The Hollywood Reporter
By Paul Bond
Patricia Heaton, the Emmy
Award-winning actress from "Everybody Loves
Raymond," and her husband, David Hunt, an actor
whose credits range from episodes of "Falcon's
Crest" to "Monk," are making the move into film
They are serving as producers on Walden Media's
"Amazing Grace," which wrapped principal photography
two weeks go. Directed by Michael Apted, the film
focuses on the 19th century British abolitionist
William Wilberforce. And their FourBoys Films production company has also completed a documentary,
"The Bituminous Coal Queens of Pennsylvania," which
has begun playing the festival circuit.
In "Coal Queens," Hollywood actress Sarah Rush
returns to Carmichaels, Pa., (population 556) for
the 50th anniversary of the Coal Queen Pageant, over
which she reigned in 1972.
The movie is a result of a lunch Heaton had in
summer 2003 with Rush and other friends. When Rush
mentioned her reunion plans, Heaton says she
immediately informed her husband of her desire to
send a film crew to shoot a little documentary on
Three weeks later, a crew of six professionals that
included Hunt as director, along with a couple of
interns, accompanied Rush to her celebration that
coincided with the annual pageant activities.
In the docu, Hunt weaves interviews with the former
queens (and in one case, the husband of one of them:
1950s heartthrob Fabian) with the performances of
Heaton and Hunt are just now negotiating theatrical
distribution, DVD and cable TV rights and they also
hope to mount a musical stage play based on the
movie. The film recently was featured at the
American Film Renaissance Festival in Hollywood,
where it was enthusiastically received.
Its entertainment value mostly stems from the
eccentricities of some of the pageant participants,
most notably the stage manager, who seems to delight
in making teenage girls weep. Example: "They can't
hear my taps," complains a contestant whose talent
is, what else, tap dancing. "I'm not going to dumb
things down," retorts the stage manager. "This is
The stage manager has since been fired, since
Carmichaels and the surrounding coal communities
take the pageant very seriously, and, the film
argues, viewers should as well.
"This place was rich in immigrant history, which
appealed to me, being a modern-day immigrant," said
Hunt, a native of Great Britain. "I knew on the
plane home that something happened in that place,
that this could be a real sweet and funny movie."
The film goes beyond the beauty pageant into the
surrounding community. Hunt takes his crew 750 feet
below the Earth's surface, seven miles from the
nearest elevator shaft, to show some of the former
queens for the first time where their fathers and
their fathers' fathers toiled. Among Hunt's
interviews are those who lost family and friends in
mining accidents and in picket-line violence.
The couple budgeted $45,000 for the film but ended
up spending $350,000, mostly because of music
licensing fees associated with the many snippets
from the pageant's talent competition.
"It's a side of America people don't get to see,"
Heaton says. "It sounds cliche, but it is the kind
of people that make this country great."
Says Hunt: "What I found in this community reminded
me of why I wanted to become an American citizen in
the first place, this combination of can-do spirit
and a community ideal that is so easy to forget in a
big urban environment like Hollywood."