From “Inside the Beltway” by John McCaslin, the Washington Times, 3/14/05
Immersing ourselves in early American history over the weekend, we paid a visit first to Pope's Creek Plantation, George Washington's birthplace along the banks of the Potomac River.
Only a few miles away in Virginia's historic Northern Neck are the birthplaces of James Monroe, the nation's fifth president, and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
And farther south along the coastline of Tidewater Virginia, we come to Colonial Williamsburg, where the signature film, Williamsburg: the Story of a Patriot, has been shown daily to visitors since 1957, the longest, continually screened film in American motion picture history.
Financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr., and starring Jack Lord, the movie shot in and around Williamsburg depicts the years 1769 to 1776 and the tension leading up to the American Revolution.
History buff Richard Bailey points out, in one recent writing, that a newer DVD copy of the film discusses the making of the film.
“The narrator noted that at the time the film was made, Williamsburg was still a quaint little town and the availability of local citizens who could be hired as extras . . . were almost nonexistent,” he states.
Particularly needed were men who could be dressed in Colonial costume and play the parts of this country's earliest politicians.
“Because local men were generally employed and not available to work as extras, a decision was made to hire patients from the nearby Eastern State Mental Hospital to play the role of the elected delegates,” Mr. Bailey reveals.
“According to the narrator, the extras did not have to worry about learning any lines because they had none. All they needed to do was sit quietly and act as if they were paying attention to whomever was speaking.”
You can guess where this story, headlined “An Old Sign of Current Times” is going next. Without going there ourselves, Mr. Bailey concludes that the indigent wards of the hospital “were quite pleased to have this opportunity to not only appear in the film, but to also make a little spending money, so the arrangement worked out to everyone's mutual satisfaction!”
The Internet Movie Database entry for this film is here.