Sheridan’s Lost Epic

By David Heighway

“The Dairy Queen”

Dairy Queen StoryProduct placement is now a standard method for getting funding for movies, but the Indiana Condensed Milk Company in Sheridan beat the trend by decades.  In 1919, they put up the money for a feature length film that would show how their company was in the vanguard of modern diary practices.  The result was called “The Dairy Queen”. 

The January 3, 1920, Noblesville Ledger described the movie as: “A Hamilton County picture produced, written, directed, and played by Hamilton County people, with scenes about Noblesville, Sheridan, Carmel, and Tipton.  Over ten thousand people shown.  Three months in preparation.  A cast of fifty characters.  A fascinating love story.  One hundred good laughs.”

It was written and directed by two local men, Frank E. Davidson, the pastor of Sheridan Christian Church, and Nola E. Boyer, a teacher and school superintendent who was then working for the Indiana Condensed Milk Company.  They were probably helped by Herbert Tapp, a local actor and playwright, who also played one of the lead roles in the movie and later would manage the Hippodrome Theater.  The Milk Company paid for the $5,000 budget and the film included an appearance by the company president, W. T. Wilson.

The plot was explained in the November 4, 1919 Noblesville Ledger:

“The story is that of a young farmer boy, disgusted with the old way in which things have been running on his father’s place, attends the dairy picnic accompanied by his sweetheart, Miss Mary Jones, which character is taken by Miss Irene Willwerth.  John is inspired to venture on the sea of experience in the dairy business.  He does not sail alone.  The sailing was not always smooth for there were threatening storms, but Mary made a fortunate investment in a good dairy cow and they came out ahead of the game and were happy.”

The first scenes were filmed in August at the Milk Company’s annual “dairy picnic,” which was a huge event.  There was much media coverage of the female lead, whose father was a prominent merchant in town.  In December, she was featured on the cover of the magazine “The Jersey Bulletin and Dairy World”.  Curiously, there wasn’t much coverage of the male lead, Joseph McGee “Joe” Parr.  He was a Sheridan High School graduate and a salesclerk who boarded at the Wilwerth family home.  He eventually moved to California.

The featured cast was:

  • Mary Jones - Irene Willwerth (age 19)
  • Joseph Jones - Joshua G. Antrim (age 53)
  • Mrs. Jones - Cora Antrim (age 43) 
  • John Hawkins - Joe Parr (age 20)   
  • Hiram Hawkins - Herbert Tapp (age 41) 
  • Mrs. Hawkins - Madge Johnson (age 30)   
  • Little June Hawkins - Marion Ross (age 19)                                        

The final length of the film was 4 reels (which was probably about 40 minutes long).  This would be considered feature length in 1919.  It premiered at the Sheridan Christian Church on October 21 and ran for two nights.  There was a bigger premiere at the Wild Opera House in Noblesville on November 3.  The film had a special score written by Oscar Kaufman, a prominent Midwestern violinist.

It was recut and rereleased in December of 1920.  Filming began for a follow-up movie about raising Jersey cows, but it was never made.  While this film was a serious effort, there is no evidence that “The Dairy Queen” was ever picked up by a national distributor and shown elsewhere.  The print of the film is probably long gone – most likely the nitrate disintegrated decades ago.  It would be an interesting film to see today.