Meet the man who laid the groundwork for "Hollywood South"

Photo provided by Jerry Leggio
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POSTED: Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 8:51pm

UPDATED: Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 9:03pm

Jerry Leggio was working for the state back in 1960, when he got the chance of a lifetime. “I was with the Department of Labor,” he explained. “And my boss said to me ‘Jerry, because of your theater background, I'd like you to be in charge of casting films when they come.’"

Leggio said yes. The very first movie he worked on was “Desire in the Dust”, which led him to do a little research. “I found out that up until that time only 37 films had been made in Louisiana since talk films had started in the late 20's.” Leggio decided then and there that Louisiana could do much better than that. So, he set out to get a film commission formed in Louisiana. The Louisiana Science Foundation was, at the time, charged with the task of bringing economic development opportunities to the state, so that is where he started.

Friend Jason Furrate says Leggio was very persistent. “You know, he was involved in government, but he was not a politician," Furrate stated. "So he’d bring the thing up about forming the Louisiana Film Commission. And they’d shoot it down. So he’d wait twelve months and do it again."

And when he did, Leggio was armed with even more information. In true Jerry Leggio fashion, he managed to get a meeting with legendary movie producer Otto Preminger. “He said, 'so if you really want to entrench the industry in Louisiana, you have to give them something,'" Leggio recalled. "'You have to provide them something that you can supply. Don't promise them anything you can't deliver.'”

And with that, Leggio made a second run at the decision-makers. And they shot it down again. So, when Jerry met John Wayne on the set of a film, he asked The Duke to take a look at his proposal.

Wayne was so impressed, he made a phone call to then-Governor John McKeithen. But the governor was out of town. “McKeithen was just broken hearted that he hadn't had an opportunity to talk to The Duke,” Leggio recalls. “But he called Dr. Galianno who was the executive director of the Science Foundation and said ‘fund that project.’"

That is when the Louisiana Film Commission finally came into being. Leggio went to work wooing Hollywood, doing something that is almost unheard of in the movie industry. “Jerry put the state of Louisiana ahead of his own career,” Furrate said. “He wasn't angling to get a part. He may or may not get a part. He was angling for the state of Louisiana to be the place that they make movies.”

Over the years, that came to be. Leggio remained active in bringing movies to Louisiana. He was and still is a big advocate for creating and keeping those tax credits that have helped make Louisiana the number one movie-making place in the country. And to hear Leggio tell it, it was all a labor of love. “So this isn't all my doing,” he explained. “I mean, I got it going, but I knew at what point I could step out of it. And I just wanted to see it happen".

Leggio has appeared in 56 films and television series over the years. In May, he was awarded the first-ever Ann Price Lifetime Achievement Award by the Louisiana International Film Festival for his work and contribution to the Louisiana film industry.

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