As Southerners, we love to entertain. So it is no surprise that in recent years, the state has emerged as a center for the entertainment industry, drawing hundreds Hollywood productions and cranking out some of music’s biggest stars. But Georgia’s rise to stardom started well before this surge. We’ll tell you where to go to learn about this legacy and enjoy good music and movies this summer.
Georgia emerges as the East Coast’s answer to Tinseltown
Whether it’s Jon Hamm filming Million Dollar Arm in Kennesaw or Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore shooting Blended on Lake Lanier, you can’t swing a stick in Georgia without hitting some sort of high-profile film set. With The Vampire Diaries shot in Covington, Drop Dead Diva in Peachtree City, and Devious Maids in Atlanta’s EUE/Screen Gems Studios, the same can be said for television productions.
In 2008, the General Assembly passed the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act, offering aggressive tax incentives to production companies choosing to work in the state. According to Lee Thomas, film division director for the Georgia Office of Film, Music, and Digital Entertainment, that legislation led to a 400 percent rise in local productions in its first two years.
“In fiscal year 2007,” Thomas says, “the economic impact of our efforts on film, TV, commercials, music videos, and game development was around $241 million. By fiscal year 2010, the impact was $1.3 billion. So it definitely worked.”
Another benefit of this dramatic increase in production has been a meteoric rise in the number of travelers who visit Georgia to tour the iconic locations where their favorite movies and TV shows were filmed.
After being featured as President Snow’s residence in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the Atlanta History Center now offers guided Swan House Capitol Tours every Saturday. Visitors get exclusive access to a behind-the-scenes exhibit featuring photos and props from the production, unique photos ops in rooms that recreate the film sets, and a chance to explore the grounds where many iconic scenes were shot.
Fans of the undead will get a kick out of the Big Zombie Tours offered by Atlanta Movie Tours. One tour explores Atlanta sites, including the hospital from the opening episode of The Walking Dead, the CDC, and the meter maid site from Zombieland. Another visits Senoia (where The Walking Dead is shot) to see the fictional town of Woodbury, the waterfall featured in second season’s finale, and the old Feed Building.
For those who prefer to travel at their own pace, cometourgeorgia.com offers suggestions for self-drive tours. Whether you’re into sports (locations featured in The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Blind Side, Trouble With the Curve, etc.), the classic South (locations featured in Fried Green Tomatoes, Driving Miss Daisy, Forrest Gump, etc.), or something else entirely, the site has free guides for film fans of all stripes.
From spotting celebs to reenacting your favorite scenes on location, there are plenty of ways to explore Hollywood South this summer. —Bret Love
CLASSIC DRIVE-IN MOVIE THEATERS
This summer, pack a picnic and blanket and cozy up to a good flick at one of Georgia’s classic drive-in theaters. Atlanta’s Starlight Drive-In, Blue Ridge’s Swan Drive-In, and the Jesup Drive-In are excellent places to catch a movie under the stars. They are also among just 372 drive-ins left in the U.S.
GEORGIA MUSIC GIANTS
A guide to our rich musical history and the legends who made it
From the Indigo Girls and Drivin’ N Cryin’ to Zac Brown and Sugarland, from Outkast and CeeLo Green to Sevendust and Mastodon, over the past few decades, Georgia has become a hotbed of musical talent. But the state’s rich music tradition dates back more than 100 years and includes myriad legends that left their marks on popular music.
Born in Columbus in 1886, Ma Rainey was among the first blues singers to record professionally. She made more than 100 recordings in the 1920s, working with jazz legend Louis Armstrong and gospel great Thomas Dorsey. The two-story house in Columbus she moved into after retiring in 1935 is now the Gertrude “Ma” Rainey House & Blues Museum, paying tribute to “the Mother of the Blues.”
Johnny Mercer, born in Savannah in 1909, became one of the most significant musical figures of the twentieth century as a songwriter and co-founder of Capital Records. Many of his compositions are now considered part of the Great American Songbook, including timeless classics like “Moon River,” “Dream,” and “Something’s Gotta Give.” A statue in his honor was unveiled in Savannah’s Ellis Square in 2009 and remains a popular photo op with visitors.
Although he spent much of his childhood in Florida, Ray Charles was born in Albany, which erected a statue and fountain honoring the music legend in what is now known as Ray Charles Plaza. Albany’s native son changed the face of rhythm and blues, soul, jazz, rock and roll, and even country music with his revolutionary, genre-smashing sound.
After moving to Augusta at age five, James Brown became a leading figure during the civil rights movement thanks to songs like “Say it Loud – I’m Black & I’m Proud.” He also influenced every funk, soul, and hip-hop artist after him. Augusta honored Brown’s legacy by changing its motto to “We Feel Good,” erecting a life-size, bronze statue of Brown and renaming its civic center the James Brown Arena.
Macon’s Big House was home to members of the Allman Brothers from 1970–1973. “Blue Sky” was written in the living room, and “Rambling Man” in the kitchen. The band went on to put Southern rock music on the map, as well as laying the stylistic groundwork for hundreds of jam bands. Now their old house is a museum filled with memorabilia from the band’s storied career.
These are far from the state’s only noteworthy musical landmarks: The Royal Peacock Club was one of Atlanta’s hottest African-American music venues in the early twentieth century, while Athens’s 40
Watt Club and the Georgia Theatre, which were key in the development of R.E.M. and the B-52s, continue to churned out indie rock talent.
Great music has always been in Georgia’s blood. And with newer acts such as the Black Lips, B.o.B., Phillip Phillips, and Jason Aldean proudly carrying the torch, chances are the state will continue to influence popular culture and music for many centuries to come. —Bret Love
Experience the excitement surrounding the seventy-fifth anniversary of the premiere of the epic motion picture Gone With the Wind
One hundred and fifty years ago, during the final months of the Civil War, Lt. Gen. William T. Sherman ordered the torching of Atlanta, and much of the city was reduced to ashes. Seventy-five years later, on the evening of December 15, 1939, the city was again ablaze; searchlights swept the night sky and lit the façade of Loew’s Grand Theatre on Peachtree Street, as Atlanta welcomed the world premiere of Gone With the Wind.
The three-day celebration surrounding the premiere of the Technicolor epic of love, loss, and resilience, based on Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize–winning 1936 novel, was unlike anything the city had ever seen. Mayor William B. Hartsfield declared a citywide holiday, and on the night of the premiere, 18,000 people gathered outside the theater hoping to catch a glimpse of the film’s stars. Former U.S. president and Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, a teenager at the time, would remember it as “the biggest event to happen in the South in my lifetime.”
Like the novel, the movie became an international sensation, playing in theaters for more than two years and winning eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture—a record at the time. In addition to the 25 million moviegoers who saw it during its original release, tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions more watched it during rereleases and on home video, arguably making Gone With the Wind the most viewed movie of all time.
Three outstanding museums—the Road to Tara Museum, the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum: Scarlett on the Square, and the Margaret Mitchell House—offer fans a treasure trove of props, costumes, memorabilia, and collectibles, as well as an impressive selection of movie-themed souvenirs.
Begin your journey at Jonesboro’s Road to Tara Museum in Clayton County. The county, just south of Atlanta, is the Official Home of Gone With the Wind, ancestral home of Margaret Mitchell, and site of the fictional O’Hara estate Tara. Located in the city’s 1867 train depot, the museum showcases an incredible array of movie props and wardrobe items. Of particular note are the four massive roundels featuring the film’s stars, which hung opposite the Loew’s on the night of the premiere, as well as one of the original brass marquees containing a hand-cut movie premiere poster.
The Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum, situated in a former cotton warehouse and carriage house built in 1875, boasts an equally impressive collection of artifacts, including the original bengaline honeymoon gown worn by Vivien Leigh in her role as Scarlett; the mourning bonnet worn by Olivia de Havilland, who portrayed Melanie Wilkes; and a number of items from the estate of Clark Gable, who played Rhett Butler.
Both museums also maintain special exhibitions about the actress Hattie McDaniel, whose portrayal of Mammy earned her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, the first Academy Award presented to an African American. While the film has come under fire in recent decades for its stereotypical portrayals of black characters and its nostalgic view of the Old South, which ignores the wrongs of slavery, it afforded black actors unprecedented professional opportunities, and these museums share their stories of struggle and success.
Visitors will also want to make the pilgrimage to the Margaret Mitchell House in Midtown Atlanta, where they can tour the apartment where Mitchell penned the novel and see the original façade of Tara. The special exhibition Stars Fall on Atlanta: The Premiere of Gone With the Wind highlights the events and people surrounding the movie’s world premiere. Just a few miles south of the museum, fans can pay their respects to Mitchell at her gravesite in Historic Oakland Cemetery. Visitors can also see the city through Mitchell’s eyes on Atlanta Movie Tours’ special Gone With the Wind–themed tour of sites that figured prominently in her writing.
As engaging as any of the props or posters, costumes or collectibles, are the stories associated with them, and visitors to Atlanta can count on coming away with plenty. And that’s fitting, for ultimately the continuing appeal of Gone With the Wind rests upon Mitchell’s masterful storytelling and the universal themes of endurance and survival personified in her heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, and symbolized in the postwar rise of Atlanta from its ashes. —Kevin Benefield
You’ll find the complete version of this feature as well as stories on Georgia’s State Parks, the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and travel ideas from across the state in the 2014 edition of the Georgia Travel Guide. Go to exploregeorgia.com to request or download your copy today.