‘Twister” wasn’t even a dust devil. “Dante’s Peak” didn’t yet have a top to pop.
But in 1925, St. Maries premiered its own disaster epic, “The Tornado.” Years later, the silent-reel saga of a logger caught in a wind-whipped love triangle had all but blown away.
Until now. The Historic Wallace Preservation Society will show the movie in Kellogg next month. It’s a highbrow deal: Sponsors are the Hemingway Western Studies Center, Boise State University, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Idaho Commission on the Arts. Even Kellogg’s Super 8 Motel.
It’s all thanks to a professor and a San Francisco accountant who played a game of cat and mouse for five years before the film finally was found - in Holland.
The search began in 1987, when a Boise State professor heard a rumor about a movie made in St. Maries, St. Joe and Marble Creek. Tom Trusky founded the Idaho Film Collection, and had never heard of such a flick. He followed a tip to a retired accountant in California.
Howard Anderson told Trusky he had lived in St. Maries as a boy. There had been a film made there, but Anderson said he couldn’t remember its name.
For three or four years, he badgered Anderson. “People always remember when ‘Dante’s Peak’ is made in your home town,” Trusky reasoned. “When you’re a kid that’s really big.”
Anderson one day remembered the movie’s stars - among them silent movie star House Peters.
Trusky tried to figure out what films they made together. There was a Western, one set in Paris - “and then there was ‘The Tornado.”’ Trusky found there was one print of “The Tornado” in the world - in the Dutch National Archives.
He looked up old newspapers, and “Bingo!” “BIG stories about this film ‘Tornado’ coming to town!”
Anderson finally admitted he knew which movie it was all along. “How could you NOT tell me in 1987?!” Trusky asked, flabbergasted.
Anderson, ill and in his 80s, just shrugged. “Oh, I thought I’d get off this damn dialysis machine, I’d get these cataracts taken care of, and I would go get the film.”
The Dutch traded the film to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and in 1995, Trusky had a print made for $8,000. He loved it. Wind machines blow St. Maries to blazes. Buildings and dams collapse.
Its star, Peters, was a big name back then. “He made tremendous money in those days,” said his son, House Peters Jr., who lives in California. “When you make $50,000 per picture in 1925 and breakfast was 50 cents, you figure it out.”
The younger House Peters, 81, was in the biz, too. He worked with Lana Turner, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. And he was the original bald, buffed and earring-wearing Mr. Clean. He’ll be at the Kellogg showing.
The one-time showing will feature a soundtrack of live music. Actors will recite the dialog, because the captions are in Dutch.
The Silver Valley is psyched.
“Holy mackerel, you can’t believe it!” said Shauna Hillman of the historical society. “‘Dante’s Peak’ only triggered the enthusiasm about movies around here.”
The sad thing is, Anderson never saw his hometown demolished on the silver screen - he ran away from home before it debuted. And he died in 1992 before Trusky got his mitts on the print.
“That’s the sad irony,” Trusky said. “If he would have told me in 1987, he could have seen it. That breaks my heart.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: SHOW TIME “The Tornado” will be shown May 14 at 7 p.m. at the Rena Theatre in Kellogg. For ticket information, call (208) 753-0591 or (208) 752-9401.
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