Actor Richard Beymer presents Freedom Summer documentary ‘A Regular Bouquet’

Rare footage captured by 'West Side Story' star used by documentarians, historians

Before he was Ben Horne in “Twin Peaks” but after he was Tony in “West Side Story,” actor Richard Beymer was a director and an activist. In 1964, during Freedom Summer, Beymer traveled to Mississippi to chronicle the lives of African-Americans. His resulting film, “A Regular Bouquet,” is a rare portrait of the segregated South during a key moment in American history.

“In this time of smartphones, it may be surprising to realize how little primary source material actually exists that captures Freedom Summer,” said Nadia Ghasedi, head of the Visual Media Research Lab at Washington University in St. Louis. “This is really coveted footage. It provides firsthand accounts of history as it was happening. Documentarians and historians have relied heavily on it.”

Beymer’s ‘Bouquet’

What: A screening of “A Regular Bouquet” and Q&A with actor and filmmaker Richard Beymer

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23

Where: Etta Eiseman Steinberg Auditorium on the Danforth Campus, 6465 Forsyth Blvd., St. Louis, Mo.

How much: Free

As part of Washington University Libraries’ ongoing commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the Washington University Film & Media Archive will host a Q&A with Beymer and a free screening of “A Regular Bouquet” at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 23, at Etta Eiseman Steinberg Auditorium on the Danforth Campus.

Washington University Libraries recently acquired “A Regular Bouquet” and currently is preserving it through a National Film Preservation Foundation grant. The film bolsters Washington University’s already leading civil rights collection. The Libraries also is home to the Henry Hampton Collection, which includes the famed “Eyes on the Prize” series. Hampton was one of the filmmakers who used Beymer’s footage in his own work.

Yet “A Regular Bouquet” was little seen upon its completion. Not until the 1970s, when Encyclopedia Britannica released a shorter version for classrooms, did Beymer’s work find an audience. More recently Beymer recut the film; that “director’s cut” will be the version screened.

Beymer now lives in Iowa, where he works as a visual artist and experimental filmmaker. Ghasedi said she is struck by his humble nature.

“Remember what a huge star he was at the time,” Ghasedi said. “It was big deal for him to go down there. It would be as if Brad Pitt went to Ferguson. But in speaking with him, it’s clear he recognized the events that were occurring there were worth being told and documenting.”

Ghasedi said she is saddened by the parallels she sees in “A Regular Bouquet” and the recent footage from Ferguson. The Libraries has launched Documenting Ferguson​, a free, online archive of photographs, video and other materials chronicling the event in Ferguson.

“Just as we have charged ourselves with preserving the artifacts of the civil rights movement, we recognize the ongoing need to document the struggle for civil rights in this country,” Ghasedi said. “It’s not over.”