Since the BCR kindly printed my guest column, “Rediscovering Richard Widmark,” on Aug. 28, Princeton area residents have begun to do just that.
Donations of Richard Widmark film DVDs to the Princeton Public Library inspired Library Director Julie Wayland to launch a Widmark Wednesday film series in early September. Of the five Widmark films shown since then, two attracted more than 30 people. Additional films will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 24 and 31.
My rediscovery efforts led me to the Bureau County Historical Society’s file on Widmark, where I learned that he not only attended all four years of high school at Princeton High (graduating in 1932 as class president), but also two years at Logan and one year at Lincoln (in school buildings that predated the current structures).
Interestingly, young Widmark took piano lessons from Miss Grace Farwell in 1925 and 1927 and performed with other students in public recitals. Also performing in those recitals: Virgil Fox, who went on to become a legendary organist.
I continue to believe that a rediscovery by today’s Princeton area residents of Richard Widmark’s remarkable Hollywood career is worthwhile, particularly with the centennial of his birth approaching in 2014.
Actually, rediscovering a past resident’s life and legacy is nothing new for this community.
In the late 1960s, Princeton began rediscovering a former resident who was a 19th-century preacher, anti-slavery activist, U.S. congressman, and friend of Abraham Lincoln. People back then decided it was worthwhile to restore this man’s old homestead on the east edge of town. They had so much fun at the dedication celebration in 1971 that they decided to make it an annual festival.
That’s how Princeton’s rediscovery of Owen Lovejoy sparked the very successful Bureau County Homestead Festival.
Also, community members’ rediscovery of Princeton’s role in the Civil War served as the basis for Shadows of the Blue and Gray.
Both festivals pay tribute to the past, provide entertainment for local residents and attract visitors from out of town.
What could a further rediscovery of Richard Widmark’s career lead to? Perhaps some kind of exhibit. Possibly a permanent memorial. What about a film festival? Widmark made more than 60 Hollywood films plus a number of made-for-TV movies, and they run the gamut from film noir, westerns and war films to dramas, adventure movies and horror flicks.
I encourage people to seek out Widmark’s movies, watch them and become a fan, not only of his work, but of his humble, gentlemanly character offscreen. Share any ideas that you have with me at RediscoverRichardWidmark@gmail.com.
Widmark considered Princeton his hometown. In 1984, he wrote to a Princeton city official, “I have very fond memories of Princeton.”
Let’s reciprocate those feelings and create a destination for everyone who has fond memories of this durable and versatile actor.