Novelist and syndicated columnist Ronda Rich, left, and actress Valerie Harper share a light moment on the set of “The Town That Came A-Courtin’.” (Special Photo)
Ronda Rich said she never writes anything in her column that would cause her embarrassment if her pastor read it. So, when it came time for a television movie adaption of her book, “The Town That Came A-Courtin’” she made sure the film stayed true to the clean content of her writing.
“If you’re looking for good wholesome family entertainment, with no sex, violence, or cussing, then you’re going to enjoy this movie,” said Rich, whose columns appear Sundays in the Citizen’s East Metro section.
“The Town That Came A-Courtin’,” a romantic comedy about a community’s love for their mayor and how that appreciation plays out in the life of an author visiting the town, airs on Sunday, Jan. 19 at 7, 9 and 11 p.m. on the UP network.
The tale centers on Southern author Abby Houston, played by Lauren Holly (known for roles in the movie “Dumb and Dumber,” and television shows “NCIS” and “Motive”), who is visiting the town of Bliss, Miss. during a book signing tour.
When the town learns that Abby is single, the local bed and breakfast owner Charlotte (played by Valerie Harper of “Mary Tyler Moore” and “Rhoda” fame) along with a prayer chain decides to fix her up with the town’s mayor, a widow, played by Cameron Bancroft (whose had roles in “24” and “Beverly Hills: 90210”).
The romance doesn’t work out but when a hurt Abby decides to leave the town, she doesn’t get far. An obsessed fan kidnaps her leading the town to mobilize a rescue.
Ronda Rich wrote the book based on a personal experience she had while on a book tour in Arkansas. While the surprise date with a town dignitary did occur, the abduction did not.
“I was not kidnapped but I did have a couple of zealous admirers who would show up in the middle of no where. I think anyone who has a public following would encounter that from time to time,” she said.
Rich said scriptwriters changed a few aspect of her book when they adapted it for film but that she is pleased with the outcome.
“I love that they kept it good and clean, which is what you’re going to find on UP,” said Rich, referring to the Atlanta-based station UP, which prides itself on “uplifting entertainment,” according to press materials.
Rich said she visited the film set (in Vancouver) almost every day and often cast members would consult her on how to pronounce certain words with a Southern accent.
“Valerie would say, ‘Ronda, how do you say “prayer chain”? And then she would go back (to the rest of the cast) and say, ‘Ronda said you say it this way,’” said Rich. “It’s been a joyous experience. These people have treated me with such respect, from intellectual property to my opinion. They’ve just been fantastic.”
Rich even has a cameo in the film. She plays a book buyer, leading the crowd into Abby’s book signing. She holds up the book (called “Moon Over Georgia”), then lowers it to reveal her face, looks at Abby and says, “I see so much of myself in her.”
Rich said she admits being a little nervous before she watched the movie recently but her concerns quickly fell by the wayside as the film led to lots of laughter.
“Lauren Holly and Cameron Bancroft, they have wonderful comedic timing. Cameron is especially charming with his take on the character and the chemistry between the two of them pops off the screen,” said Rich.
Rich also cherished her time working with Valerie Harper. Rich said doctors diagnosed Harper with terminal brain cancer in February and gave her three months to live. Not only is Harper defying the odds and surviving but she is also moving forward in her career. Rich said Harper “loved” the script and the movie gave the actress reason to keep working.
“I know God’s timing is perfect. It took us six years to bring this book to movie and I believe that God was lining up all the pieces to bring this movie to Valerie when she needed it. And what America needs is Valerie Harper because her story is one of such hope and encouragement to the world,” said Rich.
Rich wrote “The Town That Came A-Courtin’” in 2005, based on a book tour she took to promote her 2002 NASCAR memoir, “My Life in the Pits.” When she visited the town of Blytheville, Ark. and spoke at at a civic club, the town members decided that since she wasn’t betrothed and neither was the town mayor, the two might make a good couple.
Rich, who is now married to television writer John Tinker, said that’s what makes the story so compelling.
“The best part of all is that this is inspired by a real town and real people and that is what is so charming, that kind of unconditional love and kindness and generosity really exists in America,” said Rich.
Jim Hendricks of the Albany Herald contributed to this article.