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Runnin shine with a movie star
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Just as with any occupation, the work week of a journalist has its ups and downs.

  

Deadlines and long hours can be a strain. Gray hairs and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are the badges of battle.

  

But every now and then something comes along that makes the gig totally worth it. There are times when this job becomes extremely cool.

  

One of those moments occurred last Friday, when I found myself riding in a Prohibition-era coupe with the son of Robert Mitchum — yes, the Robert Mitchum of 1950s and 60s movie fame.

  

Jim Mitchum starred alongside his father in the 1958 film, “Thunder Road,” a movie about moonshine runners in southern Appalachia.

  

Mitchum and I rode in a 1932 Ford with Hall County resident Bobby Benfield, the vehicle’s proud owner. As part of a 51-car parade of classic automobiles, we sped through the North Georgia Mountains.

  

It was a charity run for a local nonprofit and a precursor to the Mountain Moonshine Festival. They called it the Moonshine Run.

  

Mitchum — a classic car fanatic — was Grand Marshal at last year’s festival. He enjoyed the event so much he came back for more.

  

While riding in the car Friday, Mitchum didn’t care to talk Hollywood so much as cars. A dorky introduction from yours truly made that abundantly clear:

  

“You were in ‘Thunder Road,’ right?”

  

“Yep.” Mitchum said.

  

“Oh, man … I love that movie.” Stuttering. “You and your dad were great in that. I mean, that was a really cool movie.”

  

Mitchum gave me a blank stare. He promptly returned to his conversation with our driver.

  

As I sat in the backseat, sandwiched between a camera bag and a cooler, I eavesdropped on their discussion.

  

Mitchum: “I put a distributor on it.”

  

Benfield: “Was it a 40 block?”

  

Mitchum: “Yeah … now, let me tell you about this flathead.”

  

I had no idea what any of it meant. It was like they were speaking another language.

  

Vehicular interest extended to every topic: “I’m thinking about moving to Knoxville,” Mitchum said.

  

“Oh yeah. A lot of good cars up there,” Benfield said.

  

Despite Mitchum’s disinterest in the silver screen, I did get a glimpse at what movie stardom must be like.

  

Like celebrities in limos, our sparkling caravan of freshly-waxed Fords was a show stopper. Bystanders watched, their mouths agape as if they’d seen a vision.

  

They chased after our parade with cameras, like paparazzi stalking for a choice shot. Children shouted, pumping their fists. “Yeah! Step on it!”

  

A small crowd was waiting when we stopped at Vogel State Park in Union County. People swarmed Mitchum as he stepped out of the car.

  

He signed some posters, shook some hands. He watched silently behind Aviator sunglasses as more cars pulled into the park.

  

“Some nice ones here,” he said. “Y’all got some nice cars on the east coast.” Mitchum had flown in from Prescott, Ariz., the previous morning.

  

He shook my hand and answered a few run-of-the-mill questions. What did he think of the Moonshine Festival? What made it unique?

  

The real questions I wanted to ask would remain unanswered. What was his father like? Did they work well together on the big screen?

  

And the most important question of all: What was it like to star in a film that brought moonshine culture to the masses?

  

Mitchum caught a ride with somebody else on the way back to Dawsonville.

  

Benfield and I got back in his 1932 Ford and headed that way.

  

Despite my inability to comprehend classic car-speak, I felt a new appreciation for the machines. The enthusiasm with which these people spoke of their automobiles opened my eyes.

  

It was a memorable trip. Speeding through the autumn-tinged mountains, hanging out with an old school Hollywood star ... all in a day’s work.

   

Frank Reddy is a staff writer for the Dawson Community News. Contact him at (706) 265-3384 or frankreddy@dawsonnews.com.

 
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