The 70th-anniversary celebration of “Murder in Coweta County” began Tuesday night with a screening of the film and short interview with the movie’s producer, Dick Atkins.
The fully booked screening was held at Newnan’s Carnegie Library, with another fully booked screening taking place today.
Before the screening, Winston Skinner, news editor at The Newnan Times-Herald did a short interview with Atkins about his experience producing the movie.
Atkins said the reason they are celebrating the 70th anniversary is because the murder took place in 1948 and 35 years later, the movie premiered on CBS in 1983.
This year is also the 35 year anniversary of the movie premiere.
The movie is based off a true story about a Meriwether County landowner, John Wallace, who was accused of murdering his farmhand, William Turner.
The movie was based on the best-selling book of the same title, written by Margaret Anne Barnes of Newnan.
A couple guests at the screening have direct ties to the story including John William Turner, who is the son of William Turner, the farmhand who was murdered.
Another attendee was Raiford Smith, the son of the owner of Sunset Tourist Camp, where the murder took place.
Atkins reflected on how he got involved in the story of the murder, and said at the time he was the head of production for a production company in New York.
A small company out of Atlanta contacted Atkins and sent him the book. Musician Johnny Cash had already become interested in the story and was in contact with the company out of Atlanta, he said.
“Obviously we were interested in working with Johnny and the book was such a great story,” Atkins said.
Cash portrayed Sheriff Lamar Potts of Coweta County who arrested Wallace.
Once they made a deal with the company from Atlanta and took it to CBS, Atkins said he began working on getting Andy Griffith involved with the movie.
Atkins said that Griffith loved working on the movie and playing a part that was different from what people were used to. Griffith played the murderer, John Wallace.
Atkins said Cash and Griffith were different personally from their public personas – Cash the tough man in black and Griffith the amiable Southern sheriff. Griffith liked to party.
Of Cash, Atkins, said, “I always said he was like a 10-year-old in a 50-year-old body. It was like he was a kid.”
Atkins also talked about why they chose to film the movie in Zebulon, instead of Newnan.
The courthouse square in Newnan looked too modern for 1948 when they began scouting locations for the movie, according to Atkins. He also said that the courthouse was covered by trees and it wouldn’t work for filming.
“When you do a story, particularly a true story, you want to stay true to the spirit of the story,” Atkins said.
Atkins also said the filming on location took about four weeks and the total cost of the project was about $2.5 million.
Included in the events of the anniversary is a panel discussion that took place Wednesday night at the courthouse, and was moderated by Skinner and Atkins.