Last week I went to see the Go Fish Pictures (DreamWorks) production of The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio. The movie stars Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson. It is biased on Terry Ryan's best selling book about how her mother raised ten kids on twenty-five words or less. I really enjoyed the book and thought that Jane Anderson did a nice job adapting the screenplay. I only wish that the movie could have captured the town of Defiance better. In the book the town was it's own character. I fully realize turning a 351-page book into a 90-minute screenplay requires some streamlining.
Now you may ask, "What does this have to do with me or my CHILD OF TELEVISION column?" Well, I lived in Defiance Ohio from 1965-1972 and until recently I would visit the town often. Defiance Ohio is the inspiration for the fictional town of Compliance Ohio in my pilot RED STATE. My childhood memories of Defiance were very romantic it was like Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show. It was quiet, everybody knew everybody, and kids played safely in the street. The people who lived on my street were like the Nelsons from The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, or the Cleavers from Leave It to Beaver, Defiance was the ideal that television presented to America. When I was small, I was not aware of the many un-Mayberry like elements connected to Defiance. For example, there were other Puerto Ricans and even some blacks living in Defiance when I arrived, but they literally lived on the other side of the train tracks. Since I was half-Swedish, I was allowed to live on the good side.
In my adulthood I saw Defiance make the national news several times. Once when the KKK went to recruit members (unsuccessfully) at the Defiance courthouse. Another news story involved a run-a-way train coming through town. The cops decided to shoot out the tires. Proof alone that we are not dealing with the smartest part of the country. Then there was the Christmas when Santa Claus was physically thrown out of a church by four guys. Santa spent the holidays in traction because some Defiance residents take their religion very seriously. The best restaurant in Defiance is the Defiance Hospital Cafeteria. It has been written up in all the local papers. I never heard my grandparents mention Defiance Hospital in conjunction with quality health care, but it's cafeteria gets 5 stars from the Toledo Blade food critic. I have a friend who did a lot of TV in Puerto Rico. While doing a Google search and typed in his name, Johnny Ray Rodriguez, that another Johnny Ray Rodriguez, is one of thirty or so sexually oriented offenders living in Defiance Ohio. I'd seen news stories about registered sex offenders who would try to move in to a neighborhood only to be run out by the residents. I always wondered where they wound up. Now I know.
"What are they? High?" I asked. Then I remembered something historically significant that my Grandfather told me. During WWII there were huge fields near my grandparents house that the government used to grow hemp to make rope. When the war was over they didn’t do a very good job of clearing the hemp. No wonder hippies would go camping in these fields (maybe that's what attracted Woody Harrelson to the movie). Birds and the wind spread the seeds all over town. For years my grandmother kept pulling these weeds out of her flower box. "What are these things?"
Grandpa knew. After he died I was going through his tool shed and I found this little pipe. He was in constant pain towards the end of his life and hated the care he was getting at Defiance Hospital (probably because he could never get a reservation). Perhaps Grandpa was self-medicating. I think that hemp seeped into the ground water. I see myself as the Real Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio. I got the hell out of that town.
I wish Terry Ryan continued success and have to admit that I have some professional jealousy. I had wanted to be the first to put Defiance, Ohio on the map by making fun of the town. Instead, she has used the town as the backdrop for a very inspirational story. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned in that... Naah!
There is a scene in the movie where Evelyn Ryan (Julianne Moore), while leaving town for the day, passes by a sign that reads, "Defiance is a nice place to live". Evelyn turns to her daughter Tuff (Ellary Porterfield) and says, "Defiance is a nice place to leave!"