Backtracking: In Our Times: Local drama drew accolades in April 1993

FILESabine Macris starred in an award-winning, locally produced short film, ‘Ruby Moon.’ It was one of a series of films made in our region, called ‘Susquehanna Stories.’

“I had to find a chair. And I do not rattle easily.”

You’d probably be saying the same thing, if your locally produced, low-budget rural film had been given a national award, in competition with some big city films.

Those were the words of poet and writer Diane Gallo, the film’s author, when she received word of an award for the production of “Ruby Moon,” in early April 1993.

The Daily Star of April 12 said, “The story of Ruby Moon, captured in a short, locally produced film, has won accolades from American Women in Radio and Television, a broadcasting organization. ‘Ruby Moon’ was one of three winners in its entertainment category out of 25 entries, officials said.”

“Ruby Moon” was part of a series of short films called “Susquehanna Stories,” conceived locally with backing from WSKG Public Television in Binghamton.

Joseph Stillman, director of “Ruby Moon,” said the story was filmed in six days at 22 locations on a shoestring budget of $15,000.

“‘When you don’t have the resources, what you have to do is have good ideas. These are about the only things that don’t cost anything,’” Stillman said at the time.

“‘Here we are, this little bitty production … to get recognized is really amazing,’” he said.

“Diane Gallo,” The Star continued, “… received the award during a recent luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, on behalf of WSKG-TV.

“‘I just kind of wandered down to the Waldorf for lunch and a prize,’ said Gallo of Mount Upton. But when she found out the winners were required to rehearse before the 18th Annual National Commendation Awards ceremony, which was to be hosted by Paula Zahn of CBS 'This Morning,’ Gallo quickly realized the WSKG Public Television film had placed against major broadcasters and producers.”

Not surprisingly, this was when Gallo responded with the opening quote.

“Ruby Moon” was a story that took place during the Civil War. The character of Ruby was played by Sabine Macris, an Oneonta native, who wondered whether she should marry John, who is away in the war. Her mother was played by Michelle Gardner of Oneonta. 

Ruby confronted some of her fears about marriage when she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the women’s rights advocate. Ruby worked as a housemaid and turned over the earnings to her family, which was controlled by an angry father. 

The series of short films, which premiered in November 1992 on WSKG, called on local writers to submit scripts and local actors to take parts. Many others volunteered to create the cinematic images in “Ruby Moon” and others films such as “The Stranger,” “Happy Birthday, Mrs. Pace,” “A Fine Couple” and “A Farmer’s Wife.”

Stillman, who by 1993 had already had 20 years of experience making 500 commercials and 13 feature films, conceived of the local productions that turned into “Susquehanna Stories.” Some of the familiar scenes in the series showed the State University College at Oneonta and State University College of Technology at Delhi campuses, and downtown Cooperstown. 

June Smith, executive producer of the series and vice president of broadcasting at WSKG in November 1992, told The Star that the series was like “snapshots of human dramas that take place in the Susquehanna Valley. It shows that there are an immense amount of talented people in that area.”

Excitement was high for many when the series debuted on WSKG on Nov. 15.

“This Sunday night at 8:30 Sabine Macris will sit down with her parents in their Oneonta home and watch her television acting debut,” The Star reported on Nov. 13. Macris at the time was completing a doctorate in theater at the City University of New York Grad Center.

“‘I’m excited and nervous and just overwhelmed by this whole thing,’ Macris said. ‘It’s something I’m really proud of.’”

Stillman said the series had been four years in the making, and it was the first time in public television history that a regional series of dramas had been produced. The series had been put on hold after WSKG had been hit with state budget cuts in 1991.

“Ruby Moon” wasn’t the only award winner in the Susquehanna Stories series. “The Stranger” won a WorldFest-Houston Finalist Award at the 25th annual WorldFest-Houston and the Houston International Film & Video Festival in 1993.

This weekend: Our local life and times during April 1943.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Monday columns address local history 1950 and later.  If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns/.

Ask Mark... 

Have you ever had a question about a history-making event or a prominent person in our area and didn't know where to find the answer? Well, we've got an expert who might be able to help you. Historian Mark Simonson has spent many years chronicling major local happenings, and he's ready and willing to dive into The Daily Star archives for answers, which will appear in this newspaper and online at www.thedailystar.com.

Write to him at "Ask Mark," The Daily Star, P.O. Box 205, Oneonta, NY 13820 or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com

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