Director’s Project Dates to Purcell School Days
This piece about film director and Purcell alumnus Joseph De Francesco by Sr. Rose Pacatte originally ran as “Director’s Dream Began at Cincinnati High School” in the National Catholic Reporter. Click here to read her review of the documentary John Brown’s Body at San Quentin Prison.
Director Joseph De Francesco never forgot the impression that Stephen Vincent Benet’s epic 1928 Pulitzer Prize-winning poem made when he was a student at St. Gregory’s, a high school diocesan minor seminary in Cincinnati. There he found, and admittedly stole, a recording of the 1953 Broadway performed recitation of the poem by Tyrone Power, Judith Anderson, and Raymond Massey. It was adapted and directed by Charles Laughton. De Francesco still has the record.
For his junior year, deciding the path to the priesthood was not for him, De Francesco transferred to what is now Purcell Marian High School in Cincinnati. He was a sports guy who loved drama. The head of the high school’s theater group then was Fr. Clarence Rivers, the first African-American ordained in the archdiocese of Cincinnati. Rivers stayed in contact with De Francesco until Rivers’ death in 2004. It was Rivers who encouraged De Francesco when he first expressed interest in dramatizing “John Brown’s Body.” The documentary is dedicated to Rivers.
When Rivers was ill, De Francesco said he would call him to ask how he was. The priest would answer, “Nothing has changed” – a line from “John Brown’s Body” that spoke to the priest’s well-being and also as a social commentary.
De Francesco’s early day job was that of a freelance film editor, but theater was in his soul and he tried over the years to interest theatrical groups in “John Brown’s Body.”
“The prison was the last resort to…”
Sr. Rose Pacatte, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, is the Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles. She is frequently a guest teacher at the University of Dayton.
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