Chatting with Bill

Downtown Maryville Association invites guests to ‘An Evening with Bill Landry’

Bill Landry, right, signs an autograph for Jivian Taj, in August, 2009, at Heartland Series’ “A Gathering of Friends” celebration at the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton. Landry is the speaker and guest at a fundraiser May 6 for the Downtown Maryville Association.

Bill Landry, right, signs an autograph for Jivian Taj, in August, 2009, at Heartland Series’ “A Gathering of Friends” celebration at the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton. Landry is the speaker and guest at a fundraiser May 6 for the Downtown Maryville Association.

Look forward to what downtown Maryville can be with a look back into history on Thursday, May 6, at the Capitol Theatre. The Downtown Maryville Association is hosting “An Evening with Bill Landry,” with promises for an excellent dinner, a kaleidoscope of visuals from Blount County’s past and a presentation from one of the area’s best-loved television feature film hosts, Bill Landry of WBIR-TV’s “Heartland Series.”

After all, what should you expect from the guest star who -- when asked for a description of “An Evening with Bill Landry -- quotes his treasured friend and cameraman Doug Mills: “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.”

Two-time Emmy winner and host of “The Heartland Series,” Bill Landry will appear as Master of Ceremonies at the fundraiser for the Downtown Maryville Association. The celebration will underscore the successful, on-going revitalization to Maryville’s unique and beautiful downtown. Landry will speak on the marriage of past and present.

Adding to the evening’s festivities will be music by the Bill Swann Jazz Band, a slide show and presentation by Maryville City Manager and history buff Greg McClain, a live auction featuring such items as a three-night vacation for three couples in Williamsburg, Va., and a pair of diamond earrings donated by Maryville Jewelers. Dinner, catered by Sullivans, will be prime rib and salmon, dessert and a complimentary glass of wine. The wine will be served in a commemorative wine glass complements for the guests to keep, compliments of the Downtown Maryville Association.

Actor Bill Landry began hosting ‘The Heartland Series’ in 1984 in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the founding of our Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Over 1,900 short versions were produced that also included more than 150 half-hour specials. Expanding the series in 1998, enthusiasts’ were then able to view 30 minute versions at 7:30 each Saturday night on WBIR-TV, Channel 10. ‘The Heartland Series’ gained popularity and went on to earn numerous awards which included five Emmy Awards and three Iris Awards.

Landry was the writer and director of many of these productions, portraying several of the characters throughout the series. A graduate of the Dallas Theater Center, Landry earned a Master of Fine Arts. From the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a BA in Literature, English and Arts. Landry considers himself, “A theater artist with an educational purpose.”

Prior to joining the team at WBIR, Landry performed his play ‘Einstein the Man’ in 38 states and Canada ‘before hundreds of theater, business, educational, and science groups.’ Published in 2000, this work was made available through a grant to all middle and high school students in the state of Tennessee.’

In February of 2009, WBIR announced plans to suspend production of the series in September 2009. The last episode was filmed at the Museum of Appalachia in Norris on August 8, 2009. The number in the audience was estimated at 10,000, the museum reporting that it was one of the largest turnouts in museum history. Folks waited in line for over an hour to obtain a Bill Landry autograph. WBIR plans to run the hundreds of episodes already produced, “for as long people want them.”

Terry Gillingham, chair of the Downtown Maryville Association, said this is the first event of its kind to be sponsored by the Downtown Maryville Association. “Proceeds will fund our efforts to promote the revitalization of downtown,” Gillingham said.

Benita Claiborne, owner of the Capitol Theatre with her husband, Heath, finds the Capitol a fitting place for an evening of both history and vision.

“Heath and I are happy to have been a part of Downtown Maryville,” said Claiborne. “People who have been in Blount County since the 1970s and before always have great memories of being in the Capitol and all around downtown Maryville. ‘An Evening with Bill Landry’ will give a multimedia look into some history of our area both with Bill Landry and Greg McClain. The night will also benefit the ongoing work of the Downtown Maryville Association to continue to make improvements to the area.”

Tickets are on sale now and may be purchased individually or for a table of eight. Individual tickets are $55 each; tables of eight are $400. Tickets are now available at Boyd Thomas Clothing, Dandy Lions, Blount County Chamber of Commerce, The Market at Washington and High, The Village Tinker and The Knitting Nest. On line orders may be placed at

The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. with dinner served at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 6. A final head count will be given to the caterer by Thursday, April 29, after which tickets will be limited. The Capitol Theatre is located at 127 W. Broadway in downtown Maryville.

Emory Rhea Raxter is a local author. Her newest book is “By the Light of the Foxfire.”

Blount Today publisher Sherri Gardner Howell contributed to this story.

© 2010 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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