WILKES-BARRE – A new exhibit at the Luzerne County Historical Society Museum traces the life of Glen Lyon native Olga Treskoff, whose life as a singer, actress and producer was loosely depicted in a best-selling 1946 novel, Miracle of the Bells, published by Russell Janney and in a movie of the same name released in 1948.
It's not a Christmas movie, but one of the pivotal scenes happens on Christmas Eve, museum curator Mary Ruth Burke said. We happened to have an opening in our exhibit schedule, and that brings us to now.
Burke said after some discussion with Nanticoke resident Mark Wolfe, who has a collection of posters and other memorabilia from the movie and Treskoff's life, she reached out to others and did her own research to make the exhibit happen.
(Wolfe) suggested we do an exhibit because the 65th anniversary (of the movie) is coming up in 2013, Burke said.
In the movie, Fred MacMurray, best known for his role in the My Three Sons 1960s TV show, plays a jaded Hollywood publicity agent.
He travels to the Glen Lyon section of Newport Township, called Coaltown in the film, for the funeral of a promising actress, played by Alida Valli, whose movie about Joan of Arc is to be left unreleased because it has become tainted by her untimely death.
Aided by a parish priest, played by a young Frank Sinatra, the MacMurray character gets churches throughout the area to ring their bells all night as a publicity stunt. But then a miracle occurs – while the congregation prays, a loud creaking noise is heard and the statutes of St. Michael and the Virgin Mary turn until they face the actress's coffin.
Burke said that although the producers filmed scenes in Glen Lyon, none made the final cut and the big-name actors didn't come to the area. Scenes inside St. Michael the Archangel Church, which was demolished in Glen Lyon in April 2004, were actually filmed in a back lot in California.
Treskoff was born in Glen Lyon on May 7, 1892. Some of her extended family still lives in the area and in New York, Burke said, and Treskoff is buried in St. Michael's Cemetery in Glen Lyon beside her family members.
Treskoff appeared in some silent films, Burke said, but had more success in Broadway productions and eventually partnered with Janney to produce plays in New York and London.
Their biggest success was Vagabond King, a 1925 musical based on Justin Huntly McCarthy's 1901 romantic play If I Were King.
Burke said she believes Janney never really got over Treskoff's April 1938 death, and wrote two other novels loosely based on her life.
Burke said she reached out to Heidi and Paul Jarecki of Newport Township for help with the exhibit.
Heidi Jarecki's father, Burke said, was the attorney for an undertaker who handled Treskoff's body. In the movie, the undertaker is portrayed as one of the worst characters.
Burke said the real undertaker, who was vilified because of the movie, sued Janney for slander.
Burke said the exhibit will include photographs of Treskoff, photos of the production of the movie and photos of the Vagabond King musical.
Copies of the book, which was a best seller in its time, selling more than 300,000 copies, will also be at the exhibit.
Burke said local historian Charles Petrillo will eventually be presenting a PowerPoint presentation on the movie, which will be shown at the museum.
Burke said those two events have not yet been scheduled because of a heating problem in the museum. The museum relies on heat provided by the Osterhout Library, which is currently having problems with its boiler system.
If you go
The Miracle of the Bells exhibit will open today from 5 to 7 p.m. and run through March 15 at the Luzerne County Historical Society Museum, 69 S. Franklin St., Wilkes-Barre.
Those looking to visit the exhibit after Friday's event are asked to call the historical society at 823-6244 to confirm the exhibit is open.
Friday's event requires an RSVP by calling 823-6244, ext. 3. Admission is $20 per person and $15 for historical society members.