The couple stayed in the guest room at the home of Aredell McGowin, whose son Clifford and daughter-in-law Virginia ran the Lake Shore Motel on Guntersville Lake. While Wilde spent a great deal of time touring the area, Wallace spent most of her time with the McGowins and the Gurleys. When Wallace asked to wash one of Wilde’s shirts in the sink, Virginia agreed and, seeking bragging rights, asked if she might have the privilege of ringing out a star’s garment. Glamorous yet down-to-earth, Wallace fascinated Virginia’s children, Betty, Mary, and Judy. She even paid Judy a dollar to brush her hair, and the little girl relished the experience. Wallace also turned heads when she took Clifford up on his offer to teach her to ski. The McGowins had become quite fond of the actors by the time the couple had to return to California.
On December 8, 1959, Wilde, boasting an impressive goatee, and Wallace flew from New York City to Huntsville and then traveled to Guntersville. Local professional photographer Leon Kennamer, aided by Jake Long, showed them around the caverns and did preliminary shots. Wilde and his wife stayed with the McGowins again. Using Harris Laundry, having her nails done at LaVerne’s Beauty Shop, and visiting with a Girl Scout troop in Claysville, Wallace became acquainted with more area residents. She and Wilde even dined on quail at the home of Bob and Giselle Hembree, owners of a Buick dealership. Though Wilde, fearful that too few townsfolk would volunteer to be extras, nixed a Lake Guntersville scene, enthusiasm over the project soared.
A screenwriters’ strike put filming on a permanent hiatus. With the script incomplete, Wilde had no choice but to delay the movie.
A screenwriters’ strike put filming on a permanent hiatus. With the script incomplete, Wilde had no choice but to delay the movie. He soon signed to star in Constantine and the Cross (1961) and traveled to Italy and Yugoslavia for filming. He expressed his regret to Gurley in a letter: “I am very sorry, of course, about the delay on ‘Caves of Night’ and all the work and effort spent by all of us on it so far to get things ready and then to be stalled. I honestly don’t know what the delay will mean but as regards to any production plans in the future, that will depend to a large extent on the nature of the market and what sort of cast will be available when we return.” But they never did return. By the time the strike ended, interest in the project had vanished, and Caves of Night remained an unrealized dream for both Wilde and Guntersville.
This article was originally published in Alabama Heritage Issue #116, Spring 2015.
A native of Guntersville, Whitney Snow is an assistant professor of history at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas.