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Wisconsin Celebs by Judith Ann Moriarty – The Storyteller

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Wisconsin is famous for cheese, the Packers, brats and beer, but not necessarily in that order. And Oprah Winfrey’s mother who lived a few floors below me when I dwelt in Milwaukee. Her name is Vernita Lee.

But today as I thought about the approaching New Year, I was surprised to read that if Orson Welles, the world’s greatest filmmaker, had lived until this coming May, he would be celebrating his 101st birthday. Do you remember “Citizen Kane?” “War of the Worlds?” And so many other celebrated movies.

Whiz Bang and Gol Dang. Welles was born in Kenosha, the son of a drunken father who worked for a manufacturer of bicycle lamps, and a mother from whom he inherited his artistic talents, or so says a feature article in the Dec. 7 issue of The New Yorker Magazine. The feature, titled “The Shadow,” implies that Orson cast a big one.

This time of year with 2016 breathing down my neck, I find myself musing about what will unreel at the refurbished downtown theater. Wouldn’t it be great to kick it all off with a festival featuring actors who are from Wisconsin, or those whose lives were intertwined with this state: Gene Wilder (Charles & the Chocolate Factory, etc.), Spencer Tracey, Pat O’Brien (both attended, briefly, Marquette H.S.). Envision a week highlighting actors who rose to fame and left Wisconsin in the dust when they fled for Hollywood and far shores. There are more and you can do the googling yourself.

Wouldn’t it be great to kick off the opening flick with “Citizen Kane?” Whether or not you agree with Orson’s politics (he was a far left lefties championing minority groups), you’d be hard pressed to deny his considerable talents. But then again, one’s taste in movies varies greatly. There was a time when I loved Tarzan movies, mostly because T’s sidekick Boy was a dream in a loin cloth, or so said my pre-teen heart. There is nothing like “going” to the movies. Getting off the couch, turning off your devices, and sitting down in the theater while clutching a big bag of buttered (real butter) popcorn.

In my dreams future tense, I sense a festival featuring Wisconsin filmmakers, excellent chaps like UW-Milwaukee’s Dick Blau, now retired but still very active. A series of lectures from Dick? Maybe something with dinner at a local downtown venue, paired with a ticket or two to the theater? Or will they define it as a “theatre?” This past year, Blau’s fabulous photography focused on Wisconsin’s polka culture, dazzled viewers at the Museum of Wisconsin Art. And lots of young filmmakers from our state are working on video presentations.

Or the theater (theatre) could host a happy week of films for kids: cartoons from old time times (Tom & Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Wile E. Coyote & Roadrunner). Let them have a taste of how Mickey Mouse has evolved over the decades…

How about A Washington County funniest video week? Is that a possibility? What’s in your dreams? The Storyteller wants to know.

So many movies, so many moments, so much creativity as we whirl into 2016. ….

Photo of an old West Bend Theatre marquee courtesy Roger Strack

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