My childhood included little or no drama, live or on film. My earliest memory of seeing a movie in a theater was “Song of the South.” Sometimes we would see black-and-white movies at school if parents could afford the 10 cent admission fee.
By the time I was 10 or so, I was eagerly awaiting Saturdays when I could go to the theater to see Westerns starring Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, or Gene Autry. I was learning about Hollywood, and my prize possessions were paper dolls of Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable and Lana Turner. It wasn’t long before I was swooning with my friends over Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Rock Hudson, and Tab Hunter. (But What Did I Know!!)
And then, one lucky day, I actually met Rory Calhoun. That’s when I knew for sure that these were real people and not some trick that Hollywood played on audiences.
But I never knew anybody, personally, whose face I had seen on the silver screen. Until…a few years ago not long after my retirement from the public library system I attended the annual Christmas holiday kick-off-the-season event at Woodstock Public Library.
It was, and still is, a festive occasion. At that time it served as the opening of the Festival of Wreaths with an assortment of holiday activities—Santa Claus, live musical performances, and a first, that year, a local author appearance.
I had not met writer Polly Craig until that night. We had a nice get-acquainted conversation and I purchased her book, “Situation Desperate: Send Chocolate.”
Afterwards I would see her occasionally, at the library or at the gym we each frequented or at Main Street Sessions programs at Dean’s Store. She joined the Bookworms book discussion group, and that’s when I discovered her many talents.
She talked often about researching the story of Civil War physician Mary Edwards Walker and her hopes of having the story published as historic fiction. She published a few novels, trying to get name recognition that might lead to finding a big-name publisher for the Dr. Mary story, “A Medal for Dr. Mary.”
I discovered later that the novels came easily. Polly was an experienced film actress, and her involvement in that profession helped her create flowing dialogue, and plot and character development. She was acting all the time!
Born in Orlando in 1927, she grew up in Massachusetts. As a single mother of five children on Cape Cod, she worked as a bank teller, professional wedding photographer, office manager for a Cadillac agency, accountant, furniture designer, and contributor to Cape Magazine, a job that opened her mind and heart to the possibility of becoming an actress herself after covering a major film.
Once the children left the nest, Polly moved to Georgia to pursue a career in film. Beginning in 1983, she worked as an extra in films shot in the Atlanta area, and was employed as personal assistant to WXIA’s Mary Rose Taylor.
Needing more training, she left Georgia for a few years to attend classes in Beverly Hills, working there as office manager for the Center of Surrogate Parenting to finance her schooling.
Back in Georgia, in Woodstock, other acting opportunities and her passion for writing kept her busy. She had roles in TV commercials and in movies including, among others, “Déjà Vu,” “My Dog Skip,” “Run, Ronnie, Run” and, currently, “Last Vegas.” I am told that you don’t want to miss the opening scene of this movie.
I have waited for this ever since the day Polly called and said she was auditioning in a swim suit. Not much later, she called to say she got the part. And on Nov. 1, the movie opened. Reviews and feature articles are everywhere, including the current issue of the AARP Magazine. But no mention of Polly except in Rolling Stone. Those people know a star when they see one!
Congratulations, Polly. I know you’re pleased with the movie. But I also know that your crowning achievement is not this clip of a couple of minutes on the screen. It’s the long-awaited publication of”A Medal for Dr. Mary.”
Your dream for many years has been to share her story with the world. In these months of commemoration of Civil War battles in the Southland, the timing could not be better for her story to be told. She treated the sick and wounded without regard to the causes of battle.
She was a fighter of another breed, just like somebody I know.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.