Courtesy Visit Savannah
Published May 01, 2017
Georgia is enjoying its starring — and recurring — role as the sweetheart of the film industry.
Recent reports show that Georgia-based feature-film and television productions generated more than $7 billion of economic impact during fiscal year 2016 and boosted infrastructure and business growth, which included the opening of Atlanta Metro Studios in Union City and a significant expansion at Pinewood Atlanta Studios in Fayetteville.
As Georgia-filmed productions take over big and small screens alike, group tours spotlight locations from some of visitors’ favorite movies and television shows.
“The secret’s in the sauce.” You can try the barbecue, sans Frank Bennett, at the actual Whistle Stop Café featured in the 1991 film “Fried Green Tomatoes.” You can get those, too.
The unincorporated town is barely a blip on the map; it covers only about one square block. But the train still runs through town right in front of the main road where the Whistle Stop Café sits. Edward Williams built the cafe in 1927 as a general store that he, his wife and six children ran for 45 years until its closing in 1972.
The building served various purposes, including as a real-estate office and an antique shop, before playing the pivotal role of the Whistle Stop Café in 1991. The movie, which was adapted for the big screen by the novel’s author, Fannie Flagg, tells the lives of best friends Ruth Jamison and the irrepressible tomboy Imogene “Idgie” Threadgoode during the 1930s.
In a twist of “life imitating art,” Williams, who inherited the building, opened the Whistle Stop Café after the movie debuted, and current owner Elizabeth Bryant bought it about 15 years ago.
Today, the tiny town draws busloads of visitors who stop to enjoy fried green tomatoes, fried green tomato sandwiches, pulled pork sandwiches, pork ribs and burgers, all in the 1930s-style cafe that looks almost exactly as it did in the movie. Also on the menu are pound cake, peach cobbler, pecan cobbler and fried apple pie.
When they’re done eating, visitors can stroll out back to see the stone barbecue pit, Bennett’s “grave” and the shanty where Smoky Lonesome stayed. Guests can also wander Juliette’s short dirt roads to the train tracks, the depot, the nearby church and the cemetery where two headstones bear the names Buddy Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison — and where they may even find a jar of honey sitting on top.
As a film location, Savannah is easy: The historic city doesn’t even have to try to look like it’s straight out of a movie. Movie producers and television crews are flocking to Savannah and neighboring Tybee Island to film full-length features and new television shows.
Many of the area’s films, such as “The Spongebob Squarepants Movie” and “Dirty Grandpa,” are more recent, so they haven’t had time to seep into the pop-culture psyche. “Baywatch,” starring Zac Efron and Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, was filmed on Tybee, and when it comes out this summer, viewers will see “these crazy stunt scenes they did on the pier,” said Chelsea Paulsen, group tour sales manager for Visit Savannah.
In the opening shot of “Forrest Gump,” a feather floats down past Independent Presbyterian Church toward Chippewa Square, landing at the feet of Tom Hanks, who spends most of the movie sitting on a bus stop bench, telling his incredible life story to anyone who sits down. The bench was a prop and is now housed in the Savannah History Museum, but the square is a popular stop for fans of the movie.
Savannah is also the famous setting of an infamous crime that was immortalized in a book and movie: “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” This classic recounts the true events surrounding the death of Danny Hansford and the trials of Jim Williams, an art and antiques dealer and Savannah socialite who was infamously tried for murder four times and finally found not guilty in the shooting death of Hansford. Groups can tour the historic Mercer-Williams House Museum where Williams lived; both Noble Jones Tours and Savannah Movie Tours also highlight the home. During a trolley tour with Old Savannah Tours, guides act in character, including as Gump or Jim Williams.
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