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Friday, September 23, 2011

Natchez Characters - Ritchie Montgomery

I found some clippings of articles I wrote when working for The Natchez Democrat in 1979 and 1980, and thought I'd share one with you.  This one is about my friend Ritchie Montgomery, whose latest acting role was as the bus driver in The Help.  He's come a long way since this article was written, no longer working as an assistant but as a very seasoned actor with 94 movie titles under his belt.

April 6, 1980
By Elodie Pritchartt
Democrat Staff Writer

Wou would ever have believed that when Columbia Pictures came to town to film "Beulah Land," they would bring one of Natchez's own, home-grown locals to work in production?

Ritchie Montgomery is "Beaulah Land's executive production assistant "in charge of everything," who returned to Natchez after one-and-a-half years of living and working in various jobs in Los Angeles.

Montgomery grew up in Fayette, a long way from Los Angeles and Hollywood.  He was always interested in entertainment and he holds a bachelor degree in fine arts from the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.

After leaving school, Ritchie began managing the bar at Hallelujah, Ltd., where he was affectionately known as the "speed-rack kid."

When he finally decided to go to Hollywood, he landed a job with "Freedom Road" as a truck driver and found himself right back in Natchez.

His truck-driving skills, however, left much to be desired, so he tried his hand at production assistant and proved himself worthy of the job.

Production assistant is a very important job, coming fifth in the line of production positions.

"First you've got the director," Montgomery said.  "Next comes the first assistant director, then the second assistant director, the assistant director trainee and then the production assistant."

Montgomery's job consists of making certain that the actors and extras are costumed and on location as well as seeing that extras are paid at the end of a day's filming.

It is his job to be at Columbia wardrobe first thing in the morning.  this often means having the extras dressed and ready to go on location by 6 a.m.

"I'm the first one in and the last one out," Ritchie said.  "I have to stay until the bitter end every day."

Ritchie is supplied with his trusty walkie-talkie, which he keeps fastened to his belt.  Whenever an extra or actor is needed on the set, word is sent to Ritchie over the walkie-talkie and before you know it, here comes the speed-rack kid with a truckload of extras.

Leslie Ann Warren personally requested that Ritchie serve as her personal assistant.

"She called her manaager in Los Angeles and asked him to put me on as her production assistant.  He (the manager) had never heard of me so he called her producer, David Gerber, on the phone.  Nobody knew who I was until finally somebody got Chris Morgan and he got me the job."

Montgomery enjoys his job, but his real interest lies in acting.  He discovered, however, that even with a degree and a Screen Actor's Guild card, it's awfully hard to land an acting job in Hollywood.

"They always tell you, 'Sure, come on out to Hollywood; we'll take care of you and get you a job,' but they never do.  It's tough out there."

After many long, hungry weeks of unemployment, Montgomery finally started working for a moving company in Los Angeles called "Starving Students."

During his off hours, he tried to make his break in acting by doing stand-up comedy routines at the Comedy Store.

The Comedy Store is a club where unknown actors work for free with the hope of being discovered buy one of the talent scouts who frequent the club.  Many famous comedians such as Robin Williams got their start at the Comedy Store.

"We mostly do situation-comedy improvisations.  For example, the audience would name different things that give you the blues and we'd make up a funny blues tune about it."

Montgomery gets to meet a lot of interesting people in his job as production assistant.  While working on a movie in Los Angeles called "Coastliner," he became acquainted with David Jansen and Susan St. James.

"They asked me to have a drink with them one day after filming.  susan St. James was going to meet her boyfriend who just happened to be Stephen Stills.

"Well, naturally, I was all excited about meeting Stephen Stills, so I thought I'd impress everyone and order a round of drinks.   When the waitress came to collect, I realized that I didn't have enough money.  I was really embarrassed and I said, 'Uh, hey everybody, I hate to say this but I'm kind of short.'"

Susan St. James looked at Ritchie, who is all of five feet, six inches tall, and replied, "Oh, Ritchie, everybody knows that!"

The movie company left Natchez Saturday but Montgomery plans to stay behind for awhile and take a vacation.

Then it's back to Hollywood and hunting for another job.

Here is Ollie in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3d.

You know, it's funny looking back on these old stories.  I had just started writing, and didn't have a degree, and I see all kinds of holes in this story that were I to have written it today, I'd have done a better job.  Still, it's kind of fun going back and remembering.

*Photo Caption from Democrat article:  Ritchie Montgomery, center, is comforted by anothe extra during a recent scene in "Beulah Land."  Montgomery was also the executive production assistant for the project. (Democrat photo by Mike Willey)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Matters Familia - The Long Farewell

203 Clifton Avenue, Natchez, Mississippi
In 1885, my great grandfather, William Howard Pritchartt (Will) of St. Louis, Missouri, was a purser on a steamboat on the Anchor Line on the Mississippi River.  While on a cruise downriver to Natchez, Mississippi, he met and fell in love with Miss Anne Mounger, also of St. Louis.  After he married her, they returned to Natchez and he bought two lots on the bluff overlooking the river and built this house, completed in 1900 for the sum of $3,700.  No one but Pritchartts have ever lived there.

I had hoped the house would stay in our family for many more generations, but things don't always work out the way we want, and we sold it last week to friends who will be loving stewards for our old legacy.  

In cleaning out the house for the first time in over a century, I found a small photo album with pictures of a family during happy times. The inscription at the beginning of the album reads, "To dear Aunt Lucy with love from Anne."  

Anne was my great grandmother, and was the photographer who took and developed these photos.  I remember hearing about her love of photography and found a metal cannister with Kodak stamped upon it as well as a metal gelatin developing tray.

Will and Anne had two children -- Anne Mounger, born in 1895 and William Howard, born in 1898 -- who brought their parents many joys.  Anne, who was called Annet, lived there until her death in 1992.    She was my great aunt, a brilliant woman who never married, but traveled the world, studied history at Barnard and returned to Natchez where she taught mathematics for 40 years.  William Howard, my grandfather, was called "Boy" most of his life, and was a quiet, gentle man who offered his own family an example of an honest, dignified life.

I offer the following as a tribute to my forebearers. 

(Simply click on a photo to see a larger version.)

Newspaper article from St. Louis Newspaper about 1885 

"SURPRISE - Among the many gallant and courteous gentlemen who do service in the offices of the various steamboats coming to this city, and particularly those of the Anchor Line, there are none perhaps more courteous, polite and efficient than Mr. W.H. Pritchartt, of the steamer Arkansas City. 

As a proof of his popularity, and the esteem in which he is held, especially by the ladies who are fortunate enough to secure passage on this boat, Mr. Pritchartt was presented, on the last trip to Natchez, with a beautiful stool or ottoman cover, exquisitely finished, and wrought in various colors. To say that the fortunate gentleman was surprised would be putting it mildly. 

The fair donors of the handsome present were Mr. Capt. C.B. Ziegler, Mrs. Oscar Moore, and Miss Anne Mounger, all of St. Louis. These ladies are making the round trip on the elegant steamer. Mr. Pritchartt is proud of his treasure, but cannot realize how the ladies managed to resurrect Joseph's many colored coat of ancient fame, with which the dainty piece of work is finished." 

Taken in November, 1888

Excerpt from his obit in 1934 - Natchez Democrat: 

". . . For a time he was connected with the Anchor Line steamboats on the Mississippi river. When he came to Natchez in Sept, 1889, he went into business with the late Captain S.E. Rundle. In 1905, with W.R. Wade, he organized the firm of W.H. Pritchartt & Company and was connected with it until 1916. ............" William Howard Pritchartt was born in St. Louis in 1856 and died in Natchez MS 1934. He married the lady Annie Munger that made him the stool."

Mississippi Democrat Friday September 14, 1934
William Howard Pritchartt 1856 - 1934

VALUED CITIZEN SUCCUMBS AFTER SHORT ILLNESS - Funeral of W.H. Pritchartt Will be Held from His Late Residence in Clifton Avenue This Afternoon-

The death of William H. Pritchartt, which occurred Thursday at four-thirty p.m., brought sorrow to a wide circle of friends for he had been prominent in the business and social life of this section for many years.

Mr. Pritchartt was a native of St. Louis and was the son of the late William H. Pritchartt and Mrs. Maria Bingham Pritchartt.

For a time he was connected with the Anchor Line steamboats on the Mississippi river. When he came to Natchez in September 1889, he went into business with the late Captain S.E.Rumble. In 1905, with W.R. Wade, he organized the firm of W. H. Pritchartt & Company and was connected with it until 1916. He then became connected with the Famous and Price Store, where he remained for fourteen years.

He served as a member of the city council for many years and at one time was a member of the city Water Commission. He was a member of the old Prentiss Club and of the Woodmen of the World.

He is survived by his wife, Mrs. Anne Munger Pritchartt, one daughter, Miss Annet M. Pritchartt, and one son, W. Howard Pritchartt and one grandson, W. Howard Pritchartt, III, two sisters, Mrs. W.E. Henderson of San Diego, Cal, and Miss Sallie B. Pritchartt of Los Angeles, and numerous nieces and nephews.

The funeral service will be held from the residence, 203 Clifton Avenue on Friday evening at five-thirty, and interment will be made in the family plot, city cemetery. Rev. Joseph Kuehnle will officiate.

Pall bearers: Percy A. Benoist, J. Balfour Miller, C.F. Patterson, J Lamar Carkeet, Ernest F. Stattman and C.V. Hollis.

I found the stool about a year ago.

Annet, age 11; Boy age 8; Jet, age 10

Annet, Age 13.  When Annet was born she was named Anne.  But because her mother and grandmother both shared the same name, they stuck a "t" on the end at called her Annet (pronounced like Janet).  All her life, people called her Annette, never realizing the error, but she never corrected anyone.  I named my daughter after her.  When I told her, she exclaimed, "No one has ever named anyone after me except for an old Black man, who named his yellow mule after me when I was a little girl."

Annet, age 16
Boy and Ida, the cook

Annet and Jet.  Jet was the beloved family dog.  One night she came downstairs and went, one by one, to each person, saying it turns out she was saying goodbye.  After she'd greeted each family member she went out into the upstairs hall and died.

Annet, age 12, standing on the carriage block in front of the house.  The block remains.

Boy's Cat

Annet's Cat

Aunt Puss and Annet, age 12.  Aunt Puss was my great grandfather's sister, Sarah Pritchartt Caskie
Boy, age 10 and Bess, boy's dog.  The name is rather prophetic, as he eventually married Bessie Rose Grafton, whom everyone called "Bess."

Boy, age 8 and The White Gobbler

Boy, age 11

Boy's Cat

Clifton Avenue.  The bluff has caved off over the years until now the street ends just past the house.  A herculean effort has been made to save the remaining bluff, and it seems to be working.
Annet and Possum; February, 1910

Annet and Possum; February, 1910

George, age 2; Annet, age 13.  I don't know who George is.

Mardis Gras, 1909.  The Automobile Parade.  Annet, age 14 with unknown driver.
Natchez, Mississippi as probably seen from the ferry that used to transport people across the river between Natchez, MS and Vidalia, LA

Possum.  In addition to the cats and dogs, turkeys, chickens and Dolly the pony, there was also a pet parrot whose cage hung from the ceiling in the stairwell.  The parrot was often let out of his cage.  There was an old black man, an ex-slave named Wes who lived in a small shack behind the house.  That parrot loved Wes.  One night, Wes was awakened by the sound of the parrot calling, "Wes!  Oh, Wes!"  Wes ran outside in time to see the parrot being carried away by an owl.

The Side Yard

The New Puppy
The Side Yard

This is a daguerrotype.  I think it may be my great-great grandmother.  While going through the house, I found her marriage license, dated 1865.

On board the US gunboat des Moines, anchored at Natchez, 1906.  William Howard Pritchartt and William Howard Pritchartt, my great grandfather and my grandfather.

White Turkeys
Annet, age 12; boy, age 9

Annet, age 16 with her mother, Anne.

Annet, age 10; the fig tree brought from Farmerville

Annet in Colonial Costume, Age 15

I don't know who this is, but since it was the last picture in the album, I think it must be the aforementioned dear Aunt Lucy.
The Back Gallery

Boy, age 13 and Dolly

Boy, age 13.  I can still remember when there was earth on the other side of the street, all gone now.

Boy and Jet
Boy on the back gallery.  We still have those little children's folding chairs.

Clover, age 11 months

The Dining Room

The Dining Room.  We still have my great grandfather's rolltop desk.

White Wyandottes

The Sitting Room.  Although the piano is gone, we still have the stool as well as the flower painting on the wall.  I found the menorah in the pantry in pieces.  At least, I think it's a menorah.  My great grandparents were Catholic. 

The Sitting Room.  We still have those fancy Victorian chairs, which were bought from the owners of the antebellum house, Montebello, after it burned around the turn of the century.
The White Gobbler


The Upstairs Hall.  The window at the end of this hall opens onto a balconey.  On warm, summer nights when I would sleep over at Annet's, she would put the daybed seen in this photo out on the balconey.  I would lie on the cot with the stars shining overhead and the lights of Vidalia across the river twinkling like jewels in the night.  To this little girl, Vidalia seemed a huge, shining metropolis.  Ah, the magic of childhood.

White Turkeys

"My First Brood"

Will and Boy, age 13
I was clearing things out of the attic the other day when I noticed the sun shining on the wall by the stairs, clearly showing the house address, which is painted on the glass above the door.

The sun sets behind the river directly in front of the house. I've so often sat outside to watch it turn into an orange ball against a pink sky that I'd never seen it from inside.

Every afternoon it shines the address on that wall. The house seems to be saying, "I am here. Always."
Since writing this post, the house was sold once again to Will and Gay Austin from McComb, Mississippi.  They've done an incredible renovation for which they won an award from the Historic Natchez Foundation.  I'm very grateful our old family home is in such good hands.

Related posts:

So Rose the Dead
Matters Familia -- The Fabric of Time
Matters Familia -- Photos of Annet Mounger Pritchartt
Matters Familia -- Ephemera
Found Items
Matters Familia -- Hidden Treasures