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The Lawton Story

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Lawton Story
The Prince of Peace film poster, circa 1950.
Directed byWilliam Beaudine
Harold Daniels
Written byW. Scott Darling
Mildred Horn
Rev. A. Mark Wallock
Produced byKroger Babb
J. S. Jossey
StarringGinger Prince
Forrest Taylor
Millard Coody
Narrated byKnox Manning
CinematographyHenry Sharp
Edited byRichard C. Currier
Music byLee White
Distributed byHygienic Productions
Modern Film Distributors
Release date
  • 1 April 1949 (1949-04-01)
Running time
101 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Lawton Story of "The Prince of Peace",[1] originally released as The Lawton Story and later reissued as The Prince of Peace, is a religious-themed film that later made the roadshow rounds presented by exploitation pioneer Kroger Babb. Filmed in Cinecolor in 1948, it is based on an annual passion play in Lawton, Oklahoma, "The Prince of Peace," created in 1926 by Rev. A. Mark Wallock. This Easter pageant became immensely popular among locals, attracting as many as 250,000 people.[2]

The film was presented in various forms through the years following its debut. It also served as the debut film of child actress Ginger Prince, who was touted as her generation's Shirley Temple.[3]

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Plot and production

The basis of the film is the annual Easter Sunday performance of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, as performed by real-life residents of Lawton.[3] These scenes were filmed by local director Harold Daniels. The finished film ran less than one hour, and producer Kroger Babb saw a chance to expand this amateur footage into a full-length feature film. He recruited Hollywood rewrite specialist W. Scott Darling to prepare a new framework using Hollywood character actors Forrest Taylor, Maude Eburne, Ferris Taylor, Lee "Lasses" White, William Ruhl, and Willa Pearl Curtis. Veteran director William Beaudine staged the new scenes, which were photographed by Henry Sharp and edited by Richard C. Currier. The amplified film ran 101 minutes, with the last half devoted to the Christ story.

The film's story revolves around a six-year-old girl (Prince) who becomes the positive influence in her town of Lawton. The girl, who lives with her grandfather in a small house, successfully convinces her great-uncle, a ruthless mortgage lender, to see the performance of a passion play in Lawton. The uncle is moved by the performance and changes his greedy and sinful ways.[4] The new scenes with Prince were filmed over a six-day period by William Beaudine in Lawton.[5]

It was marketed in a manner similar to other roadshow-style film productions, such as Mom and Dad. Promoters of the film often sold Bibles and faith pamphlets following screenings to capitalize on the religious element, often with a lecture during intermission.[4] Kroger Babb had no issue with his attempts at making money off the religious topic, saying that "It's no sin to make a profit."[6]

Babb, always alert for exploitation opportunities, decided to emphasize the young Ginger Prince as the screen's new Shirley Temple. The added footage emphasizes her contribution with many dialogue scenes and four songs. A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Prince was featured prominently in the film's advertising and promotion, which referred to her as "42 inches and 42 pounds of Southern Charm" and, in reference to a bathing scene with Prince, "soap washes off dirt, but only God can wash away your sins."[3]


Even with new, professionally filmed segments, the pageant footage had technical flaws -- telephone poles could be seen behind the crucifix—but viewers overlooked them and focused on the documentary aspects of the film. The local performers' Oklahoma accents were so strong that the producer decided to erase the soundtrack and re-record the dialogue with professional actors. The Lawton Story was described as "the only film that had to be dubbed from English to English."[7] The original narration by DeVallon Scott was re-recorded by radio's Knox Manning.

The film premiered in Lawton to a respectable crowd. While it failed to be a mainstream hit because of its specialized subject matter, it did succeed regionally; the film's run in New York City was so successful that the New York Daily News called it "the Miracle of Broadway."[7]

Reviews praised the native pageant footage but criticized the Hollywood-staged portions. Modern Screen wrote: "The Pageant itself, filmed in the dawn against a natural setting of mountains, is stirring. The cast for the most part is composed of citizens of Lawton who know their Bibles better than their profiles. It's the sincerity of their nonprofessional acting which comes across, and turns the enactment of the life of Christ (played by Millard Coody) into a moving experience."[8] Variety's review specifically criticized Prince's performance in the film, saying the movie would have been better "had not producers seen fit to drag in a crass, commercial showcasing of a precocious moppet, apparently in an attempt to strike a broader popular market."[9]



  1. ^ U.S. Copyright Office (1949). Catalog of Copyright Entries. Third Series. Vol. 3, Parts 7-11A, Number 1. Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress. p. 80.
  2. ^ Motion Picture Daily, April 18, 1949, p.4.
  3. ^ a b c Feaster, Felicia; Wood, Bret (1999). Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of the Exploitation Film. Midnight Marquee Press. pp. 111–113. ISBN 1-887664-24-6.
  4. ^ a b Friedman, David F.; DeNevi, Don (1 November 1990). A Youth in Babylon: Confessions of a Trash-Film King. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books. pp. 53–55. ISBN 978-0-87975-608-6.
  5. ^ Marshall, Wendy L. (2005). William Beaudine: From Silents to Television. Scarecrow Press. pp. 246–247. ISBN 978-0-8108-5218-1.
  6. ^ Staff (18 April 1949). "Something for the Soul". Vol. 53, no. 16. Time. p. 102. Archived from the original on January 31, 2011.
  7. ^ a b Turan, Kenneth (1 August 1977). "'You've Got To Tell'em To Sell'em,' Said Kroger Babb, and Did He Sell'em". The Washington Post. p. B1.
  8. ^ Modern Screen, June 1949, p. 107.
  9. ^ Brog. (6 April 1949). "The Lawton Story". Variety. Vol. 174, no. 4. New York. p. 8.
  10. ^ Staff Writer (5 April 1949). "Mother of Twins Plays Part of Screen Mother for Ginger". Wilmington News-Journal. Wilmington, Ohio. p. 14 – via

External links

This page was last edited on 16 October 2023, at 18:08
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