Can’t help but laugh every time I think on an actual conversation I once had with an actual Hollywood Producer. He was a huge Civil War buff and very interested in our Loudoun County, Virginia Civil War history... but he was also a part of the System, and he just couldn’t stop giving everything “The Hollywood Spin.”
The beginning of the end of this whirlwind of a conversation came when I tried to tell him the story of the Loudoun Rangers.
I told him that "As far as anyone knows, they were the only Union troop ever formed in Virginia. Captain Samuel Means formed the troop out of the sons of Quakers and German farmers with ties in Pennsylvania. Can you imagine? Quakers were anti-slavery (with a couple exceptions), and the rest were pro-slavery - but they'd all grown up together - worked alongside other boys in local businesses. Then came the war, and they go off and join separate armies.
“Good,” he says. “Good story tension.”
“Definitely! Loudoun was a deeply divided County, but mostly Confederate and the Rangers had a horrible time. They were always getting ambushed by the 35th Battalion — another local cavalry troop.”
“Okay, so you’ve got your under-dog theme going. Who could [INSERT NAME OF HOLLYWOOD ACTION HERO] play?”
“Oh! Uh, well... probably not Captain Means. He was older and married.” I brightened with a thought. “Actually there was a Drillmaster, Charles Webster; the Rangers liked him a lot. But he’d be an anti-hero, ‘cause no one was sure where he came from or what his real sentiments were....”
“Anti-hero is good. Everyone wants anti-heroes. Now, you've gotta’ have this guy be the Loudoun Ranger in charge - not necessarily in official charge, but the one who's the real leader of the men."
“Wellll, that's real. Everybody disliked Captains Means because he was too detached - never seemed to be around for the actual fight. So Webster became the natural leader.”
"Good, good," he says. "But there's got to be even more conflict in the actual troop. Like... Means should turn out to be working for the Confederacy..."
"Uh... um. Pardon? D’you... you mean as a spy? There was only one Union troop formed in Virginia — did I say that? — and he would never ever have considered —”
“This thing has to sell,” he said. “Needs more tension.”
“More tension? More tension.... Oh, I know! Can’t forget Sgt. Beatty! Actually, [insert current good guy action hero] could play Sgt. Beatty.”
“The Loudoun Ranger that Confederate John Mobberly tried to kill. Mobberly was a boy the Confederates loved - a local legend - and he was one mean son of a gun. By the end of the war, even Confederates didn’t want anything to do with him. He shot Beatty, walked his horse over him, shot him again, then got off his horse and stole his boots.”
“Hmm. [INSERT NAME OF GOOD-GUY HOLLYWOOD ACTION HERO] might want to play Mobberly...”
“O-kay. He's playing bad guys now?”
“Oh, sure! He got tired of the good guy stuff. Boring.”
“I see. Well anyway, Beatty miraculously survived.”
“Mobberly almost killing him? And at the end of the war, he and two other Rangers and three citizens ambushed Mobberly in a barn and killed him. When Mobberly saw their faces right as they were about to shoot him, all he said was, 'Oh, Lord, I am gone.' And they blew him right off his horse. Pretty dramatic. I mean, can’t you just see that? A dark barn, a hay loft... and he sees Beatty’s face with the huge scar - the guy he’d tried so hard to kill.”
He clearly did not see it.
Then the producer says, "Now, what about the hero's love interest... Gotta have a love interest. You talked about a Quaker girl... journalist?”
I gulp. “You mean, Lida Dutton?”
“Yeah, yeah, Dutton. The one who wrote that... that thing... for Union soldiers.”
“The Waterford News?”
“Yeah. So Lida will be the love interest for this guy..."
“Beatty???” Having a hard time keeping my voice down.
"Yeah. The Captain.”
“Sergeant... Beatty?" I took a deep breath. “But.. Okay, here’s the thing: Lida and Lizzie DID fall in love and marry Union Lieutenants, but Lida married John Hutchinson of the 13th NY, and Lizzie married..."
"— Doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter. Y’know, we have a saying in Hollywood: Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story! Ha-ha-ha!"
"Guess I'm never gonna' make it in Hollywood,” I mumbled. But he was still talking.
“You’ve got to entertain the public, and history.... well, it’s just not that entertaining. Who’s gonna’ sit around watching the real thing crawl by?”
Then I lost it. “But what’s the point of bothering with history if it isn’t real? If you don’t know what people are actually capable of — the good and the bad — how can we learn anything? Unless we know the incredible evil we’re capable of, how can we ever hope to change? And how can we develop hope for the human condition unless we see real flesh and blood heroes?”
There was a momentary pause in the conversation, followed by hearty laughter.
And then he changed the subject. And at the end of our phone conversation, he said to be sure to send him the history of those Loudoun Rangers - What a great movie they’d make!
But the Loudoun Rangers are safe beside me in a file, and they won’t be heading for those California hills anytime soon. Hanging on to them just seems like the civil thing to do...
Meredith Bean McMath is a Civil War Historian and the former Managing Director of Run Rabbit Run Theatre. Run Rabbit Run Productions. Her company has produced two Civil War documentaries... and she was kind of hoping this guy would turn out to be more of a HollyWHEN than a HollyWHAT? More on the amazing history of the Dutton sisters of Loudoun County, Virginia may be found HERE.