Signature: Ed McClanahan
This comic, and heartfelt, documentary traces the life and work of writer Ed McClanahan. Readers are often curious about how the personal life of an author is represented in their work. This film explores that relationship with vigor and insight, powerfully rendering McClanahan as writer and man.
Starting with his childhood in an apartment above a pool hall in Brooksville, Kentucky, the film uses interviews with old friends from every stage of McClanahan’s life to illuminate his emergence as a writer. Readings of excerpts from his fiction and non-fiction are juxtaposed with shots of McClanahan re-visiting the actual locations—the small-town drugstore, the darkened high school classroom, the courthouse clock that never keeps time.
Explored also are McClanahan’s days in northern California at a crucial generational moment, when the beats became the Merry Pranksters and the hippie era was born. In Professor Wallace Stegner’s classroom at Stanford and in his own living room on fabled Perry Lane, McClanahan was part of a group including Ken Kesey, Robert Stone, Wendell Berry, Neal Cassidy, Gurney Norman and Larry McMurtry.
McClanahan began work on several stories in that period, but he was unable to bring them to fruition until returning to the state of Kentucky years later. With a newly matured comic literary voice and a mellowed perspective, he completed The Natural Man, the novel that would establish his national reputation. The Chicago Tribune described it as being, " ... written in a way curiously reminiscent of Eudora Welty in a winsome mood — which is to say that it is written perfectly, with grace and charm."
Soon after The Natural Man, McClanahan completed a collection of non-fiction entitled Famous People I Have Known that made clear the intertwined nature of his personal history, his comic voice and his writing in any genre. The featured piece in the book was a portrait of Little Enis--the world’s greatest lefthanded, upside-down guitar playing rock-a-billy genius. That story comes to life in the documentary with a reading by McClanahan and a musical performance by friends and family of Little Enis in a Lexington, Kentucky nightclub.
The film also includes excerpts from The Congress of Wonders, a film based on McClanahan’s short story of the same name and commentary from personal friends and literary scholars. The film closes on the nightclub stage with McClanahan and the daughter of Little Enis singing, appropriately, “He’s an Old Hippie.”
Signature: Ed McClanahan was directed by Paul Wagner and produced by Guy Mendes for Kentucky Educational Television.
For more information about Ed McClanahan, click here.