“It’s been an honor to hear from so many people how much Shag the movie has meant to them,” said screenwriter Lanier Laney. He is from Spartanburg, SC, and the movie is a retelling of his summers growing up at Pawleys Island watching his older brother going across the street to the Pawleys Pavilion to listen to the African American beach music bands and dance the Shag, a dance which had originated in the black clubs next to Ocean Drive in North Myrtle Beach.
The movie was set in pre-integration South Carolina, and it was white kids from upper class families who first starting going to hear black bands at the beach pavilions of South Carolina. In upcountry towns like Greenville, Spartanburg and Charlotte, the only way the kids could hear the music was by tuning into powerful radio stations broadcasting from Nashville and buying records. The music was dubbed “race music” by their segregationist parents, and many white children were forbidden to listen to the music at the time. But that did not stop it from becoming THE music and dance of several generations of South Carolina beachgoers. Shag was named the State Dance of South Carolina in 1990 and when the movie was filmed here, it brought more than $5 million into the local economy.
“It was a miracle that Shag was ever made. It had no big stars, and it was about four girls from the South. Something that was not considered big box office at the time,” Laney said. “The total credit for that movie getting made goes to my co-screenwriter Terry Sweeney who sold it on a pitch to Guy MacElwane, then the head of MGM in California.”
Said MacElwane (after Terry’s pitch to him of what the movie would be about and what sort of things the girls would say) “I don’t know a thing about South Carolina or what the heck Shag is, but I do know you’re funny! Go write your movie.”
Laney and Sweeney wrote the movie at the Tip Top Inn on Pawleys.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Sweeney’s new book Irritable Bowels and the People Who Give You Them was released in 2015. Sweeney is remembered for his writing and performance on “Saturday Night Live” where he imitated Nancy Reagan and made history as the first openly gay performer on American television.
Sweeney and his husband Laney left their writing careers in Hollywood to make a life in Beaufort, SC .