SPRINGHILL, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – When a small-town, northern Louisiana gal becomes an actress and marries a major Hollywood star, it’s a big deal; but when the couple comes for a visit and films a movie named Five Days from Home that debuts at a local, downtown theatre — that’s the stuff of local legends.
More than 40 years after this exact scenario took place, Springhill is abuzz again because a movie that once put them on the map is coming back this weekend to the very same big screen where the excitement began in the late 1970s.
Sherry Boucher says it all happened because she was homesick.
The young actress from Springhill, La. had married George Peppard, the actor made famous for his role as Paul in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and they were living in California.
“George and I had been married for three years. He was an only child, and he had no immediate family—only one uncle, and he lived in Canada. I told George nobody ever comes to our house, and I’d like to go home for Christmas.”
Sherry says George didn’t say much.
“We were in Beaver Creek, Colorado for a western he was working on, and I said to him, We should do something like a Disney film at Christmas with a small budget and puppies.’ He said, ‘Sherry, you’re not right in the head.’”
But the idea stuck, and the couple borrowed money against their house to make the film. It was Peppard’s debut as a feature film director and producer.
“We would have lost our house if it didn’t work,” Sherry said. “I told him I don’t want cussing, nudity, violence—nothing that offends anybody in my hometown. I said, ‘We need to fly into Shreveport and see about filming everything in Springhill because it’s small and everybody would be tickled to death to help.’”
Sherry says she and George flew in, walked around, and got ideas, including character names off street signs. One of the main characters’ names was taken off of a printing company’s sign.
“A radio report discussed an inmate from Angola who had escaped through the swamp and George said that sounded like a good opening for the film. Then I spent the afternoon with my mom, and George spent the afternoon driving around by himself. He made plans to purchase a beagle puppy from Oil City, and we named it St. Nicholas. We called him Nick.”
The beagle pup would become one of the stars of the movie.
The tagline on the movie poster describes Peppard’s character as “A Gentle Man. A Desperate Man. He only wants to be with his critically ill son. To get to him, he has to put his life on the line. And his only help is a beagle puppy who isn’t even housebroken.”
Meanwhile, Sherry and George focused on doing everything they could to try to save money. People from all around town volunteered to help, and even the city itself did its part.
“Springhill stayed in Christmas mode for five months to accommodate us,” Sherry said. “We got there on the 30th of November, and we filmed until April.”
Larry Ryan of The Ryan Radio Program says he got a call from the manager of KTAL, also known as Channel 6. He asked Ryan to come in and ‘act like you’re a newsman.’”
“We sat down in the news booth that you have there at the station,” Ryan told KTAL News. “George Peppard said, ‘You think you can read this? Let’s film it and see.'”
“It took me one take and about 30 seconds, then he said, ‘That’s good. Here’s a $100. Sign here.’ And that was it,” chuckled Ryan, who says he’s in the movie for about 20 seconds.
“When the movie came out, a few of us had a world premiere for ourselves at a theatre in Shreveport,” recalled Ryan. “We rented a limo that picked us up one at a time at a pizza house around the corner and took us to the theatre. We had drinks for everybody, and when I came on screen, we all stood up and cheered.”
Ryan said the movie wasn’t representative of his five minutes of fame, but it did give him about 20 seconds.
Jerry Stephens, who went on to serve for two decades as Springhill’s chief of police, also remembers being an extra in the movie.
“I was a deputy sheriff at the time, so I was the parking meter attendant in the movie. The meter was expired, and I was coming along checking meters. But my fame was short-lived,” Stephens said with a laugh.
Stephens was working nights at the sheriff’s department in 1979 and watched while the stars were making other scenes.
“It was really entertaining to see how they make those things work. It was supposed to be raining in one scene, so they jacked up a car to film a chase, and the car wasn’t moving. It was just sitting there.”
Stephens said he knew other members of law enforcement who had lines in the movie, too, like “the guy that answers the phone and the guy that went to the old lady’s house.”
Stevens says he will be there when the movie is screened again for the first time in more than 40 years on Saturday.
“I wouldn’t miss it at all,” said Stevens. “A lot of people who are deceased will be walking the streets this weekend (in the movie), and they’re coming back in that movie to have a reunion. I may make both showings.”
Sherry’s sister also landed a role in the movie.
“I told George my sister was the perfect person for the lead. My sister Savannah got that part, and then George really liked her husband when he met him, so he hired him, and that saved us money because they could share a room when we were on location,” Sherry recalled.
“It was a very low-budget film, but it’s the kind of film that I don’t think you’ll ever see again because the movie industry has changed.”
The Spring Theatre was built in 1946 and destroyed by fire in 1958, but it reopened a year later and reached its glory days in 1979 when the Peppards opened their film there.
And if you’re wondering where the film gets its name, Sherry spilled the beans to the very news station that’s featured in the movie (That’s us!).
“It would have taken us about five days to drive from Los Angeles to Springhill back then.”
The couple kept the beagle after filming was completed, but Sherry says the puppy almost didn’t survive after a mishap during filming. George was having sinus problems, and when one of his Sudafed pills fell on the floor, the beagle ate it.
“You cannot imagine what we went through to save that dog,” said Sherry. “He (Nick) was shaking and throwing up; then he went back to work. He was a true actor.”
The couple kept the dog until their divorce. Then he stayed with George. Sherry says the beagle lived to be about 13.
Another interesting fact is that Bill Conti, the score composer for Rocky and The Karate Kid, also wrote the score for Five Days from Home.
Sherry and George made their money back on the film, even if it was just enough to break even.
“We ended up selling the film to Universal,” she says. “We invited everybody we knew to the screening in California, from Henry Fonda to Buddy Hacket and Jimmy Stewart. It was packed, and the reviews were very good. Then the studios were interested. They sold it for international distribution and made a killing on it. We just paid for our house and broke even.”
See Five Days from Home on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 2:00 p.m. at The Spring Theatre in downtown Springhill, La.
Admission is $5.