From Moonshine to Mooning

Christmas season is upon us, and soon television viewers will be treated to another rerun of the Hallmark movie The Christmas Card, starring Ed Asner and some other actors whose names I forget.

The Christmas Card has been played up by the local chamber of commerce in their neverending quest to attract tourists to the area, especially during Victorian Christmas. It’s also used as an example of the quaintness of our little storybook village. No scraggly hippies or homeless persons appear anywhere, and the shops and restaurants are all full of smiling friendly folks, ready to help a stranger in need.

It’s not the first movie to be made in NC. There have been many over the decades. The first one I remember was called The Well, starring Harry Morgan. It was a story about racial tensions in the fifties, if you can imagine that in our whitebread county. Most of the movie was filmed in Yuba City, but I vaguely recall some shots of the old Union Building and the outside of Bunce’s bar. It’s a hard one to find nowadays.

The seventies were the salad days of film in Nevada County. There was 1979’s The Incredible Journey of Dr. Meg Laurel, starring Lindsay Wagner as a doctor trying to overcome rural superstitions in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Also featured were Jane (formerly Mrs. Ronald Reagan) Wyman, and James Woods as a sin eater. Also in ’79 was Undercover With The KKK, starring Dandy Don Meredith. My favorite scene from that one was veteran character actor Slim Pickins being shot in his pickup and pushed into the Yuba River canyon at Edward’s Crossing.

But the real highlight of Nevada City’s film history was 1978’s Moonshine County Express, starring John Saxon, William Conrad, (who starred in the TV series Cannon. ) Susan Howard, (of Dallas fame) Maureen McCormick, (You got it!…Marcia!Marcia!Marcia! of The Brady Bunch. ) and a host of character actors including Dub Taylor.

‘Shine, as it was called during filming, was a made-for-drive-ins “B” movie, but actually had a decent script and some hilarious scenes, especially if you knew the locals who were hired as extras and bit players. There was one scene that called for an explosion at The Bargain Barn (on the Nevada City Highway across from Chapa de) that went horribly wrong. The special effects guys misjudged the amount of explosives for the “simulated” destruction of the building and actually did blow up the front of the building. Oops!

Another incident involved McCormick, who was booted out of Duffy’s Success for being underage. (Owner Jim Morales: “I don’t care if you’re a movie star…no ID, no alcohol!”) There was a great scene in the movie of Crazy Horse owner Ray Dalugee fondling Susan Howard, and of course, there are lots of local buildings and businesses featured prominently. (Some good scenes in the OK Pool Hall, now Citizen’s Restaurant, in Grass Valley.) Old timers will also recognize the old Seven Hills School gym as the setting for a dance featuring local musicians Tom and Dink Mantle.

Times have changed since those wild and woolly days. We’ve gone from moonshine and an outlaw image to mooning over lost love in a gentrified white picket fence community in the space of thirty-odd years. The movies do reflect reality, in a strange way.

Here’s a Youtube clip from the movie. In the chase scene you’ll see the Northridge in the background…

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41 Responses to From Moonshine to Mooning

  1. Mark Johnson says:

    I remember watching the “blow up” – it was hilarious. All the spectators were yelling and screaming after the tnt did the job, and the film crew was frantically trying to tell everyone to keep quiet!….and Jim Morales Sr. was a little more lax about under age drinking at Duffy’s when the film crews were not in town!
    Don’t forget about Charlie Chaplin in Nevada County:

    • rl crabb says:

      Yes, it’s true that the little tramp was a Nevada County movie pioneer. Also noteworthy is Ken Burns’ documentary about the Donner Party. Now if we could only land Spielburg!

    • TD Pittsford says:

      Mr. Jameson attended the “after” party at Pioneer Park and gleefully showed everybody 8 x 10″ color glossy photographs of the event. The explosion was so powerful it actually cracked the ridge beam. The ONLY “powder man” on the job was a fellow by the name of Charlie who soon became know as “Boom Boom Charlie. I was up in the shops behind the Litton Building working on some sets when Charlie set up a “zip” gun that fired 1/2″ lead balls. It was used in the scene where Tiny (Tom Deaton) stood right in front of Saxon’s car, pulled his six-shooter and put a bullet right between the other two actors. Actually the “zip” gun was inside the car between the seats, on the center console. The camera was in the car shooting over the shoulders of the two lead actors, so the bullet actually came for INSIDE the car. It worked just right. In order to accomplish this, Boom-Boom set up his gun at the Litton’s shop locking it into a bench vise. He then measured about 15 or 20 feet down the work bench and clamped a 3/4″ piece of pine into a second vise. He loaded up the gun with black powder and a bullet, then set it off. I’ve got to say this, he hit the wood on the very first shot. Unfortunately the lead pellet dented the board but bounced off. “Not enough charge” he observed. The second shot embedded itself about half way into the next board but I guess that wasn’t enough for Boom-Boom. “More powder” he said. That third shot all but destroyed the wood. “Now,” he said. “That’s what we were looking for!” The stills were down in the Champion Mine and Charlie set all the explosives to blow the stills. I teasingly asked him if he had used enough power this time. His response was a shark-like grin and, “Yep. You can bet on it” It was spectacular to say the least. There’s lots more stories about the making of that movie and one of these days those of us that are left should get together and swap some tales. I’ve got what I think is the first cut of the movie. There were several later but they got chopped up for TV. It was one of my best memories, to be sure. Email me if you want to reminisce.

  2. rl crabb says:

    Although it’s hard to find a hard copy of the movie, it can be downloaded if you are so inclined…

    • TD Pittsford says:

      R.L., I’ve seen three different cuts of that movie. Morales had the full version and I think mine is also. I don’t know about the downloadable version but I suspect it is the much edited edition. If someone knows, I’d like to hear about it. This movie should be in the Nevada County Archives.

      By the way the Don Meridith movie was never released because it came to light that the person being played by him was supposed to be an FBI agent who infiltrated the KKK. About half way through the picture, word came down that the FBI “hero” was actually responsible for stirring up all the incidents he was supposed to be policing. THAT movie company didn’t stick around too long. I think it took all of a day.

      • steve cottrell says:


        Actually, it was released –– but there was a delay of a few months. As I recall, the truth of Mr. Rowe’s involvement came out just before it was due to air and the network had to pull it.

        But was eventually broadcast:

        On a personal note, Terry, I hope you’re still writing. You have a gift at telling stories on paper (or, these days, on a computer screen) and I always figured that someday I would see a T.D. Pittsford novel on the NYTimes best-seller list.

        • steve cottrell says:


          Here’s something I found that explains thing pretty well.

        • TD Pittsford says:

          Thank you for the clarification. Come to think of it, somewhere in the deepest canyons of my increasingly befuddle mind, I seem to remember the film being released but I thought that could have been an illusion as so many of my memories in both sleep and in the waking world so often are.
          Also, I am deeply thankful for your compliment even as undeserved as it is. Most of my literary efforts these days are limited to BLOGS and other “contributions” to the comments section of perhaps a dozen online publications. Besides Crabbman and/or your esteemed self are writing the proverbial “Great American Novel.” I’d be most happy to provide liner notes though. Best wishes to you and all the other survivors of “The Independent”. Does the period go after the quote or before it? (That’s probably why I’m no longer a sity editur.

          • steve cottrell says:


            The period goes inside the quotation mark, unless you’re submitting something to the London Times. There, it goes outside the quotation mark.

            As for the Great American Novel, if you wrote only 2,000 words a day, you could complete an 80,000-word manuscript in 40 days. And even at 1,000 words a day, it would take less than three months.

            Ready, set, GO!!!

          • rl crabb says:

            Yes, or you could be an idiot and start a graphic novel, which has far fewer words but hundreds of pages of illustrations. I’ve been working on one for two and a half years and I’m still forty-odd pages shy of finishing. If I had gone for prose only, I would have been done a year ago.

  3. Michael Anderson says:


    Wow. This is so much a better topic of discussion than the last 3 years of political torture. Thanks Earl.

    Regarding The Christmas Card, if you look in the dictionary under the word “pap” [worthless or oversimplified ideas] or “pablum”, Ed Asner’s picture is next to those definitions, because of this shallow movie.

    A terrible script, with a questionable premise; an attempt to create a classic, horribly gone wrong. The first time we saw it, my wife Lori and I were laughing so hard we could barely contain ourselves. The only redeeming value of this movie are the local shots, which are wonderful, but specifically Kubich Mill. If you have never gone to Kubich to get some cedar, you have not lived the good life.

    I am downloading “Moonshine Express” as I type this, and I can’t wait to see it in full. Again, discussing the movies is so much better than examining Karl Rove’s failure to massage the leading political goat entrails. Ick, again and again. More new subjects Earl, please.

    Michael A.

    • rl crabb says:

      Wwwell…I’m not gonna swear off politics for good, but I think we’re all a little burned out on beating up on R’s and D’s. I’ll leave that to he-who-is-obsessed-with-the-Tea Party. The only thing worse than a sore loser is a sore winner.

      • Michael Anderson says:

        Purple dinosaur, I presume?

        • rl crabb says:

          Barney? Who cares. By the way, in the opening sequence of Moonshine, one of the sentrys that gets blown away is none other than our own TD Pittsford.

          • TD Pittsford says:

            You shouldn’t have said that, Crabb. There are a number of people who would like to see that happen for real. But before they do I’d like to let you know that the billboard in your clip, and indeed most if not all of the signage was done by my humble self. I was on full-time from the beginning to the end of filming. So was Randy Simms. Good times.

  4. “The Christmas Card” has certainly done wonders for the careers of the actors in the film. The guy who played the jilted suitor has gone on the star in a Gas-X commercial that has been playing on and off for over a year.

    But I can’t really say I’ve seen the movie. I fell asleep about 20 minutes into the taut drama and woke up in time to see the last five minutes. My wife assured me I didn’t miss anything.

    As for the rotund one, he’s having trouble practicing what he preaches. There’s an item currently on his blog claiming that his nephew, the football player at Iowa State, helped his team defeat “arch rival Iowa State” the last two seasons.

    Then there was the time he waxed nostalgic about how he enjoyed listening the John Madden on KGO radio when he lived in the Bay Area. Alas, Madden was–and still is–on KCBS.

    I wonder what he would say if The Union committed these dumb errors?

  5. Apparently the rotund one is a regular reader of this blog. He has corrected the Iowa State error since I posted my earlier comment.

  6. steve cottrell says:


    Thanks for recalling those movies of the 1970s –– it seemed as if Nevada City was awash with actors and production companies in the late ’70s. (And don’t forget the television commercials shot in and around town during that period).

    When Dandy Don was in town filming the KKK flick, he was the center of attention for most, but the actor I wanted to meet was Albert Salmi. Albert was one of those nameless faces who seemingly appeared on every tv series of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. He was what is called a “working actor.” In fact, Albert was also in “Moonshine County Express.”

    When I finally ran into Albert, I told him how much I had enjoyed his performance in “The Price” in 1968 –– the first Broadway play I ever saw. He thanked me for remembering him, and explained how he acquired rights to the Arthur Miller play and took it to London a few years later.

    Then, as he seemed ready to move on, I told him how much I had enjoyed his performance in “Bang the Drums Slowly” when it first aired as a tv play in 1956. He looked dumbfounded and said, “You remember that show?”

    At that point the two of us walked into the National Hotel for a beverage and an extended conversation. One of three such conversations we had while he was in town.

    Sadly, Albert ended his life in 1990 in what the Spokane police department determined was a murder/suicide involving his estranged wife. He was only 62.

    As for the negative comments about “The Christmas Card,” I would remind people that it was a Hallmark movie, not intended to be “Gone with the Wind” or “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And it brought thousands of visitors to Nevada City who spent money in local shops, restaurants and bars at a time when the community really needed a financial boost. Truth is, it continues to bring people to town.

    Joany Kane (a Massachusetts resident who wrote the script) became a buddy of mine and others in town –– and she is one of the best friends Nevada City could ever hope to have. We still exchange e-mails from time to time and she always ends her messages with a wish that she could sit again at The Mine Shaft and have a pint of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale,

    • rl crabb says:

      Well Steve, you could also make the argument that Malakoff Diggins, a monument to environmental destruction, brings tourists to Nevada County. There’s more corn syrup in the Christmas Card than a case of Twinkies, which could clog the arteries of viewers just like the mud from hydraulic mining did to the Yuba River.
      Just kidding, of course, but just because it brings in money doesn’t mean I have to give it a good review.

      • steve cottrell says:


        RE: The Malakoff comparison –– when some folks wanted the water monitor removed from Calanan Park because it represented environmental destruction, I suggested it remain as a monument to landmark environmental law (the Sawyer Decision) and environmental protection.

        Guess it’s all a matter of perspective, huh?

        Hope you and your child bride are having a great holiday season. Keep up the good work on your blog site. I may not comment very often, but I read it 4-5 times a week to help keep track of what’s happening there.

    • Michael Anderson says:


      Sorry for the harshness of review. I’ve been keeping it to myself over the years, mostly for the reason you indicate…the movie was good for business. That being said, I believe the statute of limitations on bad art is 1 decade, so we are certainly over that hurdle. Whether “The Christmas Card” should be considered as art I’ll get to in a moment.

      Regarding the script (and taking into account Earl’s comment), I believe I will need to see the movie again from beginning to end in order to be fair to the endeavor. I have read enough here at now that tells me my initial viewing was biased, but also probably somewhat accurate. Like Boardman, I have had difficulties staying conscious during subsequent viewing attempts, but that could certainly be blamed as well on too much holiday cheer.

      One thing I’ll be looking for in my next circumspect viewing is a comparison of the literary shortcomings vs. how the director interpreted the story. I have begun to wonder if the director of the movie is not the artist who missed the mark instead of screenwriter Joany Kane.

      Should “The Christmas Story” be considered art? Absolutely. It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare to tell a good and true story. I’ll say it again, my favorite actor in the movie when I first watched it was the Kubitch Mill.

      However, I’ll certainly get back to you on this…

      Michael A.

      • steve cottrell says:


        Fair enough.

        Just checked the Hallmark Channel website and I see that you’ll have a few opportunities to view it again during the next few weeks.


        • Michael Anderson says:

          Hallmark’s got a lock on this movie for tomorrow night and the day after. I am on satellite for these sorts of channels, much to my deep regret, and I have been chopping them from my package as I have found alternatives in Roku and other venues. So, it looks like I have will have to view “The Christmas Card” on DVD, if I can find it. Stay tuned…
          Michael A.

  7. Todd Juvinall says:

    Jeeze, are you that much of a sourpuss about everything? Apparently so. The Christmas Card is a sweet movie and that is the point. It is about true love and people finding their mate. Too bad you (MA) have such a cynical view.

    Moonshine left our county a legacy many don’t know about. Ken Meuller. He was a staff member of the movie company and after it was all done, he and his wife Cathy moved here. He became a Planning Commissioner for the County and was a member of CABPRO fpr many years. He was a true property rights man.

    After he left the PC he and Cathy moved to Pana, Illinois to live in one of their many rental houses. We stayed in contact for a while and he told me about building a new home in Pana. He went to the Building Department and filled out a form, paid $25 bucks and built his home.

  8. Does the disparity in permit fees explain why California has the world’s eighth largest economy while Ohio and Illinois aren’t even also-rans?

    • rlcrabb says:

      Everybody wants to live in California, hence the expense. But at what point does it drive everyone but the mega-rich out of the state? Oh yeah, there must be subsidized housing for the serfs who are needed for the mundane tasks and jobs no white person will take. When will we become a two-class society?

  9. There are plenty of good middle class jobs in California–if you have 21st century job skills.

    I’ve been hearing forever how overtaxed and over-regulated California businesses are. It’s a wonder to me how California has become so prosperous.

    • Todd Juvinall says:

      Two million Californicators have left the state. Backfilled by welfare queens (33% of the whole nations members). Oh yeah, lots of jobs.

      • The jobs I’m talking about exist, just not in Nevada County.

        I read recently that a Bear River High grad now attending Berkeley has won a Rhodes Fellowship, which he will use to study biomechanical engineering in England. If he works in California, it won’t be east of Sacramento.

        I’m still waiting to meet one of those mythical welfare queens. You’d think they’d be easy to spot because there aren’t that many women driving around in a Cadillac wearing a mink coat.

  10. TD Pittsford says:

    Let’s not forget super bad-man, Morgan Woodward who played “Sweetwater”. In case no one remembers him, he was Starkey’s (William Conrad) main goon; he was the guy driving the green GTO in Bob’s clip as he chased our heros into Scott’s Flat lake.

    I should also mention that “Marcia” found other recreational substances with which to entertain herself, so getting kicked out of Duffy’s was no big deal . I know for a fact that some of the guys in the transportation department kept her pretty well oiled.

  11. steve cottrell says:


    Wonder if her “experiences” in Nevada City are mentioned in her 2008 book?

    • TD Pittsford says:

      I doubt it. Unfortunately for her Nevada City was just a whistle-stop on the ride to celebrity oblivion. I think she had fun while she was here, though.

  12. Greg Goodknight says:

    For the lack of a better thread, I’ll post here.

    First, we’re watching The Christmas Card as I type, a fine antidote to the The Walking Dead mid 3rd season marathon that ended earlier this evening. Got turned on to AMC’s zombie series by a family member a week ago and we’d just ran out of the first two seasons on Netflix when we’d seen an ad for the marathon, six hours of episodes followed by the mid season cliffhanger episode. Amazingly well done for a zombie series on a minor channel.

    Turned on a local NPR affiliate an hour ago while on an errand, and lo! and behold! a familiar voice was mentioning both Salman Rushdie and S.Clay Wilson in the same breath (how common is that?) leading me to think of our stalwart ‘toonist RL, a past associate of Wilson. The familiar voice ended with “… I gotta go” and yes, dear friends, it was Merle Kessler (think Duck’s Breath Theater) who needs to perform in Nevada County more often.

    • rlcrabb says:

      Thanks, Greg. After a day of assessing the carnage from our recent Pineapple Apocalypse, we settled in to watch the mid-season finale of Walking Dead on AMC. (Who came up with this “mid-season” crap, anyway?) I was reading an article on that said the comic book on which the series is based sold 75,000 copies in October. I guess the print media isn’t quite “dead” yet.
      Wilson and Rushdie inspire me every day. If you’re a sensitive progressive (or a right wing Christian) I wouldn’t suggest reading Wilson’s stuff. His images and themes make Dante look like a regular Pollyanna, with characters like the Checkered Demon, Ruby the Dyke, and Captain Pissgums. He will never be considered mainstream in any properly organized society. Personally, I find his work liberating.
      Tha same goes for Rushdie. I saw him on C-Span recently, talking about his autobiography Joseph Anton, the story of his years of hiding from Islamic goons. As someone who is currently working on a book about a low point in my life, I was especially gratified to hear him say “at least I got a fucking good book out of it.”

      • Greg Goodknight says:

        I think The Walking Dead conflicted too much with Christmas shoppers so they planned on a midseason break. We’d hate to see folks just looking for a Blue Light special at the last minute being summarily dispatched with a length of rebar.

  13. Greg Goodknight says:

    Here’s another movie Nevada County movie; took me awhile to rattle my brain cells enough to shake it out.

    “High Voltage”, 1929, was one of the earliest talkies starring Carol(e) Lombard and William Boyd. Takes place somewhere in the Truckee area when a Sierra Nevada Stage (Sacramento-Nevada City-Truckee-Reno) bus gets stuck in the snow forcing the passengers to take refuge in a church. Not much high voltage in the script, the hope was probably for sparks to fly between Lombard and Boyd.

    The price is right (free) and it’s enough of a curiosity to warrant an hour to watch.

  14. Chris Peterson says:

    Late to the party, and had to sneak in the window since the host has gone to bed but, this just in;
    Diane Fetterly, and my nephew Ron as the child of the co-star, were also in the Incred. Journey of Dr. Meg.
    And there is an old, old western called “Nevada City”. Doesn’t appear to be shot anywhere near the town, since the scenes are all as flat as Marysville golf course.

    And didn’t Bill Conrad, as Cannon, shoot a chase scene down at Edwards Crossing somewhere around the 70’s?

    (I would have posted this sooner, but it took months to figure out the security math question,)

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