THIS WEEK'S FEATURED STORIES|
Hobcaw on the screen
By Jackie R. Broach
It was a taste of Hollywood Pawleys Island style as hundreds gathered for an advance screening of a new film about one of the area’s most famous historic families.
“The Baruchs of Hobcaw,” a documentary that debuts Nov. 17 on S.C. ETV, was shown to about 200 guests Wednesday during a premiere and reception at the Waccamaw Higher Education Center. The film is part of “Carolina Stories,” S.C. ETV’s award-winning series highlighting people, places and events important to the state and its history.
The Baruchs were a perfect fit, said Betsy Newman, who produced the film.
“It’s just a great story and I am honored to have been selected to tell part of it,” Newman said.
The documentary focuses on the part of their lives that took place at Hobcaw Barony. The family’s patriarch, Bernard Baruch, purchased the former plantation in the early 1900s as a hunting retreat. He was a wealthy New York stockbroker and advisor to seven presidents, though his roots were in South Carolina.
His daughter, Belle, later bought the property and ensured its future as a wildlife refuge, teaching facility and haven for researchers.
“The Baruchs could be a miniseries. I can see it in my mind. It’s just such a big story, but we’re focusing on just that part of their lives.
“I think it’s just such a great father-daughter story. They were so passionate about Hobcaw.”
She hopes the film will “intrigue people and pique their interest in Hobcaw, which is such a fantastic place.”
The documentary was about two years in the making. It started when one of ETV’s directors visited the barony several years ago and told Newman about the “great story” behind it.
“She had been down there and seen where FDR slept and all the memorabilia of Belle and the family,” Newman said. So some of the production staff made an appointment to visit.
They filmed scenes at Hobcaw this spring, recruiting locals for many of the parts. Interviews were also conducted with those who know the property and its history intimately, including Minnie Kennedy of Georgetown, who grew up in Friendfield Village, a former slave community at Hobcaw. Mary E. Miller, a former journalist who penned a biography of Belle Baruch, “Baroness of Hobcaw,” was also tapped for her expertise.
But one of the biggest boons for the production was a collection of old home movies S.C. ETV was allowed to use.
“It was just an incredible gold mine of imagery of the Baruchs and the people they knew from about the 1920s into probably the late ’40s,” Newman said. “There is fantastic footage of people coming down on the train in Georgetown and arriving at Hobcaw in the Baruchs’ yacht, the beautiful people in their fur coats at the beach. It really made the documentary. It’s the kind of thing that documentary makers dream about.”
There was also footage of Belle, an avid equestrian, riding in Europe in the 1920s and ’30s, and taken from her two-seat airplane as she piloted it over California and the Grand Canyon.
“The other tremendous asset has been the Georgetown County Digital Library, which has the digitized version of the Baruch family photos, which number in the hundreds,” Newman said. “There are photos going all the way back to the 1890s when Bernard and Annie got married and of Belle as a little baby. That’s such a fantastic thing that Julie Warren and Dwight McInvaill have done for researchers.”
McInvaill is the county library director while Warren heads the digital library and had an acting role in the documentary. She portrayed Lois Massey, who spent most of her life working for the Baruchs. In one scene, she is helping Belle look out for German submarines off the coast at Hobcaw.
Belle was a member of U.S. Naval Intelligence during World War II and spent many a night on watch at a grass shack she had on the beach.
Locals who acted or were interviewed in the documentary were among the select people who attended the premier. But people who had less visible roles, including those who allowed their horses to be used for the production, were also invited.
“They had to bring in all manner of horse people for the film and, just as much as the parents of the kids who had parts, the owners of these horses want to see their babies on screen,” said Linda Ketron of the Osher Lifelong Learning Center, one of the sponsors for the event.
Actors dressed in a top hats and tails portraying Bernard Baruch were also on hand to mill through the crowd during the reception.
Invitations for the premier went out to friends and supporters of Hobcaw, S.C. ETV, Osher and the event’s other sponsor, the Humanities Council of South Carolina. People from all over the state were quick to respond and reserve a seat.
“We’ve never had anything like this before, so people were excited to be a part of it,” said Ketron.
The story of the Baruchs is an important one for residents of South Carolina and highlights several critical areas of the state’s history.
“There are all these themes that connect to the history of South Carolina. Northern money used to purchase southern land was very prominently felt on Waccmaw Neck with families like the Baruchs, the Vanderbilts and the Yawkeys,” Newman said. “Bernard Baruch led the way. He was the first of the northern millionaires to buy land and preserve it. It’s such an environmental success story. The whole lower portion of Waccamaw Neck was preserved.”
It also looks at the relationship between the wealthy landowners and the poverty-stricken blacks who had homes on the property, some of whom had been slaves there.
“It wasn’t that long after the Civil War,” Newman pointed out. “This is a good lens through which to look at how they impacted the lives of the wealthy people who bought the land.”
The blacks who worked for the landowners “were the ones who knew the land and the waters,” she said.
The documentary also highlights the relationship between the families and the white locals who worked for them, as well as Jewish life in South Carolina at the time.
In addition to seeing the film before anyone else, attendees at the premiere also got to hear from Newman about the making of the film, as well as from Lee Brockington, a historian and interpreter at Hobcaw who had the role of Mrs. Baruch in the film.
Wrapping things up was a question and answer session.
For those who didn’t have a chance to attend the premiere, the Higher Education Center will have a second showing on the big screen as the documentary airs on Nov. 17.
The simulcast won’t include all the special extras, such as talks from the crew, but Brockington will be there to offer remarks about the filming process and local participation.
Advance reservations are required and seating is limited. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. Call 349-6584 for information.
The documentary will air at 8 p.m. on S.C. ETV.