Originally created 04/21/00

Ramblin' Rhodes: Flag fuss could keep 'Beach Music' out of S.C.



Novelist Pat Conroy says his most recent best seller, Beach Music, may not be filmed in South Carolina if the Confederate flag isn't removed from atop the Capitol in Columbia.

"It's supposed to be filmed in Beaufort in the fall," Mr. Conroy told me after a recent concert by Joan Baez at the Newberry (S.C.) Opera House. "They have signed Brad Pitt to play in it, but I'm not sure that the movie is going to be done in South Carolina if they don't resolve this flag issue."

Just a few days before the Baez concert, Mr. Conroy joined Charleston, S.C., Mayor Joe Riley in the first part of Mr. Riley's march from Charleston to Columbia to protest the flying of the flag at the Capitol.

"In fact," Mr. Conroy continued, "TV people in Hollywood have called me and said they want to do a miniseries of The Prince of Tides, but I think they have the same problem. I think (if the Confederate flag isn't removed) Hollywood will cut off the film industry in South Carolina. And, by the way, Georgia, it's coming across the river pretty soon."

Much of the Atlanta-born writer's Beach Music takes place in the fictional South Carolina coastal town of Waterford.

Portions of movies based on other Conroy novels -- The Great Santini, The Water is Wide, The Lords of Discipline and The Prince of Tides -- were filmed along the South Carolina or Georgia coast.

Beach Music, a 1995 work about a Charleston writer who moves with his young daughter to Italy after the suicide of his wife, and The Boo, a 1969 nonfiction work about Lt. Col. Thomas Courvoisie of The Citadel, are the only books by Mr. Conroy that have not been filmed.

"The Boo is going to be made into a movie also," Mr. Conroy said. "Brian Dennehy is going to star in a TV movie about The Boo."

Mr. Conroy's first successful book, The Water Is Wide, which he wrote about his days teaching poor black children on an island off the South Carolina coast, was turned into the 1974 movie Conrack, with Jon Voight portraying Mr. Conroy. It was filmed around Brunswick, Ga.

Much of Beach Music deals with the main character's mother dying of leukemia. Mr. Conroy said his mother, Peggy, died of leukemia in 1984.

"Yes, that's in Beach Music," he said of his mother, who was married to Navy Capt. John Egan at the time of her death. "My mom died in Augusta at the Eisenhower hospital (at Fort Gordon). They didn't have the cancer treatment facilities at the military hospital in Beaufort."

Just as Mr. Conroy's novel The Great Santini was largely based on his father, Marine pilot Col. Donald Conroy, The Prince of Tides was largely based on his mother, fictionalized as the character Lila Wingo. Mr. Conroy said the name of the central town, Colleton, in The Prince of Tides was borrowed from the name of Colleton Avenue in Aiken. Mr. Conroy stayed in Aiken while his mother was in the hospital at Fort Gordon.

He is working on a book about the basketball team he played on his senior year (1966-'67) at The Citadel and what became of its members. They won eight games and lost 16.

"I'm calling it My Losing Season," Mr. Conroy said. "I have been going back and interviewing all the guys who were on this team. I'm having a ball writing it."

Don Rhodes can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at ramblin@groupz.net.