SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The Live Oak Public Libraries Foundation held a fundraising luncheon Wednesday at the Chatham Club to supplement programs envisioned and provided by the local library system.
Renowned ice cream maker and Hollywood film producer Stratton Leopold and distinguished author Melanie Bowden were invited as featured speakers.
Leopold discussed his life and family history as chronicled in the book, “Leopold’s Ice Cream: A Century of Tasty Memories 1919-2019,” written by Bowden.
“It all started with ice cream,” Leopold said. “My parents immigrated to this country from Greece. When my dad initially came, he initially went as a youngster to Brazil, Indiana, this was 1901. He actually went to high school there.”
Leopold said his dad’s initial reaction to Savannah was disheartening.
“The streets were muddied, it was summer, the mosquitos were plentiful, so he and my uncle George went back to Brazil, Indiana,” he said, “but they finally moved down.”
After his father came back from fighting in the First World War, Leopold said he and his uncle started the business many line up on Broughton Street for today.
The brother’s ice cream parlor was first located on the corner of Gwinnett and Habersham streets in Savannah, where two streetcar lines intersected.
Leopold followed in their footsteps, learning how to make ice cream and getting experience in the manufacturing side, however, he was captivated by something else.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the entertainment business, as a kid, not knowing much about it. Until one day, I think it was my sophomore year, I can’t remember exactly what year it was, Robert Mitchum was in Savannah, filming ‘Cape Fear,'” he recalled.
Leopold said seeing a scene from the movie firsthand, with large lights and smoke, was his first recollection of being even marginally interested in film.
“Time goes by, I was pre-med in school, my dad died, so I came back to Savannah,” he continued. “I stayed a year or two and I left. I went to New York.”
After taking a trainee job at Lowes Corporation, he met an actress who he began dating. This eventually exposed him to New York theater and film.
After leaving the city, Leopold moved to Atlanta and from there, Los Angeles.
“Everyone kept saying, ‘You’ve got to go to L.A., you’ve got to go to L.A.’ I didn’t want to go to L.A., I was happy in Atlanta,” Leopold said. “They said, if you want to do international pictures, if you want to do more with your career, you have to go to L.A.
“So I did, and I was fortunate enough to spend the next 12 years at Paramount. I was on the lot there. I was an executive for a while.”
Leopold has since served as an executive vice president for Paramount Pictures and produced films such as “The General’s Daughter,” “The Sum of All Fears,” “Paycheck” and “Mission Impossible III,” among many others.
In 2016, he met Bowden during her “Law Americana: A Memoir” book launch at Pacci in Savannah.
“The launch started at 5 p.m., and he was the first person who just walked through the door,” Bowden recalled.
Little did she know, she would eventually author a book about Leopold’s life and family history.
“We were all driving downtown and Mary (Leopold’s wife) and I were sitting in the back seat and I could feel her — she wanted to ask me something,” Bowden said. “We had been kind of getting to know each other and she just leaned over and she said, ‘Can you write our book?’
“I just said, ‘Yes,’ and then terror set in slightly because this was not my story. This was not my story to mess up or not mess up, this is a very beloved family’s story. I was really honored, more than I was scared, I was quite honored.”
Mary Morrison, a friend of Leopold, was at the luncheon to show support.
“The library’s wonderful but also Stratton Leopold is an icon of Savannah,” Morrison said. “We donated a pretty mural in the Bull Street Library. We love being a part of this.”
Lola Shelton-Council, interim library executive director at the Bull Street Library, said support for the foundation and Wednesday’s fundraiser is key in the wake of the pandemic.
“We are still trying to promote literacy among our patrons and in the community,” she said, “so having the foundation step back up into fundraising and to support all our goals and missions is very important.”
Concerning Live Oak Public Libraries in today’s society, Shelton-Council said, “It’s still important because a person that’s working in the library can direct you to valid and accurate information.
“When you’re looking through things on the internet, you can get overwhelmed, you can get bombarded with things that are not true, things that are scams. Someone that’s in the library can navigate through that and steer you to the right information so you’re not wasting time.”
Live Oak Public Libraries provides services for Chatham, Effingham and Liberty counties.
Every year, the library system hosts more than 1.1 million visitors, checks out over 1.1 million items, answers in excess of 485,000 questions, registers more than 555,000 computer sessions and presents programs to nearly 125,000 patrons.