in 1923. Very few people visit Florida’s film site – the 1916 Norman Studio (built for Eagle Films). From 1908 to 1922 Jacksonville was home to 30 silent film studios, making the Florida town the original film center of America.
Now a silent film museum, Norman Studio is doubly distinctive for it produced silent films featuring all-African-American casts. Whenever my wife and I go into our local Longhorn restaurant, there on the wall is a picture of Bill Pickett, the first African-American movie star and a Norman Studio actor from Oklahoma.
The Bob Leonard Personal Movie Site Award – The Colonnade Hotel – Coral Gables
In the 1930’s the film industry clashed with California over taxes and as a negotiation ploy opened several studios elsewhere. Columbia Pictures operated the Colonnade Studios on Miracle Mile in downtown Coral Gables.
My Mother Outside Colonnade Studios
They produced some B-movies of fantasy and music. My mother and my uncle (Cal and Nona Kay) were contracted by British Empire films, but were allowed to make two films at the Colonnade, the only movies my mother made in the United States. Decades later as a student at the University of Miami, the building housed my bank. Today it is the front half and lobby of the huge Hotel Colonnade.
Best Places Nicely Shown in a Movie (tie)
Cocoon – downtown Saint Petersburg: every-time I drive past the old Coliseum Ballroom at 535 4th Avenue in Saint Petersburg, I visualize Don Amache dancing his way to an Academy Award. Ron Howard’s strange mixture of wishful senior citizens and space aliens captured the large retirement community and their lives.
While the city has tried for decades to erase its image as a old folks place, most locals loved seeing the world’s largest shuffleboard courts, Mirror Lake, and even the Sunny Shores Rest Home. The green benches are long gone but this film needed no green screen to show the town.
Doc Hollywood – Micanopy: Small town Florida is rarely the focus of modern movies, but Floridians quickly recognized Michael J. Fox was not in a town in North Carolina but it one of the Sunshine State’s oldest towns. Micanopy is located south of Gainesville in North Central Florida. The incredibly rustic town center, the old stores, and the friendly people are worth a real life visit.
The Truman Show – Seaside: The modern super-designed beachside of Seaside along the Gulf of Mexico in the Panhandle was the perfect for this movie featuring Jim Carney as the first global TV-test tube creation living in imaginary town located inside a giant dome. Seaside is a real village, but can certainly give you the feeling you are in some sort of movie set.
If you are driving in the Panama City/Destin area, Seaside is a nice spot to stop for lunch and visit the unique shops. If you seem to recognize people from the film, it is not your imagination – half the town’s population served as very realistic residents of the movie community.
Best Florida Building Featured in Movies – the Fontainebleau
Before there was the rebirth of South Beach, there was the Hotel Fontainebleau, the glamorous resort that helped make Miami a vacation destination in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Films played a major part in creating this image.
I Wonder How Much This Hotel Costs?
It was at the Fontainbleau that Sea Connery (James Bond) tilted with Gert “Goldfinger” Frobe over crooked card games and fatal body-paint. Jerry Lewis was at his best as a bellhop at the hotel, while Al Picino partied here as a mobster. Kevin Costner tried to bodyguard Whitney Houston. I spent my first married night at the Fontainebleau.
Best Scenic Florida Feature in Movies – Seven Mile Bridge
Outside of Miami Beach and Cape Kennedy, the Florida Keys Overseas Highway and its Seven Mile Bridge is the most utilized film location in the Sunshine State. The long bridge never looked better than in True Lies as Arnold Schwarzenegger in a helicopter tried to rescue Jamie Lee Curtis in an automobile speeding to a blown up section of bridge. I can vouch the bridge is completely whole.
Best Usage of Florida Water – Creature of the Black Lagoon
Making a movie in Florida always features palm trees, blue skies, and lots of water. As a kid I was thrilled at the underwater scenes taken at Wakulla Springs off FL 267, south of Tallahassee, in the horror film where Julie Adams faces the monster. Florida’s clear springs soon became a major feature not just in dozens of films, but in my childhood TV shows like Sea Hunt and Flipper.
Of course, sometimes overuse of a good thing may be misused by a producer, like in one of those Airport disaster films when the huge commercial airplane lands in the Atlantic Ocean and its passengers have to be rescued by scuba divers. The underwater scene lost much of its appeal when Floridians noticed the airplane was surrounded by freshwater fish.