Bessie Lee Mauldin was 17 when she met Bill Monroe in the fall of 1938, back home in North Carolina.
He had just turned 27, was already a singing star with his brother, Charlie, in the Monroe Brothers — and was married.
But three years later, Monroe, by then a member of the Grand Ole Opry, moved Mauldin to Nashville and made her his “road girlfriend,” Richard D. Smith wrote in “Can’t You Hear Me Callin’,” his 2000 biography of “the father of bluegrass music.”
Over the next four decades, Monroe and Mauldin had a turbulent romance that inspired several major bluegrass songs – apparently including “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” Smith wrote.
Now, a Hollywood company is gearing up to film a movie — “Blue Moon of Kentucky” — based on Smith’s book. And the producer, Trevor Jolly, hopes to shoot part of it in Owensboro and Monroe’s hometown of Rosine, he said in an e-mail.
“I’ve read the script,” said Owensboro businessman Terry Woodward, who is vice chairman of the International Bluegrass Music Museum. “It’s a love story about Bill and Bessie Lee.”
And that worries Campbell Mercer, executive director of the Jerusalem Ridge Foundation, which oversees Monroe’s childhood home and farm in Ohio County.
“My concern is that the film not make a mockery of Bill,” Mercer, a keeper of the Monroe flame, said recently. “It’s based on a book by Richard D. Smith. It was a book that needed to be written, but it was written by the wrong guy.”
Mercer would prefer a movie that focused on Monroe’s music, not his infidelities.
But Mauldin is considered to have been Monroe’s muse.
Their child, which she gave up for adoption, according to the book, inspired the song, “My Little Georgia Rose.”
And Mauldin, a bass player with Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys off and on for two decades, played on 99 of Monroe’s recordings.
Reminded that the soundtrack for “Bonnie and Clyde,” the 1967 movie about gangsters Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, contained a lot of bluegrass music and brought a lot of new fans to the genre, Mercer said, “This time I’m afraid Bill is going to be Clyde.”
Still, he says, “there are some awful funny stories about Bill and Bessie Lee out there,” including one about Mauldin wrestling another of Monroe’s girlfriends to the ground in North Carolina.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, 32, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in last year’s “Crazy Heart,” recently told ScreenCrave.com that she will portray Mauldin in the movie. Her husband, Peter Sarsgaard, 39, is cast as Monroe.
“I talked to Peter on the phone the other day,” Woodward said. “He was in New York taking mandolin lessons. He plays guitar, but he needs to be able to play mandolin for the movie.”
Woodward said: “He’s very enthusiastic about the movie. He said his father was a big bluegrass fan.”
The ScreenCrave story said Joseph Henry “T-Bone” Burnett, who produced the soundtrack for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” which sold 8 million copies, and collaborated on “Crazy Heart” will do the music for “Blue Moon.”
Callie Khouri, who wrote “Thelma & Louise,” wrote the script.
Jolly, whose credits include being sound supervisor on “American Beauty” and “The Whole Ten Yards” as well as on episodes of “Lost,” “The Shield” and “Alias,” is producing.
Finn Taylor (“The Darwin Awards,” “Cherish,” “Dream With The Fishes”) will direct.
“Yes, hoping to shoot scenes at Rosine and Owensboro,” Jolly said in an e-mail. “Too early for specifics though.”
Woodward says the movie should be filmed in Kentucky.
Monroe was born — and is buried — in Kentucky. His band and the genre of music he created use the state’s nickname. And his “Blue Moon of Kentucky” is the state’s official bluegrass song.
But Tennessee also wants the movie shot there.
And a battle of incentives is ensuing.
“Finn and them want to make it in Kentucky,” Woodward said, “but the money guys will probably have the final say.”
Mercer said: “I’m sure they’ll use the homeplace” in the movie. “They know it’s open to them. I’ve been putting off getting back in touch with them, but I’ll e-mail Trevor this week. I’ve got to get involved and help them make it good. We’ve got a wealth of information here that should be tapped.”
Thompson describes Mauldin — “The Carolina Songbird” – as “a hefty blond, flashy dresser, strong, spirited and quite earthy.”
Monroe’s wife, Carolyn, finally accused him of adultery and divorced him in 1960.
The divorce decree forbade Monroe from marrying Mauldin as long as Carolyn Monroe lived.
“I don’t know how that was legal,” Mercer said.
Maudlin died Feb. 8, 1983, after suffering a heart attack at 63. Carolyn Monroe outlived her by nearly 18 months, dying on July 31, 1984.
Monroe died on Sept. 9, 1996.