PICNIC – a walk into our past
Bob Laudemann was was kind enough to write up this piece about the movie “Picnic” for this webpage. Edited by the owner and creator of the Lavender Blond page (myself).
When the movie “Picnic” was made, I was just being born! So, my awareness of this movie was kindled years later. For some years now, I have been designing airplanes in Wichita, Kansas, .the area where the movie “Picnic” was made. I have some heartfelt comments to make along two lines of thought. I hope that my impressions and expressions could convince someone out there that Kim Novak is not only a beautiful and thoughtful person, but, has a true talent of decency and a caring personality which is portrayed in her movies.
Although I have never met her, it would be my impression that she is most likely as genuine and considerate in real life as well. I say “her movies” because she is one of the few surviving stars of this movie era. I feel strongly that she deserves more appreciation and applause for her acting talents and abilities! I wanted to focus on her movie “Picnic” due to the fact that I live in the area where the film was made. This has permitted me to take little trips to the film locations, which has made for nice Sunday afternoon outings in the past.
I have asked myself the question, “why do you go to the trouble to make these little ‘pilgrimages,’ now and then, to take another look at the old haunts that many people are not aware of or that very few people even remember! As I have thought about this from time to time I have reckoned that I have gone to the various towns (shooting locations), where this film was made, simply to feel the mood of the area and the era of that time and to imagine “old ghosts” of the crew and cast while filming on location.
I would drive to “Riverside Park” in Halstead, Kansas where the “picnic scenes” were filmed and where Madge (Kim Novak) became the “Queen of Neewollah!” I have walked across the ‘old suspension bridge,’ many times, where the film audience would see the Japanese lanterns hanging so decoratively across the Little Arkansas River. I would take my son to Riverside Park to play catch (baseball) and sit on the park benches to kick back and take it easy. I have gone to these locations on many occasions to imagine the “aire” of the townspeople, actors, directors, and perhaps to see for myself the attitudes and spirits of things that were “once upon a time” in Middle America of the 1950’s.
It is the same bridge that you see a bunch of people standing and waiting for Kim (Madge) to appear and also as the 4 fella’s (quartet) begin singing (as they were standing in the middle of the bridge) “Neewollah” in strange harmonic tones. Then you get to see Madge (Kim Novak) floating down the Little Arkansas River inside the decorative “goose” which was placed on a small boat and thus is floating under the old suspension bridge. Of course then, Kim is named Queen of “Neewollah” after she floats so majestically down the river and says, “hi” with some love interest to Hal (William Holden) who also is standing on the riverbank with a heart pounding for Madge’s attention and affection. Madge is thus honored by all those standing along the river banks and as everybody begins to sing, “Ain’t She Sweet!”
Riverside Park is where the entire picnic portion of the movie was filmed. All of the “games,” pie eating contests, singing, dancing, and all the “fun stuff” portrayed in the movie is at Riverside Park. Traditionally, I usually through 4 nickels into the river from the middle of the old bridge as described above – each one for my four children just for fun. After 10 years of visiting the park many times throughout the years, there ought to be a bunch of money (nickels) on the river bottom!!
Since I have done this on many occasions, either alone or with others, I would stress the fact that this is Americana and a single point in time that has been captured on film to reacquaint us with our Daly lives both then and now. I have enjoyed the few friends that have compared notes with me and for whom can appreciate this film, as a film, and not just another movie. It’s been fun to go to the house in Nickerson, Kansas to see where Kim Novak (Madge) hung her beautiful tresses out the upstairs window as she had unintentionally aggravated her younger sister “Milly,” reading her book below, because the water was dripping on the pages. Or, on the “side” porch where Rosalind Russell (Miss Rosemary Sydney), would so pleadingly upon her knees, beg Arthur O’Connell (Howard Bevins) to come back in the morning and marry her.
It has been fun to visit the little old lady that has lived in the house for the past 25 years and sit on the porch to reflect on different scenes taken while shooting the film at that particular location. The lady living in the house now not only is pleasant to visit with, but, has been very patient and accommodating. She writes and recites beautiful poetry and has many poems well memorized and ready to rehearse.
Like a well-aged wine, I can savor the essence and the heartfelt desires of this movie which has bestowed a flavor or a glimpse of the problems that faced functional and “dysfunctional” family life even way back then in everyday American life. We as a nation went from purpose in the 1940’s, to establishing a middle class in the 1950’s, to complete breakdown in attitudes and priorities in the years following. So, through films like “Picnic” we can see and perhaps remember where we came from and how our attitudes have changed.
I have read the criticism about Kim’s (Marilyn’s) portrayal of “Madge Owens” and I have actually become offended at their (the critics) reckless thoughts and descriptions with their comments toward Kim’s efforts and acting ability. I own copies of the movie on VHS and DVD, which in the latter, has been restored flawlessly. For its time and creation (considering the technology of the day), “Picnic” has been made available to us as a gift and a recollection of an era of family, the desire to be appreciated as our own selves, and the searching nature of many people who want to be recognized for their individualism and not for “being just pretty!”
In many respects, I feel that Kim was portraying and emitting her true nature and feelings. Madge exclaims “what good is it to be just pretty!” To me and a host of others, Kim has a “mind” and a genuine nature of her own character and ability. She is not a “fuzzy headed” plaything, but, a true intelligent person as one can see in this movie that was to “kick-off” her career. I say, “bad critics. . .bad, bad critics” who sit on their ‘ample buttocks’ and have never tried to act in a film and convince others that they are some other character or individual in life.
And one final note, the word “NEEWOLLAH,” which is Halloween backwards, was borrowed from the city of Independence, Kansas (a small Kansas town which is about 80 miles southeast of Wichita, Kansas), for which the town folks down there have “THE NEEWOLLAH” festival and parade each year. I guess the writers of the movie script thought, perhaps, that maybe it would be cool to borrow the name of the “Neewollah festival” to create some significance and meaning for the name of the picnic and To Crown The “Queen of Neewollah” for whom Madge (Kim Novak) was elected and was crowned at the end of the picnic. This scene was at the end of the picnic portion of the movie and Madge was floating down the river as the new Queen of Neewollah.
The filming locations for
Salina, Kansas (90 miles north of Wichita)
Where Hal (William Holden) gets off the train at the beginning of the movie.
Where Hal (William Holden) meets Allen (Cliff Robertson) at Allen’s mansion.
Where Madge and Hal are along side the Saline River and she kisses Hal for the first time.
Where Hal hides from the police and hides in the Salina River and falls into it (close to end of movie)
Nickerson, Kansas (65 miles Northwest of Wichita)
The locations of the old homes where Madge and Mrs. Potts live in the movie.
Where Hal jumps on freight train at the end of the movie.
Where Madge finally leaves her mother and gets on the bus for Tulsa.
Hutchinson, Kansas (50 miles Northwest of Wichita)
Where Allen shows Hal the giant grain elevators (Allen’s familly business).
Sterling, Kansas (75 miles Northwest of Wichita)
Where everybody goes swimming at “Sterling Lake” where Hal jumps off diving board.
Halstead, Kansas (30 miles Northwest of Wichita)
Where Riverside Park is located and where the picnic scences were filmed.
The whole movie was filmed in May of 1955 and release in 1956.