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Shrimp Bites Hollywood
Forrest Gump , a hot, new, romantic, fairy tale of a film contains lots of shrimp chatter. The central character, Forrest Gump, a slow thinking, slow talking, southern boy (played by Tom Hanks), drifts through life, experiences some historic events, and eventually becomes a successful shrimp fisherman. His good friend Bubba (Mykelti Williamson) knows everything there is to know about catching and cooking shrimp.
The film is based on Winston Groom’s 1986 novel. In it, Gump is a shrimp farmer, not a shrimp fisherman! Skip ahead to “The Book” if you want to read the best stuff first.
In the film, Mykelti Williamson plays Bubba, a country boy from Louisiana who befriends Forrest Gump in boot camp. The two are sent to fight in Vietnam, where Bubba continues to look after Gump, while teaching him about shrimping.
During the filming of one scene, Williamson realized the camera kept rolling as long as he kept talking, so he kept talking, creating one of the film’s most famous lines:
“Like I was saying, shrimp is the fruit of the sea....You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it....There’s shrimp kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pan fried, deep fried, stir fried, pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger and a shrimp sandwich.”
Delivered slowly and spread over several scenes, the line gives the impression that Bubba could talk forever about cooking shrimp.
Appearing on the popular TV program, CBS This Morning, Williamson was asked how many recipes were in the script: “Actually there were about five. The first time we shot that scene, the director never cut so I just kept going on and on, and finally it just kind of got to everybody.”
In a telephone interview, Shrimp News International asked Williamson: How much did you know about shrimp before the movie? “I didn t know shrimp farming existed. I didn t know how to devein a shrimp. I just knew that I liked to eat shrimp!” As a result of the Bubba role, you ve eaten a ton of shrimp, what do you think of it?: “I think shrimp is incredible. It s clean tasting. It s got a pleasing texture. I prefer shrimp over chicken!”
Where were the shrimp fishing scenes filmed? “They were filmed in Beaufort, South Carolina, which is where we did all our shrimp research. Jimmy Stanley, a local shrimper, took me under his wing and taught me everything I needed to know about shrimping. He took Tom Hanks and me into his home and served shrimp in all kinds of different ways. He took us out on his boat and let us actually catch shrimp. We were able to freeze our catch and fly it back to Los Angeles.” Was it also his boat that was in the movie? “Yes it was.”
Was the film a big hit? On August 8, 1994, BusinessWeek magazine reported: With box-office sales of $109 million in just 18 days, Forrest Gump falls close behind Jurassic Park and Batman as the fastest films to gross $100 million. By September 7, Forrest Gump had grossed $239 million. It s already the top-grossing movie in Paramount’s history, passing Raiders of the Lost Ark as the studio’s number one film in domestic earnings. On October 4, 1994, the Los Angeles Times newspaper reported that Forrest Gump passed the The Lion King as the biggest grossing film of 1994. In its first 13 weeks, it grossed $270 million, making it the fifth highest-grossing domestic release in history. Yes, it was a big hit, the equivalent of a 10-pound Ecuadorean white shrimp!
Shrimp and shrimping played only a small role in Forrest Gump, but the film spawned a number of shrimp products, including The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company Cookbook, which was published in late October 1994. The 108-page book (7 1/4” x 7 5/8”) offers over 75 favorite southern shrimp and side dish recipes, all tested in the well-known Southern Living (magazine) kitchens. The book is laced with poignant and memorable quotes from the movie script, plus a dozen full-color photographs from the movie. Although it does not contain any background information on the shrimp industry or shrimp preparation, it offers a solid block of shrimp recipes that will forever keep the memory of Forrest Gump alive in the shrimp industry. It’s fun, quick, easy, and the most popular of all the shrimp cookbooks. In the United States, it sells for $14.95 plus $2.98 for shipping and handling. Elsewhere, add $5.00 for shipping (surface mail) and handling. For information on large orders and promotional tie-ins, contact: Pam Stebbins, Leisure Arts, Customer Service, 5701 Ranch Drive, Little Rock, AR 72212 USA (501-868-8800, extension 259, fax 501-868-8937).
I’ve saved the best part of this story for last. In Winston Groom s book, Gump is a successful shrimp farmer, not a successful shrimp fisherman, and, as you will see, he s not quite as noble as the character in the film.
Remember, it was Bubba who inspired Gump to get into the shrimp business. Unfortunately, Bubba dies early on in the book, a victim of the war in Vietnam:
Forrest: “Bubba’s...been hit twice in the chest.... Bubba, it gonna be okay, you hear, cause we gotta get that srimp boat an all.... Bubba, he died, an that’s all I got to say bout that.”
“Couple of days later I gone on back to the fish market an they is a Vietnamese sellin a big bag of srimp. I axed him where he got them srimp, an he start jabberin away at me, count of he don t understan English. Anyway, I make sign language like a Indian or somethin, and after a wile he catch on, an motion for me to follow him. I be kind of leery at first, but he smilin an all....”
“We must of walked a mile or so, past all the boats on the beach an everthin, but he don t take me to a boat. It is a little place in a swamp by the water, kind of a pond or somethin, an he got wire nets laid down where the water from the China Sea come in at high tide. That sumbitch be growin srimp in there! He took a little net an scoop up some water an sure enough, ten or twelve srimp in it. He give me some in a little bag, an I give him a Hershey bar. He so happy he could shit.”
“I be layin on my cot, thinkin, and suddenly it come to me. I know what I gotta do when they let me out of the Army! I goin home an find me a little pond near the Gulf an raise me some srimp! So maybe I can t get me a srimp boat now that Bubba is gone, but I sure can go up in one of them marshes an get me some wire nets and that s what I ll do. Bubba would of like that.”
“Every day for the next few weeks I go down in the mornin to the place where the little Vietnamese is growin his srimp. Mister Chi is his name. I jus set there and watched him an after a wile he showed me how he was doin it. He d catched some baby srimps aroun the marshes in a little han net, and dump them in his pond. Then when the tide come in he thowed all sorts of shit in there scraps and stuff, which caused little teensy slimy things to grow an the srimps eat them an get big and fat.”
Certifiable Idiot Finds Future in Shrimp Farming
After the war and several other adventures, Forrest returns to Alabama and consults Bubba’s daddy for the best place to grow shrimp. “‘Now’ , say Bubba’s daddy, ‘here is where the salt tide comes in’, and he point to a slew that runs up in the marsh. ‘Theres some pretty big ponds up in there, an if I was gonna do what you plannin to do, that s where I d do it.’”
“Well, let me tell you, it looked ideal. Bubba s daddy say they get seed srimp up in them slews and bayous all the time, an it wouldn t be no trouble to net a bunch of em to start off the bidness with. Another thing he say is that in his experience, a srimp will eat cottonseed meal, which good on account of it is cheap.”
In the following excerpts, the Sue character that Gump refers to is an orangutan from the jungles of Sumatra! “It took almost a month to get things goin makin the shack nice an fixin up the rowboats an the duckboards in the marsh and layin the mesh nets aroun on the ponds. Finally the day come when we is ready to put in some srimp. I have bought a srimp net and me an Sue went on out in the rowboat an dragged it aroun for most of the day. By that night, we had probly fifty pounds of srimp in the bait well an we rowed up an dumped em into the pond. They be crackin and swimmin aroun an dancin on top of the water. My, my, it was a lively site.”
“Nex mornin we got us five hundrit pounds of cottonseed meal an thowed a hundrit pounds of it in the pond for the srimp to eat an the nex afternoon we set about netting-in another pond. We done that all summer an all fall and all winter an all spring an by that time we has got four ponds operating an everthin is lookin rosy. At night, I would set out on the porch of the shack an play my harmonica an on Saturday night I would go into town an buy a six-pack of beer an me an Sue would get drunk. I finally feel like I belong someplace, an am doin a honest day’s work....”
“It was a very nice day in June when we figgered it was time to start our first srimp harvest. Me an Sue got up with the sun an went down to the pond an dragged a net acrost it till it got stuck on somethin. Sue tried to pull it loose first, then I tried, then we tried together till we finally figgered out the net wadn t stuck it was jus so full of shrimp we couldn t move it.”
“By that evenin we had pulled in about three hundrit pouns of srimp, an we spent the night sortin em out in various sizes. Nex mornin we put the srimp in baskets an took em down to our little rowboat. They weighed so much we damn near dumped over on the way up to Bayou La Batre.”
“...I done made a decision I am gonna thow mysef into the srimp bidness an work my ass off. It is all I can do. Well, the quarter of a million become haf a million an the year follin that, a million, an so on, till after four more years we done become a five million dollar a year bidness....”
Author Winston Groom
In a telephone interview, Shrimp News asked Winston Groom: Why did you decide to make Forrest a shrimp farmer?
“One of my best friends is a guy called Jimbo Meador. He’s an old friend from Mobile, Alabama. For twenty years he worked as the general manager of Bon Secour Fisheries in Alabama. Although he never did any shrimp farming, he was always interested in it and we used to talk about it a lot. Jimbo knows everything there is to know about shrimp. We used to have lunch about once a week, and it occurred to me after one of these conversations while I was writing Forrest what better thing to do than make Forrest a shrimp farmer.”
In the book, Gump was a shrimp farmer. Why did they turn him into a shrimp fisherman in the movie?
“Because shrimp farming is like watching grass grow, whereas if you’ve got a shrimp boat you ve got motion and action, and that s what movies are all about. That s why they call them movies.”
Encapsulated Postscript: In the book and in the film, Gump’s mama (Sally Fields) supplies the cracker-barrel wisdom that underpins her son’s life. Shrimp News wanted to ask mama Gump what she thought of the shrimp industry. I’m sure she would have said, The shrimp industry is like a box of chocolates, ya never know what you re gonna get.
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