Thursday, June 3, 2010

An Epic Texan Tale

For Phillip White, Scott Griffin and Craig Campobella, the honor is all theirs. The trio have combined forces to respectively stand in as a younger version, older version and narrative voice of Sam Houston for reenactment portions of an ambitious three-hour documentary about the former Commander-in-Chief of the Texas Army and very first President of the Lone Star Republic.

The nearly completed project is a five-year labor of love for executive producer Denton Florian, born and bred in the namesake town of Houston. In addition to interviewing great-grandson Sam Houston IV and great-great-granddaughter Madge Roberts, Florian and his collaborators were able to chat with all sorts of folks intrinsically linked to the lineage of this somewhat overlooked American pioneer, people like current Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Texas Governor Ann Richards and John Cornyn, present holder of Houston's old U.S. Senate seat.

Florian filmed segments at Silver Rock Productions in Conroe as well as on location not just in Texas but also Alabama, Virginia and Tennessee. He was able to borrow various museum artifacts to enhance his tale, including a so-called "honor ring", which was inscribed with the word "honor" and worn by Houston from age 20 until his death after he received it from his mother.

If the official website for Sam Houston: American Statesman, Soldier and Pioneer is any indication, the upcoming documentary will be a well-researched and balanced look at its subject. The 1793 to 1863 trailblazer packed a lot of excitement into one life; for example, the circumstances and details of his ten-week marriage to Eliza Allen, as summarized on the website's "Myths and Legends" page, could alone provide enough material for a documentary.

More than fifty years ago, Joel McRea played Houston in the middling 1956 B-biopic The First Texan, while thirty years later that memory was more properly served by a perfectly cast Sam Elliott in the 1986 CBS-TV movie Houston: The Legend of Texas. Tellingly, the first reader comment on the IMDB page for the McRea offering notes that "we've never really had an adequate biographical film of Houston." Dorian is hoping to have soon filled this giant, Texas size gap.

[Sam Houston: American Statesman, Soldier and Pioneer, Sam Houston Museum]

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