The Eastern Shore is known for its natural beauty, creative ambiance, and small-town spirit. Never before have people thought of the region as a Hollywood hub. Now, local author and 10th generation shoreman Brent Lewis is changing the narrative with his new book, Stardust by the Bushel: Hollywood on the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore.
Released in December by Secant Publishing, the book tells the history of filmmaking up and down the Chesapeake over the last century, the tales of stars who have hailed from here, and even surprising connections between some of your favorite films and the shore.
While Delmarva may not compare in size to the City of Angels, our stars still shine just as bright. Lewis explores the journeys of numerous beloved figures, from America’s Golden Girl, Bea Arthur, who spent time in Cambridge, to Planet of the Apes sensation and Berlin native Linda Harrison, and classic tough guy Robert Mitchum, who landed in Talbot County. Of course, the shore received its greatest industry attention in 1998, as the filming of the Runaway Bride took place in charming Berlin.
From the stars to the secrets of the screen, Lewis’ research knows no bounds, and he explores every angle of the shore’s unique position in the filmmaking scene.
“There is a uniqueness and a history that comes with this area,” Brent Lewis said. “This book is for everyone interested in local and regional history, as well as those who simply love movies. I think that people will be surprised at how often filmmakers have been lured to the shore over the years.”
Although Lewis is a pop culture, history, and cinema lover, this project was more than a deep dive into his greatest interests. He sees a strong connection between pop culture and individuals across Delmarva and draws on those connections in his writing of this particular work. Most importantly, his admiration for the Chesapeake region rings strong from chapter to chapter, harkening to his local roots over several centuries.
“Both sides of my family go back generations in this area. When I was a young writer, I didn’t want to be known as local or regional writer Brent Lewis, but as I’ve gotten older and come to better understand this area we live in and the parts that are slipping away into history, I’ve become more enthusiastic about being a writer from Delmarva,” he reflected. “My connection to the region has become more and more of my identity.”
Lewis, an experienced writer of three other books and many plays, locked in the concept for this highly specific book in 2019 and began his research and interviews just before the pandemic. In his eyes, the “new normal” made many high-profile people available to him throughout the writing process that would have been harder to track down in regular times.
As much as Delmarva has made its mark on Hollywood, Lewis is the first to admit that there is of course room for significant strides. There has not been a major film shot on the shore in several years, and for that, Lewis turns to the Maryland Film Office.
“There hasn’t been a huge production here in years, and since talking with the state’s film office, which operates on a limited budget, I’ve learned that even as beautiful and unique as the area is, without tax incentives for the production companies, it’s hard to bring more filming here,” he explained.
When the lights, camera, and action do come to the shore, it serves as a boom for the local economy. Even in the more than two decades since Runaway Bride hit the big screen, Berlin has exploded with small businesses and become a vibrant community. While the film isn’t the only contributing factor, it certainly has made an impact. No matter the project, Lewis notes that every actor and crew member can’t stop raving about our delicious crab cakes. Maybe a little Old Bay is the film office’s path forward?!
Still, even if Hollywood has not visited us in a while, filmmaking certainly has not stopped on the peninsula. The Ocean City Film Festival, launched in 2017, has grown tremendously and attracted creators from all over the country.
“We welcome people here and tend to treat individuals with respect. We have a history of hospitality,” he added. “Even if this place isn’t Hollywood, there’s a flavor here that you can’t find anywhere else.”
What’s next for Lewis? He has a few plays in mind for the summer and fall, but he won’t rule out a sequel or even a prequel to his latest book, especially following the resounding positive reception.