Childhood Memories Relived

Idaho Falls Author Prepares to Attend World Movie Premier of His Book, “Where the Red Fern Grows” (Extract from the Post Register, March 17, 1974)

Picture of Rawls and movie actors“During those 10 days last fall down on the river in Oklahoma, I saw my entire boyhood relived. It’s beautiful country, fine acting, and it’s a wonderful movie. It’s going to become a classic.”

This is the feeling expressed by Wilson Rawls, author of one of the nation’s best-selling children’s books “Where the Red Fern Grows.” Rawls’ book a story recalling the days of his youth in the Ozarks, has been made into a movie.

Rawls and his wife spent a great deal of time on location in Oklahoma when the movie was being made. For the movie, a house identical to that of Rawls’ home as a youngster was constructed by the Cherokee Indian nation and has now been moved to an Indian village as a tourist attraction.

“It is hard to believe that all this could happen to a person like me,” notes this very personable author.

Rawls’ story is as interesting as his book. When he was a young man his family left his Oklahoma, bound for California, but only made it as far as New Mexico. Rawls, having very little education took up carpentry as an occupation. He recalls always having a desire hovering in the back of his mind urging him to write. It was during his younger years that he wrote five manuscripts including “Where the Red Fern Grows,” but due to his lack of education he would feel ashamed each time he reread them. “The spelling was bad and I know absolutely no punctuation. I was so ashamed of my work that I burned all five manuscripts.”

In the late 1950’s, he was working for a construction company on a guided missile range in the Southwest, which obtained a contract at the AED Site west of Idaho Falls. Rawls was then transferred to this area.

Picture of Wilson and Sophie Rawls

Not enjoying the long bus rides to the site, he soon obtained a cabin in the Mud Lake area. It was in Mud Lake, that he met his wife.

After telling her of burning his five manuscripts, Mrs. Rawls convinced her husband to start rewriting It was early in the 1960’s when he completed rewriting “Where the Red Fern Grows.” She then undertook the job of editing the book, getting it ready to send to the publishers.

“Saturday Evening Post” purchased the rights to the book and printed it in serial form under the name “Hounds of Youth.” After this, Doubleday and Company Inc,. printed “Where the Red Fern Grows” in book form. It became an extremely popular book for teachers who liked to read to their students in grade schools.

When the book started to show signs of being a success Doubleday started booking speaking engagement for Rawls in schools across the nation. “I always take my second original manuscript of ‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ to show the youngsters. I want to stress to them how important it is to learn to spell, punctuate, and mainly how important it is for them to stay in school. They always look at the manuscript in disbelief. I hope I have some effect on these youngsters, I so enjoy each and every one of them.”

Late in 1972, a film representative from Hollywood, Lyman Dayton, arrived on the Rawls’ doorstep, asking for the rights to the movie and vowing he would not change the name or the version, Rawls then agreed to sell the company the rights.

“We heard rumors about the film but nothing ever real important. I just figured that they had decided to drop the entire matter, maybe due to high production costs, etc.

Then one day late last summer, Mrs. Rawls and I were getting ready to go fishing, a pastime we especially enjoy. The phone rang, it was Lyman Dayton calling from Oklahoma, wanting us to drive down. He said there was something down there he wanted us to see. Not having anything better to do at the time we decided to go. Dayton had told us to drive down to the river where I was born.

“When we arrived I’d never seen such excitement; the road to the river was blocked for a mile or so with cars and people. We finally made our way to a gate where a guard was posted. Still not knowing what to expect, I told the guard I was Rawls and I thought someone was expecting us. ‘They sure are,’ the guard said, and told us to walk down to the river.

It was hard to believe when we reached the river, there was my old home rebuilt and all the actors on location.

I stayed for 10 days and relived my youth. It was wonderful.

Picture of the Rawls homestead

Photo: New Era magazine, April 1971

The Rawls recently returned from Hollywood where they were shown the movie. Also, Rawls recorded the narration for the movie. “I have never done anything like this before; I was like a fish out of water. I am a real worrier. I even get sick on such occasions, however, after a couple of bad starts, it went smoothly until the end. I then had trouble and finally actor, Jack Ging came to my rescue, calming me down and telling me to be natural. I was then able to finish the narration.”

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