Two hundred years after the Battle of New Orleans was waged — earning it an eternal place in Louisiana history books and further burnishing Andrew Jackson’s reputation as one of America’s original action heroes — it is getting the Hollywood treatment.
In a ceremony timed to coincide with local bicentennial celebrations of the historic skirmish between American and British troops, fought in January 1814 as one of the closing salvos of the War of 1812, Hollywood producer Ken Atchity and brother Fred unveiled plans Friday (Jan. 9) for a major feature film about the battle’s place in history and Jackson’s role in it.
With a planned budget of $60 million to $65 million, the independently financed “Andrew Jackson and the Battle for New Orleans” is being targeted for a possible 2016 release, with shooting to begin as early as this summer. Envisioned by Ken Atchity as a sweeping action epic in the vein of 2000’s “The Patriot” and 1995’s Oscar-winning “Braveheart,” the film will be shot entirely within a 30-mile radius of New Orleans, he said.
A script for the film has been written, and while it will strive for historical accuracy, it will function as a mainstream Hollywood-style movie, not a “schoolroom movie.”
I’m really excited to see this happening, but as I’ve said before, what I’d really like to see is a sprawling, three-hour, Patton-esque Old Hickory biopic. I’d start with a brief scene at the American lines on Jan. 8, 1815, zoom in on Jackson’s face as he scans the horizon for signs of the British, and then flashback to his boyhood injury at the hands of a redcoat officer during the Revolution. Flash forward to the Dickinson duel and the run-up to the War of 1812, cover his Creek campaign, then New Orleans for the big climax.
Time permitting, I’d include the whole 1818 Florida imbroglio, and then cut to James Monroe and John Quincy Adams mulling it over and discussing the fact that the country hasn’t heard the last of Jackson…annnnd roll credits over some rousing military music.
Here’s an earlier Hollywood take on Jackson in New Orleans, with Charlton Heston as Old Hickory and Yul Brynner as Jean Lafitte in The Buccaneer (1958). Heston was probably used to filling Jackson’s boots at that point, since he’d played the same role in The President’s Lady just a few years earlier.
I’ve spent the whole War of 1812 Bicentennial waiting to post this. *squeals with delight*
Fun fact: Jimmy Driftwood, the guy who wrote this ditty, was actually an Arkansas schoolteacher and principal named James Corbitt Morris, who used music to liven up his history classes. In 1936 he set his own lyrics to a traditional song about the battle called “The Eighth of January.”
Driftwood got a recording contract about twenty years later, but “The Battle of New Orleans” didn’t become a sensation until Johnny Horton heard it on the radio while driving home from a show and decided to do his own version. Horton got a hit, Driftwood got a second career as a musician, and we got a song so awesome it almost makes up for the White House getting torched.
The second oldest home in Knoxville is the James Park House, located downtown on Cumberland Ave. Google Street View doesn’t really do it justice, but it’s better than the photo I tried to take with my phone while stopped at a red light a couple of days ago.
I wanted to snap a picture of the Park House because it’s got an interesting connection to John Sevier. “Nolichucky Jack” didn’t live here, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Sevier purchased this downtown lot and started building a home there in the 1790s, around the same time he was serving as Tennessee’s first governor. Construction didn’t get very far. Nothing but a brick foundation and part of a wall had been completed before a financial setback forced Sevier to abandon the project. For a man so accustomed to winning, whether on the battlefield or in politics, it must have been an irksome disappointment. He sold the lot to his son G.W. Sevier in 1801, and it passed out of the family’s hands six years later.
James Park, an Irish immigrant and Knoxville mayor, bought the lot and built the current structure on Sevier’s foundation in 1812. The house stayed in the Park family for a century; after that, it served time as a Red Cross facility and a medical academy. Gulf & Ohio Railways acquired it to use as a headquarters building a few years ago and undertook an extensive restoration.
Although Sevier never got to build the home he wanted on the lot, it’s just a stone’s throw from the courthouse lawn where his remains were reinterred in the 1880s. One fellow who did get to spend some time in the Park House was Sevier’s mortal enemy Andrew Jackson, who stopped by for a visit in 1830.
In a sense, the story of the house lot on Cumberland Ave. mirrors the larger story of Sevier’s place in Tennessee’s history. In both cases, Sevier secured the land and laid the foundation, but it was left to others to build up the structure, which obscured and overshadowed the contributions of the man who made so much of it possible. And in both cases it happened around the same time. While James Park was building his house in 1812, Sevier’s great rival was on the brink of national fame and state preeminence, but Sevier himself was in the twilight of his long and very eventful life.
If you’re going to be in Nashville on Oct. 26, you might be interested in a free workshop at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Mark Cheathem will be discussing Andrew Jackson as a southerner, which is also the subject of his new book.
If you’re going to be in Nashville between now and June 24, swing by the Tennessee State Museum and see the special bicentennial exhibit Becoming the Volunteer State: Tennessee in the War of 1812.
Nashville Scene has an article on the exhibit and Andrew Jackson’s role in the war.
First off, happy Cowpens anniversary. Here’s a report on this year’s festivities.
While we’re on the subject of the war in the Carolinas, the marker for Pyle’s Defeat (or “Pyle’s Hacking Match,” as it’s more colorfully known) apparently needs some major revision.
During last night’s Republican debate, Newt Gingrich invoked Old Hickory’s backcountry boyhood: “We’re in South Carolina. South Carolina in the Revolutionary War had a young 13-year-old named Andrew Jackson. He was sabred by a British officer and wore a scar his whole life. Andrew Jackson had a pretty clear-cut idea about America’s enemies: Kill them.” That sums up Jackson’s attitude pretty accurately, I think, although throwing in the anecdote seems a little gratuitous.
Finally, Richard Ketchum, author of a number of popular books on the War for Independence, passed away last week.
I ran across a post suggesting some possible subjects for historical biopics. The LBJ idea is especially intriguing; I wouldn’t mind seeing a miniseries adaptation of Robert Caro’s work.
I’d also propose Frederick Douglass (great story), John Brown, Joseph Smith, and Daniel Boone as interesting film subjects. Boone’s life in particular is full of dramatic material; the deaths of his sons, the rescue of his daughter, his captivity, and his court-martial would all make for powerful scenes, and then you could wrap it up in melancholy fashion with his abandonment of the Kentucky for which he gave up so much and migration to Missouri.
Personally, though, what I’d really like to see is an Andrew Jackson biopic along the lines of Patton, depicting both his greatness and his faults. I’d start out with his boyhood in the Revolutionary Waxhaws and the beating he took for defying a British officer, and then flash forward to the War of 1812.
Either that, or just adapt David Nevin’s novel 1812 as a miniseries. I rarely read historical fiction—I don’t read much fiction at all, actually—but that was a genuinely great book, and anybody who could play Jackson the way Nevin managed to flesh him out would deserve a Golden Globe.