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32 Potter Street

Salt Lake City, Utah 84113

admin@fortdouglas.org

801-581-1251

© 2015 Fort Douglas Military Museum

A Movie Mystery

April 18, 2017

STRAIGHT FROM A HOLLYWOOD SCRIPT

 

Scene One: The Mystery

 

{Opening} 2000: At the millennium, there existed a sizable box of 4X5 film negatives housed in the Fort Douglas Military Museum Archives. While staff had worked many hours to properly identify and index these negatives, some of their content was still a mystery. One day such a mystery surfaced, a negative with its sleeve labeled, “Movie, Army Brat, 1945?” As curiosity got the best of them, they asked long time museum volunteer and historian Chuck Hibbard, who authored the history of Fort Douglas, and had worked on indexing the negatives, about the image, cause if Chuck doesn’t know, nobody knows! Chuck responded, he knew there had been a movie filmed after the war on the parade ground, and to everyone’s knowledge, no one had ever seen it.

That day a quest to find this seemingly non-existent film was set into action. For years, it was often discussed and sporadically investigated around the office, usually with no results. Nevertheless, over the years, a few glimpses of its existence would arise, just enough to keep the curiosity and search alive.

 

Scene Two: The Discovery

{Fast forward} 2013: When a new museum Curator was hired and introduced to the legend of the mystery movie filmed at Fort Douglas all those years ago. It soon became a game that begged to be played! Off and on again, a bit of the mystery seemed to come together until one day, May 23, 2014. That day, like any other, a visitor entered the museum. Enjoying himself as he visited with the guys at the front desk, he shared memories of living on the post while growing up at the end of WWII and at the tail end of his story, mentioned how he was in a movie there once as a child.

 

The Curator had overheard this and was on his way out to speak with the visitor when Chuck Hibbard entered the lobby carrying a sizable stack of papers. Intercepting each other in the lobby, Chuck extended the documents forward and said, “these are for your files.” As the paperwork changed hands, the first document to come forward from deep within the stack like some sort of magic trick with a deck of cards was a photocopy of a Union Vedette (the post newspaper) dated Monday, October 15, 1945 with a feature article, “Movie Company Films ‘Army Brat’ Here.” It seemed Chuck, who had started the negative project all those years ago, had seemingly solved his own mystery without even knowing it, over a decade later in that instant as things came full circle.

 

“Pause” Some say there are no coincidences . . . and at that moment, my heart sank as I looked across the lobby to the man now seated on our bench. I approached him with the paper and asked, “Is this the movie you were in?” He replied, “It could be. I never saw it. I’ve always wondered about it.” In my profession, I have learned that history although often in the past is spontaneously in the present, so I took the opportunity to sit down with him for a visit about his experiences as an “Army Brat” at Fort Douglas and newly discovered movie star 68 years late. Bill remembers filming the majority of his scenes on the parade field and had a speaking part, to which we both immediately laughed when he couldn’t remember his lines on the spot, literally 68 years later. He says, “It was just one or two liners cheering him on when he was in a fight with another kid.” As a child of about 8 years of age, he remembers making about $10.50 a day, totaling a little over $100.00 when all was said and done which is, “pretty good for a eight or nine year old kid,” he adds. He recalled his brother also being in the film, but making less money than he, due to the talking part of course, with laughs. He adds to the mystery surrounding the film when he restates, “I’ve never seen the movie. Apparently they never showed it on our army base.” When asked how movie stardom changed his life, he replied, “well, it really didn’t change it, but it made you feel kinda important as a little kid.” He goes on to say, “Life’s been good and it’s just not a bad way to grow up as an army brat  and that’s what the whole movie was about.”

 

Bill Dishman (possibly child on the far left) recalls filming a scene in "Little Mister Jim."

 

Around this same time, it was mentioned in a passing conversation with another long time museum patron who grew up at Fort Douglas, that she told her family she was a famous movie star for years and they laughed and didn’t believe her as no one had ever seen the film, herself included. Karen remembers her role as a stand in for one of the main child stars Luana Patton as they looked similar. She remembers filming scenes in a pedal car on the sidewalk over by the commanders house, having her hair done like Luana’s in pigtails, and watching the movie making process.

 

Jim Tucker, Missie Choosie and Wolf with tank peddle car during filming.

 

Exert taken from the October 1945 Union Vedette.

 

Now more than ever I was assured that the film had indeed been made and undoubtedly existed, yet still seemed to have been projected in the ether, only existing within the consciousness of a dream like state.

 

So again I decided to search for the ever-illusive film, believing there are no coincidences and in serendipity, it now seemed ready to be found, and THERE IT WAS!, as if channeling all the energy from years of searching and excitement of recent discoveries made it materialize out of thin air. Not an official release, but a mere bootleg copy on a low key Internet bid site. Never seen before, and never since! I wrote the seller who was camping in the wilderness and conversed about how she had acquired the film. She has a passion to save and share unreleased films, had seen the now known title,“Little Mister Jim” before and had a soft spot for it in her heart. In turn, she was delighted to see a copy through to the Fort Douglas Military Museum collection.

During that same short period of time, an intensive collection of Little Mister Jim original movie posters, lobby cards, promotional film stills, postcards, sheet music, star autographs, etc. were discovered and acquired by the Fort Douglas Military Museum.

 

 

Scene Three: The Book

 

{Pause} 1943: Without the book, there would be no movie. The screenplay by George Bruce for Little Mister Jim is based on the fictional work Army Brat by child author Tommy Wadelton (1926-1974) who penned the 186-page novel, published in 1943 by Coward-McCann when he was sixteen years of age. This was his third published work, his first, My Mother is a Violent Woman (1940), and second, My Father is a Quiet Man (1941).One review in The Saturday Review describes his work as, “both amazingly mature and surprisingly childlike.” Wadelton, son of an officer, and Army Brat himself, may have drawn upon his life experiences in the creation of his works, all concerning aspects of military life.

 

Sui Jun shares a story with Little Mister Jim.

 

 

Scene Four: The Movie

 

 

{Rewind} 1945: An advance party from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (M.G.M.) Studios explored the post seeking locations for various exterior scenes for their upcoming motion picture under the working title Army Brat.

 

Fort Douglas was selected as being a typical old army post, and remained unnamed in the picture. It was not chosen, because it had any more brats, army or otherwise, than any other post, but rather as stated in the Salt Lake Tribune “because of the beauty of the post, its striking background of rugged mountains and the cloud and lighting effects usually available.”

 

Most of the shots were exteriors and were laid particularly in the vicinity of the quarter’s area and around the barracks, officer’s row, post headquarters, the parade ground and the stables among other pre-war (WWII) structures on post.

 

On October 08, 1945 a location unit arrived made up of approximately 50 persons, of which 20 odd were talent to spend about two to three weeks here filming the Fort Douglas scenes, during which time unit members stayed at the Hotel Utah and Hotel Temple Square downtown with a noon meal on post.


At first it was not planned to use post personnel in the picture, however, inasmuch as the picture pertains to army life, uniformed men and their families were necessary to lend authenticity to the background, and that’s where some twenty-odd Fort Douglas officers, enlisted men, wives and children cashed in. Among the names listed in a Union Vedette article of participants is that of our own Karen Loring.

 

Nevertheless, when a handful of short columns appeared in the post newspaper with headlines such as You, Too, Can Crash the Movies with tips on how to make an appearance in the film and “steal” a scene, the initial group listed on the payroll on a day work basis of five officers, nine enlisted men, wives, and children seemed to grow.

 

Behind the scenes: Zinneman in action as director.

 

MGM Studio sound engineers during the filming of "Little Mister Jim."

 

“Fast forward” nearly a year and a half later to April 1947 when the finished feature now titled Little Mister Jim is released in theaters. The film Directed by Fred Zinnemann and produced by Orville O. Dull starred “Butch” Jenkins in its title role and also featured James Craig, Frances Gifford, and Luana Patton. Lead Jackie “Butch” Jenkins (1937-2001) was a popular freckle-faced, buck-toothed, tousled haired child star of the 40’s who had just graced the silver screen at the post theater as the bully in “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” (1945).

 

Director Frederick Zinneman (1907-1997) was an Academy Award winning director whose films earned 65 Oscar nominations and 24 actual trophies over the course of his five-decade career. He has over 40 plus director credits to his name. Included in his filmography are such classics as High Noon and Oklahoma! among others.

 

Director Fred Zinneman discusses script between takes.

 

 

Scene Five: The Plot

 

{Review} 1943: The screenplay depicts pre-war (WWII) army life as seen by an army child.

 

The picture is laid in 1939, just prior to the outbreak of World War II, and is not a war picture, but rather is based primarily on the life of a young son of an army officer on a regular army post, according to the Union Vedette.

 

Army Brat is the story of a young Jim Tucker, born on a post in the Philippines to a red-blooded officer father and a delicate, lace-bosomed mother. He spent his early life moving from post to post. He grew up under his father’s cook and house-boy, Sui Jen. One of Jim’s early memories was of the disappearance from his life of his mother when she became ill and he went to stay with his friend Susie’s family. He found his way back home one evening to the discovery of his mother and a baby on her arm. Neither she nor the baby ever woke. Young Jim was left in the shadow of his father’s whiskey bottle and in the light of Sui Jen’s sunny nature. Sui Jen became both mother and father to the child – told him Chinese fairy tales and dressed him, to the horror of the other officers’ wives, in Chinese clothes.

 

Little Mister Jim, dressed in Chinese clothes, is comforted by Sui Jun after a scuffle.
 

Young Jim never went to school until after he was ten and didn’t like it at first. At sixteen he graduated from Baylor and Missie Choosie (his friend Susie) began to come back into his life where she remained happily forever after, in spite of West Point and Kelly Field and, later, China, where Young Jim as an American flyer, went to avenge the wrong done to Sui Jen’s people by the Japanese. Excerpt taken from The Saturday Review, May 29, 1943

 

Missie Choosie and Little Mister Jim reveal plans for their future.

 

 

Scene Six: The Event


{Action} 2017: For the 70-year anniversary of M.G.M’s theater release of Little Mister Jim, (working title, Army Brat). In commemoration of this anniversary and in celebration of its re-discovery, the Fort Douglas Military Museum in partnership with other statewide film institutions will host a Hollywood premiere style red carpet event and film screening. The day’s events will be held at Historic Fort Douglas where the movie was filmed. The film will be shown as a Saturday afternoon matinee on the big screen at the historic 1932 Fort Douglas Post Theater.

 

The program will feature an introduction to the mystery behind the film and its re-discovery by Beau James Burgess, Museum and Historical Collections Curator of the Fort Douglas Military Museum and an academic look into the film and its historic contextualization by James V. D’Arc, Curator of the Motion Picture Archive at Brigham Young University and author of When Hollywood Came to Town: A History of Movie making in Utah. The program will also feature comments from a few individuals who appeared in the film as extras while growing up at Fort Douglas during the WWII era and an exhibit of original materials related to the film from the Fort Douglas Military Museum collection.

 

Little Mister Jim Screening - A Movie Mystery Red Carpet Event

 

April 22, 2017

1:30 - 5:00 PM

 

Fort Douglas Post Theater

245 Fort Douglas Blvd, Salt Lake City, UT 84113

 

Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1877328545858046/

 

“The End”

 

Characters Sui Jen, Little Mister Jim, and his father Col. Jim Tucker pose for a promotional still.

 

Actors James Craig, "Butch" Jenkins, and Ching Wah Lee pose for a promotional still.

 

 

Of Note:
Definition of an Army Brat: noun informal. A child of a career soldier, especially one who has lived in various places as a result of military transfers. The term now synonymous with Military Brat is associated with a unique subculture and cultural identity.

 

Film Details:

Title: "Little Mister Jim" working title "Army Brat"

Produced: 1945

Released: 1947

Genre: Drama

Run time: 90 minutes approx.
Country: US
B&W

 

Book Details:

Title: Army Brat

Author: Tommy Wadelton (1926-1974)

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Coward-McCann

Year published: 1943

Pages: 186

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