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FOLLOW THAT DREAM: ELVIS COMES TO FLORIDA
FOLLOW THAT DREAM: ELVIS COMES TO FLORIDA

In the Summer of 1961, a swampy island was cleared and reinvented to resemble a beach paradise just outside of Yankeetown, Florida.  The reason behind this madness was that this desolate area was about to become the on-site filming location for the latest Elvis Presley movie "Follow That Dream."  The plot of the film was an adaptation of the novel "Pioneer Go Home" by Richard Powell and centered around the homesteading Kwimper Family, of which Elvis's character Toby was a member. The King had laid down tracks for the soundtrack in Nashville in July, 1961, and his motorcade--featuring a chartered bus with a ski boat in tow--pulled into Yankeetown just a few days later.  Of course Elvis was accompanied by his usual gaggle of "employees" and hangers on.

The makeshift set on Pumpkin Island featured a $20,000 grass shack (which is currently still in use by the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch in Live Oak, Florida) and tons of white sand. The roadside paradise was hastily created exclusively for the filming and made use of the newly constructed highway bridge over Bird Creek.  At the conclusion of each day's shooting schedule, all actors and crew retreated to the Port Paradise Resort at Crystal River, about 20 miles south of Yankeetown.  This is where Elvis and his posse set up party headquarters for two months, and, in traditional Elvis fashion, he began a fling with his co-star Anne Helm.

follow that dream elvis fishing  yankeetown4

     The King on location at the Bird Creek Bridge...and the Kwimper's island paradise as it appears today 

Once filming concluded, Pumpkin Island was vacated by the crew to be eventually reclaimed by the Florida swamp.  More than 50 years later it is still apparent where the location was and the fishing bridge over Bird Creek remains.  The two-lane highway which connects the site to the mainland with a run through "downtown" Yankeetown has been renamed the "Follow That Dream Parkway" and a roadside plaque has been assembled at the intersection of the Parkway and the main highway leading south (US 19-98)

Meanwhile in Crystal River, the Port Paradise Resort  remains opened for business and was doing quite well the day we visited.  Time and economics have rendered the resort skeezy at best, but it's easy to imagine what a swinging place this was when Elvis and his posse were on location during the Summer of 1961. However, unlike the residents of Yankeetown who have embraced the historic moment, no one at the resort seemed to know anything about Elvis's stay.  In fact, our bartender currently working the lounge that Elvis frequented, had never even heard of Elvis Presley.  Egads!  There are no photos, no mention, not even a 70-year old broad walking around claiming to have slopped The King in '61. 

suzannes story elvis ann helm  yankeetown3

 Elvis and co-star Anne Helm at the Port Paradise Resort (1961)...and the area where they are seated as it appears today

FOLLOW THAT TRIVIA...For those who have never experienced the joy of living in Florida during the months of July and August, it may be difficult to grasp the heat and humidity that Elvis and the the crew faced.  It is reported that The King perspired his way through 22 shirts just to capture one scene.  Most of the residents of Yankeetown appear as extras in the movie.  Actress Joanna Moore--Taum O'Neal's mother who died of lung cancer in 1997--also co-stars in the film.  "Follow That Dream" was filmed in between Elvis films "Blue Hawaii" (1961) and "Kid Galahad" (1962). 

 

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