By Ken Newton
Lucille Osborn grew up in Northwest Missouri before going to Washington to serve in the War Crimes Division of the Pentagon. She would later work two dozen years for the municipal government of Cameron, Missouri.
As with nearly everyone, life proved a mix of the unusual and the humdrum.
But there came that day, a camera pointed her way, when the city clerk shared a moment with Michael Douglas.
It happened right there at the intersection of Third and Chestnut streets, the future Oscar-winner climbing out of an orange Porsche 911T and seeking directions from Lucille, she in a summer dress and carrying a sack of groceries.
He pointed one direction. She motioned the opposite way.
For this modest interaction, Osborn, who died in 2010, got a modest check from a Hollywood production company.
Film preserves this, a movie called “Adam at 6 A.M.” Don’t look for it among the honored movies of 1970. The New York Times film critic wrote that it “sneers at Mid-America.”
In this case, though, it stands out for a couple of reasons. It came at the beginning of a distinguished career by Douglas, the son of Hollywood royalty. (Not every kid sees “Spartacus” sitting across the breakfast table.)
Beyond that, the eldest child of Kirk Douglas and a film crew came to Cameron 50 years ago to shoot scenes for “Adam at 6 A.M.”
Stan Hendrix, a 911 call taker who doubles as a researcher for the Cameron Historical Society, said he thought he could take a couple of days and look into this. It turned into a journey of more than six years.
“There are just hundreds of wonderful stories that bounce around regarding what happened,” he said.”It didn’t change the town, but it was a big event in our history and people are still proud to be able to say that Hollywood came to Cameron.”
The story of Cameron’s involvement in the movie suggests some serendipity. One of the screenwriters, Elinor Karpf, had been born in Kansas City and intended the movie to be set in Excelsior Springs.
Location scouts needed a country church, a small-town tavern, a new housing development, a drive-in theater and a downtown area for filming. Excelsior Springs checked all the boxes but one. The production people didn’t like the downtown, Hendrix said.
Karpf said she had an uncle who lived in Cameron, a community with a pleasant downtown. Why not look there?
“They basically came to Cameron because they liked the looks of downtown Cameron better than Excelsior Springs for the purposes of the film,” Hendrix said. Not only that, they change the town name in the movie to Cameron.
The narrative involves semantics professor Adam Gaines’ (Douglas) disillusion with his superficial life in California. Just as his spring semester ends, he learns of the death of a relative in Missouri, a woman he had never seen. Still, he jumps into his Porsche and drives more than 1,600 miles to the funeral.
There, he meets a woman (played by acting newcomer Lee Purcell) who seems the ideal small-town girl, complete with a knack for making apple pie. Adam decides to hang around, taking a summer job with a utility crew clearing timber and sleeping under the stars.
The movie had a good pedigree, brought to the screen by Steve McQueen’s production company.
Joe Don Baker chews up scenery as Harvey, a tree-cutting partner who yearns to be a TV repairman, this role three years before his huge success in “Walking Tall.” Louise Latham, who acted in Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg films, also had a supporting role.
Hendrix, who has lived in Cameron since 1970, moving there at age 10, revels in finding little nuggets of information that built upon the town’s rich history.
The “Adam at 6 A.M.” research added to this broader story. He drove up and down Interstate 35 to identify landscapes from the film. He went to the Salem Christian Union Church near Excelsior Springs, site of the movie’s funeral service. He talked to people who had been extras in the Cameron shots.
One of them, Michael Phillips, made it into the film at 5 months of age. He got paid for his work, even having to get a Social Security number (unusual for babies in those days) so taxes could be withheld.
In the Cameron Depot Museum, the family’s pay stubs can be found, each of the checks netting $11.68 from a $15 payment.
The researcher would learn, too, that the movie would not be universally well-received in Cameron. The reason: A California scene in the movie showed Adam’s previous girlfriend getting out of bed.
“There is a very brief shot of a bare breast,” Hendrix said. “On the West Coast, they probably thought there was nothing to it.” In Cameron, when the film opened in 1970, it did not go over so well.
Another tidbit. Nine years after the filming, Douglas and his wife, Diandra, had their first child. They named him Cameron.