Our interview with Pamula Pierce Barcelou and how The Legend of Boggy Creek was restored after nearly 50 years

How does a film that grossed $25 million at the box office – $145 million in today’s dollars – just…disappear? The Legend of Boggy Creek was one of the top 10 films of 1972, with the highest-reported ROI for any film until The Blair Witch Project. But after 1975, you’d be hard pressed to see it or even hear about it, except from a devoted group of fans with unauthorized copies who kept the legend alive.

On June 14, after decades in the bootleg bog, Charles B. Pierce’s The Legend of Boggy Creek will reappear in full restoration glory at The Perot Theatre in Texarkana, Texas. This is the story of that restoration – and how a daughter’s love and tenacity helped make it happen.

THE FIRST OF ITS KIND

It’s not quite right to call Boggy Creek one of the first docudramas because Pierce invented the genre. And it’s all based on real-life events. In the early 1970s in Fouke, Arkansas, reports emerged of a terrifying Bigfoot-type creature – seven-feet tall, three-toed, covered in reddish-brown hair with bright eyes. Sightings of the Fouke monster spurred dozens of newspaper accounts that put Texarkana on the national map. So Charlies Pierce decided to make a movie about it.

Pierce was the film’s director and co-producer, its cinematographer and one of its balladeers (“Nobody Sees the Flowers but Me,” credited as Jimmy Collins). If he could have played the Fouke monster, he probably would’ve. In making Boggy Creek, Pierce stayed true to the legend and kept it personal, using locals who had seen the monster and who had been quoted in news reports, as well as his own family: his then-wife Florene (Flo), son Charlies Pierce, Jr. and his eight-year daughter, Pamula.

The film’s unique look and feel – and why it couldn’t have turned out any other way – is as memorable as the legend. “I honestly don’t think there’s ever been a movie like this, before or since,” says Joe Bob Briggs – the iconic horror host who introduced a new generation of fans to Boggy Creek in his 2017 marathon on streaming network Shudder. Catching up with a now-grown Pamula, Briggs shared why he thinks that’s still true.

“Your dad took the movie very seriously. He believed it was true because he believed people had really seen something in those woods. That may be why Boggy Creek scared the living crap out of everybody!” – Joe Bob Briggs

It may seem odd for a “monster” movie, but Pam says the film’s style was influenced by Disney – the innocence, the pastoral quality of the land, its people and their customs. Mrs. Betty Ledwell, wife of the film’s investor, wouldn’t have had it any other way. And that’s where the story of the making of Boggy Creek and its restoration really begins.

THE MAVERICK AND MRS. LEDWELL

Texarkana of the 1970s was conservative. Charles B. Pierce…was not. A childhood transplant to the area, Pierce was larger than life: a one-man promotional machine, news director, TV star, and award-winning ad man. He had a vision for Boggy Creek. He had the talent. He had the drive. He just didn’t have the money. So, he asked one of his favorite clients for it and L.W. “Buddy” Ledwell said yes – much to the chagrin of Ledwell’s wife, Betty. She was mortified L.W. had invested in this movie,” says Pam. Betty Ledwell’s family had founded the Methodist Church in Texarkana. “That’s why the film is the way it is. No curse words, no nudity – all because of Mrs. Ledwell. She didn’t want it out there with their name on it.” No matter that it made a killing. The movie remained a sore spot.

Pierce’s way of celebrating Boggy Creek’s success probably didn’t help.

My Dad was a Maverick. He bought a Ferrari when he made his money,” Pam remembers. “When the local bars closed at 4 am, you could hear him barreling through town.” Two years later, Pierce wore a custom white leather suit to the premiere of his next film, Bootleggers. “Dad lived large. You can’t do that for a long time,” she says. After a while – and especially after Pierce and Pam’s mom divorced – Texarkana had had enough. Even The Maverick knew it was time to go. Pierce eventually relocated to California by way of Shreveport, Louisiana, taking the Southern (and pretty much U.S.) indy film industry with him. But no matter where he was, he kept doing it his own way: making things work, figuring it out. His daughter inherited that gene.

“I USED TO BE SO EMBARRASSED OF MY TWANG”

Pamula Anne Pierce Barcelou is Southern to the core, but she’s been all over. Her talent as a self-taught make-up artist took her from playing with colors and brushes in her teenage bedroom (“By the end of the night, I’d be ALL contoured up!) to New York, L.A. and everywhere in between. She’s worked for CHANEL, partied at the legendary 80s club Nostromo in Dallas, and crossed paths with the famous and infamous alike – including Harvey Weinstein. (“He sat on his hands like a giant Saint Bernard, just wagging his tail,” Pam laughs. “He was very well behaved.”)

Even when Pam left the life to marry classic arcade video game designer David Barcelou (his creations include the iconic Chexx) and raise five kids, she was still around the business of entertainment – more specifically intellectual property. That would come in handy. Because even though her father was the driving force behind Boggy Creek, he never owned an inch of it.

“IF MY DAD’S ESTATE HADN’T BEEN LOOTED, I NEVER WOULD HAVE DONE THIS”

After Boggy Creek, Charles Pierce directed 12 more films, including The Town That Dreaded Sundown and a Boggy Creek sequel that he hated (although he did work with Pam again; she played the girl at the swimming hole.) Pierce collected writing credits on multiple films including Clint Eastwood’s Sudden Impact (and reportedly the iconic line “Go ahead, make my day”). He also worked as a cinematographer, set director and Emmy-winning art director. In 1998, he directed his last film, Chasing the Wind, which was never released.

Pierce died in 2010. Alzheimer’s had disease robbed The Maverick of not only his creative power but the physical artifacts of his legacy. Most of his papers were stolen and while Pierce had never owned the rights to Boggy Creek, this loss made it that much harder for Pam to reclaim the film and the pieces of her own history connected to it. That might have been the end of the story had family members not returned to Pierce’s crumbling former home in 2011. From the rubble of a collapsed ceiling, a cousin pulled out an envelope. Inside was the unopened will of Charles B. Pierce, naming Florene (Pam’s by-then-deceased mother) as the sole beneficiary. Two years later, on her mom’s birthday, Pam received the final paperwork needed to become administrator of her father’s estate and did what any daughter would: she went back to Boggy Creek...

Read Part II: “This movie is like a magic key…”

Joe Bob Briggs

Joe Bob Briggs is the drive-in movie critic of Grapevine, Texas, currently resident in New York City, where his pop culture commentary appears in print, on television and at various dive bars that defy the modern world by allowing the smoking of cigars.
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The continued story of how The Legend of Boggy Creek was restored after nearly 50 years

“Jeeves, Who is Charles B. Pierce?”

One thing the rubble did not contain was any trace of Pierce’s film. What had happened to those Boggy Creek reels? Did they still exist? If they did, how would she ever find them and would there be anything left to salvage? To get the answers, Pam did what any enterprising sleuth in 2012 would do: hopped on her computer, went to AskJeeves.com and typed “Who is Charles B. Pierce?”

Her father was gone. The film was gone. But in chatroom after Internet chatroom, The Legend of Boggy Creek was alive and well, including a whole new generation of fans. The die-hards cherished their bootleg copies, but they all wanted the same thing: for someone to reissue the movie.

“Reading those online comments drove me more than anything,” Pam remembers. “Everybody was saying ‘Somebody needs to get the rights!’ So, I figured that somebody should be me.”

She didn’t always know what to do. Sometimes she just felt led, like picking up the phone one day and calling one of her old friends from Texarkana. “Guess who I’ve got in the car?” he responded. The man who just happened to be with that friend was Steve Ledwell – son of Betty and L.W. The two didn’t speak that day. Perhaps the time just wasn’t right. Instead, Pam would spend the next three years trying to track down the film’s elements. Eventually she did call Steve, expecting little but getting a shock: “Your dad never came to me,” he told her. In 2004, Steve Ledwell had acquired the film’s original elements from Technicolor. By the time these two children of Boggy Creek talked, those elements had been sitting in Ledwell’s Texarkana warehouse at 3300 Waco Street for more than a decade. It’s just that no one – not even Charles B. Pierce, who had wanted to remaster Boggy Creek before he died – had ever asked him about it.

C’mon baby

Charles B. Pierce was fiercely protective of his daughter. Throughout his career, she was his script editor, spell checker, boom operator and make-up artist. But he didn’t like her to be alone on set with all those guys. “C’mon baby,” he’d say. That meant it was time to go, whether Peter Fonda needed his hairs did or not. Today, Pierce is nearly 10 years gone. But all the while, he’s been looking out for his little girl, nudging her.

C’mon baby…Get those rights. Find your people and go to them. Take that chance.

So she did. And one by one, the pieces started falling together.

“You know the BFI has two pristine prints, right?

The first piece of Boggy Creek to make it back to Pierce hands was Ralph McQuarrie’s original Fouke monster painting. Yes, you heard that right. Charles Pierce gave the man who would help create Chewbacca and give the Star Wars universe its iconic look his first gig. Next, a 35mm print of Boggy Creek from the Canal Theatre in New Orleans showed up on eBay. That was big. “My daughter said ‘Mom! Even if you have to sell all your jewelry, you have got to get that print!’” She didn’t hock the jewels but she did get the print, sharing the news with her online Boggy Creek family. That’s when things really got moving and her Jeeveses started asking questions back:

Aren’t there copies at Technicolor? Have you tried Eastman for the restoration? And the kicker…

You know the BFI has two pristine prints, right?

Yes, that BFI: the British Film Institute. Oh. My. Bog.

The BFI did indeed have those prints (thanks to an anonymous donation) and in 2018 the pieces of Boggy Creek literally came together: that 35mm print from eBay, the Ledwell’s Technicolor elements which would be used for sound, and the BFI prints. They landed in the expert hands of Audio Mechanics and the George Eastman Museum, in particular Kyle Alvut, head of restoration/remastering services and the institution’s associated school (see end for details). “I was blessed to be connected with Eastman and Kyle from the very beginning. He’s a master at what he does,” says Pam. “And he’s a fan! He saw Boggy Creek at the drive-in when it first played. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better than Kyle and his students.”

“This movie is like a magic key”

You can’t restore a film if you don’t own the rights, and Charles Pierce never did. With Betty and Buddy Ledwell both gone, those had fallen to their son Steve and in 2018, for the price of $1, he signed them over for the first time to a Pierce: Pamula. “He told me I’d worked hard for it and my dad would be proud.”

In the end it was this Ledwell, Steve – who had actually played the Foulk monster in the original film at the age of 18 – that helped give Charles Pierce’s daughter her due. Steve even offered some old Boggy Creek reels that had turned up. Too far gone, they were but a fraction of the more than 400 35mm prints that Buddy Ledwell had destroyed over the years. No malice. They were simply pieces of a past that meant a lot more to the Pierce family than to his. Pam has nothing but good things to say about the Ledwells. “Steve is a real gem as were his parents before him.”

So if you’re in Texarkana and in the market for a rollback or a gallon tanker, stop by and see the good people at Ledwell & Son Enterprises. And if you’re in Pam’s new hometown of Walpole, New Hampshire, stop by Burdick’s restaurant. You might just run into co-owner Ken Burns. A chance encounter with the filmmaker in 2017 eventually connected Pam with the copyright attorney who would help her get the Boggy Creek rights from Steve Ledwell. Because what this story was missing was one more happy accident.

Getting the band back together

What do we own and what do we just hold? What goes away and what comes back? Maybe enough time had passed since The Maverick roared out of Texarkana for everything to fall into place. An annual Charles B. Pierce Day had been established around 2015, and Pam’s father had been inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame, the only person to ever receive a lifetime achievement award for his unique contributions. And they were truly unique.

“Charles B. Pierce was basically a one-man band, writing, producing, narrating, acting, singing,” says Joe Bob Briggs, the man who helped spark new interest in the 1972 classic. “Texarkana misses him, and I miss him.”

Briggs is not alone. It’s probably why so many people who were part of the original or have been involved since will be at the restoration’s June premiere: famed composer Jaime Mendoza Nova, who provided music and additional funding; cryptozoologist Lyle Blackburn, who appeared on Briggs’ marathon featuring Boggy Creek; and Diana Prince (a/k/a/ “Darcy the Mail Girl”), Briggs’ co-host on The Last Drive-In.

And of course Pam.

“This movie is in my DNA; it’s like a family member,” she says, recalling how Candice Bergen came to think of Charlie McCarthy, her father’s ventriloquist dummy, as an older, more famous brother. “Boggy Creek is entwined in my life in the best of ways. I get the most wonderful letters from people saying what it means to them. People watched it with their dad or grandad and now they’ll be able to bring that tradition to their children.” Pam credits all those who love Boggy Creek for keeping her going, especially the fans. “It wasn’t just me. I felt like I was being led. People would appear and help and I’d follow where it would lead. It’s a great story.” It truly is – two stories really.

The Texarkana story that ends with a monster and the monster story that ends with a girl.

The 4k restoration of The Legend of Boggy Creek premieres June 14, 2019 at the historic Perot Theatre in Texarkana, Texas. For more information on all things Boggy Creek: www.legendofboggycreek.com, www.facebook.com/CharlesBPierce/, @LegendBoggy and @PamBarcelou, emmebelle (Instagram), and IMDB.

Boggy Creek Restoration Details
The 35mm eBay print, the Technicolor elements and the BFI prints were shipped to Texarkana where they were assessed, cleaned, and treated, then sent to the George Eastman Museum. The best quality elements were chosen and run through special machines to scan and convert to 4K. This process requires each frame to be scanned 4,000 times, taking approximately 11 days to complete just this aspect alone. Kyle Alvut and his students at Eastman then reviewed each scene for needed touch-ups or corrections and made initial sound improvements. Boggy Creek sound was completed by Audio Mechanics with no upmastering, using the original mag (magnetic tape) and sound attached to the BFI prints. Audio Mechanics has also restored Night of the Living Dead and The Sound of Music. Source: www.thecryptocrew.com/2018/12/legend-of-boggy-creek-pamula-pierce.html

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