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A star encounter for movie fan Michael

PUBLISHED: 14:58 31 January 2012

Michael Armstrong and Jean Simmons with a copy of the poster for the classic western The Big Country which will be screened in aid of Wymondam Charity Star Throwers.

Michael Armstrong and Jean Simmons with a copy of the poster for the classic western The Big Country which will be screened in aid of Wymondam Charity Star Throwers.

Archant

A special showing of the movie The Big Country in Wymondham brings back happy memories of meeting a Hollywood legend for The Regal Experience Group.

A charity screening of a classic western in Wymondham on Sunday, February 12 will bring back special memories for movie fan Michael Armstrong.

Back in 2007 he and other members of The Regal Experience Group shared afternoon tea with one of the stars of The Big Country, the late, great Jean Simmons at her California home.

“Jean has always been one of my favourite film stars, having first seen her in The Big Country, which is my favourite film of all times,” said Michael, who now has his own cinema at his home.

“I first saw it at the Regal in January 1960 when it was shown for three days. I enjoyed the film with its rousing theme music so much that I went to see it again the following evening,” he said.

“Whilst watching the film all those years ago, I never imagined that some 47 years later I would be actually having afternoon tea with the star Jean Simmons at her home in California,” he added.

This came about because the film group, who have brought back the movies to Wymondham with their classic Sunday afternoon shows at the old Regal, tried to get in touch with Jean when she was in Norfolk making her last film Shadows in the Sun.

By then she had returned to America, but she received their letter and invited them to call round for tea when they were in Santa Monica on holiday.

“She gave us a very warm welcome at her lovely home and we were joined by Tracey Grainger, her daughter with matinee idol Stewart Grainger when she brought us tea and cakes,” said Michael.

“Jean was very interested to hear what we had done and what we were doing to keep showing films at the old Regal, and was particularly fascinated to hear that we still used the original 1930s equipment and how it worked,” said Michael.

English-born Jean, who died in January 2010 aged 80 of lung cancer, turned out to be a warm and generous host, chatting about her extraordinary life and times as a movie and TV star.

“I felt very honoured when she asked me if I would like to go outside to have a photo taken with her and even more so when she asked her daughter to take it with other photos of the group and film poster.

“For me she signed a still from The Big Country with the words ‘For Michael – Thank you so
much – Jean Simmons’, which, together with the photo, are treasured keepsakes of a truly memorable day and one I will never forget.”

The Big Country is being shown at the old Regal (it opened 75 years ago), now part of the Ex-Services Club on Friarscroft Lane in Wymondham, on Sunday, February 12 at 2.30pm to raise money for the Wymondham Star Throwers cancer charity which does such worthwhile work.

Tickets cost £5 (£4 concessions) and are available from Michael Armstrong (01953 603246), Maureen Dodman (01953 605593) and Les King (01953 603997). They are also on sale at Simply Cards, Market Street, Wymondham.

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