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|Litton Documentary Shown at Ag Ed
"Bringing Government to the People: The Jerry Litton Dialogues", a documentary on the legacy of the popular Chillicothe Congressman, was shown publicly to the community on Tuesday evening, December 7, 2010, at the new Litton Agricultural Education building at the Litton Agri-Science Learning Center. Approximately 100 persons showed up to the viewing, from as far away as Concordia and Marshall, says Jerry Litton Family Memorial Foundation member Ed Turner. Most of the viewing audience present, however, were from the local Livingston County area.
The film, which lasted 28 minutes and accounted for the rise of Litton to nationally-known name recognition, his televised "Dialogues" with many famous political figures, and he and his family's tragic deaths on the night he was elected to the U.S. Congress, was presented by the Chillicothe FFA and members of the Jerry Litton Family Memorial Foundation, who were present for the viewing.
The documentary was produced by the Western Historical Collection - Columbia; the State Historical Society of Missouri; the Jerry Litton Family Memorial Foundation; and Mark Warren, the creative director of Sharp Focus Video in Chillicothe.
Community Helps Preserve Leader's Legacy
CAPTION: A crowd watches a screening of 'Bringing Government to the People: The Jerry Litton Dialogues' Tuesday night, December 7, 2010, at the Litton Agricultural Education Building in Chillicothe, Missouri.
The credits rolled, the lights came on and everyone in the room shared a thought. Lynn Hoover stepped to the microphone to say it out loud. "I've got to make this observation," he said. "We haven't changed much."
The audience, 100 strong, murmured assent. They had just watched Chillicothe's first public showing of "Bringing Government to the People: The Jerry Litton Dialogues." The documentary focuses on the late Northwest Missouri congressman and his trailblazing town-hall style television program. And the startling aspect of the film, what slapped townsfolk who came to the Litton Agricultural Education Center on a cold night, was the content of political discussions three and a half decades old. The topics were all there, as if preserved in amber: unemployment, energy policy, national health care, campaign finance reform, national debt, budget deficits, defense spending. As if the calendar had never turned, what concerned Americans in 1974 through 1976 concerns them today. "We're reliving history," said Mr. Hoover, president of the Jerry Litton Family Memorial Foundation. In more ways than one. With the documentary and the recent digitizing of the original "Dialogue With Litton" programs, people of Chillicothe have found a way to pass along the memory of a unique man.
A local kid who turned to the FFA's public speaking program to help cure his bashfulness, Mr. Litton ran a successful purebred cattle operation before, at age 35, being elected to Congress. While serving two terms in the House, his homespun personality and grasp of issues had Mr. Litton on a fast track for greater things. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 1976, and some saw in him a future president. On Aug. 3, 1976, he won the Democratic primary for the Senate seat, beating two candidates with greater statewide name recognition. That night, a plane carrying Mr. Litton, his wife, Sharon, their two children and two others crashed outside Chillicothe. All aboard died.
The community rallied and still rallies in the aftermath of this. With the foundation, the preserved tapes, the documentary and numerous namesake buildings and endeavors, the Litton name remains a force for hope.
Somewhere in her possessions, Bonnie Mitchell has the green lapel pin with her name engraved in white. It designated her as a member in good standing of the Congressional Club, whose $5-a-month dues went for rental of a Kansas City hotel ballroom and support for the taping of the "Dialogue with Litton" television program. "We were very proud of those pins," recalled Ms. Mitchell, who wrote a Litton biography.
Congressional Club members would go early to Kansas City, have a Sunday lunch and head to the town-hall gathering, where national political figures of the day would take audience questions with Mr. Litton for 90 minutes. A 30-minute show sprouted from this give-and-take, to be televised in the coming days on stations throughout Missouri.
The roster of guests never failed to impress. Five people who would run for the presidency appeared, including Jimmy Carter. Franklin Roosevelt's son made it to Kansas City for one show, as did Speaker of the House Carl Albert. Republican higher-ups, like President Ford's campaign manager and secretary of the army Bo Callaway and Ford agriculture secretary Earl Butz, also shared a stage with Mr. Litton.
"I think it's helpful in showing what a lawmaker could be," said Ms. Mitchell, now secretary-treasurer of the foundation. "A lawmaker could be serious and committed to doing the job he's supposed to do, as opposed to what many of our lawmakers today are doing."
Laura Jolley works as a senior manuscript specialist for the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri. She drew the assignment of watching and cataloging dozens of two-inch quadruplex videotapes donated by Charley Litton, the congressman's father. "I fell in love with this material and the story behind it," she said.
After the transfer of tapes to a digital format, the idea of the documentary came about. Ms. Jolley would develop the story lines and conduct contemporary interviews that added context. Having become attuned to the show's contents, she hit upon a theme to give the film relevance for modern audiences... that is, how the dated issues remain modern issues. "(In the dialogues), no one can agree on energy policy, and we still don't have one," Ms. Jolley said. "These thing were coming up in practically every program."
The rough cut of the documentary came in at nearly an hour and a half. Plans called for a finished product of about 28 minutes.
Mark Warren, creative director of Sharp Focus Video in Chillicothe and contractor for the work, remembers the tough decisions made as the trimming commenced. "A tremendous amount of work went into deciding exactly which sentence best encapsulated the segment," he said. Mr. Warren and Ms. Jolley also had to weigh the handling of the fatal crash. It had to be addressed, they decided, but the filmmakers didn't want dashed dreams to define the work. "We leaned more toward the hope and less toward the tragedy," he said.
The 15,000-square-foot Litton Agricultural Education Center opened in the spring and still smells new. Its polished concrete floors squeak underfoot, and the glass of the FFA trophy cases carries not so much as a smudge.
The audience applauds as the documentary ends, having seen bygone images of Hubert Humphrey and Shirley Chisholm and Jack Kemp and Tom Eagleton talk about issues with a hometown star. Mr. Litton had a casual manner and drew candid answers.
Leaders sat on those Sundays on a low stage in the middle of the ballroom, audience all around. They wouldn’t know that, 35 years later, town-hall gatherings would become forums for shouting and symbols of incivility. "It was not so party-driven as it is now," Ms. Mitchell said of the long-ago sessions. "I never saw anyone get angry or say things they shouldn’t have. It was very civilized."
Ms. Jolley added, "I don’t know that we could even accomplish that again, where for 90 minutes the public is asking two high-ranking political people these questions, then saying thank you and sitting down." Maybe decorum stands as one more part of Jerry Litton's legacy.
Ken Newton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Litton Documentary to Be Shown
People of Chillicothe and Livingston County, as well as the area, will have the opportunity to see the newly-produced highlight of Congressman Jerry Litton's popular Dialogue with Litton program that was aired across the state on television in the mid-1970s from the monthly Congressional Club meetings held in Kansas City.
Through the cooperation of the Jerry Litton Family Memorial Foundation and the Chillicothe FFA Chapter, a screening of the documentary "Bringing Government to the People: the Jerry Litton Dialogues" will be shown on Tuesday, December 7, at 7 p.m. at the new Litton Agricultural Education building at the fairgrounds.
Bonnie Mitchell and Ed Turner, members of the Litton Foundation, said that doors will open at 6:30 p.m. at the new facility located adjacent to Jenkins Expo Center. Following the viewing of the 28-minute documentary, coffee and dessert will be served.
The event is open to the public, and there is no charge.
Turner and Mitchell said that since the unveiling of the documentary in Columbia last month, a number of persons had asked if the Dialogue With Litton production could be shown in Chillicothe, and they decided to ask the local FFA chapter to help them host the event.
The evening will also give the public an opportunity to view the new Litton Ag- Education building and the Litton displays.
The documentary was produced by the Western Historical Collection - Columbia, the State Historical Society of Missouri, the Jerry Litton Family Memorial Foundation, and Mark Warren, creative director of Sharp Focus Video in Chillicothe.
Documentary Features 'Dialogue with
A documentary about the political career of the late Jerry Litton, who connected with the American people through public town-hall meeting style dialogues, has been completed and will be unveiled this Wednesday evening at the Ellis Library Auditorium on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia.
The documentary was made possible by the Western Historical Manuscript Collection - Columbia, the State Historical Society of Missouri, and the Jerry Litton Family Memorial Foundation. The 28-minute documentary features some never-before-seen footage from the popular television program, "Dialogue with Litton."
Litton, of Chillicothe, was considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, and his television show was broadcast statewide. The dialogues were innovative programs that brought government to the people in a free, open-to-the-public, town meeting atmosphere during the tumultuous times of the mid-1970s.
Litton had operated a cattle ranch in Chillicothe. He was a U.S. Representative and had just won the primary election in August 1976 in his bid for U.S. Senate when he and his wife and two children were killed in a plane crash just after takeoff from the Chillicothe airport en route to their victory celebration in Kansas City. Also killed in the plane crash were the pilot, Paul Rupp and his son.
CAPTION: In 1965, Jerry Litton had the honor of visiting with President Harry S. Truman to extend an invitation to the former president to speak at the FFA convention. Jerry remembered that instead of his original 15-minute appointment, Mr. Truman devoted nearly two hours to "selling" him on the importance of people participating in politics and running for public office.
Historic Jerry Litton Television
Programs Now Online
With funding from the Jerry Litton Memorial Family Foundation and other generous contributors, the State Historical Society of Missouri and Western Historical Manuscript Collection arranged for cleaning, repair, and digitization of 33 videotapes to generate a new master file and viewing files on DVD. Hours of taped meetings with political guests such as Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Gov. Jimmy Carter, Sen. Thomas Eagleton, and Sen. Hubert Humphrey make for interesting television and will undoubtedly be used for research into the political and social history of the 1970s.
Jerry L. Litton, of Chillicothe, served as national secretary of Future Farmers of America while in high school and received a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism in 1961 from the University of Missouri. Litton's work with the family business, Litton Charolais Ranch, was very successful; and his education, experience, gifted speaking ability, and savvy use of media technology made him an unusually popular politician who held great promise for the future.
Litton was elected U.S. congressman from Missouri’s Sixth District in 1972, the same year the Watergate break-in occurred. He was campaigning to win the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate race in 1976 when he died, August 3, in a plane crash.
The Jerry L. Litton Papers, with documents covering the years 1960-1976, were donated to the Western Historical Manuscript Collection-Columbia in 1979 by Litton’s father, Charley. Later, his mother, Mildred, added over 300 audio-visual items to the collection.