By Brandi Watters
ANDERSON — From early silent movies filmed in black and white to the latest in computer-animated storytelling, Madison County has left its footprint on American cinema.
Hollywood films like “Independence Day,” “Hoodwinked” and “That Darn Cat” and television shows including “Bonanza,” “I Love Lucy” and “Law & Order” have all featured Hoosier talent plucked from the county.
Actors, directors and screenwriters from Anderson, Elwood, Frankton and Pendleton are chronicled in Ball State University professor David Smith’s book, “Hoosiers in Hollywood.”
The earliest Madison County Hoosier on film, according to Smith’s list, was Helen Weir, a silent film actress from Anderson. Weir was featured in “The Builder of Bridges” (1915), “The Social Secretary” (1916), “The Incorrigible Dukane” (1923) and “Love’s Old Sweet Song” (1923).
Weir was followed into the film acting world by Anderson natives Michael Champion and James Rebhorn, who’ve found fame playing supporting roles in major Hollywood movies.
Champion’s career includes roles in “Beverly Hills Cop” (1984), “Total Recall” (1990) and “Toy Soldiers” (1991). Champion has since left Hollywood’s spotlight, but Rebhorn is continuing to add credits to his name.
From daytime television stints on “Guiding Light” and “As the World Turns” to prime-time television shows like “Law & Order” and “The Practice,” Rebhorn, an alumnus of Madison Heights High School, has dominated the small screen. He has also played large roles in Hollywood blockbusters like “Basic Instinct” (1992), “Independence Day” (1996), “The Game” (1997), “I Love Trouble” (1994), “Carlito’s Way” (1993), “Meet the Parents” (2000) and “Cold Mountain” (2003). Viewers can catch Rebhorn playing a judge in the new Tina Fey comedy “Baby Mama,” in theaters now.
Rebhorn’s filmography, according to the Internet Movie Database, includes more than 100 roles in film and television.
Elwood actors David Canary, Mary Jane Croft and Greg Neff have also captivated American audiences in a collection of roles on both the big and small screens.
Canary has spent much of his career starring as Adam Chandler on the ABC daytime drama “All My Children,” interspersed with more than 30 roles on prime-time shows like “Touched by an Angel,” “Law & Order” and “Bonanza.”
Mary Jane Croft joined the “I Love Lucy” cast and made the transition with Lucille Ball into the sitcom that followed, “The Lucy Show,” as Lucy’s sidekick.
Greg Neff can soon be seen in theaters around the country in “Bait Shop,” Bill Engvall’s latest redneck comedy.
Isabel Withers, a Frankton native, stands as the town’s only known celebrity resident and played minor roles in films like “A Wonderful Life” (1950) and television shows including “Lassie” and “The Bob Cummings Show.”
William Walker, of Pendleton, had roles in “Porgy and Bess” (1959), “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962) and “The Great White Hope” (1970).
Actors aren’t the only Madison County natives taking Hollywood by storm. Recently, the sons of Anderson University President James Edwards broke into the business with a twist on a classic children’s story.
Corey and Todd Edwards collaborated to write and direct “Hoodwinked” (2005), a computer-animated comedy about Little Red Riding Hood.
In an AU viewing of the show, Todd Edwards said filmmaking had been a lifelong dream for the brothers. “When we were kids, we wanted to make movies like ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’ When we got the opportunity to do this, I said I wouldn’t do a kid’s movie, but it began to make sense.”
The cast and production team of the movie is made up primarily of AU grads including Benjy Gaither, Preston Stutzman, Tye Edwards and Katie (Edwards) Hooten.
Other notable Madison County directors include Ray Enright and George Daugherty.
Enright, an Anderson native, directed 73 films including “Stolen Kisses” (1929), “Naughty but Nice” (1939) and “Wild Bill Hickok Rides” (1942).
Daugherty is a jack-of-all-trades of the music and film industry. As a writer, composer, director, actor and editor, Daugherty has worked all sides of the business, most notably as the director of the Broadway musical “Bugs Bunny on Broadway” (1990).