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Jesse James returns to Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE — For the purposes of a new film about Jesse James, it was 1882 at the U.S. Hotel Tuesday, and the governor of Missouri was signing a pardon for the man who killed the famous outlaw.

The scene was part of a two-hour movie about the famed bandit, a still-untitled $1 million project that's scheduled to air Nov. 16 on the History Channel.

The U.S. Hotel, the Beekman Bank, the Beekman House and Hanley Farm are vital backdrops for the film, which is being shot by Screaming Flea Productions of Seattle, said producer Sandy Dang Asher.

That the project is being filmed in and around the historic town is the result of a serendipitous series of events, city officials said.

Jacksonville was selected as a good location by Bill Armstrong and Jeff Prechtel, Bend-based historical consultants. Conversations with the Southern Oregon Historical Society to coordinate a $500 per day/per site use of SOHS-owned properties happily coincided with the city's decision to rescind its highly restrictive filming ordinances, which were on the books until just a few months ago, she said.

"The people here in Jacksonville have been fabulous," Asher said. "This is the neatest, cutest, most quaint town."

The film will explore new questions about the life of the famous outlaw, examining whether James was more than just a bandit, said Asher.

"It will raise questions about certain aspects of Jesse James' life, such as his importance as a political figure during the (post-Civil War) reconstruction," said Asher.

The idea for the new theories came to Asher's production company from a soon-to-be-released book by an author Asher declined to name.

"I can't tell you any details," she said. "That's why you'll have to watch the show."

Screaming Flea's film is the second project based on the famed robber to be shot in Jacksonville. California Street was closed to cars and foot traffic for 100 days for the 1972 film, "The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid." Directed by Philip Kaufman, the movie told the story of the real-life raid on the small town of Northfield, Minn., where James and his crew attempted to rob the town's only bank.

Economic and social fallout from subsequent films, "Inherit the Wind," "A Girl of the Limberlost," and "Martial Marshall," irked some church members, city officials and business owners, according to news accounts of those times published in the Mail Tribune. In response, the city enacted ordinances designed to prohibit or strictly limit filming in the downtown area.

"The measures were draconian, and deliberately so," said City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen. "It was extremely difficult for film companies to get through all the hoops."

Recently several local businesses and council members deemed the laws "outdated," said Terry Erdmann, a member of the city's newly-formed Motion Picture Committee.

"We were just getting into the process of attracting filming to Jacksonville," said Erdmann. "Coincidentally, we heard that Screaming Flea was talking to the historical society, and the timing was perfect."

Mayor Bruce Garrett is the new film liaison. Proposed projects go through the new committee, which includes city planning commissioner

(note: This title has been corrected) David Jesser, Wyntergreen and others, Erdmann said.

Preproduction work began in January, and the film will wrap in October. The actors have no dialogue, but several Hollywood celebrities, including Casey Affleck, Don Johnson and Alan Dale, are interested in providing the voice-over narrative, she said.

Providing accurate historical details such as the James brothers' weapons and the newspapers in the Missouri governor's office is the purview of Armstrong and Prechtel. Both men also will perform in the film. Armstrong will portray Jesse's brother, Frank James. Prechtel is Cole Younger.

"I'm in a scene where I'm supposedly in the hoosegow looking very dejected," said Armstrong.

Today and Thursday, the crew will shoot at Hanley Farm. On Friday crews will be back in Jacksonville, filming a robbery at the Beekman Bank. The public is invited to come out and watch the filming, said Daniel Perry, SOHS museum manager.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Jeff Prechtel of Eugene plays the part of Cole Younger in the documentary about Jesse James. - Bob Pennell