The Shag Life – A Snapshot in Time

  • Friday, April 25, 2014

The original movie poster, provided by Lanier Laney and Terry Sweeney


Thanks to an online readers’ poll of 10 memorable southern flicks, Shag the Movie is having the coming-out party it deserved 25 years ago.

It was filmed in Georgetown, Myrtle Beach and Florence.

Charleston-based Garden and Gun magazine, with a national audience of more than one million readers, is running a readers’ poll of the South’s greatest films of all time.

Shag, this week, was not just holding its own in third place in the poll, but moving closer to the number two film, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the number one film, Gone with the Wind.

“We almost cried, to see it on a list with the other movies … it was absolute vindication for us,” said screenwriter Terry Sweeney in an interview from his Beaufort, South Carolina home.

Sweeney and Lanier Laney, who also lives in Beaufort, wrote Shag at the old Tip Top Inn in Pawleys Island, but it took six more years to get the film to the big screen – first in Europe and then in the U.S. Shag is a light-hearted story of four teenage girlfriends of various temperaments who escape from their parents for a few days in 1963 for an adventure in Myrtle Beach. Their story chronicles their final farewell to girlhood and entry into womanhood with dance contests, beer blasts and an abundance of cute boys.

“The devotion that South Carolina people have to this movie is incredible,” said Laney, a comedy writer, who worked in the mid-1980s on the Saturday Night Live television show with Sweeney, another writer and regular cast member who portrayed Nancy Reagan and Joan Rivers with great believability.

“When I moved to New York, the perception that people had of Southerners was awful. I wanted to write a story that showed a different side of the south,” Laney said.

Laney, a native South Carolinian and regular visitor to Pawleys Island, followed his older brother around and watched him live the Shag lifestyle during family visits to Pawleys Island during the 1960s.

But Laney and Sweeney wanted to write the story from a female perspective, and they needed to enlist the help of someone who had lived the shag life to its fullest.

Enter, stage right, Sarah “Sally” Drake Steadman. Introduced by a mutual friend, the three lovers of shag – Sweeney, Laney and Steadman – would form a bond that is as strong today as it was more than 30 years ago.

“All I did was ride them around in my car and take them up and down the beach and dance,” said a modest Stedman from her home in Virginia. “I just showed them what shagging was all about. Good girls getting a little wild and crazy and dancing, dancing, dancing.”

Steadman is full of stories about the two writers and their escapades up and down the beach. “As soon as my kids fell asleep, I would grab my Bass Weejuns, put them on and hit the door to get the fellas.”

The movie sets the story in Myrtle Beach, but for Steadman and the two writers, most of the actual “shagging” took place in Pawleys Island.

“I bet you we listened to over 200 records while they were staying at the Tip Top Inn on Pawleys Island,” Steadman said. Unlike the memories of the three, the Tip Top Inn no longer exists. It was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo.

Tickled pink that the movie is getting national attention, Steadman recalled, “I never wanted a dime for the information I told the guys, I just wanted everyone to see that movie, and now I am calling everyone I know and telling them that Shag is right up there with Gone with the Wind.”

In the movie, four girls made memories that would last a lifetime. On a summer evening in Pawleys Island, more than 30 years ago, three friends gathered real-life experiences for a movie, and ended up making a real-life bond that has lasted a lifetime.

To vote for Shag as your favorite southern movie go to: http://gardenandgun.com/article/vote-souths-greatest-films.

To try your hand (or feet) at Shagging, don’t miss the Rotary Shag Festival Saturday at 6 p.m. on King Streets in Georgetown!

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