Ben Affleck, John Travolta fans of Savannah

Filmed in Georgia is a weekly column by Frank Hotchkiss, author of Savannah’s Playing with Fire at local bookstores and on Amazon. Contact Frank with recommendations for future film reviews at [email protected]

Any Savannah resident interested in movies would do well to start with Leopold ice cream on Broughton Street.

Not just because the ice cream is delicious and the walls are decorated with movie posters related to Leopold’s owner, Stratton Leopold, but because you might bump into Stratton himself picking up behind the counter.

He fell into cinema early in his adult life and never left it, and his knowledge seems encyclopedic.

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In picture :Leopold’s Ice Cream celebrates 103 years in Savannah

Stratton Leopold at its flagship store, Leopold's Ice Cream, located on Broughton Street.

A direct man with a charming patrician air, he is happy to share his experience of being everything from a stage manager to executive producer of great films like “The General’s Daughterand “The Sum of All Fears”.

During these films and others, Stratton befriended a long list of stars, including Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames and James Woods. John Travolta is one of his favorites.

“Travolta is a fun guy,” he says today. “He loves people.”

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Travolta is something of a Savannah fan, it seems. Once Stratton was in London on a film project and received a message from the Broughton store. It was a photo of Travolta trying to be incognito with a skullcap. Apparently the waiter, concentrating on his order without looking up, said, “You sound like John Travolta.” Then she looked up and the cat was out of the bag. “You ARE John Travolta!”

Turns out Travolta is kind of a “foodie.” Chez Léopold was a natural place for him.

Simon West, left, director of

Despite family concerns, Leopold heads to Hollywood

How on earth did a young man from Savannah – far from Hollywood – end up in the movies?

Stratton’s mother thought it was a terrible idea and didn’t tell him about it for years. She wanted him to become a doctor.

When his father, head of the Leopold family’s ice cream business, died untimely, Stratton came home to help, but he had been bitten by show business – acting to be precise. He spent several years in New York to pursue this career, but without much success. Then he moved to Atlanta, and an unexpected phone call changed his life, although he didn’t know it at the time.

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A friend of a friend asked him to find a local agent to launch an upcoming film. No one was available. “So you do,” the person said. “I’ll tell you what to do,” and she did.

After that, one thing led to another and he worked his way up the film production ladder until he found himself in Los Angeles. He eventually had nearly 60 film and television credits to his name and was named executive vice president of Paramount Pictures.

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But Stratton is a two-track man. The second is to follow the family tradition and make very good ice cream. He is also a creative marketer. Leopold’s says “Thank you for your patriotism” every year and gives any child 12 or younger (accompanied by an adult) who recites the Memory Pledge of Allegiance a free scoop of homemade super premium kid’s ice cream.

Leopold ice cream is now over a century old. Founded in Savannah in 1919 by three Greek immigrant brothers named George, Peter and Basil, the ice cream parlor still offers its original flavors and has expanded to include seasonal and even vegan ice cream flavors.

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Stratton’s father, Peter, passed on the tradition of crafting premium quality ice cream to Stratton, his youngest son. Frequently rated one of the best ice cream parlors in the country, the vintage 1930s ice cream parlor has won numerous national and international accolades. In addition to its Creamery location in downtown Savannah and Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, Leopold’s Ice Cream offers restaurant and shipping services nationwide.

Soon there may be a new Leopold location near the corner of Gwinnett and Habersham where the first salon was originally located – but this is only a rumor as of now. Here’s hoping…

Leopold and his wife, Mary, are a treasure trove of celebrity anecdotes and vignettes.

Filming stories

Filming “The Wolfman” for Universal, Anthony Hopkins (now Sir Anthony) had the Wolfman costume on to shoot some incidental scenes – and took a break to lap up the Leopold ice cream that Stratton had provided. Unfortunately, no photos of the event are available.

He remembers filming director Taylor Hackford’s “Blood in Blood Out” in San Quentin, a massive San Francisco state prison with some 6,000 prisoners in residence. “Cut-cut-cut” was Hackford’s usual way of stopping filming a scene. The prisoners found this hilarious and began shouting cut-cut-cut at every opportunity, much to Hackford’s irritation.

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During the filming of “The Sum of All Fears” in Montreal, the thermometer plunged 30 below zero, so cold that even Russian actors in Moscow complained.

Morgan Freeman, left, and Ben Affleck in

Working on “Baron Munchausen,” when Sean Connery pulled out of a key role for scheduling reasons, director Terry Gilliam told Stratton, “So get me Robin Williams.”

Leopold hopped on a plane from Rome to San Francisco, where Williams lived in the Castro District, to meet Williams, who listened and agreed to participate in the film. Coincidentally, Williams ended up giving Stratton a ride in his VW Vanagon when Stratton had to drive to another meeting. Stratton marveled at Williams’ spontaneity and creativity.

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“He was amazing. He would see a road sign and do three minutes on it.

Robin Williams in "good morning vietnam

General’s Daughter was partly shot at Lebanon Plantation near Savannah, owned by Howard and Mary Morrison. Stratton and Howard were lifelong friends, having attended second grade together at Massie School.

“It was quite a big undertaking and the Morrisons had just redecorated the plantation house with Architectural Digest-worthy details. During filming, we learned that a giant storm was about to hit Savannah. hell broke loose with wind and patches of rain and flooding and mud everywhere, we even had to pull the generator wires out of the water.

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The very cordial and Savannah-like Morrisons invited the entire crew – 80 or 90 people – inside for shelter, muddy boots and all.

Asked about the luminaries who occasionally come to the Broughton Street store to sample Leopold’s rich, rich ice cream, Stratton didn’t miss a beat.

Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock chat between takes in front of the Federal Building on Wright Square.  Photo by Bob Morris.

Ben Affleck, Liev Schrieber, James Cromwell – who loves vegan ice cream – and John Travolta, of course. For the sake of privacy, they always sit in a cabin with their backs to the aisle. Although happy to have them, they don’t get any other special treatment and line up like everyone else.

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