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The Making of Power and the Land (1940)
Most of the scenes in Power and the Land were shot on the Parkinson farm in Warnock, Ohio. The film’s premiere was held on August 31, 1940 at the Old Trail Theater in nearby St. Clairsville. The Parkinsons themselves were in attendance. And judging by a surviving photograph, so was Joris Ivens, the director; Edwin Locke, the assistant director; and Douglas Moore, the composer. One wonder what was going through Bill Parkinson’s mind at the time of the premiere. In one picture of the crowd in front of the Old Trail Theater, Bill, perhaps a little embarrassed by all the attention or just a little shy, is seen standing alone at the curb looking out at the street.

The premiere was a big event for St. Clairsville. According to The Next Greatest Thing (published by the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association in 1985, p. 157): “A number of local, state and federal officials also attended and messages were read from the governor, the REA administrator and other dignitaries.” Bradley Bradley, the Mayor of St. Clairsville, also declared the day as “REA Day.” And the local band even paraded by. As Dr. Robert L. Snyder has noted in Power for the Parkinsons (and reproduced in a streaming video below), St. Clairsville was probably the smallest town in the United States at that time to have a world premiere of a film released by a major distributor (RKO.)

A number of “walk-ons” – those who had bit parts in the film -- were present at the premiere. This included neighbors shown helping Bill cut the corn. One of the “walk-ons” was captured in a photograph taken outside the theater: Hays Ramsey, a local resident and shown in the center of the picture on the right, had been one a “walk-on” or “bit-player. (To see a segment in which he appeared in Power and the Land, click here.)

John W. Parkinson III, a nephew of Bill Parkinson, is probably one of the few people alive today who was present at the premiere in 1940. He remembers the theater being full and that the Parkinsons did not seem to have been changed in any way by their “celebrity” status. And after the passage of time, John recalls, most people forgot about the film and the family.


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