Some small towns are etched in history through one-time visitors. Think of Robert E. Lee in Gettysburg, Wyatt Earp in Tombstone and E.T. in Roswell. In the summer of 1961 – 50 years ago this month – fate and fame sashayed arm-in-arm into the moss-draped town of Inverness, riding in the back seat of a stretch white Cadillac.
The town, a little over an hour's drive north of Tampa along U.S. 41, was shaken awake from its rural slumber during that visit. It was a time when women in flouncy below-the-knee dresses and seamed nylons walked to work at the courthouse and men wore bowties to breakfast at the local diner. Teenage girls in one-piece bathing suits sunned themselves on the docks that reached out into Big Lake Henderson.
But all that was before the hip-shaking King of Rock 'n Roll – America's idol – came and walked among them.
"Follow That Dream," Elvis Presley's ninth movie, mostly was filmed in Citrus and Levy counties. The King's brief stay in the summer of '61 ranks to this day at the top of Inverness' bragging points, just ahead of Hernando de Soto's expedition through the area in 1539 and the annual Cooter Festival.
Those who remember the King's visit still gush with tales. Earlier this year, Elvis-in-Citrus aficionados got the county commission to declare this the "Year of Elvis," and a local woman even co-penned a play about the filming of the movie.
"When Elvis Came to Town" opened in April inside the very courtroom where the pivotal scene in the movie was shot, right where Elvis stood 50 years ago this month and delivered a stirring courtroom argument.
Wendy Stillwell wasn't in Inverness to see Elvis, 26 at the time, but she has a keen interest in the visit and co-wrote the theatrical depiction with her cousin.
Locals flocked to watch the production and afterward they all spilled out stories about their recollections, Stillwell said.
"Boy, do they ever recall it," she said. "It was the highlight of their lives."
Movie location scouts came to West Central Florida months before filming began, she said, searching for a quaint country courthouse where the film's key scene would be shot.
"They were looking for the courthouse in Brooksville, but there was a trial going on there," Stillwell said. Someone suggested the courthouse in Inverness and everything fell into place. "They filmed about a week in old Citrus County Courthouse."
Since then, a new courthouse has been built. The stately old courthouse still sits on the downtown square like a table centerpiece. It has been restored and is now a museum.
"Follow That Dream" was one of 33 movies starring Elvis. It was not among the ones that were box-office hits, but critics seemed to agree that Elvis' comedic acting was excellent.
The plot followed him, his father and three children who set up a homestead on a stretch of rural beach, only to be hassled by government wonks and mean mobsters.
It's safe to say that most who remember the filming just plain love the movie. And the half-century that has passed doesn't diminish the memory for those who were a part of it.
They describe Elvis as down-to-earth and friendly. He comfortably chatted with locals and during filming breaks tossed the football around the courthouse lawn with star-struck teens.
Frances Castel is 81 now and 50 years ago, she worked in the county judge's office at the courthouse. She'll never forget watching Elvis through her office window play ball with the local kids.
"I was a big fan," she said. "He was so friendly to everybody. He really was, if kids wanted to play around with him, he would. He was very generous with his time. He was a good guy until the world got a hold of him."
What she remembers most is this:
"I was kissed on the cheek by him," she giggled. "And I haven't washed my face since. I remember it very well."
She was friends with Citrus County sheriff's Deputy Louis Pielow, who was assigned to be Elvis' bodyguard. One day, Castel and her two young daughters accompanied the deputy to Yankeetown to watch some filming. She would have settled just to watch from afar.
Instead, Pielow disappeared into the woods, where the filming was going on, and emerged a few minutes later, Elvis by his side.
"He came straight up to me and I thought I would just turn to water," she said. "Elvis was grinning ear to ear and I didn't know what to do. My daughters ran and hid in the car. He walked up and said, 'Hello there, are you the lady who would like to say hello to me?' I looked at him and said 'Yes, yes and yes.'
"And then, he kissed me on my cheek," she said. "And I'll carry it to my grave."
The film featured scenes from the nearly undiscovered west coast of Florida, including the Bird Creek bridge on County Road 40 near Inglis in Levy County. The stretch of road has since been renamed Follow That Dream Parkway.
The King himself rented a room at the Port Paradise Motel in Crystal River.
But what locals remember most is the courtroom scene, shot in the small upstairs courtroom of the old courthouse in Inverness. Courthouse workers and others were picked to sit in the gallery as movie extras. Many flocked to Ocala a year later for the movie's premier. The film was interrupted often with "there I am" shouts from the audience.
In the scene near the end of the movie, Elvis' diction-challenged character, Toby Kwimper, delivers an impassioned speech that moved some of the locals in the background to tears.
During the filming, teens from all over Inverness and beyond crowded into downtown to chant "We want Elvis," according to newspaper accounts. Elvis, who died on Aug. 16, 1977, was just about at the height of his career when the film was made.
Fifty years later, Elvis fans still come by to look at the courtroom and travel to Crystal River and Yankeetown, said John Grannan, president of the Citrus County Historical Society. If arrangements are made, the courthouse is opened up special on Saturdays, he said, to accommodate the fan clubs. Some come from as far away as Europe.
He said: "They want to go everywhere Elvis went."
Kathy Turner Thompson, Citrus County's historical resource officer, said that last year, a man from Germany showed up with his wife, two children and in-laws to see the courtroom.
He was a big Elvis fan, she said, and came to Inverness while vacationing in Orlando. "He had this tattoo, like I've never seen a tattoo," she said. "It was Elvis in his pink Cadillac and it covered his whole arm. "Oh, my god," she said. "It was unbelievable."
Source; TBO News / EpGold