Movies have provided entertainment for us, dating back to the prime years of Thomas Edison’s inventive mind. Since Americans began putting “another nickel in the nickelodeon” in the early 1900s, we can’t get enough of moving images across silver screens.
One of the greatest perks of my life came about in my undergraduate days when Elrod Sims, manager of the Georgia Theatre in Athens, gave me two season passes for all the movies that took place at his establishment on North Lumpkin Street.
My dating options were enhanced considerably to say the least. I couldn’t wait for new movies to be listed on the marquee. It was not uncommon to take in the same movie twice or more. With the passing of time, I lost interest in movies. Until last weekend the most recent movie I had seen was “Saving Private Ryan,” which came out in July 1998.
I was delightfully uplifted with the accommodations at a local cinema, (never watched a movie before in La-Z-Boy rocker style), where we accompanied friends to enjoy the premiere of “Charming the Hearts of Men,” which has a decided “local” connection. Susan DeRose with family ties to Athens (she still owns a home in the Five Points section of town) wrote the script and co-directed this entertaining and racy production which was shot in Athens and Madison.
DeRose was born in Los Angeles to a father who was a pilot who distinguished himself at the historic Battle of Leyte Gulf in World War II in which the Allies reinforced their dominance in the Pacific which led to the ultimate defeat of Japan.
Her mother, Judy Farr, grew up in Athens, and her uncle, Judd Farr, was an outstanding track athlete at Georgia and became a passionate alumnus.
With the family ties to the Red and Black, it was only natural that she would enroll at UGA which she did one summer in the seventies but what most would say was for a “cup of coffee.” She later transferred to Brenau, in nearby Gainesville. However, the brief matriculation at UGA allowed for her to connect with Richard Lewis, who became her lifetime partner.
Those vagabond early years for the two of them (Richard, a native of Indianola, Miss., wound up at Darlington Prep in Rome and then on to Georgia. They met at a Christmas party in Athens in 1976. Each had crashed the party.
Before they settled in Atlanta in the late Seventies, Susan was a flight attendant for American Airlines in the days when travelers in first class were served big steaks and hot fudge sundaes for dessert. It was the era when there was little opportunity for women beyond homemaker duties, teaching school, or finding secretarial work. It was more fun to be a stewardess, but that did nothing to empower women.
With a prior business effort that didn’t fare well, Richard owned a lease of a well-located property on Piedmont Road in Atlanta’s Buckhead district. Over dinner one night, the Lewis-DeRose team decided to venture into the restaurant business. That is how the first big-time steakhouse in Atlanta came to be. Bone’s will celebrate its 43rd birthday this year. Bone’s flourished as the city flourished and is recognized nationally as one of the finest steak houses in America.
Neither partner had any restaurant experience but developed an auspicious modus operandi by interacting with customers. They underscored good relations with employees and have the distinction of seeing many retire, without ever having worked anywhere else.
Today under their company umbrella are two more popular restaurant locations, the Okay Café and the Blue Ridge Grill, both located at the intersection of Northside Parkway and West Paces Ferry Road, only a stone’s throw from I-75 North.
A lot of business deals have been brokered over breakfast, lunch, and dinner at these Liberty House properties. Good food, good service, good atmosphere, and great locations have brought enviable success for Susan and Richard.
Recently, a new venture came about for Richard and Susan. They are principals in a movie that premiered last weekend. “Charming the Hearts of Men,” was filmed in Athens and Madison. It principally stars Kelsey Grammer whom Susan and Richard met to pitch their movie idea. “It is a heartfelt and unique look at life, family and friendship in a small Southern town, circa 1964, where the centric characters tell all sides of the complex story of race and gender in America.”
Susan amplifies on the foregoing: “(It is…) a romantic story thru a political time, playing out in a juke joint, fading plantation life, a whorehouse and the Halls of Congress.”
Susan always wanted to produce a movie and now it has come to pass. She wrote the script, found a Hollywood producer who saw the merits of her story, and helped underwrite the production.
“My family,” she says, “is 5th generation Athenian. My mother married military men so we moved around but my summers were always spent in Athens, and I attended Athens High School.”
As a result, Athens plays a significant part in the movie. “Before computers, box scores and sprawling neighborhoods covered farmland, my youth’s America was small towns,” she says. “Everyone knew each other and stayed put, so relationships forged across race and class. We pretty much all got along. I wanted to show this in my film since Hollywood movies typically portray the South differently; to show the richness of the people and of the time. So many interesting characters came into my young life: beauticians, chicken-pluckers, maids, politicians, even prostitutes.”
She then referred to Effie, the well-known madam of the town years ago, and how she was introduced. “When I was 16,” Susan explains, “I worked at a jewelry store on weekends. The manager used to open up early on Saturday mornings for Ms. Effie to bring in her girls. They would buy jewelry on layaway. I found them timid and respectful. Effie is the only real character in my story. Everyone else is a composite.”