Names like Timothy Hutton, Josh Hutcherson and James Franco are not names usually associated with southwest Ohio where I live, but for 24 hours over the weekend, those names attracted spectators hoping to get a glimpse of Hollywood fame.
Although meeting the stars would be cool, what I was most interested in was watching the film crew transform the town into a movie set. I watched as the building being used as the backdrop for the film– Dale’s Pool Hall as it is locally known — was transformed into a 1940s-era structure. Workers could be seen altering the building’s façade early Sunday morning — eventually adding signage above the diner labeling it F&J’s. While they worked, cars from the 1940s were brought onto the set and gravel was placed on the street to create the appearance of a unpaved road in Tennessee.
Filming started at 4 p.m. and was scheduled to last until 4 a.m.
Although I did not stick around to see the celebrities, I did take my daughter up to the set at 10:30 p.m. to see if she could catch a glimpse of the fame — we left at midnight without success. But despite our lack of success, the set did bring a feeling of excitement and intrigue to our small town.
Other Famous People Visit Preble County
It’s not the first time famous actors have been in Preble County — although it may be the first time a major picture has been filmed here. When Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise starred in Rain Man, some of the movie was filmed in the southwest Ohio area as well as in nearby Metamora, Indiana. My wife — who was a teen when the movie was filmed — was able to secure some movie memorabilia and an image of Tom Cruise watching a go-kart race at G & J Kartway — in Camden on the south end of Preble County.
But there have been others as well.
Garth Brooks was signed to perform at the Preble County Fair about a year before he became famous — and he honored his commitment. Years ago, George Wendt (of Cheers) was spotted at the Preble County Fair and members of the TV Show Dallas were also spotted inside the county.
But possibly the most intriguing connection to Hollywood and Preble County was from the early 1970s. A character actor — largely unknown today — Billy De Wolfe befriended the region after getting pulled over for speeding on Interstate 70 in Preble County. According to the March 4, 1974 edition of The Register-Herald, which announced his death, De Wolfe’s “comments on national television program put Eaton on the map.” The paper further reported De Wolfe had,
“… adopted the Eaton community and was interested in its activities. It was not unusual for him to make a telephone call to a friend here on the spur of the moment.”
Later that same year he is mentioned in a publication about the annual Preble County Pork Festival. When De Wolfe appeared at the 1973 Pork Festival, the paper said,
“The late Billy De Wolfe of Hollywood, Calif., arrived in the community Thursday and spend many hours visiting with local residents and visitors.
He willingly signed hundreds of autographs, watched the various events and activities, appeared with Bob Braun on the 50-50 Club and was the ‘Candy Man’ in the final numbers of two of the Preble Festival Swingers’ three shows which played to a packed house.”
Although the roles played by Franco and the cast of The Long Home are considerably different than the ones played by De Wolfe, Sunday afternoon in Eaton had the same feeling described more than 40 years ago. Just like De Wolfe, the actors signed autographs and — in the modern era– took ‘selfies’ with spectators.
And the actors seemed genuinely thrilled by their fans’ adoration.
So, who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky again — with a new generation of actors putting Eaton back on the map.