The (W)right Keach brothers

Published 8:49 pm Wednesday, June 26, 2013

By Frank Roberts

Connecticut, whose major claim to fame is that it is near New York City, made a desperate bid for headlines recently, claiming that Gustave Whitehead, a Bridgeport unknown, went airborne two years before Orville and Wilbur Wright.

In all fairness, the respected publication “Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft” said it is a valid claim; however, the even more respected Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum gave that piece of braggadocio a big ‘No.’ That means the Kill Devil Hills monument to the Ohioans can stay put.


Email newsletter signup

That means Wright ain’t wrong. They flew above the North Carolina sand dunes in 1903; the Keach Brothers did the same in 1971.

I was not around to watch W&O spit sand, but I did watch Stacy and James Keach film the re-enactment down there. That’s a double dose of brotherly love.

They were starring in a documentary for National Education Televison (PBS, that is) which, as far as I know, was shown just once on that network, receiving more attention in overseas theaters.

The director, Arthur Barron, could not get major studios interested in the movie (not enough sex and violence), so he had to work on a limited budget. Most of the film was made in the Banks but, because of too much modernity in the background, the flight scenes were made in California.

The bike shop scenes were shot in Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village in Detroit, a ready-made locale, since a replica of that shop was located there.

Several local residents copped roles in the movie, but one of my closest friends, who turned me on to the story, turned down an opportunity for possible Oscar recognition.

Aycock Brown, the ultra-colorful director of Outer Banks Tourism for many, many years, had his reason. “I asked him if he would work with us in the movie,” Barron said. “Before I had a chance to say what it was, he said, ‘Anything but acting.’”

Acting is a Keach tradition that began with pop, Stacy Sr. His oldest son, Stacy, portrayed the oldest Wright brother, Wilbur. To play Orville, James, incidentally, had to learn to play the mandolin (not bluegrass — sandgrass, perhaps).

Barron, the director, got the idea for the movie following a family visit to the Wright Memorial. “I knew then that someday I would put the story of the Wright Brothers on film.”

There was a script, of course, but he said, “Most of the film was being shot in an impromptu manner.”

His Wright brothers stars also portrayed brothers in “The Long Riders.” They were Jesse and Frank James. Three other sets of acting bro’s portrayed other western villain siblings in that cowboy flick.

Barron notes, “The Keach brothers, as were the Wright brothers, are highly disciplined, very talented in their field, and totally dedicated to their work.”

I found the brothers to be very friendly, down-to-earth and most easy to get along with.

And a note to the state of Connecticut: Forget about your claim. North Carolina license plates proclaim, “First In Flight.” That settles it.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at