‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’
If a city is as central to a story as many of its human characters, it’s almost impossible not to shoot a film on location. When Clint Eastwood adapted John Berendt’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” — which remained on the New York Times best-seller list longer than any other book before or since — into a film, it was impossible to divorce the story from the city that gave life to it.
From the statue that adorns the cover of both the book and the film in the titular garden of good and evil, Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery, to the city’s central meeting spot, Forsyth Park, Savannah played a starring roll in the 1997 film.
Groups can begin their tour in Forsyth Park with a stop at the Mercer-Williams House Museum.
“It’s the house the story is originally based on, and it was featured as the main house in the film. The owner still lives there, but they open it to the public during posted hours,” said William Hammargren, film services administrator for the City of Savannah Film Office. The house dates back to the Civil War and was one of Savannah’s first landmark restorations.
For lunch, groups can visit one of several restaurants from the film that are still in operation, most notably Debi’s Restaurant, which was also used in “Forrest Gump.”
“They also shot a lot of ‘Forrest Gump’ here, but it doesn’t read as Savannah, or it’s hard to get to,” Hammargren said. “People are always looking for the bench, but we moved it to a local history museum at the visitor center because people were stopping in the middle of the street to take pictures of it.”
After lunch, continue to the Bonaventure Cemetery before taking in the city’s film artifacts in one of the local museums.
“Some of the pieces shown in our most famous films have had to be moved for their own safety,” said Hammargren. “The bird girl statue from the cover of the ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ book used to be in the cemetery, but tourists were picking off little pieces of it as souvenirs; so it’s in the Telfair museum now.”
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” is based loosely on events that took place in her hometown, Monroeville, Alabama, in her youth, so it was only fitting to set the Academy Award-winning film there. While principal cinematography took place on a Hollywood lot, some scenes were filmed on location in Monroeville, and Gregory Peck moved to the town before filming to prepare for his Oscar-winning role as Atticus Finch.
“If you’re coming for the day, we always recommend starting at the museum,” said Sandy Smith, executive director of the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce.
To honor Monroeville’s honorary title as the “Literary Capital of Alabama” and Harper Lee in particular, the Old Courthouse Museum explores the author’s youth in Monroeville and the lives of those who inspired the novel. The courtroom is open for exploration, so groups can sit in the viewers balcony from which the author watched her father’s cases or take the judge’s seat.
“Allow an hour for that, and then follow the Walk Monroeville route of 24 buildings in the historic downtown. In April, we’re launching an audio tour with QR signage,” Smith said. En route, plan for an extended stop at Monroeville’s library, housed in the former La Salle Hotel, where Gregory Peck and his wife stayed while researching his role for the film. An audio tour of the historic aspects of the building is available, but the librarian will also give groups a hands-on tour.
From mid-April to mid-May, locals perform a “To Kill a Mockingbird” play on the lawn and inside the museum. Group tickets go on sale in January, two months before tickets are available to the general public.