Reviving the Tale of a Prizewinning Mom

Debbie Elliott has an update on the "Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio." Terry Ryan's memoir about her mother was made into a movie that got lost in the Hollywood shuffle. A small theater in Missouri has rescued the film from oblivion.

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DEBBIE ELLIOT, host:

And to end tonight's program, here's an update on a story we did a few years ago. We interviewed Terry Ryan about her book, the Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio. It's the story of her mother, Evelyn Ryan, who became a small town success story by entering contests for the best advertising jingles. Here's Terry talking about her mom in 2001.

Ms. TERRY RYAN (Author, Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio): I remember the first big wind so clearly. We were just told by the landlord that we were being evicted form the two-bedroom rental house on Latti(ph) Street in Defiance. We had nowhere to go, 12 people, no money, not a dime. And what happens? My mother happens to win the grand prize of the Western Auto Bicycle contest. That means she not only won a bicycle, but a washer and a dryer and 5,000 dollars, which we used as a down payment on the house she would live in for the next 45 years.

(Soundbite of film preview of the Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio)

ELLIOT: After our interview, Terry sold the movie rights to the Hollywood Production Company, Dreamworks, which made the book into a film starring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson. It was released in October of last year.

(Soundbite of film preview of the Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio)

Critics raved about Moore's performance. There was talk of an Oscar nomination. Then, fate intervened.

RYAN: I was opening the morning paper and I saw the headline and I almost wept.

ELLIOT: Dreamworks had been bought by the giant, Paramount Pictures. A quirky little independent film like Prizewinner wasn't going to be their top priority. The film didn't get much of an advertising budget, few theatres picked it up, and only a tiny number of people knew it existed. At the same time, Terry Ryan was sick with cancer and couldn't do battle for her film. And then, a hero stepped into the fray.

Mr. BUTCH RIGBY (Owner, Screenland Theater): I went into the Saturday matinee with my wife and watched the film along with seven paying guests and I came out of it and I knew this was a great film.

ELLIOT: Butch Rigby owns the Screenland Theater in Kansas City, Missouri, which has 150 seats and one screen. He remembered hearing Terry Ryan talking about her book on NPR. He decided to take on the promotion of the film himself. He sent out emails to 3,000 Kansas City residents offering a money-back guarantee and a special invitation.

Mr. RIGBY: We sent out an email notice that my mother turned 70 and I thought, what a perfect film, my mother grew up...that was her time frame, the fifties, the early sixties. And I thought what a perfect film to talk about a strong mother figure and I just sent this notice out that we were having a special evening show of the Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio. Why don't you bring your mother and celebrate with mine. We had 100 people show up for the show that night. This is in our eighth week. And it was amazing, the thing is just...and it's all word of mouth.

ELLIOT: The movie has been at Screenland for two months now and Rigby plans to run it as long as it keeps drawing a crowd. A film festival in Park City, Utah has announced that they're going to feature the movie. Terry Ryan is feeling better and her hometown has put up signs at the entrance to the town saying Home of Evelyn Ryan, the Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio.

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