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Volume 24, Number 3 — March 2017

Movie Star Road Trip: Hometown Tributes to Hollywood Legends

A picture of Lem Billings and JFK in 1934, a year after they met during prep school days in Connecticut. The friendship, which survived three decades, was the subject of David Pitts' first book, published in 2007. Pitts' second book revolves around hometown America's tributes to classic Hollywood, and Abingdon's Star Museum is to be included.
A picture of Lem Billings and JFK in 1934, a year after they met during prep school days in Connecticut. The friendship, which survived three decades, was the subject of David Pitts' first book, published in 2007. Pitts' second book revolves around hometown America's tributes to classic Hollywood, and Abingdon's Star Museum is to be included.

Abingdon's Star Museum to Appear in Upcoming Book

June 18, 2011

ABINGDON, VA — Abingdon's Star Museum will be featured in an upcoming book, Movie Star Road Trip: Hometown Tributes to Hollywood Legends, by renowned international journalist and author David Pitts.

Pitts' journalistic beat has been political. For 15 years, he was a senior writer for the U.S. Information Agency/Voice of America, reporting from Europe, Africa and Latin America as well as here in the U.S. Pitts' articles on President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy and other Kennedy family members, as well as on U.S. domestic and foreign policy, have been disseminated worldwide.

In 2007, his Kennedy fascination led to the Da Capo Press publication of his first book, Jack and Lem: John F. Kennedy and Lem Billings: The Untold Story of an Extraordinary Friendship. The successful book details the 30-year, atypical relationship of JFK, and the boyhood friend he first asked to lead the Peace Corps. Billings, who spent a lifetime as a Madison Avenue advertising honcho, turned the offer down which went to Kennedy's brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver (Maria's father), who died earlier this year (in 2011).

Billings never quite recovered from the loss of his best friend. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who gave Billings' eulogy, once observed, "Of the nine or 10 men who were close to the president, I would say Lem was number one ... It's hard to describe it as just friendship; it was a complete liberation of the human spirit."

Reviewing Pitts' book, the New York Times website about.com said: "Pitts draws a very clear line, expressed through his word choice, that Jack and Lem isn't 300 pages of gossip and speculation, but a historical account of a friendship that turned into a life connection... Gaining insight into the real essence of Jack Kennedy...makes this account too enticing to set aside...[and] celebrates a Jack Kennedy never seen or read before ... Bravo to David Pitts for finally telling the story."

Now, Pitts has his sights set on illuminating U.S. sites pertaining to classic Hollywood, of which he says "only about 29 exist." The majority of these, about 17, are museums related to one public figure, such as The Judy Garland Museum of Grand Rapids, Mich. and The Ava Gardner Museum, of Smithfield, N.C. Pitts says localities' interest in classic Hollywood is increasing, noting that Pittsburgh is planning a museum around native son Gene Kelly and Hoboken, N.J., plans to do something to pay tribute to Frank Sinatra. A few concern more than one famous personage, like John Ford's Monument Valley, paying tribute to seven movie classics filmed in Ford's favorite breath-taking location. Others are hometown streets, parks or squares.

Pitts found Star Museum online, subsequently visiting Abingdon on May 12, 2011. He pronounced Robert Weisfeld's east Main Street enterprise "amazing because of its historical emphasis, spanning over a century, which appeals
to me. Star Museum is the most comprehensive, historically compelling of all the sites I have visited, with an impressively broad scope. I think Weisfeld has a remarkable collection that would interest many, many people."

Movie Star Road Trip: Hometown Tributes to Hollywood Legends, to be published by Da Capo Press in Cambridge, Mass., is slated for publication in spring of 2012.

Pitts' work has appeared in major magazines and newspapers in the United States and abroad, including The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Christian Science Monitor,The Baltimore Sun, Black Enterprise Magazine, and the International Herald Tribune. It has been featured as well in Canada's Seven Days, The Philippines' Manila Times, South Africa's The Sunday Times, Nigeria's The Foreign Digest, Tanzania's The Daily News, and Mexico's The Sun.

A native of England, Pitts holds an MA in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University in Washington, D.C., and a BS in Political Science from England's Bradford University. He lives in Washington, D.C., having moved there at age 22.

For more information on Star Museum, call to 276-608-7453, e-mail star@eva.org, visit its Facebook page, or watch Star Museum videos on YouTube.