SANTA FE, N.M. — Though his parents tried to ensure he didn’t become a spoiled Hollywood kid, having a movie director as a dad still came with its perks for Earl Potter.
Aside from tagging along to the set and having celebrities coming by the house, he recalls some great birthdays at his West Hollywood home featuring talented actors his father was able to wrangle up as party entertainment.
For a kid who loved cowboys, all his dad had to do was call in extras from his 1938 film, “Cowboy and the Lady,” starring Gary Cooper.
“The range of people that came through the house was huge,” Earl says.
The personal life and career of H.C. Potter, a movie and Broadway director known for his work with Hollywood legends like Cooper, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Jimmy Stewart, is the subject of a short documentary told from the perspective of his youngest son.
Earl Potter has lived in Santa Fe for several decades, and made his mark on local politics and in business. His documentary, “H.C. Potter: A Son’s Story of His Film & Theater Career,” was selected for two screenings this weekend during the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival.
“He was a terrific dad, and he didn’t get a huge amount of recognition for what he did in his career. And it went away very quickly,” said Earl Potter, who began the film project last year.
Now in his 70s, Earl Potter moved to New Mexico in his twenties and has since worked as a land use attorney for Santa Fe County and served a stint as state chairman of the Democratic Party in the ’90s. He and his wife currently co-own the Five and Dime General Store that keeps the Woolworth Frito pie tradition alive on the Plaza.
The documentary, he said, is a way to honor and teach people about his father’s work with “more than just a PowerPoint.” It was made with help from Santa Fe movie-maker Tim Harrier and Albuquerque media consultant Jennifer Sparks. Narrated by Earl, the 27-minute film includes old movie footage, photos, home movies and songs, including a Johnny Mercer tune inspired by his parents’ lavish L.A. parties, “The H.C. Potter’s Ball.”
H.C. Potter, a New York native, moved to California following a successful stage career – he directed 10 Broadway plays – after his studies at Yale Drama School and starting one of the first summer theater companies in the country, The Hampton Players.
Most of his 22 movies are comedies. His most famous films include “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” and 1947’s “The Farmer’s Daughter” with Loretta Young, who won an Oscar for her performance.
Earl Potter said his father’s career also introduced him to his wife, Deborah. Her mother, actress Joan Fontaine, was pregnant with her while filming H.C. Potter’s 1948 comedy “You Gotta Stay Happy” opposite Jimmy Stewart.
H.C. Potter retired in the 1950s and died in 1977.
Known for funny films, his father had a sense of humor that was “penetrating” and witty, but never mean-spirited, Earl said.
The sophistication of the films – and his father – is something he wants to showcase with this project.
“Many people, when I was young, used to say to me, ‘Your dad is a gentleman, and we don’t know very many of those in Hollywood,'” he said.
“He managed to keep a lot of personal integrity. That shows in his movies, and I try and convey that in the film.”