Thursday, October 7, 2010

Savannah’s Book – and Clint Eastwood…

In my post of 25-Sept “Experience Savannah with a Song” I showed a picture of the monument erected in honor of Count Casimir Pulaski. This monument is located in Monterey Square. We decided to walk there as I wished to take pictures of the Mercer Mansion which borders it. I could not stop taking more pictures as we passed many lovely old houses.

Like the mansions, the pavement is old and we had to keep watching where we stepped.

We arrived in Monterey Square. It was laid out in 1847 and was named for one of the battles in the Mexican War. From the start, this square was noted for its unsurpassed elegance and lovely mansions.

I was going to take a picture of what I believed was a church, but after closer inspection saw that it was a synagogue. In fact Temple Mickve Israel is the only Gothic synagogue in America. It is home to the third oldest Jewish congregation in the country and contains the oldest Torah in the nation. It was the first synagogue established in the South.

Savannah’s first Jewish community was mostly composed of settlers from Spain and Portugal. Forty-two of them arrived in 1733 and organized their congregation, five months after the arrival of General Oglethorpe, founder of Savannah.

The present synagogue was built in 1876, after the inauguration of the Cathedral of St John the Baptist. As the cathedral, it was built in the Victorian neo-Gothic style and has pointed windows, pinnacles and stained glass windows. It was too late in the day to visit the synagogue but I found a picture of its interior in one of my books. I’ll also show the interior of the Cathedral - their interiors are similar in style.

We walked then around Monterey Square and came in front of the Mercer House. It was built in 1860 for Confederate General Hugh Mercer and completed after the War Between the States. The house is of Italianate design, almost 7000 square ft. with beautiful archways, eight cast-iron balconies, cast-iron window pediments and a wrought iron fence at the sidewalk. It has a garden in the back with a pond, a fountain and a carriage house. It occupies an entire trust lot (a full city block.)

Click on collage to enlarge, then on each picture to enlarge once more

General Hugh Mercer was the great grandfather of the talented and famous Johnny Mercer (1909-1976.) Johnny Mercer was a lyricist, composer and singer. He was the co-founder of Capital Records. Some of the songs he wrote or composed became well known, such as Days of Wine and Roses, That Old Black Magic, Moon River and many more. You can read more about him here where it says that “Mercer was often asked to write new lyrics to already popular tunes…. He was also asked to compose English lyrics to foreign songs, the most famous example being "Autumn Leaves", based on the French song "Les Feuilles Mortes" (Dead Leaves.) Below are the original French lyrics and Johnny Mercer’s version in English.

[Refrain] :
C'est une chanson qui nous ressemble.
Toi, tu m'aimais et je t'aimais
Et nous vivions tous deux ensemble,
Toi qui m'aimais, moi qui t'aimais.
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s'aiment,
Tout doucement, sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable
Les pas des amants désunis.

This is Johnny’s version:

The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold....
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sunburned hands, I used to hold
Since you went away, the days grow long
And soon I'll hear ol' winter's song.
But I miss you most of all my darling,
When autumn leaves start to fall.

Les Feuilles Mortes is a 1945 song composed by Joseph Kosma and lyrics by poet Jacques Prevert. Yves Montand added it to his repertoire in 1948. Johnny Mercer translated the lyrics in 1949. Below is Montand’s later rendition. First Yves recites the beginning of the song : “Oh I would like so much that you remember, the happy days when we were friends, in those days life was beautiful, and the sun more brilliant than today. Dead Leaves are gathered with a shovel, you see.. I have not forgotten the memories and the regrets too…” Then he starts to sing:”And the wind of the north takes them away in the cold night of oblivion. You see I have not forgotten the song that you sang to me…

Yves Montand singing the French song “Les Feuilles Mortes” (Autumn Leaves)

The Mercers never lived in the house. It had a series of owners and finally became a Shriner temple. By the time Jim Williams (1930-1990), an art dealer and restorer, purchased it, it had been vacant for 10 years and fallen into disrepair. Jim Williams a socialite and self-made business man also restored Savannah mansions – some say up to sixty houses, some say seventy. Williams completely restored the Mercer mansion to its original period and made it his own home. He furnished it with priceless paintings and gorgeous antiques such as Queen Alexandra’s silverware, Faberge objects and silver sets from one of the Grand Dukes of Russia.

Jim Williams was a bon vivant and every year he had a lavish black-tie Christmas party anxiously awaited by the cream of Savannah high society. He passed away at 59 years of age of pneumonia and heart failure after being tried four times for a 1989 murder committed in his home. The writer Jim Berendt spent seven years in Savannah and recounted the story of this murder in his 1994 bestseller “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” This non-fiction book recounts, with great details, the events leading to this alleged killing. In 1997 Clint Eastwood directed a movie from this book. Below is my husband’s autographed first edition copy of the book:

The last time we were in Savannah, in November 2005, we did not go and see the Mercer House but my little pocket calendar shows that on Friday 16th of May 1997 we drove to Savannah early as my husband was attending a business meeting on the following Saturday. Being avid readers we usually visit local bookstores. As it happened, on that Friday we visited, for a long time, an antiquarian bookseller located on Monterey Square, close to the Mercer House. When we left the store we were surprised to see that the square was deserted but could see people on the far side. The first thing I noticed was a very nice looking vintage automobile. So I took its picture –

Then we came close to the Mercer House, heavily decorated for Christmas…in May. I told my husband to stand in front of the house so I could take his picture. My husband went by the gate but started to look funny and shake his head. I told him to stay put and he did. I took the picture then turned around and almost fell on top of Clint Eastwood who was patiently waiting behind me with his huge movie camera. I was so stunned that I just stood there until my husband took me away back to the sidewalk. When Clint Eastwood stopped filming and walked away I remembered my camera (film camera) and took a picture, but now Clint was at a distance. He is the little figure with a white tee-shirt in front of the Mercer House in the picture below.

The house, now named the Mercer-Williams House, is occupied by Dorothy Kingery, the sister of Jim Williams. She tried to sell the home for $8.95 million but there has been no buyer. She has opened the house for tours and the public can visit 4 or 5 rooms on the ground level. Many of Jim’s valuable furnishings are no longer there as they were sold by the Sotheby auction house for Ms Kingery. From an old book, I have several photos of the interior taken when Jim Williams lived in the house. (My scanner is defective and places a line on the pictures.)

Photographs by Van Jones Martin

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was on the New York Times best seller list for over four years and has sold more than three million copies in 101 printings. It has been translated into twenty-three languages and in twenty-four foreign editions. This placed the Mercer House on the tourist circuit. Clint Eastwood’s movie made the house even more famous. “The Book” as it is called in Savannah has brought hundreds of thousands of tourists to visit this lovely city and Monterey Square. It is even on the Ghost Tour circuit as it is said that tourists from New York and some others too, claimed to have seen lights and festivities in the house on the nights Jim Williams used to have his famous party. (Jim Williams eerily collapsed and died on the exact spot on which he would have fallen if he had received the bullet intended for him that fateful night of the murder.) Below are two postcards I just found in my collection. The first one is of author Jim Berendt and Lady Chablis, a character in the book who appeared as herself in the movie.

Jim Berendt and Lady Chablis

A strange thing happened regarding the second postcard – the postcard below showing Jim Williams in his living room. I had already finished writing this post and was going to publish it the next day when I suddenly awoke at 4:00 am remembering that back in 1997 I had purchased a postcard of Jim Williams. The next morning I looked for quite a while and finally found the postcard, actually there were these 2 postcards. I then scanned them. Jim Williams ‘ postcard was slanted and I tried to straightened it. My computer would not work on it. I tried several times. Finally I decided to let it go and publish it crooked. But when I tried a last time it somehow straightened itself out…… I mean this is really what happened, it is not a joke.

We left the Mercer House and walked back toward Monterey Square. The light was fading. As we reached the live oaks covered with Spanish moss I turned around to take one last picture of the house…. and this is what I got…..


sweffling said...

This is absolutely beautiful: wonderful architecture, interesting history, and a nice creepy feel for October! Add in Clint Eastwood and it is well nigh perfect. Thanks so much :)

Jeanie said...

I adore the last photo. It probably wasn't what you anticipated, but it looks lost in time, not unlike the story. I first "read" that book (or rather, Kevin Spacey, I believe, read it to me!) on a long road trip. Very good story. It has always been a spot I'd like to visit if I was in Savannah. But I don't think any visit could be better or more memorable than your close encounter with the Eastwood kind!

As always, you bring so much great info to the table, I think your blog should be required reading -- the photos (the story of the synagogue was fascinating), the writing, everything. Just splendid!

Linda Reeder said...

Great story. I did read that book a long time ago, but I don't remember much about it.

Ashley Ashbee said...

"Midnight" is an interesting read for sure. It's nice that you have pictures of some of the settings, but I think I would avoid looking for that kind of thing after reading a book that is set there. It takes the imagination out of it!

I always enjoy seeing your topic evolve from one to another. You transition so well and your captions are great and perfect for the pictures. I don't like blogs that just have pictures or minimal explanation for them as well without setting the scene or turn of events with writing. Anyway, you do all this well.

Jeannette StG said...

Thank you for sharing your outing with us -wow a lot to see -I love the balustrade (stairs railing) in the second pic especially.

And Yves Montand , oh my goodness, I remember him from my teen years!

""°o.O Nancy O.o°"" said...

*** Hello Vagabonde :o) !! Un petit coucou en ce vendredi matin ! :o) J'aime beaucoup cette ambiance d'automne chez toi !!! La vidéo d'Yves Montand et cette chanson, j'y suis très sensible, MERCI VAGABONDE ! :o)
je te souhaite une bonne journée mais surtout UN BON WEEK-END ! :o) GROS BISOUS ! :o) ***

Vicki Lane said...

Wonderful post! So full of interesting things, from Autumn Leaves to the Mercer House. Throw in Clint Eastwood and a touch of ghostly mystery ...

claude said...

Je m'aperçois que je suis rudement en retard chez toi. Pas le temps ce matin pour lire deux posts, mais demain, j'aurai du temps. A demain donc !

DJan said...

This is a book and story that completely escaped me. Thanks for bringing it to my attention and I will definitely read it. And literally running into Clint Eastwood! You do have an amazing life, VB. I do wonder sometimes about ghosts, and whether or not they are around us. They certainly seemed to be around YOU during the writing of this post.

Friko said...

I loved the book, it read like fiction and surely, bits of it were heavily embroidered?

Lucky you, to have been wandering those streets.

Margaret said...

I laughed so hard when I read this. my two year old came in the room and said "Mommy laughing". Sounds like Clint is quite the gentleman! I really have to visit this city ... you have really wet my appetite. I will also put this movie at the top of my NetFlix list. Fabulous photos an I love the ending "ghostly" one.

Jeruen said...

I love your pictures of Savannah. I was thinking of visiting that city together with Charleston, SC one time, but it didn't materialize. It still is in my list, though. From what I see, it provides good photography fodder.

dot said...

Funny story about Clint Eastwood! I enjoyed the book but I think the movie was a big flop.

Anonymous said...

How beautiful and interesting! I love the temple and the fact that it is so similar to the church. My experience with a southern temple included a very friendly "Shabat shalom, y'all". Loved the Clint Eastwood story. Odd coincidences make wonderful memories.

Fennie said...

Another lovely intersting blog, Vagabonde. Savannah seems a most interesting place.

claude said...

Bonjour Vagabonde !
Mon Dieu ! Que tes posts sont intéressants !
J'aime visiter les endroit que tu visites, tout est beau et si bien illustré et commenté. C'est un vrai régal.
Quelle rencontre avec le beau Clint !
Moi qui suis assez fan de ses films, j'ai loupé celui tiré du livre de John Berendt. Si un jour il passe à la télé, je ne manquerai pas de le regarder.
Compte tenu du sujet du ivre, il se pourrait que ce livre m'intéresse aussi.
Bises !

Lonicera said...

Spooky and interesting place, Savannah...I laughed about Clint - I would have reacted in just the same manner.

Darlene said...

It might interest you to know that my cleaning lady, who is a French national, was here when I was reading your post. I played the Yves Montand video for her and she had stars in her eyes. She adored him and I know I made her day. She read the French name for me, but I couldn't pronounce Feuilles correctly. We laughed.

I remember reading the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil many years ago.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

That last picture is very eerie....I loved the Clint Eastwood film of that book. I thought it was very well cast though I didn't know tyhe principals--iy just felt like it was wonderfully cast--Particulat;y Kevin Spacey as Jim Williams. Such an intertesting mystery, though I felt from the Movie that Williams did it!

I LOVE Yves Montand singing this song. Well,I LOVE Yves Montand! (lol). There is something about European Orchestral Arrangements that is very different than US arrangements. The Instrumenation is so much more "real"...that's the only way I can put it. I noticed on this Video and I have an Album of Marlene Duetrich "live" at The Cafe de Paris, many many MANY years ago---and again, the Instrumentation and Orchestrations are so very different and to my way of thinking so rich in History.....
I have LOVED these Savannah Posts....It's a city I wish I had visited.

Karen said...

Your posts are so vivid and enticing. I really need to stop in your area and visit for awhile. I saw the movie but didnt' read the book..I don't think. Now I need to find them both and do it again.

All of the photos are delightful but the last one is so special. Sometimes being in focus is over rated.

Elaine said...

Interesting post about the Mercer house. It definitely seem to be shrouded in mystery. I love your encounter with Clint Eastwood and the last photo is a perfect ending for your post.

""°o.O Nancy O.o°"" said...

*** Coucou Vagabonde :o) ! Je te souhaite un agréable début de semaine, je t'envoie plein de bisous ! :o) @ + :o) ***

bowsprite said...

as always, your incredibly beautiful treasures, adventures and collages enrich me, but I have tell you how lovely it is, on this listless monday morning, to sit here listening to Yves Montand! sigh. weep. merci!!!

houses are not built so well anymore. It is our loss.


Ginnie said...

Man alive, Vagabonde. The whole thing is just plain spooky! I just told Astrid we need to see if our DVD store here in The Netherlands has the movie because I'd like to see it again. My Ex and I purchased a replica of the Bird Girl on the cover of the book I sold it before I moved to a gay guy who now has it in his woods. It gave us many happy memories. :)

Pondside said...

Beautiful, interesting, mysterious....even spooky. What a great post, Vagabonde! The last photos says it much that we don't know, but Savannah keeps her secrets!

tipper said...

Yikes that last picture is something else!

Neat story about Clint Eastwood-thats one that for the family records book : )

Intersting stuff about the synagouge too.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

I have never visited Savannah, but I did enjoy reading Jim Berendt's book, "Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil." I am in the middle of reading his second book, "The City of Falling Angels." It is also a very compelling mystery.

I would have had the same reaction as you had if I met Clint Eastwood! Even in a distant photo he is easy to pick out of the crowd!

I have so much to catch up on with your Vagabonde! After coming back from vacation I have not been able to be on the computer as much as I'd like to for one reason or the other. I am going to begin going back over your prior posts now.

Angela said...

I copied the French words of Les Feuilles Mortes for my French-pupils. What a way to learn the imperfect tense! Ah, and listening to Yves Montand! We have a French program on TV, called ARTE, and last night there was a 1980 film with Cathérine Deneuve...aah again!

There is actually soo much to comment on your blog, I never know where to start. My husband resembles Clint E. a bit, so I always love to see his films. He was probably happy that you did NOT talk to him (if he is like my husband), haha. Salut de l`Allemagne! Angela

Deborah said...

Vagabonde, I read this three times, to make sure I didn't miss any of the details. Such lucious posts you write!! I know of the architectural beauty of Savannah, but to see the photos and hear of it first-hand was superb.
I'll have to tell my daughter the Clint Eastwood story - he is one of her favourite actors and the only old guy, other than Sean Connery, whose age doesn't make him icky.
It's really a fascinating place you live in - so much history and the culture is unique. I see it that way, at any rate.
I'll get to your last couple of posts too, if I can. You're always a treat.

kyh said...

The last pic looks kinda spooky! :P

What a lovely neighbourhood. We had quite many colonial mansions here in George Town, Penang (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

And we used to have a small Jewish community before independence. I believe none is left now esp when there is no official diplomatic missions between my country and Israel, and the animosity against Jewish community is fueled by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The only Jewish traces left here is an obscure Jewish cemetery in George Town. Many people here don't even know the existence of it! :)

rauf said...

Did you speak to the movie crew about the movie they were shooting ?
Perhaps you are in the movie too Vagabonde.

Savannah has history style and elegance which you present so well with pictures and words.

Vagabonde said...

Thank you all for stopping by and leaving such a wonderful group of comments. I am pressed right now and cannot write an individual answer to each of you but I’ll come to your blog as soon as possible. I enjoyed reading all your messages. You really add so much to my posts with all your kind and insightful comments.

Karin B (Looking for Ballast) said...

I've caught up on a couple of your past posts, and oh what fun, as usual, especially with this post! I am with all the other wonderful comments here about the spooky stories here. That's wonderful how you saw Clint Eastwood. I wish Clint Eastwood could read this story. Who knows? Maybe he Googles his own name sometimes and will happen across this fun post! :)

Take care, Vagabonde, and see you back here soon!

Dutchbaby said...

I would like to almost trip over Clint Eastwood too! I was in love with him when I used to watch him when he played rowdy Yates in "Rawhide".

Anonymous said...

The houses are gorgeous! And so many little details that make them stand out... I like architecture and I would have love walk by with you, taking pictures!

lorilaire said...

Les couleurs automnales de ces tableaux sont magnifiques, j'aime tout particulièrement la scène d'intérieur avec la méridienne !
et la cerise sur le gâteau montant chantant nos feuilles mortes !
quelle émotion de le revoir !

Cheap blinds said...

very interesting article! I will follow your themes.
Can I subscribe to your posts on Twitter or on your Facebook profile?

Vagabonde said...

I am not on Twitter or Facebook. Thanks for commenting

Anonymous said...

I am a Savannahian, live just off Madison Square, the square next to Monterey Square. I really enjoyed your blog, describing my daily walks!! I'm honored and proud to be able to live in this amazing city and enjoy the history and eccentricness right out my door!! I can never understand when anyone says that they are not interested in visiting - they don't know what they're missing!!!

Unknown said...

As always I love your posts, and it does bring back picturesque memories of the square.

I am going to paste the link to this post for my readers so they can get some more information on Congregation Mickve Israel.

When one of my book clubs read Berendt's book, he came as a speaker. Very interesting. Of course it heightened my desire to visit the city.

It's hard not to fall in love with Savannah, isn't it?

Down by the sea said...

Thank you for redirecting it was lovely to read about Mercer square and your encounter with Clint Eastwood. I had to smile at your husband's reaction and how you still took his picture. I'm sure that would be the same if that had happened to us! Sarah x

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