Virgil Q. Wacks Film Collection available at ETSU12.04.2005
JOHNSON CITY ? The Center for Appalachian Studies and Services (CASS) and the Archives of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University announce the availability of the Virgil Q. Wacks Film Collection to researchers, historians and the public.
This "historically rich" collection of approximately 1,816 reels and clips of motion picture film shot by Wacks from 1942 to 1986 visually captures almost a half century of Appalachian lifestyles, customs, traditions, and its people. The collection also includes four audiotape recordings of musical performances, interviews and business advertisement spots.
The long-running "Virgil Q. Wacks Varieties Show" television program, broadcast out of Kingsport, aired from 1957 to 1983 on WKPT, Kingsport; WJHL, Johnson City; and WLEX, Lexington, Ky. It was "immensely popular" for decades, and many people tuned in to see themselves on television.
This early example of regional programming featured footage shot by Wacks at parades, fairs, school sporting events, and other community-related gatherings in the towns and communities of Western North Carolina, Southeast Kentucky, East Tennessee, and Southwest Virginia. He also captured news events and plugged the businesses of area merchants.
The collection contains a videotape of the only known surviving, complete example of Wacks' variety show, which was taped off-the-air in 1982 in the WKPT-TV studio. In addition, it includes a videotape copy of "Mountain Vision," an Appalshop documentary focusing on regional television programming in Appalachia. The production features a segment on "The Virgil Q. Wacks Varieties Show" and includes an interview with Wacks.
Unavailable for decades, the Wacks collection of film was donated to the Archives of Appalachia by his son, Dr. Quinton Wacks.
Norma Myers, Archives director, received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to preserve and re-format the aging and deteriorating film. Over 1,500 rolls of film were inspected, identified, repaired, cleaned and placed into proper storage conditions to ensure long-term survival. In addition, each film was transferred to videotape format in preservation and access copies.
Virgil Q. Wacks, the son of William B. and Allie Harber Wacks, was born May 1, 1906, in St. Charles, Va. He graduated from Lee Baptist Institute and won a baseball scholarship to Bluefield College before playing semi-pro baseball. He became mayor of St. Charles in 1931.
Wacks received his diploma in cinematography from the New York School of Photography and worked as a stringer, correspondent and staffer for various newspapers and wire services, including United Press International and Associated Press. In addition, he was associate editor of the Powell Valley News. His stories on "Bouncing Bertha," a Lee County, Va., girl "bedeviled by the supernatural," and snake handlers ran in Life, Look and Newsweek magazines.
He covered the 1940 Rose Bowl and screen-tested for a major motion picture film studio during a stay in Hollywood. In addition to his television work, he was a sportscaster and announcer on radio for several decades, and he also served as commissioner of the Mountain States Professional Baseball League from 1946-1954.
During the 1950s, Wacks became increasingly involved in the Lee County region as both a businessman and organizer. He owned the Lee Block Co., ran the county fair for 16 years, and organized the county Tobacco Festival. As president of the Lee County Chamber of Commerce, he brought several businesses to the area, such as tobacco warehouses, the Cas Walker Supermarket, the Pennington Airport and various small factories. He was also active in many civic and political efforts.
In 1946, Wacks married Jauree Elizabeth McElroy of Jonesville, Va. In 1952, they moved to Pennington Gap, VA, where they raised two sons, Quinton and Mitchel. After retiring from television at the age of 78, Wacks remained active as a promoter for the Lee County area and was involved in various projects. His health began to decline in the early 1990s, and he died in Big Stone Gap, Va., on June 24, 1994, at the age of 88.
The Archives of Appalachia, located on the fourth floor of ETSU's Sherrod Library, is a division of CASS, a state center of excellence. For more information, call Norma Myers at (423) 439-6991.