TERRE HAUTE —
Terre Haute grew fond of Eugene Debs.
The process took time.
America’s most famous “radical” aggravated many folks in his Indiana hometown with his political views in the early 20th century. Debs spent three years in a Georgia penitentiary for a 1918 speech alleging that capitalist greed motivated World War I. A Terre Haute newspaper endorsed Debs’ arrest on federal sedition charges. Yet, by 1921, hearts softened here. The Terre Haute Post organized a petition to free Debs, urging locals to sign it “if you feel that free speech is worth preserving in America.”
Sixty percent of Hauteans did so.
By contrast, just 52 percent of registered voters in Vigo County showed up at the polls in the 2012 general election.
As church bells rang and brass bands played, a crowd of 50,000, according to the New York Times, greeted Debs as the social activist and labor leader returned to this city from prison, frail and 65 years old, after President Warren G. Harding commuted his sentence on Christmas Day 1921.
Ten-thousand people cheered Larry Bird and his Indiana State Sycamores teammates when they came back to Terre Haute after reaching the 1979 NCAA Finals.
Somehow, lots of Debs’ fellow Terre Hauteans made peace with the fact that the city’s most internationally known native son was an unabashed socialist. If they could, so can 21st-century Terre Haute. As in 1921, reconciliation today wouldn’t require an endorsement of his politics. Instead, the community can simply see Debs as the railroad fireman, Terre Haute city clerk and Indiana state representative who became a national voice for the overlooked people of his time — the working class, women, minorities, children and the elderly. Imperfect, but good-hearted. A champion of “radical” causes that are now mainstream, such as Social Security, child labor laws and voting rights for women. The man who said, “Yes, I am my brother’s keeper. I am under a moral obligation to him that is inspired not by maudlin sentimentality, but by the higher duty I owe myself.”
Since his death in 1926, that bond faded. A Debs-phobia crept in its place, leaving many unable to get past the label of “five-time Socialist Party presidential candidate.”
Basically, it’s time to lighten up. Debs was, and arguably is, the most colorful, charismatic and quoted figure ever to call this place “home.”
Like John, Bird gatherings
He’s also giving us another chance to celebrate our Hauteanality, just as we did in October when Tommy John came home to see a city ballpark named in his honor and in November when Larry Bird returned for the unveiling of his bronze statue in front of Hulman Center. A feature-length movie, loosely based on Debs’ legacy, will premiere in the Indiana Theatre on Saturday night, Feb. 15. It’s full of local people, places and history, stars Hollywood veteran Tom Sizemore and political personality Jesse Ventura, and is the brainchild of Terre Haute-raised filmmakers William Tanoos and Paul Fleschner.
The cinematic debut of “The Drunk” should bring the community together for a fun night, a purely Hautean experience.
“If you’re in Terre Haute, there’s a real reason to see this movie,” said Fleschner, who with Tanoos co-wrote, co-directed and acted in the film.
Their cinematic adventure began in October 2010, when Tanoos sent Fleschner a first draft of a screenplay about a hard-drinking man who gets arrested for a DUI and then launches an improbable campaign for Indiana governor against a corrupt prosecutor. Fleschner added a transformative twist, linking the young candidate to the iconic Eugene Victor Debs. The character became Joe Debs, Eugene’s fictional grandson. (In reality, Debs had no children.)
Debs’ legacy looms in the background of the present-day storyline.
“For me, Debs is the DNA of this movie,” Fleschner said by telephone from Chicago, where he now lives with his wife and works as an actor and audiobook narrator.
Pieces of Debs’ 70-year lifetime, from 1855 to 1926, crop up in scenes shot inside the Debs home, now a museum on North Eighth Street in Terre Haute, preserved by the Debs Foundation. “The Drunk” was filmed entirely in Terre Haute in summer 2011 and spring 2012. The settings will be familiar to locals — Woodrow Wilson Middle School, Union Hospital, Ohio Boulevard, the Saratoga and Moggers restaurants, the Vigo County Courthouse, the now-closed Coffee Grounds, the Vigo County jail and courthouse, Indiana State University and, fittingly, its theatrical destination, the Indiana Theatre.
That theater opened in 1922, the year after Debs came home from prison. Perhaps he watched a few movies there himself.
“To have a premiere in Terre Haute was a given,” said Tanoos, who joined the interview by conference call from southern California, where he lives and works as a disability-law attorney.
“It needs to premiere in Terre Haute,” Fleschner added.
A hollywood touch
Both noted the theater’s recent revitalization under new owner Rob Lundstrom. The place likely looks as spectacular as it has since its heyday. The screening of “The Drunk” will feature slices of that style. The $10 general-admission tickets will include a question-and-answer session with the filmmakers after the viewing. The $40 VIP tickets include a red-carpet walk where “everybody can do their best paparazzi pose,” Tanoos said.
The film’s destiny from Terre Haute will be guided by Green Apple Entertainment, with details of its national release due by April, Fleschner said. They signed a distribution deal with Green Apple on Sept. 27, the day Fleschner got married. They’ll market to various formats a film that received its finishing touches from Hollywood-experienced experts. The sound mix occurred at 20th Century Fox facilities. Veteran editor Ross Albert honed its final look.
Though Tanoos, 34, and Fleschner, 30, are first-timers, they’re surrounded by seasoned movie makers. Sizemore, of “Blackhawk Down” and “Saving Private Ryan” fame, plays Joe Debs’ campaign opponent, Bruce Frye.
“This is a real movie, and it looks like it,” Tanoos said.
They’re hoping it entertains viewers, fascinates critics, turns a profit for the film’s investors, and serves as a springboard to bigger ventures for the two.
Most of all, “it’s telling a story,” Fleschner said, “and you do it to share it with people.”
The premiere here could be enlightening. “I think people will walk away from this film really being interested and intrigued by this historical figure,” Fleschner said.
Like Joe Debs, Terre Hauteans may see Eugene Debs through fresh eyes, and finally consider him as one of us.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Film premiere offers chance for town to reconcile with its most colorful character
TERRE HAUTE —
Terre Haute grew fond of Eugene Debs.
MAX JONES: Newspapers can be fun, too; check out Readers’ Choice
Smart and savvy newspaper readers (that’s all of you, of course) know full well that their daily consumption of news and information isn’t an exclusively high-brow pursuit.
MAX JONES: Dawn of new day in local elections
After a year off from the electoral process, counties across Indiana are gearing up for their next exercise in democratic politics, the 2014 primary election.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’
I’ve been thankful this winter for a full propane tank and ample cold cranking amps and school snow-delay days that have kept me off the roads until the sun is up on the most frigid of these mornings.
MAX JONES: Readers and writers — we’ve got lots of them
When people grab their daily newspaper, you can pretty much predict the reading path most will take. Readers have habits, as academic and professional surveys have shown.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Law hits poverty-stricken schools hard
Chuck Brimbury is no-excuses kind of guy.
MAX JONES: Digging for wisdom in Larrison’s lament
Ferocious winter storms have been a rarity in west-central Indiana in recent decades, even though heavy snow or sub-zero stretches of days drop in occasionally to remind us how miserable they can make us.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Plenty of ‘emptiness’ to go around at start of 2014 session
Last Tuesday’s cold start to the 2014 legislative session was warmed by the standing ovation given to House Minority Leader Scott Pelath following his traditional opening day remarks.
MARK BENNETT: The Drunk: Making peace
Terre Haute grew fond of Eugene Debs.
The process took time.
THE OFF SEASON: Seeing the miraculousness of the ordinary
It was just a few nights ago that I announced to my wife that I was headed outside to watch the International Space Station pass overhead.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Lying by the warm radioside
I am writing this piece well before Christmas Eve, although you wouldn’t think that it can be far away by the look of things out my windows tonight.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Meth labs so prevalent, test kits on market for homebuyers
Donetta Held knows how strange the world of methamphetamine is.
Raising the bar
Around coffeeshops, kitchen tables and office watercoolers, Hoosiers have cussed and discussed the federal health care law.
This time don't use your head
My personal suggestion is leather helmets.
As frightening data on concussions filters its way from the National Football League on down to colleges, high schools and youth leagues, I can’t help but think back to the time when I was standing on the sidelines watching my teammates play.
Should Bears start Cutler? Yes
The enthusiasm surrounding Josh McCown’s performance in relief of the injured Jay Cutler is understandable.
But the thought that Bears made a mistake by announcing Jay Cutler as the starting quarterback Thursday? Wrong. Not only was Cutler playing well early in the year, but everyone around Cutler is more in tune with coach Marc Trestman's system now.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘The mind is a dark forest’
If you hadn’t noticed by reading this newspaper or hearing me crow about it myself, I have another collection of stories out in print.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Hoosiers’ priorities vs. legislators’ agenda
Every year at about this time, Statehouse reporters like me ask lawmakers what their priorities will be for the coming year.
Tim Meadows: SNL cast member knew he was prime time
If you watched the first broadcast of “Saturday Night Live” on Oct. 11, 1975, raise your hand.
That gives you something in common with Tim Meadows.
MARRIAGE EQUALITY: Cheneys’ feud hits Indiana
Oh, it’s on.
If there was any doubt that the coming fight over the same-sex marriage ban amendment in Indiana was going to be elevated to the national level, it’s gone.
MARK BENNETT: ABA’s record proves Bobby Leonard’s a legit Hall of Famer
Bobby Leonard symbolized the feisty competitive flair of the old ABA.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Inching on toward a cold winter?
I’m not ready for snow and ice and the daggers of a north wind, but I have finally accepted the fact that winter is nearly here.
Larry’s Lessons: On a beautiful fall day at Hulman Center
I attended the unveiling of the Larry Bird statue on Saturday, Nov. 9, and found the proceedings to be wonderful.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘I’m going simply because I’ve got to … ’
Late in the year 1944, the great Hoosier war correspondent Ernie Pyle, mentally and physically exhausted from his months reporting from the battlefields of Europe, came home for the last time. He was scrawny and gray.
MARK BENNETT: A degree of success
Determination to get that diploma Larry Bird’s deepest bond with fellow ISU alums, students
TODD GOLDEN: Munn, Odum want to make paper accomplishment a real one
When it comes to Missouri Valley Conference Media Day, it has historically been a kick in the gut for Indiana State's basketball teams.
But not this year. For the first time since formal MVC preseason polls began in the mid-1980s, the Sycamores rule the MVC roost.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Pumpkins: Good for the fork and the (carving) knife
My wife and I are fairly frugal; we are budgeters and planners. In the fall, we set aside what we’ll need to heat the house and pay the doctor and buy sensible shoes for school. I think we’re going to have to open an account for pumpkins, too.
MARK BENNETT: Next chapter set to begin
Use the classic Tommy Tutone song to memorize the following number …
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John’s Field of Dreams
A kid pedals a bicycle, a ball glove looped over the handlebar, headed to a sandlot game.
It didn’t get much better than that for a 10-year-old in summertime.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Déjà vu, courtesy of violinist prodigy
It’s been said that the longer married couples stay together, the more they begin to think alike. I can’t refute that, although, for my wife’s sake, I hope a similar theory — that they begin to look alike, too — is far from true.
America, falling behind global peers
As Congress was descending further into dysfunction last week, this discouraging piece of news emerged: Despite how we Americans insist that we’re the best and brightest people on the globe, we’re not.
MAX JONES: Ernie Pyle’s IU legacy should be preserved
As an alum of Indiana University-Bloomington, where I received a bachelor’s degree in journalism many moons ago, I’ve been watching with keen interest the ongoing discussion about merging the School of Journalism with other areas of communications, such as PR and filmmaking, inside the College of Arts & Sciences.
- More Columns Headlines
- MAX JONES: Newspapers can be fun, too; check out Readers’ Choice