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Hometowns, Seeking Tourism Boost, Commemorate Judy Garland, Clark Gable

June 11, 1989

Undated (AP) _ It was a big weekend for 1939 movies with hometown folks celebrating in the birthplaces of both Judy Garland and Clark Gable to mark 50th anniversaries of the classics ″The Wizard of Oz″ and ″Gone With the Wind.″

Talking trees from Oz paraded in Grand Rapids, Minn., Saturday, and a barbecue in Cadiz, Ohio, re-created the lawn party at Twelve Oaks, home of Ashley Wilkes, on the eve of the Civil War in ″GWTW.″

No one seemed to pay much mind that neither Garland nor Gable showed much interest in their tiny hometowns after shaking the dust from their heels on their respective roads to Hollywood and stardom. Folks in both towns are hoping that more hoopla about their famous former residents will boost tourism.

Garland, best known as as Dorthy in ″Oz,″ was born in Grand Rapids as Frances Gumm. She who died in London in 1969 would have been 67 Saturday.

Gable was born Feb. 1, 1901, in Hopedale, Ohio, 10 miles from Saturday’s festivities, but a monument to the actor is in Cadiz where he lived as a child. The gawky, big-eared boy never returned to Harrison County after moving to Akron in 1917.

Known as ″The King of Hollywood″ during his heyday, Gable played the Confederate blockade-runner Rhett Butler in ″Gone With the Wind,″ while Vivien Leigh played the Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara.

In Grand Rapids on Saturday, lawn chairs and strollers were 10-deep in some spots along the street for the Judy Garland Festival parade. Fern Formica, who played a munchkin in ″Oz,″ was parade grand marshal. One float featured the Wicked Witch of the West, the talking trees with moving arms and even some flying monkeys.

Lorelei Matten of Wrenshall, Minn., was the official Dorothy, and a half- dozen unofficial ones could be seen along the parade route wearing gingham jumpers and holding little black terriers or whatever other dog was available as a Toto stand-in.

Two of the youngest actors in ″Gone With the Wind″ attended the Twelve Oaks barbecue in Cadiz - Cammie King Conlon, who was Bonnie Blue, the doomed child of Scarlett and Rhett; and Patrick Curtis, who portrayed the infant son of Ashley and Melanie Wilkes. Fred Crane, who played one of Scarlett’s suitors, also was on hand.

″I got the role by default,″ Ms. Conlon recalled. ″My older sister was cast for the part, but by the time the shooting began, she was too old to play Bonnie Blue.″

Curtis said he appeared in the film because Gable was a friend of his father’s. ″When I was older, he took me for a ride in his new Jaguar,″ he said. ″That is the thoughtful kind of person he was.″

Grand Rapids, which was renamed the Emerald City for the nine-day festival that began Saturday, swelled to more than double its 8,000 residents as it celebrated one the world’s most enduring films. Hotel, motel and resort rooms were filled for miles around, city tourism officials said.

″One old fellow from Boston said he’s seen everything Judy’s ever done,″ said Elaine Erven, who staffed a tourist information booth in town. ″He even went to her funeral. He said he wouldn’t have missed this.″

Garland paraphernalia was everywhere, including hats, balloons, stickers, pins, T-shirts and post cards emblazoned with Dorothy, Toto and the rest of the Oz characters.

″I love her charisma, her windows to her soul,″ said Garland fan Laurie Savran of Minneapolis. ″You can read her so well. The pain. The struggles of her life.″

Not everyone had joined the fan club, though.

″I think it’s kind of stupid,″ said Jennifer Gaustad, a 17-year-old Grand Rapids High School student. ″She hated Grand Rapids. She said she didn’t want to admit being born here. She wanted to get out of here as fast as possible.″

Garland left the area with her family when she was 4 years old and returned only once, in March 1938.

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